From Academic Kids

Sanchuniathon or Sanchoniathon or Sanchoniatho is the purported Phoenician author of three works in Phoenician, surviving only in partial paraphrase and summary of a Greek translation by Philo of Byblos. These few fragments comprise the most extended literary source concerning Phoenician religion in either Greek or Latin.


The author

The compilers of the 1911 EncyclopŠdia Britannica warned that Sanchuniathon "belongs more to legend than to history." All our knowledge of Sanchuniathon and his work comes from Eusebius of Caesarea's Praeparatio, (1.10) which contains some information about him along with the only surviving excerpts from his writing, as summarized and quoted from his supposed translator Philo of Byblos.

Eusebius also quotes the anti-Christian writer Porphyry as stating that Sanchuniathon of Berytus (Beirut) wrote the truest history about the Jews because he obtained records from "Hierombalus" ("Jeruba'al"?) priest of the god Ieuo (Yahweh), that Sanchuniathon dedicated his history to Abibalus king of Berytus (Beirut), and that it was approved by the king and other investigators, the date of this writing being before the Trojan war approaching close to the time of Moses, "when Semiramis was queen of the Assyrians." Thus Sanchuniathon is placed firmly in the mythic context of the pre-Homeric heroic age, an antiquity from which no other writings are known to have survived to the time of Philo.

The supposed Sanchuniathon claimed to have based his work on "secret writings of the Ammouneis discovered in the shrines", sacred lore deciphered from mystic inscriptions on the pillars which stood in the Phoenician temples, lore which exposed the truth—later covered up by invented allegories and myths—that the gods were originally human beings who came to be worshipped after their deaths and that the Phoenicians had taken what were originally names of their kings and applied them to elements of the cosmos as well as also worshipping forces of nature and the sun, moon, and stars.

This rationalizing euhemeristic slant and the emphasis on Beirut, a city of great importance in the late classical period but of very little importance in ancient times, suggests that the work itself is not nearly as old as it claims to be. Some have suggested it was forged by Philo of Byblos himself, or assembled from various traditions and presented within an authenticating format, in order to give the material more believable weight. Or Philo may have translated genuine Phoenician works ascribed to an ancient writer Sanchuniathon, but in fact written in more recent times.

However that may be, much of what has been preserved in this writing, despite the euhemeristic interpretation, turned out to be supported by the Ugaritic mythological texts excavated at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) in Syria since 1929, indicating that it does incorporate genuine Semitic elements, some which had remained unchanged since the 2nd millennium BC.

It is sometimes difficult to tell whether Eusebius is citing Sanchuniathon or citing Philo of Byblus or speaking in his own voice. Another difficulty is the use of Greek proper names instead of Phoenician ones and possible corruption of some of the Phoenician names that do appear. There may be other garblings.

The Work

The fragments that come down to us contain:

Philosphical Creation Story

A philosphical creation story traced to "the cosomogony of Taautus (Thoth)" which begins with Erebus and Wind between which Eros 'Desire' came to be. From this was produced M˘t which seems to be the Phoenician/Hebrew word for 'Death' but which the account says may mean 'mud'. In a mixed confusion, the germs of life appear, and intelligent animals called Zophasemin (explained probably correctly as 'observers of heaven') formed together as an egg, perhaps. The account is not clear. Then M˘t burst forth into light and the heavens were created and the various elements found their stations.

Allegorical culture heroes

Copias and his wife Baau (translated as Nyx 'Night') give birth to Aeon and Protogonus who are mortal men. Various descendents are listed, many of whom have allegorical names but are described here as mortals who first made partucular discoveries or who established particular customs.

The history of the gods

Then comes a genealogy and history of various northwest Semitic gods who were widely worshipped, sometimes hidden under Greek names. (Greek names appear below in parentheses and italics.) Only equations made in the text appear here but many of the links point to the northwest Semitic deity that is probably intended.

                                     Elioun  =  Beruth 
                                     |              |
                                     |              |
                            (Uranus)/(Epigeius) = (Ge)
                                (Autochthon)    |
     |           |                              |           |        |                |       |
     |           |                              |           |        |                |       |
    Elus     Baetylus      (Uranus) = ? = Dagon/(Siton)  (Atlas)  Astarte = Elus = (Rhea)  Baaltis
  (Cronus)                          |    (Zeus Arotrios)       (Aphrodite)|      |         (Dione)
     |                              |                                     |      |
     +------------+--------+        |               +++++++-------+-------+-+    +++++++----+
     |            |        |        |               |||||||       |         |    |||||||    |
     |            |        |        |               |||||||       |         |    |||||||    |
(Persephone)  (Athena)  Sadidus  Demarűs  Sydyc = (Titanides)  (Pothos)  (Eros)  7 sons   Muth
                              Adodus/(Zeus) |   | (Artemides)                          (Thanatos)
                                    |       |   |                                        (Pluto)
                             +------+  +++++++  +------+
                             |         |||||||         |
                             |         |||||||         |
                        Melcarthus    (Cabeiri)   (Asclepius)
                        (Heracles)   (Corybantes)
                                Elus = Anobret       (Nereus)
               born in Peraea    |   |                  |
                                 |   |                  |
    +---------------+------------+   +----+             |
    |               |            |        |             |
    |               |            |        |             |
(Cronus II)   (Zeus) Belus   (Apollo)   Iedud        (Pontus)

Translations of Greek forms: arotrios, 'of husbandry, farming'; autochthon (for autokhthon) 'produced from the ground', epigeius (for epigeios) 'from the earth', eros 'desire', ge 'earth', hypsistos 'most high', pluto (for plouton) 'wealthy', pontus (for pontos) 'sea', pothos 'longing', siton 'grain', thanatos 'death', uranus (for ouranos) 'sky'.

As in the Greek and Hittite theogonies, Sanchuniathon's Elus/Cronus overthrows his father Sky or Uranus and castrates him. However Zeus Demarűs, that is Hadad Ramman, purported son of Dagon but actually son of Uranus, eventually joins with Uranus and wars against Cronus. To El/Cronus is attributed the practice of circumcision. Twice we are told that El/Cronus sacrificed his own son. At some point peace is made and Zeus Adados (Hadad) and Astarte reign over the land with Cronus' permission. An account of the events is written by the Cabeiri and Asclepius under Thoth's direction.

About Serpents

A passage about serpent worship follows in which it is not clear what part is from Sanchuniathon and what part from Philo of Byblus.

External links to English translations


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