by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 52 | Contents | Chapter 54

The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine

Cunningham Geikie D.D.

With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
Special Edition


The Vicinity of Sidon—Historical DetailsPopulation, &c.The Ancient Dye-WorksBuried TreasuresSarcophagus of Esmunazar—A Fulfilled Curse

From Beirout to Tyre and Sidon is a wearisome journey along the seashore, through miles of deep sand, round wild mountainous headlands, or beside the dashing water, which is as unpleasant to the horse as to its rider. But the beauty of the neighbourhood of Sidon makes one forget petty troubles. All the growths of warm climates flourish here in thick groves—pomegranates, almonds, palms, bananas, apricots, figs, olives, citrons, plums, pears, peaches, and cherries. Sidon supplies the market of Damascus with oranges, as I have had occasion to say in describing that city; for the yellow globes do not ripen in the gardens of the Syrian capital, which lies about 2,400 feet above the sea. Like all the old Phoenician cities, the "Mother of Tyre" lay on a rocky promontory, where it enjoyed easy intercourse with the distant lands to which its commerce extended. On the north the ground slopes gently to the beach and then falls back into a small bay, a low reef stretching parallel with the shore across its mouth, thus forming a natural breakwater, inside which the smaller vessels of antiquity could ride in safety. There is also a long, narrow island, to which the population could retire in time of danger, as there was at Tyre and at some other Phoenician towns.

Sidon was the oldest city of Phoenicia (Gen 10:15), and in ancient times the most famous, for Homer, who never speaks of Tyre, mentions Sidon more than once. The fair Sidonian garments woven by Sidonian women are extolled in the Iliad, and the silver and other metal work of the Phoenician city is praised, as famous beyond all other of the kind in the world.* The Hebrews assigned the whole district to the tribe of Asher (Josh 19:28), but it never obtained the prize (Judg 1:31, 3:3, 10:12).** Sidon was taken by the Philistines about 1,200 years before Christ, and Tyre from that time became the chief Phoenician city.*** Isaiah, however, centuries later, speaks of the merchants of Sidon (23:2), and Ezekiel refers to the fame of its sailors (27:8) as late as the sixth century before Christ. Its timber-hewers were in great repute in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 5:6; 1 Chron 22:4), and in that of Ezra (3:7), so that, although Tyre was still greater, Sidon continued to flourish. The "coasts of Tyre and Sidon" visited by our Lord were in all probability the plain, scarcely five miles broad at Sidon, on which these two cities stood (Matt 15:21; Mark 7:24), so that He was very near the great heathen centres. Nor was Sidon, in its turn, without a band of Christian converts, even in the time of St. Paul; for the great Apostle, when he "touched at " it as a prisoner on his way to Rome, was "courteously" allowed "liberty to go unto his friends" there, "to refresh himself" (Acts 27:3).

* Iliad, xxiii. 741 ff.       ** Jos. Ant. xv. 4. 1.       *** Geikie, Hours with the Bible, iii. 347.

During the two Crusading centuries Sidon was in the hands of the Christians several times, once for seventy-five years, but in A.D. 1291 it finally passed into the possession of the Mahommedans; and whatever life it now shows is only a gradual revival, the result of Christian energy and industry, especially on the part of the French, who were finally driven from it less than 100 years ago. The population is about 10,000, of whom 7,000 are Moslems and Metawilehs, 700 Jews, and the rest Christians of different sects. The Franciscans, who are very strong in Palestine, have a large monastery here, watched, as usual, by the Jesuits, to whom their liberality of mind is hateful—a Jesuit school supplying an agency for keeping the monks under supervision. There is also a Roman Catholic orphanage, and a school of the Sisters of St. Joseph; and the Americans have a missionary station, as efficient and well managed as one could well desire.

Sidon, like Tyre, was famous from the earliest ages for its dye-works, which produced the purple so much esteemed by the ancients. This was obtained from two species of shell-fish of the family known as murex—shells with rough points outside and a spindle-like prolongation at the upper end. The secretion which yields the dye varies in shade in different species. Originally whitish, it grows, when exposed to sunlight, first yellow, then green, and finally, in the different molluscs, red, or violet-purple. The abundance of these valuable shellfish on the Phoenician coast led to the founding of Dora, and there, as at Tyre and Sidon, although they are now virtually extinct in the shallow water, whole masses of them are, at times, thrown up from the sea, after storms. From the earliest ages the smoke of the dye-works of Tyre and Sidon must have been seen from the hills behind, curling up into the clear sky; and the sight must have been familiar to the Jews, and to the Divine Child of Nazareth.

There are not many antiquities in Sidon, wave after wave of conquest having swept away most traces of the remote past. Tombs abound in the plain and on the sides of the hills behind the town; some of them with many chambers for the dead, like the so-called Tombs of the Kings at Jerusalem. At the north-west angle of the harbour are some immense stones, each about ten feet square, the remains of ancient quays and sea-walls. The castle, of which I have already spoken, is very interesting. Part of it is nearly solid, with granite pillars built into the wall at regular distances, these buttresses being part of the wreck of ancient mansions, public buildings, and temples.

Buried treasures are not unfrequently found in the neighbourhood of Sidon, and the number of ancient coins in circulation, here and elsewhere, through Palestine and Syria is wonderful, though many of them are of little value. The most famous discovery, for value and interest, took place about fifty years ago, when some workmen, as they were digging, found a number of copper jars full of gold coins of Alexander the Great and his father Philip, each worth more than a sovereign. How they came there it is of course impossible to say, but they must have been hidden from the time of the Macedonian world-conqueror, 2,200 years ago.

