The Philistines, by R.A.S. Macalister, , at sacred-texts.com
The Golénischeff papyrus 1 was found in 1891 at El-Khibeh in Upper Egypt. It is the personal report of the adventures of an Egyptian messenger to Lebanon, sent on an important semi-religious, semi-diplomatic mission. The naïveté of the style makes it one of the most vivid and convincing narratives that the ancient East affords.
Ramessu III is nominally on the throne, and the papyrus is dated in his fifth year. The real authority at Thebes is, however, Hrihor, the high priest of Amon, who is ultimately to usurp the sovereignty and become the founder of the Twenty-first Dynasty. In Lower Egypt, the Tanite noble Nesubenebded, in Greek Smendes, has control of the Delta. Egypt is in truth a house divided against itself.
On the sixteenth day of the eleventh month of the fifth year of Ramessu, one Wen-Amon was dispatched from Thebes to fetch timber for the barge called User-het, the great august sacred barge of Amon-Ra, king of the gods. Who Wen-Amon may have been, we do not certainly know; he states that he had a religious office, but it is not clear what this was. It speaks eloquently for the rotten state of Egypt at the time, however, that no better messenger could be found than this obviously incompetent person—a sort of Egyptian prototype of the Rev. Robert Spalding! With him was an image of Amon, which he looked upon as a kind of fetish, letters of credit or of introduction, and the wherewithal to purchase the timber.
Sailing down the Nile, Wen-Amon in due time reached Tanis, and presented himself at the court of Nesubenebded, who with his wife Tentamon, received the messenger of Amon-Ra with fitting courtesy. He handed over his letters, which (being themselves unable to decipher them) they caused to be read: and they said, 'Yea, yea,
[paragraph continues] I will do all that our lord Amon-Ra saith.' Wen-Amon tarried at Tanis till a fortnight had elapsed from his first setting out from Thebes; and then his hosts put him in charge of a certain Mengebti, captain of a ship about to sail to Syria. This was rather casual; evidently Mengebti's vessel was an ordinary trading ship, whereas we might have expected (and as appears later the Syrians did expect) that one charged with an important special message should be sent in a special ship. At this point the thoughtless Wen-Amon made his first blunder. He forgot all about reclaiming his letters of introduction from Nesubenebded, and so laid up for himself the troubles even now in store for the helpless tourist who tries to land at Beirut without a passport. Like the delightful pilgrimage of the mediaeval Dominican Felix Fabri, the modernness of this narrative of antiquity is not one of its least attractions.
On the first day of the twelfth month Mengebti's ship set sail. After a journey of unrecorded length the ship put in at Dor, probably the modern Tantura on the southern coast of the promontory of Carmel. Dor was inhabited by Zakkala (a very important piece of information) and they had a king named Badyra. We are amazed to read that, apparently as soon as the ship entered the harbour, this hospitable monarch sent to Wen-Amon 'much bread, a jar of wine, and a joint of beef'. I verily believe that this was a tale got up by some bakhshish-hunting huckster. The simpleminded tourist of modern days is imposed upon by similar magnificent fables.
There are few who have travelled much by Levant steamers without having lost something by theft. Sufferers may claim Wen-Amon as a companion in misfortune. As soon as the vessel touched at Dor, some vessels of gold, four vessels and a purse of silver—in all 5 deben or about 1 1/5 lb. of gold and 31 deben or about 7½ lb. of silver—were stolen by a man of the ship, who decamped. This was all the more serious, because, as appears later, these valuables were actually the money with which Wen-Amon had been entrusted for the purchase of the timber.
