Sanchuniathon (Greek: Σαγχουνιάθων; gen.: Σαγχουνιάθωνος) is the purported Phoenician author of three lost works originally in the Phoenician language, surviving only in partial paraphrase and summary of a Greek translation by Philo of Byblos, according to the Christian bishop Eusebius of Caesarea. These few fragments comprise the most extended literary source concerning Phoenician religion in either Greek or Latin: Phoenician sources, along with all of Phoenician literature, were lost with the parchment on which they were habitually written. He is also known as Sancuniates.
The compilers of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica warned that Sanchuniathon "belongs more to legend than to history." All our knowledge of Sanchuniathon and his work comes from Eusebius's Praeparatio Evangelica, (I. chs ix-x) 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 neo-Platonist writer Porphyry as stating that Sanchuniathon of Berytus (Beirut) wrote the truest history about the Jews because he obtained records from "Hierombalus" ("Jerubbaal"? or "Hiram'baal" ?) priest of the god Ieuo (Yahweh), that Sanchuniathon dedicated his history to Abibalus king of Berytus, 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 Greek or Phoenician writings are known to have survived to the time of Philo. Curiously, however, he is made to refer disparagingly to Hesiod at one point, who lived in Greece ca. 700 BC.
The supposed Sanchuniathon claimed to have based his work on "collections of 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 (compare euhemerism) as well as also worshipping forces of nature and the sun, moon, and stars. Eusebius' intent in mentioning Sanchuniathon is to discredit pagan religion based on such foundations.
This rationalizing euhemeristic slant and the emphasis on Beirut, a city of great importance in the late classical period but apparently of 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 pseudepigraphical format, in order to give the material more believable weight. Or Philo may have translated genuine Phoenician works ascribed to an ancient writer known as Sanchuniathon, but in fact written in more recent times.
- "The Humour which prevail'd with several learned Men to reject Sanchuniatho as a counterfeit because they knew not what to make of him, his Lordship always blam'd Philo Byblius, Porphyry and Eusebius, who were better able to judge than any Moderns, never call in question his being genuine."
However that may be, much of what has been preserved in this writing, despite the euhemeristic interpretation given it, turned out to be supported by the Ugaritic mythological texts excavated at Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) in Syria since 1929; Otto Eissfeldt demonstrated in 1952 that it does incorporate genuine Semitic elements that can now be related to the Ugaritic texts, some of which is shown in our versions of Sanchuniathon, remained unchanged since the second millennium BC. The modern consensus is that Philo's treatment of Sanchuniathon offered a Hellenistic view of Phoenician materials written between the time of Alexander the Great and the first century BC, if it was not a literary invention of Philo.
In what follows, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether Eusebius is citing Philo's translation of Sanchuniathon or speaking in his own voice. Another difficulty is the use of Greek proper names instead of Phoenician ones and the possible corruption of some of the Phoenician names that do appear. There may be other garblings.
The fragments that come down to us contain:
Philosophical creation story
A philosophical creation story traced to "the cosmogony of Taautus, whom Philo explicitly identified with the Egyptian Thoth—"the first who thought of the invention of letters, and began the writing of records"— which begins with Erebus and Wind, between which Eros 'Desire' came to be. From this was produced Môt which seems to be the Phoenician/Ge'ez/Hebrew/Arabic/Ancient Egyptian 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 Môt burst forth into light and the heavens were created and the various elements found their stations.
Following the etymological line of Jacob Bryant one might also consider with regard to the meaning of Môt, that according to the Ancient Egyptians Ma'at was the personification of the fundamental order of the universe, without which all of creation would perish. She was also considered the wife of Thoth.
Allegorical culture heroes
Copias and his wife Baau (translated as Nyx 'Night') give birth to Aeon and Protogonus ("first-born"), who are mortal men; "and that when droughts occurred, they stretched out their hands to heaven towards the sun; for him alone (he says) they regarded as god the lord of heaven, calling him Beelsamen, which is in the Phoenician language 'lord of heaven,' and in Greek 'Zeus.'" (Eusebius, I, x). A race of Titan-like mountain beings arose, "sons of surpassing size and stature, whose names were applied to the mountains which they occupied... and they got their names, he says, from their mothers, as the women in those days had free intercourse with any whom they met." Various descendants are listed, many of whom have allegorical names but are described in the quotations from Philo as mortals who first made particular 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 hyperlinks point to the northwest Semitic deity that is probably intended.
