Byblos (Ezekiel 27)

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Illustration: Temple of the Obelisks (Satak Lord) in Byblos

As one of the few natural harbours on the coastline of the Levant (Syria-Palestine), Byblos (also called Gebal)) was an important trade and religious centre in antiquity. First settled during the sixth millennium B.C, this ancient port city was located at the foot of Mount Lebanon and had access the the abundant cedar groves of the western flank of the range.

Lumber for building materials was especially in demand in Egypt. Oils and resins from the trees were used for mummification, as well as for cosmetic and medical purposes. The shipping of lumber followed sea lanes along the coats between Byblos and the Nile delta. In return, Byblos received commodities such as metals, papyrus reed and perfumes. With import of Egyptian papyrus reed, the city became famous for the manufacturing of paper and rope during the Iron Age. This economic partnership with Egypt began during the late fourth through the early third millennium B.C and reached its high point during the Old Kingdom (ca. 2700-2100 B.C.) and the Middle Kingdom (ca. 1990-1786 B.C.) periods. The city’s economic network was not limited to Egypt however. Trade extended to the Mediterranean, the southern Levant, Syria, Mesopotamia and even into Anatolia and modern day Iran.

During the Iron Age (1200-586 B.C.) Tyre and Sidon’s economic domination eclipsed their counterpart to the north. Byblos was reduced to functioning as a supplier of lumber and craftsmanship. When Solomon commissioned his building projects in partnership with Hiram of Tyre, stonecutters from Byblos were subcontracted for ashlar masonry (cf. 1 Kings 5:18, 6:7).

The great empires of the first millennium B.C. took notice of Byblos’ value as a supplier of lumber. In their ruthless campaigns into the region later known as Palestine, the Assyrians and Babylonians exacted tribute from Byblos in the form of timber. The Persian and Roman empires later secured the area as a source of supplies for maintaining their powerful navies.

Classical and postclassical building activities at the site virtually destroyed crucial occupational layers, including the Late Bronze and Iron Age levels. However, rich artificial deposits and temple architecture provide a window into the character of Byblos as a religious centre and a repository of Phoenician religious traditions. Enclosed within a fortification wall, the acropolis contained several religious buildings:

  • The Balaat Gebal temple, dedicated to the goddess “Lady of Byblos”, was first erected around 3100 B.C. and a royal inscription from Byblos provides evidence that a temple to Balaat was still present during the fifth century B.C.
  • The Obelisk temple complex (pictured above) (early second millennium B.C.) contained over 26 votive pillars within its precinct. Similar religious pillars would later be prohibited for the worship of Yahweh (cf. Deuteronomy 12:3-4).
  • Excavators discovered an abundance of votive offerings in form of golden axes, seals, amulets, figurines and inscribed offerings. These were placed into jars within temple foundations or in sacred rooms-
  • A Middle Bronze Age royal necropolis also attests to the affluence of the city. We know from documentary sources that in Roman times the city retained its status as a pilgrim centre for the cult of Adonis.

 

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