So Wen-Amon did exactly what he would have done in the twentieth century AḌ. He went the following morning and interviewed the governor, Badyra. There was no Egyptian consul at the time, so he was obliged to conduct the interview in person. 'I have been robbed in thy harbour,' he says, 'and thou, being king, art he who should judge, and search for my money. The money indeed belongs to Amon-Ra, and Nesubenebded, and Hrihor my lord: it also belongs to Warati, and Makamaru, and Zakar-Baal prince of Byblos'
[paragraph continues] —the last three being evidently the names of the merchants who had been intended to receive the money. The account of Abraham's negotiations with the Hittites is not more modern than the king's reply. We can feel absolutely certain that he said exactly the words which Wen-Amon puts in his mouth: 'Thy honour and excellency! Behold, I know nothing of this complaint of thine. If the thief were of my land, and boarded the ship to steal thy treasure, I would even repay it from mine own treasury till they found who the thief was. But the thief belongs to thy ship (so I have no responsibility). Howbeit, wait a few days and I will seek for him.' Wen-Amon had to be content with this assurance. Probably nothing was done after he had been bowed out from the governor's presence: in any case, nine days elapsed without news of the missing property. At the end of the time Wen-Amon gave up hope, and made up his mind to do the best he could without the money. He still had his image of Amon-Ra, and he had a child-like belief that the foreigners would share the reverent awe with which he himself regarded it. So he sought permission of the king of Dor to depart.
Here comes a lacuna much to be deplored. A sadly broken fragment helps to fill it up, but consecutive sense is unattainable. 'He said unto me "Silence!" . . . and they went away and sought their thieves . . . and I went away from Tyre as dawn was breaking . . . Zakar-Baal, prince of Byblos. . . there I found 30 deben of silver and took it . . . your silver is deposited with me . . . I will take it . . . they went away . . . I came to . . . the harbour of Byblos and . . . to Amon, and I put his goods in it. The prince of Byblos sent a messenger to me . . . my harbour. I sent him a message . . .' These, with a few other stray words, are all that can be made out. It seems as though Wen-Amon tried to recoup himself for his loss by appropriating the silver of some one else. At any rate, the fragment leaves Wen-Amon at his destination, the harbour of Byblos. Then the continuous text begins again. Apparently Zakar-Baal has sent a message to him to begone and to find a ship going to Egypt in which he could sail. Why Zakar-Baal was so inhospitable does not appear. Indeed daily, for nineteen days, he kept sending a similar message to the Egyptian, who seems to have done nothing one way or another. At last Wen-Amon found a ship about to sail for Egypt, and made arrangements to go as a passenger in her, despairing of ever carrying out his mission. He put his luggage on board and then waited for the darkness of night to come on board with his image of Amon, being for some reason anxious that none but himself should see this talisman.
But now a strange thing happened. One of the young men of Zakar-Baal's entourage was seized with a prophetic ecstasy—the first occurrence of this phenomenon on record—and in his frenzy cried, Bring up the god! Bring up Amon's messenger that has him! Send him, and let him go.' Obedient to the prophetic message Zakar-Baal sent down to the harbour to summon the Egyptian. The latter was much annoyed, and protested, not unreasonably, at this sudden change of attitude. Indeed he suspected a ruse to let the ship go off; with his belongings, and leave him defenceless at the mercy of the Byblites. The only effect of his protest was an additional order to 'hold up' the ship as well.
In the morning he presented himself to Zakar-Baal. After the sacrifice had been made in the castle by the sea-shore where the prince dwelt, Wen-Amon was brought into his presence. He was 'sitting in his upper chamber, leaning his back against a window, while the waves of the great Syrian sea beat on the shore behind him'. To adapt a passage in one of Mr. Rudyard Kipling's best-known stories, we can imagine the scene, but we cannot imagine Wen-Amon imagining it: the eye-witness speaks in every word of the picturesque description.
The interview was not pleasant for the Egyptian. It made so deep an impression upon him, that to our great gain he was able when writing his report to reproduce it almost verbatim, as follows:
'Amon's favour upon thee,' said Wen-Amon.
'How long is it since thou hast left the land of Amon?' demanded Zakar-Baal, apparently without returning his visitor's salutation. 'Five months and one day,' said Wen-Amon.
(This answer shows how much of the document we have lost. We cannot account for more than the fourteen days spent between Thebes and Tanis, nine days at Dor, nineteen days at Byblos—six weeks in all-plus the time spent in the voyage, which at the very outside could scarcely have been more than another six weeks.)
'Well then, if thou art a true man, where are thy credentials?'
