(Phoe·niʹcia) [likely from a root meaning “palm tree”].
That strip of coastland along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean between Syria and Israel that was bounded on the E by the Lebanon Mountains. It roughly corresponded to the modern country of Lebanon. For many years the principal city of ancient Phoenicia was Sidon, but later it was eclipsed in importance by Tyre, a city founded by a colony from Sidon.—See SIDON, SIDONIANS; TYRE.
Geographic Features. The coastal plains of this long, narrow country were interrupted in a few places by the foothills of the mountains that reached down to the sea. The plains were well watered by a number of streams originating in the mountain range that formed the natural boundary along the eastern frontier. Here were several peaks over 3,000 m (10,000 ft) high, the highest over 3,350 m (11,000 ft), peaks that were snowcapped a good part of the year. Extensive forests and orchards of various types at one time covered much of the land—cedar and pine as well as oak, beech, mulberry, fig, olive, and date palm.
Origin and Name. The history of the Phoenicians begins after the Flood with Noah’s grandson Canaan, a son of Ham. Canaan became the progenitor of 11 tribes, one of these, the Sidonians, being the descendants of Canaan’s firstborn, Sidon. (Ge 10:15-18; 1Ch 1:13-16) The Sidonians were therefore Canaanites. (Jos 13:4-6; Jg 10:12) They themselves, and others too, called their land Canaan. On a coin of the time of Antiochus Epiphanes the Syrophoenician city of Laodicea is described as “a mother city of Canaan.”
However, in time the Greeks preferred to call these Canaanite Sidonians by yet another term, Phoenicians. So it was that Canaanite, Sidonian, and Phoenician were names sometimes used interchangeably for the same people. In Isaiah’s prophecy, for example, Phoenicia is termed “Canaan.”—Isa 23:11; JP; RS; NW, ftn.
Land of Seafaring Traders. The Phoenicians were among the great seafaring peoples of the ancient world. Their ships were very seaworthy for their size. They were high both at the bow and at the stern, of wide beam, and could be powered by both sails and oars. (Eze 27:3-7) Phoenician vessels handled much of the commerce on the Mediterranean. In the 11th century B.C.E., Solomon employed Phoenician “servants of Hiram” to accompany his ships going to Tarshish (Spain). (2Ch 9:21) Phoenician sailors were also used aboard Solomon’s fleet sent from Ezion-geber to Ophir. (1Ki 9:26-28; 10:11) In the seventh century B.C.E., Phoenician vessels were still sailing to Tarshish and bringing back silver, iron, tin, and lead.—Eze 27:12.
Arts and Crafts. Phoenician metalworkers were skilled in casting, hammering, and engraving objects of gold and silver. Other artisans specialized in carving wood and ivory, fashioning glassware, weaving wool and linen, and dyeing cloth. Phoenicia was especially noted for her purple-dye industry. Royal or Tyrian purple robes commanded the highest prices, for many thousands of murex, shellfish, each yielding but a single drop of dye, were needed for a few yards of cloth. The dye varied in hue, depending on where along the shores of the Mediterranean the shellfish were found, and this fact, plus the special skills of the Phoenician dye masters who often used a double- or triple-dyeing process, resulted in many varieties of costly fabrics that were sought after by those of rank and nobility.—Eze 27:2, 7, 24.
In the time of David and Solomon, the Phoenicians were famous as cutters of building stones and as woodsmen skilled in bringing down the stately trees of their forests.—2Sa 5:11; 1Ki 5:1, 6-10, 18; 9:11; 1Ch 14:1.
Religion. As Canaanites, the Phoenicians practiced a very base religion centered around the fertility god Baal; it involved sodomy, bestiality, and ceremonial prostitution, as well as abhorrent rites of child sacrifice. (See PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 739; CANAAN, CANAANITE No. 2 [Conquest of Canaan by Israel].) The Phoenician city of Baalbek (c. 65 km [40 mi] NE of Beirut) became one of the great centers of polytheistic worship in the ancient world; in Roman times great temples to various gods and goddesses were erected there, the ruins of which can be seen today.
In the spring of 31 C.E., certain residents of Phoenicia demonstrated faith by traveling inland to Galilee to listen to Jesus and to be cured of their ailments. (Mr 3:7-10; Lu 6:17) A year or so later, Jesus visited the coastal plains of Phoenicia and was so impressed by the faith of a Syrophoenician woman living there that he miraculously cured her demon-possessed daughter.—Mt 15:21-28; Mr 7:24-31.
When persecution broke out in Judea following the martyrdom of Stephen, some Christians fled to Phoenicia. There, for some time, they proclaimed the good news only to Jews. But following the conversion of Cornelius, congregations that had a mixture of Jews and non-Jews began to spring up along the Phoenician coast as well as in other parts of the Roman Empire. The apostle Paul visited some of these congregations in Phoenicia during the course of his travels; the last recorded visit with believers there was at Sidon when he was on his way to Rome as a prisoner in about 58 C.E.—Ac 11:19; 15:3; 21:1-7; 27:1-3.