Saturday, January 27, 2018

Josephine Quinn's "In Search of the Phoenicians"

Josephine Quinn is associate professor of ancient history at the University of Oxford and a fellow of Worcester College. She is the coeditor of The Hellenistic West and The Punic Mediterranean.

Quinn applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, In Search of the Phoenicians, and reported the following:
We have no evidence that the ancient people we call Phoenicians called themselves Phoenician. In fact, there’s no evidence they had a collective identity at all. Having established this basic point, and before I trace the Phoenicians’ evolution into the historical and cultural ‘people’ we know today, the middle section of my book looks at communities they did create in antiquity, with a focus on communities of religion.

Page 99 is the big reveal in my first case study, where I discuss community-building through child sacrifice among Phoenician diaspora settlements in the central Mediterranean. Child sacrifice may be something that only Phoenicians did, but very few Phoenicians did it, and they were all neighbours. At Carthage in modern Tunisia, at least 20,000 children were offered to gods in an open-air ‘tophet’ that remained in use until the Romans destroyed the city in 146 BCE, and similar sanctuaries are found in about ten nearby coastal settlements in Africa, Sicily, and Sardinia.

Theories about why these sanctuaries are only found in such a small region tend to ignore or even deny the nature of the cult practised there, and look instead for other distinguishing features of these particular settlements. Perhaps these were larger agricultural colonies, some suggest, while places further west were smaller trading and mining outposts, and so less in need of civic sanctuaries. The problem is that there’s actually more evidence for both urbanism and agriculture in the far western colonies, while the ‘Circle of the Tophet’ itself looks more commercial, huddled round the Straits of Sicily through which all east-west Mediterranean shipping passed.

Another idea is that this is a transplanted homeland community, from a particular city, class, or political faction in the Levant. But, I say, “what if the connection between this group of settlements that all conducted child sacrifice was, quite simply, child sacrifice?” We know from the Hebrew Bible that there was widespread disapproval of the practice in the Levant. Like the migration of the Puritans to the New World, I suggest, Carthage and its neighbours were founded by refugees from a dissident religious tradition, fleeing intolerance at home to practice their unusual rites in a new world.
Learn more about In Search of the Phoenicians at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue