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

Sept. 20 2017

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.

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Read more at Bible History Daily

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

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter