Tag Archives: Lebanon

More about Royal Purple

Reader/friend A.D. Riddle has supplied me with a nice photo of some Murex shells that he made in the Beirut National Museum.

Murex Shells in the National Museum of Beirut. Photo by A.D. Riddle.

Murex Shells in the National Museum of Beirut. Photo by A.D. Riddle.

Riddle also sent a copy of a 2004 essay by Joseph Doumet on “Purple Dye” (in Decade: A Decade of Archaeology and History in the Lebanon. Ed. C. Doumet-Serhal. Beirut: Lebanese of the National Museum). This is fascinating for those who may be interested in following up on this subject.

Some of the comments about the process of dyeing by Pliny the Elder impressed me. Pliny wrote his Natural History during the three years preceding his death in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (A.D. 79). Pliny writes about the Murex Trunculus in Book 1x.

The murex also does this in a similar manner, but it has the famous flower of purple, sought after for dyeing robes, in the middle of its throat: here is a white vein of very scanty fluid from which that precious dye, suffused with a dark rose colour, is drained, but the rest of the body produces nothing. People strive to catch this fish alive, because it discharges this juice with its life; and from the larger purples they get the juice by stripping off the shell, but they crush the smaller ones alive with the shell, as that is the only way to make them disgorge the juice. The best Asiatic purple is at Tyre.

Notice especially these expressions:

  • Sought after for dyeing robes.
  • Precious dye.
  • The best Asiatic purple is at Tyre.

Murex is the source of Royal Purple

From 1967 to 1975 I took a group to Lebanon each year except one. Tyre was always an important stop on the tour. Tour members were interested in understanding the prophecies of Ezekiel and the historical context associated with both the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great.

It was possible in the early days to find Murex shells like the two I have included in the photograph below. Click on the image for a larger photo suitable for use in teaching.

Murex shells collected at Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murex shells collected at Tyre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

There are different species of the Murex. A display in the British Museum mentions Purpura haemastoma, Murex trunculus, and Murex brandaris. I think the shells above are Murex trunculus. If a reader knows otherwise, please leave a comment. The Museum sign says,

The prized purple dye, for which the Phoenicians were renowned, came from a gland of the murex snail. Each snail yielded only a drop of yellow liquid which darkened to purple on exposure to light. Processing required slow simmering for almost two weeks. Up to 60,000 snails were needed for a pound of dye. Different tints were achieved by varying the amounts of extract from different species.

Patricia M. Bikai writes about the value of Royal Purple and the legend about the discovery of it.

Royal Purple had an enormous value, worth as much as 10 to 20 times its weight in gold (Born 106-11, 124-128).

According to legend, Royal Purple was discovered by Melkart (Hercules), the city-god and king of Tyre, when he and the nymph Tyros were walking along the Phoenician shore with their dog. The dog, playing with a large Murex, bit into it and it stained his mouth purple. Melkart then dyed a robe with it and gave it to Tyros. (Bikai in Martha Sharp Joukowsky, ed., The Heritage of Tyre, 68)

The citizens of the island city of Tyre remember the history of their city. On my last visit in 2002 I noticed a sign announcing the opening of the Murex cafe. I wonder if they have wifi.

Murex Cafe at Tyre, Lebanon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Murex Cafe at Tyre, Lebanon. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Purple was the royal color in ancient times. The prophet Ezekiel mentions blue and purple as symbolic of Tyre.

Your sail was made of fine embroidered linen from Egypt, and served as your banner. Your awning was of blue and purple fabric from the coasts of Elishah. (Ezekiel 27:7 CSB)

The great harlot of Revelation 17 is clothed in purple.

The woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, precious stones, and pearls. She had a gold cup in her hand filled with everything vile and with the impurities of her prostitution. (Revelation 17:4 CSB)

Scroll down two or three posts to read more about Phoenicias and purple.

Replica Phoenician ship completes 20,000 mile voyage

A replica of a 600 B.C. Phoenician ship has almost completed 20,000 miles and two years at sea.

The replica Phoenician ship, captained by British explorer Philip Beale, has completed the circumnavigation of Africa – a voyage made by Phoenicians in 600 BC. With up to 16 crew members on any one leg the replica vessel has welcomed sailors from all corners of the globe.

The voyage has presented Captain Beale and his international crew with many challenges including losing one of the ship’s rudders in the Red Sea, the threat of piracy off the Somali coast and gale force weather conditions around the Cape of Good Hope. At the end of the expedition the ship will have visited 14 countries – each time sparking interest in the achievements of ancient Phoenician mariners.

The successful completion of the voyage is of enormous significance to historians and archaeologists as it proves that the Phoenician vessels were capable of sailing around the African continent – something that has been the cause of much speculation over centuries.

The ship will complete its voyage  at Arwad, Syria, where it was built.

Phoenician Ship under sail in the North Atlantic. Courtesy Phoenicia Ship Expedition.

Phoenician Ship under sail in the North Atlantic. Courtesy Phoenicia Ship Expedition.

For more information read the short article in the Gibraltar Chronicle here. A web site about the expedition is available at Phoenicia.

The prophet Ezekiel foretold the fall of the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre. I suggest you read the entire account in Ezekiel 26-28. Notice especially these verses about the effect that the fall of Tyre had on other nations and merchants.