Elioun = Beruth (Hypsistus)| | +-------+------+ | | | | (Uranus)/(Epigeius) = (Ge) (Autochthon) | | +-----------+------------------------------+-----------+--------+----------------+-------+ | | | | | | | | | | | | | | Elus Baetylus (Uranus) = ? = Dagon/(Siton) (Atlas) Astarte = Elus = (Rhea) Baaltis (Cronus) | (Zeus Arotrios) (Aphrodite)| | (Dione) | | | | +-----------+--------+ | +++++++-------+-------+-+ +++++++----+ | | | | ||||||| | | ||||||| | | | | | ||||||| | | ||||||| | (Persephone) (Athena) (Sadidus) Demarûs Sydyc = (Titanides) (Pothos) (Eros) 7 sons Muth Adodus/(Zeus) | | (Artemides) (Qetesh) (Thanatos) | | | (Pluto) +------+ +++++++ +------+ | ||||||| | | ||||||| | Melcarthus (Cabeiri) (Asclepius) (Heracles) (Corybantes) (Samothraces) (Dioscuri)
Elus = Anobret (Nereus) born in Peraea | | | | | | +---------------+------------+ +----+ | | | | | | | | | | | (Cronus II) (Zeus) Belus (Apollo) Iedud (Pontus) Mot | | | | | | Sidon
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 Demarûs, that is Hadad Ramman, purported son of Dagon but actually son of Uranus, eventually joins with Uranus and wages war 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 by Asclepius, under Thoth's direction.
A passage about serpent worship follows in which it is not clear what part is from Sanchuniathon and what part from Philo of Byblus:
- The nature then of the dragon and of serpents Tauthus himself regarded as divine, and so again after him did the Phoenicians and Egyptians: for this animal was declared by him to be of all reptiles most full of breath, and fiery. In consequence of which it also exerts an unsurpassable swiftness by means of its breath, without feet and hands or any other of the external members by which the other animals make their movements. It also exhibits forms of various shapes, and in its progress makes spiral leaps as swift as it chooses. It is also most long-lived, and its nature is to put off its old skin, and so not only to grow young again, but also to assume a larger growth; and after it has fulfilled its appointed measure of age, it is self-consumed, in like manner as Tauthus himself has set down in his sacred books: for which reason this animal has also been adopted in temples and in mystic rites.
On the Phoenician Alphabet
A further work of Sanchuniathon noted by Eusebius (P.E. 1.10.45) is a treatise On the Phoenician Alphabet.
- Athenaeus does refer to Sanchuniathon in Deipnosophistae iii.100— essentially an "All You Need to Know in Order to Shine at a Banquet"— but he adds nothing he could not have found in Philo, M.J. Edwards notes, in "Philo or Sanchuniathon? A Phoenicean Cosmogony" The Classical Quarterly New Series, 41.1 (1991, pp. 213-220) p. 214. There is an entry in the Byzantine encyclopedia Suda that gives three titles Edwards considers to have been excerpts of the Phoenician History: they are Philosophy of Hermes, The Egyptian Theology and an Aegyptiaca.
- "older, as they say, than the Trojan times" (Eusebius, I, ch. viii). Porphyry's actual text does not survive, however. "During the Hellenistic and Roman periods antiquity was the proof of national virtue," M. J. Edwards remarks, in "Philo or Sanchuniathon? A Phoenicean Cosmogony" p. 214.
- Porphyry, quoted by Eusebius.
- The "Ammoneans" or priests of Ammon.
- Quoted by H.W.F.S. reviewing O. Eissfeldt's Sanchunjaton von Berut und Ilumilku von Ugarit in Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 17.2 (1955), p. 395.
- A review of the controversies surrounding Sanchuniathon is presented in J. Barr, "Philo of Bylos and his 'Phoenician History'", Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library 57 (1974), pp 17-68.
- O. Eissfeldt, Sanchunjaton von Berut und Ilumilku von Ugarit (Halle: Niemeyer) 1952, and Taautos und Sanchuniathon (Berlin) 1952.
- This is the view of Baumgarten 1981.
- McCants, William F. (2011). Founding Gods, Inventing Nations: Conquest and Culture Myths from Antiquity. Princeton University Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0-691-15148-9.
- Ebach, J., Weltentstehung und Kulturentwicklung bei Philo von Byblos, BWANT 108, Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln, Mainz: Kohlhammer, 1978.
- Attridge, H. W., and R. A. Oden, Jr., Philo of Byblos: The Phoenician History: Introduction, Critical Text, Translation, Notes, CBQMS 9 (Washington: D. C.: The Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1981).
- Baumgarten, Albert Irwin, The Phoenician History of Philo of Byblos: a Commentary EPRO 89 (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1981).
- Lipiński, E., “The ‘Phoenician History,’ of Philo of Byblos,” BiOr 40 (1983): 305-10.
- Tertullian.org: Eusebius Praeparatio, Book 1, chapters ix-x (Search on Sanchuniathon).
- Sacred Texts: Ancient Fragments, ed. and trans. I. P. Cory, 1832: "The Theology of the Phœnicians from Sanchoniatho"