Phoenicians or Philistines? Some recent DNA tests say that they are the same people, but were they “way back when?”
The answer is, by blood only, not by culture.
The Phoenicians were the descendants of Shem from the same area that Nahor, Abraham’s brother settled, and had become Abraham’s herders and craftsmen.
According to current scientific thinking, the Phoenicians settled in the region of the Lebanese mountains to take advantage of the cedars used in ship-building. According to their own traditions, Byblos was settled by Ninurta, the son of Enlil, the king of the giants, to house his human servants just after the great flood. His own home was in Baalbek with its colossal stones, the valley just over the ridge of mountains. When the sailors first visited Egypt, their ships, made of the cedars of Lebanon, caused a sensation, and sparked intense trade in papyrus (paper to us today, and the source of its Greek name) from Egypt for the magnificent tall cedar logs. The trade eventually moved down to Tyre to be nearer the best cedar forests.
The Phoenicians never stayed in an area where warfare came to them. They were traders, not fighters. True, some of them did join the invasions of the coast during the times of turmoil, but only because their homes were destroyed by volcanoes and earthquakes, and they had their families with them when they moved. They were fighting for survival, a place to plant their families and start new lives.
The warriors of Egypt who defeated the Sea-People invaders clearly differentiated between the Philistines and the Phoenicians, saying that the Phoenicians were circumcised, while the Philistines were not. This is borne out in the Bible (a word taken from the Phoenician traders of Byblos, who specialized in Egyptian paper) where the Philistines are clearly defined as never circumcised, while the Phoenicians were classed as marriageable because they were under the covenant of Abraham, the only group that practiced circumcision in those days. The only way they could be under the covenant was to be servants in Abraham’s household when the covenant was concluded. Then, when Esau took all the livestock while Jacob was in the pastures of Aram and Isaac was blind and bed-ridden, the men, who numbered in the hundreds, took their families and migrated to the sea coast in order to establish a livelihood through trade, which they had developed to a high skill while Abraham was alive.
There are two factors that support this besides circumcision. The first is that the Phoenicians were known as master builders and master craftsmen who could read and write. Recall that the only reason given in the Bible for Abraham to be named as the successor to Shem was that El was certain he would educate his children, which included his servants, hired hands, and the women and children who were associated with his camp. This is the basis for the Phoenicians being the teachers of writing to all the other groups with whom they had contact.
The second is that the Phoenician language and ancient Hebrew are one and the same. It is still alive today in the area of Wales as Gaelic. This language included mathematics, which illiterate people lack. This knowledge allowed the craftsmen to lay out complex structures, calculate the carrying load of tall columns, and measure accurately for construction of fine furniture and intricate art-work, in all of which the Phoenicians were known to excel.
They were all also excellent astronomers and astrologers, with Abraham documented as sitting out at night to see whether the constellation that predicted rainfall for the following year could be seen or not. There is literature extant that says that Abraham taught the Egyptian priests all the arts for which they were known during the five years that he spent in Egypt during the famine, the one that Sarah spent in Pharaoh’s court under the jealous hand of Hagar, mistress of Pharaoh’s harem, “grinding at the mill like a donkey,” for which Pharaoh apologized by giving Hagar to Sara in compensation for the humiliation she endured during that time.
The intertwining of the Phoenicians with the kingdom of Northern Israel became so tight-knit that the two groups merged in history. While Samaria was being besieged, most of Northern Israel fled to the Phoenicians, some to join them in trade, but most of them to take ships to distant ports away from the fighting. The population was so great that they scattered to every port the Phoenicians knew along the ocean beaches and up the rivers to far-inland ports. The shape of their trading ships even turns up in the design of the whaling canoes of the supposedly Native American tribe in Neah Bay in the state of Washington, U.S.A. with its horse’s head and upturned, flat-topped rear deck. There is no similar integration with the tribes of Simeon and Judah after they split from Northern Israel, so if the connection is made, it always harks back to the 10-tribes of Northern Israel, the ones who were supposedly “lost,” and their Phoenician allies.
The most recent iteration of the Phoenicians were the Portuguese traders, the ones that were described as, “Portugal is their cradle, the world is their grave.” They and their Spanish cousins were the ones who were lords of the sea when England rose to a world power through naval dominance.
They are still scattered around the ports of the world, trading in everything that gets traded but not sailing so much any more. They are not the ones who volunteered their genetic material to researches, but the ones who were too shy to disclose their heritage. They are biding their time until the return of the days when independent ship merchants can be successful once more, and that will happen when Tyre is rebuilt.
That day is not as far off as many imagine, but it will come in its own time.