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Friday, March 18, 2016
Palestine seen from classical Ionia
Herodotus wrote a fine, three-dimensional history of the Iron Age up to his own day (just prior to the Pelopponesian War, 440ish BC), from all around the Near East. His subject included Egypt, Syria, and the space between. I went looking for what Herodotus made of that space between.
I dug up a site, Semitic Controversies. Trigger warning: the author's the sort of guy who on the one hand denies that the "jews" (his lowercase) really exist, and on the other denies that there was a European campaign to make them not exist. In short he's an ass. But the quotes he's brought here are useful. They pretty much agree with the Jewish Encyclopedia which is... less antisemitic.
For Herodotus, there was a region called "Syria" which extended from our Syria all the way down to the coastal plain of modern Palestine. Adjacent to this is "Phoenicia", which the Greeks knew very well - Byblos, Tyre, Sidon and other Canaanite cities that did not detain S.C. and shan't detain us. "Palestine" is a part of non-Canaanite "Syria". The keynote city there was "Ascalan" (ie, Ashqelon, without the Canaani Shift). S.C. doesn't mention Ashdod - "Azotos", which is Canaani - at all; but Herodotus has additional comments on that city elsewhere.
The "Syrians of Palestine" practice circumcision - like "Phoenicians" - which they credit to the Egyptians, who live not far away; the Semites who live closer to the Greeks do not. "They" - Herodotus does not distinguish - further claim a tradition that they had, once, lived on the Persian Gulf.
One thing that I will say here: "Phoenicians" means people who still speak Canaanite (including Hebrew), against "Syrians" who speak a dialect of Assyrian Imperial Aramaic. Their tradition that they had moved here from the Gulf is reasonable given the various population-transfers 700-550 BC. Especially for Aramaic-speakers.
But these peoples seem to have told Herodotus that they'd made their trek long before that. As a result some see here a parallel to the Book of Genesis, perhaps to a pre-Genesis. SemiticControversies does not.
I have to split the difference. If Herodotus's interlocutors were offering Aramaic-language prayers to Ashtarte in a large public temple on the old Philistine coast, then these could not have been Jews. There's an argument for proto-Samaritans though.
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