We remember that Wen-Amon had left them with the prince of Tanis, and he said so. Then was Zakar-Baal very wroth. 'What! There is no writing in thy hand? And where is the ship that Nesubenebded gave thee? Where are its crew of Syrians? For sure, he would never have put thee in charge of this (incompetent Egyptian) who would have drowned thee—and then where would they have sought their god and thee?'
This is the obvious sense, though injured by a slight lacuna. Nothing more clearly shows how the reputation of Egypt had sunk
in the interval since the exploits of Ramessu III. Zakar-Baal speaks of Mengebti and his Egyptian crew with much the same contempt as Capt. Davis in Stevenson's Ebb-tide speaks of a crew of Kanakas. Wen-Amon ventured on a mild protest. 'Nesubenebded has no Syrian crews: all his ships are manned with Egyptians.'
'There are twenty ships in my harbour,' said Zakar-Baal sharply, and ten thousand ships in Sidon—' The exaggeration and the aposiopesis vividly mirror the vehemence of the speaker. He was evidently going on to say that these ships, though Egyptian, were all manned by Syrians. But, seeing that Wen-Amon was, as he expresses it, 'silent in that supreme moment' he broke off, and abruptly asked—
'Now, what is thy business here?'
We are to remember that Wen-Amon had come to buy timber, but had lost his money. We cannot say anything about whether he had actually recovered the money or its equivalent, because of the unfortunate gap in the document already noticed. However, it would appear that he had at the moment no ready cash, for he tried the effect of a little bluff. 'I have come for the timber of the great august barge of Amon-Ra, king of the gods. Thy father gave it, as did thy grandfather, and thou wilt do so too.'
But Zakar-Baal was not impressed. 'True,' said he, 'they gave the timber, but they were paid for it: I will do so too, if I be paid likewise.' And then we are interested to learn that he had his father's account-books brought in, and showed his visitor the records of large sums that had been paid for timber. 'See now,' continued Zakar-Baal in a speech rather difficult to construe intelligibly, 'had I and my property been under the king of Egypt, he would not have sent money, but would have sent a command. These transactions of my father's were not the payment of tribute due. I am not thy servant nor the servant of him that sent thee. All I have to do is to speak, and the logs of Lebanon lie cut on the shore of the sea. But where are the sails and the cordage thou hast brought to transport the logs? . . . Egypt is the mother of all equipments and all civilization; how then have they made thee come in this hole-and-corner way?' He is evidently still dissatisfied with this soi-disant envoy, coming in a common passenger ship without passport or credentials.
Then Wen-Amon played his trump card. He produced the image of Amon. 'No hole-and-corner journey is this, O guilty one!' said he. 'Amon owns every ship on the sea, and owns Lebanon which thou hast claimed as thine own. Amon has sent me, and Hrihor my lord has made me come, bearing this great god. And yet, though thou didst
well know that he was here, thou hadst kept him waiting twenty-nine days in the harbour. 1 Former kings have sent money to thy fathers, but not life and health: if thou do the bidding of Amon, he will send thee life and health. Wish not for thyself a thing belonging to Amon-Ra.'
These histrionics, however, did not impress Zakar-Baal any more than the previous speech. Clearly Wen-Amon saw in his face that the lord of Byblos was not overawed by the image of his god, and that he wanted something more tangible than vague promises of life and health. So at length he asked for his scribe to be brought him that he might write a letter to Tanis, praying for a consignment of goods on account. The letter was written, the messenger dispatched, and in about seven weeks returned with a miscellaneous cargo of gold, silver, linen, 500 rolls of papyrus (this is important), hides, rope, lentils, and fish. A little present for Wen-Amon himself was sent as well by the lady Tentamon. Then the business-like prince rejoiced, we are told, and gave the word for the felling of the trees. And at last, some eight months after Wen-Amon's departure from Thebes, the timber lay on the shore ready for delivery.