The greatest discovery ever made at Sidon, however, was not a hoard of coin, but the sarcophagus of Esmunazar, "King of the Sidonians," who lived in the fourth century before Christ. In January, 1855, the French Consul at Beirout heard of the discovery at Sidon of a wonderful sarcophagus of hard black basalt, finely polished, and instantly took measures to secure it for his nation. A long inscription on its lid, in an unknown character, heightened the general excitement, till all the town went out to see it. The lid is peculiar from its imitation of the Egyptian custom of having the upper end wrought into a likeness of the deceased; the head-dress, too, being quite unusual. The face is larger than life, with a rather low forehead, almond-shaped, projecting eyes, a broad, flat nose, thick negro-like lips, a small chin, and large ears standing out somewhat from the head. But there is nothing unpleasant in the countenance on the whole, for a smile plays over it and redeems it from plainness. A beard, like that seen on Egyptian coffins, hangs from the chin—a false one, as was usual in the valley of the Nile—and a bird, perhaps a dove, sits on each shoulder. The proportions of the lid—seven feet by four—do not admit of elegance in the figure, the whole surface being covered with it, contrary to all requirements of symmetry. The inscription occupies twenty-two lines, which are in perfect preservation. Such a relic of Phoenicia created as great a stir as that caused, at a later day, by the Moabite stone; no lower than forty scholars having, since its discovery, made translations of the invaluable text which it supplies. The following is mainly the version of Professor Oppert and that of Renan, the last published:—

" In the month of Bul,* in the fourteenth year of the reign of King Esmunazar, king of the Sidonians, son of King Tabnit, king of the Sidonians, King Esmunazar, king of the Sidonians, spoke, saying:

"I am snatched away before my time; my spirit has disappeared like the day [which dies into night], and since then I am silent, since then I became mute, and I am lying in this coffin, and in this tomb, the place which I have built.

"O Reader ! I adjure everyone, either of royal race or of lower birth, not to open my sepulchre to seek after treasures, for there are none hidden here with me; let no one move my coffin out of its place, nor disturb me in this my last bed, by laying another coffin over mine. If men command thee to do so, do not listen to them, for the punishment [of the violators of my grave] shall be: Every man of royal race, or of common birth, who shall open this sarcophagus, or who shall carry it away, or shall disturb me in it, he shall have no burial with the dead, he shall not be laid in a tomb, nor leave behind him any son or posterity, for the holy gods will extirpate them.

"Thou, whoever [thou art, who mayest] be king [after me], command those over whom thou mayest reign to cut off any, whether members of the royal race, or common men, who remove the lid of this sarcophagus, or take it away; command them, also, to cut off even the offspring of such men, whether royal or common.**

"Let there be no root to them, to strike downwards; no fruit to shoot upwards, nor any living being [to perpetuate their memory] under the sun.

"For I am to be pitied—snatched away before my time—the son of the flood of days, disappearing like the light, from the time I became voiceless and silent.

"For I, Esmunazar, king of the Sidonians, son of King Tabnit, king of the Sidonians, [who was] the grandson of King Esmunazar, king of the Sidonians:

"And my mother Amastarte, the priestess of Astarte, our mistress, the Queen, the daughter of King Esmunazar, king of the Sidonians:

"It was we who built the temple of the gods, and the temple of Ashtaroth, in the seaside Sidon, and placed there the image of the Ashtaroth, and we built the temple of Eshmun.

"And it was we who built the temples of the gods of the Sidonians, in the seaside Sidon—the temple of Baal of Sidon, and the temple of Astarte, who bears the name of this Baal*** [that is, Astarte Peni Baal].

"The lord of kings gave us Dora and Joppa [towns on the coast of the plain of Sharon], with the fertile corn lands in the plain of Sharon, and added it to the territory of our land, that it may belong to the Sidonians for ever.

"O Reader! I adjure every man of royal race, and every common man, not to open my coffin, or deface [the inscriptions on] its lid, or disturb me in this my last bed, or carry away the sarcophagus in which I rest.

"Whoever does, let the holy gods extirpate them and their offspring for ever, whether they be of royal race or men of the common crowd!"

* We cannot tell whether this was in the flowery spring or in the glowing sun-scorched autumn.
** Renan renders this—"they, the gods, shall cut off any...they shall cut off even the offspring."
*** All Phoenician gods were Baal, and all goddesses Astarte.
Thus we stand, for the moment, in this glimpse into long-dead ages, face to face with men to whom Baal and Astarte were supreme in heaven and on earth. Dora and Joppa, also, live before us, with their moving life of more than two thousand years ago; and Sharon waves, then as now, with yellow grain, the reward of the patient husbandman. Poor Esmunazar's dread of being disturbed in his tomb was not unfounded, and shows how ancient must have been the practice of rifling tombs for "hidden treasures." Who first violated his last home, so carefully guarded, so surrounded with ghostly imprecations against disturbers, no one can tell, for his sarcophagus had lain under a thin coating of garden soil, having been buried for ages, before a happy accident brought it to light. It is very singular, however, to trace the subsequent history of this violation of the grave. The Duke de Luynes, who bought the sarcophagus and presented it to the French Government, fell in Italy, in the war with Austria, in 1859; and there, also, his only son perished. The Emperor Napoleon, who caused it to be brought to Paris, ended his days a discrowned exile, in England, and his only son met an untimely death in South Africa; nor is there a single descendant left of either the Duke de Luynes or Napoleon III. I do not mean to suggest that the imprecations of the long-dead Sidonian king brought about this singular fatality, but the coincidence is one of the strangest of which I know.


Chapter 52 | Contents | Chapter 54


Notes on Revelation | Judeo-Christian Research

This online book is original to this site.
This online book has been edited.

1997-2006 NOR/JCR