The Phoenicians May Have Given Europe and Ancient Israel Their Alphabets, but They Left behind No Literature

According to most experts, both the Hebrew and the Greek alphabets (from which the Latin alphabet was derived) were based on that used by the ancient Phoenicians, who lived in what is now Lebanon. While fragmentary inscriptions in Phoenician have been discovered throughout the Mediterranean, only recently have archaeologists found a substantial trove of complete texts in the Cypriot city of Idalion. Josephine Quinn comments on what’s in them, and what isn’t:

The new documents were found in a fortified palace complex on Idalion’s western acropolis, and they all date to the 4th and 5th centuries [BCE], a period in which Idalion was under the power of the Phoenician-speaking kingdom of Kition to its south. . . . [T]he material preserved at Idalion is almost all administrative—sets of accounts relating to palace bureaucracy and the organization of agriculture. . . . There are also intriguing glimpses of personal life: a fragment of a letter, and some texts about religious and social rituals. . . .

One thing missing at Idalion is literary texts. This may seem surprising, given the rich trove of mythical texts found at Ugarit [a Syrian city whose residents had developed a writing system a few centuries before the Phoenicians], as well as the contemporary example of the Hebrew Bible and the development in Greece in the same period of the great Homeric epics. . . .

One striking characteristic of the literature produced by Israelites and Greeks is that it often celebrates their identity as a group larger than a city-state, participating in joint expeditions and events over long distances—from the Israelite exodus from Egypt, to the Greek army attacking Troy, to the verses that celebrate victories at pan-Hellenic competitions. The Phoenicians, living in separate city-states with no common political or cultural identity, may simply have had no need for such tales.

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Ancient Greece, Cyprus, Hebrew alphabet, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Phoenicia

How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy