Sidon: Ancient Phoenician City


Located in Lebanon, or the Phoenician coast, north of Tyre and south of Beroth/Beirut. The city was prominent in both Old and New Testaments, with Joshua including it in the land promised to Israel.

Location and dates of existence

According to Genesis 10:19, Sidon was the northern border of ancient Canaan, and thus a Canaanite city. It was later (Genesis 49:13) consider the border of Zebulun. Joshua (Josh 13:6) included the city in the promised land, and given to Asher (Josh 19:28) but never realized (Judges 1:31; 3:3). (Byers, Tyre and Sidon)

Archaeologically, the site existed possibly from the Neolithic period up until modern times. Unlike her sister cities, there is no myth surrounding the founding of Sidon, but Genesis 10:15 notes that Sidon was the firstborn son of Canaan, and was thus most likely settled by his descendants. Perhaps the most interesting finds from the site are the variety of stone "anthropoid" sarcophagi (Jidejian, Sidon, 112), showing a strong connection with Egypt.

Biblical Relevance

Biblical references to the city occur around 50 times in both the Old and New Testaments. As already noted above, Genesis 10:15 states that Sidon was the firstborn son of Canaan, and we assume that it was he who founded the city. Four verses later (10:19), the borders of Canaan or set as extending "from Sidon all the way to Gerar as far as Gaza, and all the way to Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha" (NET). Still in Genesis (49:13), Sidon is set as a border for Zebulun. Finally, inhabitants of Sidon are mentioned in Deuteronomy 3:9 in reference to Mt. Herman, which they call Sirion.

There are four occurrences in Joshua (11:8; 13:4,6; 19:28). Joshua 11:8 and 19:28 simply give border references, while 13:4,6 references driving out the Sidonians from the land. In Judges, the city finds seven occurrences (1:31; 3:3; 10:6, 12; 18:7, 28). Judges 1:31 states that Sidon was never conquered, and 3:3 explains why—the remaining nations were left to teach the next generation how to conduct holy war. seven chapters later (10:6, 12) we find that this next generation did not conquer the Sidonian's, even though the Lord would help. Judges 18:7, 28 simply mentions the Sidonians ("like the Sidonians" "far from Sidon") when speaking of another city.

There is only one reference to Sidon and Samuel (2 Sam 24:6), and that is in reference to David's census, but there are seven occurrences in Kings (1 Kgs 5:6; 11:1, 5, 33; 16:31; 17:9; 2 Kgs 23:13) and two in Chronicles (1 Chr 1:13; 22:41). The two Chronicles occurrences simply double information from Genesis 10:15 and 1 Kings 5:6. This 1 Kings 5:6 reference mentions purchasing cedar for the temple. The three occurrences in 1 Kings 11 represent the downfall of Solomon: marrying a Sidonian, worshiping the Sidonian goddess Astarte, and losing the kingdom because of this. The last two references in 1 Kings are a part of the Ahabite parenthesis, a time of fully established and state-sponsored Ba'alism. 1 Kings 16:31 introduces this with ith Ahab's marriage to Jezebel, the Sidonian princess, and in 17:9

Elijah escapes north to live with a Sidonian woman and wait. The one reference in 2 Kings (23:13) discusses Josiah's reforms, when he finally destroyed the temple of Astarte in Jerusalem. Ezra 3:7 mentions rebuilding the Temple using Sidonian timber.

Moving to the Prophets, we find thirteen references and these begin in Isaiah 23:2, 4, and 12 when we find the Lord judging Tyre and the Phoenician coast (including Sidon). In Jeremiah 25:22, we find all the nations of the Near East drinking the cup of God's wrath at the hand of the Babylonians, and in Jeremiah 27:3 we find Sidon listed to whom should receive a message about submission to Babylon. Finally, in Jeremiah 47:4 Sidon is referenced in needing help from the Philistines, who are being judged.

Of all the prophetic books, Ezekiel has the most references at four (27:8; 28:21-22; 32:30). The first three mentions are found in the judgment of Tyre and the Phoenician coast, and Ezekiel 32:30, said on and others are mentioned as examples in the judgment of Egypt. The final two references are from the minor prophets (Joel 3:4 and Zechariah 9:2) where, again, judgment is made—against the nations in Joel and Aram in Zechariah.

References to Sidon are made in the New Testament as well, all but two occurrences being in the Gospels. Not surprisingly is the fact that the first occurrences (Matt 11:21-22) are in judgment references – Jesus' "woes" upon unrepentant cities, but in Matthew 15:21 we find the great faith of a Canaanite woman in the regional Trye and Sidon. In Mark 3:8 a great crowd follows Jesus, including people from Tyre and Sidon, and it Mark 7:24, 31 we again see the great faith of the Phoenician woman and Jesus' travels through Sidon. Luke (4:26) makes mention of the Elijah story, and in 6:17 we find Sidonians joining the sermon on the plane. Luke 10:13–14, again, mentions Tyre and Sidon in the woes upon unrepentant cities.

Finally, in Acts 12:20, Herod quarreled with Tyrians and Sidonians, and in Acts 27:3 Paul landed at Sidon during his travels.

Commercial influence

Though Tyre appears to be the key to Phoenician commercial expansion, Sidon and Sidonians undoubtedly played a role. The Iron Age was the golden age of Phoenician trade, and together the Phoenician people reached as far west as the Atlantic Ocean—dotting the map with settlements along the way.

History of Sidon

Modern excavations led by the British Museum unearthed six phases of early Bronze Age domestic settlement (ca. 3000–2300 BC), but there is evidence for earlier settlement. As most of the ancient city is under the current city, much of what we know about the city comes from Egyptian, Babylonian, Assyrian, and Greek sources. Unfortunately, there is no myth surrounding the founding of Sidon, but the Bible may speak of it in Genesis 10. Sidon appears in the Amarna tablets, dating to ca.1350 BC.

The Golden age of Sidonian history coincides with Phoenician expansion, and dates from 1200–900 BC. With the collapse of palatial economies throughout the Mediterranean, the Phoenician coastal cities were able to step up and fill the trade gaps. This led to expansion as far as Huelva, Spain dating to around 1000 BC and all throughout the Mediterranean. Expansion and colonization was furthered under the pressures of the Assyrian dominance.

From 900–550 BC, Sidon fell under Assyrian and then Babylonian control, and then from 550–330 BC under Persian influence—Artaxerxes III destroying the city. With the golden age over, the region fell to Hellenism (330–69 BC) and then Roman rule (from 64 BC until the end of the biblical era).

Bibliography

Byers, Gary. "The Biblical Cities Of Tyre And Sidon," Bible and Spade 13.2, 2000.

Jidejian, Nina. Sidon, Through the Ages. Beirut: Dar el-Mach-req, 1971.

Markoe, Glenn. The Phoenicians. London: Folio Society, 2005.

Extra Material

For current excavation material, please see the British Museum's Sidon Excavation site: https://www.britishmuseum.org/research/research_projects/all_current_projects/sidon_excavations.asp

#archaeology #ancient #cities #Phoenician #Sidon

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