A curious passage here follows in the papyrus. It contains one of the oldest recorded jokes—if not actually the oldest—in the world. When Zakar-Baal came down to the shore to give the timber over to Wen-Amon, he was accompanied by an Egyptian butler, by name Pen-Amon. The shadow of Zakar-Baal's parasol happened to fall on the envoy, whereupon the butler exclaimed, 'Lo, the shadow of Pharaoh thy lord falleth on thee!' The point of the witticism is obscure, but evidently even Zakar-Baal found it rather too extreme, for he sharply rebuked the jester. But he proceeded himself to display a delicate humour. 'Now,' said he, 'I have done for thee what my fathers did, though thou hast not done for me what thy fathers did. Here is the timber lying ready and complete. Do what thou wilt with it. But do not be contemplating the terror of the sea' (there cannot be the slightest doubt that Wen-Amon was at this moment glancing over the waters and estimating his chances of a smooth crossing). 'Contemplate for a moment the terror of Me! Ramessu IX sent some messengers to me and'—here he turned to the butler—' Go thou, and show him their graves!'
'Oh, let me not see them!' was the agonized exclamation of Wen-Amon, anxious now above all things to be off without further delay. Those were people who had no god with them! Wherefore dost thou not instead erect a tablet to record to all time "that Amon-Ra
sent to me and I sent timber to Egypt, to beseech ten thousand years of life, and so it came to pass"?'
'Truly that would be a great testimony!' said the sarcastic prince, and departed.
Wen-Amon now set about loading his timber. But presently there sailed eleven ships of the Zakkala into the harbour—possibly those on whom he had made a rash attempt at piracy to recoup himself for his losses at Dor. The merchants in them demanded his arrest. The poor Egyptian sat down on the shore and wept. 'They have come to take me again!' he cried out—it would appear that he had been detained by the Zakkala before, but the record of this part of his troubles is lost in one of the lacunae of the MS. We despair of him altogether when he actually goes on to tell us that when news of this new trouble reached Zakar-Baal, that magnate wept also. However, we need not question the charming detail that he sent to Wen-Amon an Egyptian singing-girl, to console him with her songs. But otherwise he washed his hands of the whole affair. He told the Zakkala that he felt a delicacy about arresting the messenger of Amon on his own land, but he gave them permission to follow and arrest him themselves, if they should see fit. So away Wen-Amon sailed, apparently without his timber, and presumably with the Zakkala in pursuit. But he managed to evade them. A wind drove him to Cyprus. The Cypriotes came out, as he supposed, to kill him and his crew; but they brought them before Hatiba, their queen. He called out 'Does any one here understand Egyptian?' One man stepped forward. He dictated a petition to be translated to the queen—
And here the curtain falls abruptly, for the papyrus breaks off; and the rest of this curious tragi-comedy of three thousand years ago is lost to us.
We see from it that the dwellers on the Syrian coast had completely thrown off the terror inspired by the victories of Ramessu III. An Egyptian on a sacred errand from the greatest men in the country, bearing the image of an Egyptian god, could be robbed, bullied, mocked, threatened, thwarted in every possible way. Granted that he was evidently not the kind of man to command respect, yet the total lack of reverence for the royalties who had sent him, and the sneers at Egypt and the Egyptian rulers, are very remarkable.
We see also that the domain of the 'People of the Sea' was more extensive than the scanty strip of territory usually allowed them on Bible maps. Further evidence of this will meet us presently,
but meanwhile it may be noted that the name 'Palestine' is much less of an extension of the name 'Philistia' than the current maps would have us suppose. In other words, the two expressions are more nearly synonymous than they are generally taken to be. We find Dor, south of Carmel, to be a Zakkala town; and Zakkala ships are busy in the ports further north.