The ships of Tarshish traveled for you with your merchandise. So you were filled and heavily laden in the heart of the seas. “Your rowers have brought you out into the high seas. The east wind has wrecked you in the heart of the seas. Your riches, your wares, your merchandise, your mariners and your pilots, your caulkers, your dealers in merchandise, and all your men of war who are in you, with all your crew that is in your midst, sink into the heart of the seas on the day of your fall.

At the sound of the cry of your pilots the countryside shakes, and down from their ships come all who handle the oar. The mariners and all the pilots of the sea stand on the land and shout aloud over you and cry out bitterly. They cast dust on their heads and wallow in ashes; they make themselves bald for you and put sackcloth on their waist, and they weep over you in bitterness of soul, with bitter mourning. In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you and lament over you: ‘Who is like Tyre, like one destroyed in the midst of the sea? (Ezekiel 27:25-32 ESV)

For a larger image of the photo suitable for use in teaching click on the photo above.

HT: PaleoJudaica.

Baalbek – Roman Heliopolis

In the early days of my travel to the Middle East (1967-1975) our groups always visited Baalbek. From Beirut on the beautiful Mediterranean we drove  through the Lebanon Mountains.to the Beka Valley where Baalbek is located. This valley is more than 3800 feet above sea level. The headwaters of the Orentes and Libani rivers are in this valley.

In Roman times Baalbek was called Heliopolis, the City of the Sun. The ruins at Baalbek are among the most impressive in the world. There are three temples: (1)  Jupiter; (2) Baachus; (3) Venus.

In the quarry near Baalbek there is a stone which is estimated to weigh 2,000 tons,. It often suggested that it is the largest hewn stone in the world. The stone is 70 1/2 feet long x 13 3/4 feet high x 15 3/4 feet wide.

My last visit to Baalbek was in 2002. The Beka Valley was a Hezbollah stronghold and was filled with soldiers and artillery, all pointed south.

I would like to see peace prevail in Lebanon for many reasons. The one I will mention here is that it would allow many people of the West the opportunity to see the wonderful sites of the country, including Baalbek.

This photo is of the reconstructed propylaea, the monumental gateway, leading to the temple platform.

The reconstructed propylaea of Roman Baalbek. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The reconstructed propylaea of Roman Baalbek. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Dog River in Lebanon

The Nahr el Kelb, the River of the Dog, flows into the Mediterranean Sea about nine miles north of Beirut, Lebanon. In antiquity the river was known as the Lycus. Many important armies have traveled through this pass in the Lebanon mountains leaving their inscriptions on the cliffs.

There are inscriptions or reliefs from the following ancient rulers:

  • Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II.
  • Assyrian kings Shalmaneser III and Esarhaddon.
  • Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar.

Shalmaneser III took tribute from Jehu, the king of Israel,  841 B.C. Wright says,

“The tribute was evidently received after Shalmaneser’s fifth attack on Damascus, following which he had marched his army into Phoenicia. While there he says that he received the tribute of Tyre, Sidon, and Jehu, and placed his portrait on the cliff of Ba’ lira’ si. This portrait, along with those of other kings, including Rameses II of Egypt…” is located at Dog River, north of Beirut. (Biblical Archaeology, 158-159).

Jehu was king of Israel in the 9th century B.C. (2 Kings 9). The Bible does not record this event, but the annals of Shalmaneser III record the following information:

“…I (also) marched as far as the mountains of Ba’li-ra’si which is a promontory (lit.: at the side of the sea) and erected there a stela with my image as king. At that time I received the tribute of the inhabitants of Tyre, Sidon and of Jehu, son of Ornri.” (ANET, 280)

This photo, made in 2002, shows the reliefs left by Salmaneser III and Ramses (right).

Reliefs of Shalmaneser III and Pharaoh Ramses at Dog River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Reliefs of Shalmaneser III and Pharaoh Ramses at Dog River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Byblos in Lebanon

Byblos is located on the Mediterranean Sea about 25 miles north of Beirut, Lebanon.The ancient Phoenician city of Gebal (modern Arabic Jbeil) was called Byblos by the Greeks because they saw scrolls there made from imported papyrus sheets. The Greek word byblos is translated book in our English versions of the Bible. In fact, our word Bible is derived from the work byblos.

The Gebalites worked with the builders of  Solomon and Hiram to fashion and prepare timber and stone to build the temple (1 Kings 5:17-18). The old men of Gebal are mentioned in the lamentation over Tyre.

The elders of Gebal and her skilled men were in you, caulking your seams; all the ships of the sea with their mariners were in you to barter for your wares. (Ezekiel 27:9 ESV)

Byblos is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The history of Byblos is revealed in the excavated ruins.

  • Canaanite or Phoenician ruins as early as 3000 B.C.
  • Egyptian ruins from about 1300 B.C. Rib Addi, king of Byblos wrote letters to Pharaoh Amenophis III to request reinforcements against his neighbors. These letters are part of the collection of letters found at Amarna.
  • Roman ruins from the time of Pompey, about 65 B.C.
  • Crusader ruins from the 12th century A.D.

My last visit to Byblos was in 2002. This is a photo I took of the Egyptian Temple of Obelisks which was dedicated to the Egyptian god Reshef.

The Temple of Obelisks at Byblos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Temple of Obelisks at Byblos. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.