Indeed, one is half inclined to see Zakkala dominant at Byblos itself. Wen-Amon was a person of slender education—even of his own language he was not a master—and he was not likely to render foreign names correctly. Probably he could speak nothing but Egyptian: he was certainly ignorant of the language of Cyprus, whatever that may have been: and possibly linguistic troubles are indicated by his rendering of the name of the lord of Byblos. Can it be that this was not a name at all, but a title (or rather the Semitic translation of a title, given by a Zakkala dragoman): that Zakar is not זכר 'remember', but the name of the Zakkala: and that Baal here, as frequently elsewhere, means 'lord' in a human and not a divine sense? If so, the name would mean 'the lord of the Zakkala', a phrase that recalls 'the lords of the Philistines' in the Hebrew Scriptures. The syntax assumed is of course quite un-Semitic: but it is often the case in dragomans’ translations that the syntax of the original language is preserved. Something like this idea has been anticipated by M. A. J. Reinach. 1
Zakar-baal was no mere pirate chieftain, however. He was a substantial, civilized, and self-reliant prince, and contrasts most favourably with the weak, half-blustering, half-lacrimose Egyptian. He understood the Egyptian language; for he could rebuke the jest of his Egyptian butler, who would presumably speak his native tongue in 'chaffing' his compatriot; and no doubt the interview in the upper room was carried on in Egyptian. He was well acquainted with the use of letters, for he knew where to put his finger on the relevant parts of the accounts of his two predecessors. These accounts were probably not in cuneiform characters on clay tablets, as he is seen to import large quantities of papyrus from Egypt. He is true to his old maritime traditions: he builds his house where he can watch the great waves of the Mediterranean beat on the shore, and he is well informed about the ships in his own and the neighbouring harbours, and their crews.
There is a dim recollection of a Philistine occupation of Phoenicia
recorded for us in an oft-quoted passage of Justin (xviii. 3. 5), 1 in which he mentions a raid by the king of Ashkelon, just before the fall of Troy, on the Phoenician town of Sidon (so called from an alleged Phoenician word 'Sidon', meaning 'fish'). 'This is of course merely a saga-like tradition, and as we do not know from what authority Justin drew his information we can hardly put a very heavy strain upon it. And yet it seems to hang together with the other evidence, that in the Mycenaean period, when Troy was taken, there actually was a Philistine settlement on the Phoenician coast. As to the specific mention of Ashkelon, a suggestion, perhaps a little venturesome, may be hazarded. The original writer of the history of this vaguely-chronicled event, whoever he may have been, possibly recorded correctly that it was the Zakkala who raided Sidon. Some later author or copyist was puzzled by this forgotten name, and 'emended' a rege Sacaloniorum to a rege Ascaloniorum. Stranger things have happened in the course of manuscript transmission. 2
The Papyrus gives us some chronological indications of importance. The expedition of Wen-Amon took place in the fifth year of Ramessu XII, that is to say, about 1110 B.C. Zakar-Baal had already been governor of Byblos for a considerable time, for he had received envoys from Ramessu IX (1144–1129). Suppose these envoys to have come about 1130, that gives him already twenty years. The envoys of Ramessu IX were detained seventeen years; but in the first place this may have been an exaggeration, and in the second place we need not suppose that many of those seventeen years necessarily fell within the reign of the sender of these messengers. Further, Zakar-Baal's father and grandfather had preceded him in office. We do not know how long they reigned, but giving twenty-five years to each, which is probably a high estimate, we reach the date 1180, which is sufficiently long after the victory of Ramessu III for the people to begin to recover from the blow which that event inflicted on them.
29:1 See Max Müller, Mittheilungen der deutschen vorderasiatischen Gesellschaft, 1900, p. 14; Erman, Zeitschrift far ägyptische Sprache, xxxviii, p. 1; Breasted, Ancient Records, iv, p. 274.
34:1 An inconsistency: he has added ten days to his former statement.
36:1 'Byblos, où règne un prince qui pourrait bien être un Tchakara sémitisé, si l’on en croit son nom de Tchakar-baal.' Revue archéologique, sér. IV, vol. xv, p. 45.
37:1 'Et quoniam ad Carthaginiensium mentionem uentum est, de origine eorum pauca dicenda sunt, repetitis Tyriorum paulo altius rebus, quorum casus etiam dolendi fuerunt. Tyriorum gens condita a Phoenicibus fuit, qui terraemotu uexati, relicto patriae solo, Assyrium stagnum primo, mox mari proximum littus incoluerunt, condita ibi urbe quam a piscium ubertate Sidona appellauerunt; nam piscem Phoenices sidon uocant. Post multos deinde annos a rege Ascaloniorum expugnati, nauibus appulsi, Tyron urbem ante annum Troianae cladis condiderunt.'
37:2 On the other hand Scylax in his Periplus calls Ashkelon 'a city of the Tyrians'.