The Phoenician alphabet

Image via Wikipedia

There is a rebellion on the bus. We are in Lebanon and on our way to the mountains. Some of us very verbally have informed the organizer that we would like to go to Byblos, where the alphabet originated as we know it today.

“It is a bunch of old bricks with nothing much to see” states the organizer. “Previous groups have not found it very interesting”

I turn to my right to see the pained expression on the face of the local history guide sitting in the seat across from me.

The rebellion is quenched. We are going to the mountains, most of the young people want to go there, and they are not interested in seeing a “bunch of bricks” We are deeply disappointed but resigned.

The Lebanese history guide turns to me and says, “Byblos is where the alphabet was invented, but do you know why?”

I can smell a story a mile away and this one is sitting across from me waiting to be told. I am eager to hear and I ask him “why?” and he begins the story……….

Here is the story, the love of siblings wrapped into a feverish search for a method to communicate with so many people in far-flung lands who do not know your language:

Once upon a time there lived in Phoenicia a very just and kind king. He had two children a boy and a girl. They were both very intelligent. The boy was also the warrior and the girl kept the accounts and tended to the finances of the trade that the king and her brother the Prince were involved in.

One day a brutal king came to Phoenician disguised as a merchant, to discover the reason of its maritime power and to learn how to improve his kingdoms finances.

He met with many people including the Princess who kept the finances.

He fell in love (at least that is what I would like to think) or fell in lust or greed, (the story is not clear here).

Nevertheless he abducted the princess and carried her off to faraway lands.

The king was grieved as was the brother of the Princess.

He told his father that he will go find her, and will not return until he does so. Thus he set out in his ship to search for her.

MAP PHOENICIA Courtesy Wikipedia

At every port or village that he would come to he would describe his sister with inscriptions and would leave a copy of those inscriptions behind on a tablet, so that if she were to appear they would recognize her by the description.

Thus in every land he left these inscriptions on a tablet, which eventually comprised of 22 alphabets.

After many years he came to the kingdom of the brutal king who had kidnapped his sister. He saw that she was in good health and had tamed the brutal king and his kingdom was flourishing.

The brother was going to kill the king to rescue his sister, but she told him that she had fallen in love with the brutal king who was no longer brutal as his kingdom had prospered with her help in finances.

When the king came in he saw the brother and suddenly he realized that he was going to lose her and with it came the realization that what had at first begun as a good investment had become the love of his life and the passion of his being.

He was speechless as he looked at the brother and then the sister and then in the noblest moment of his life, he asked her if she wanted to go back with her brother.

The stunned silence in the room echoed with heartbreak. She smiled. “Yes ………” she said “but only for a visit to see my father.”

The sun came out and on the way back stopping at the villages where the brother had stopped and left the tablets with the alphabets describing her, the language using the alphabet had become a method of communication in writing…………….

Thus came the advent and spread of the alphabet from which came the language of Jesus (alayhe salaam)(Aramaic) and the language of Mohammad pbuh (Arabic).

I sat back in my seat entranced with this story and looked out on the streets of the city. Perhaps unbeknownst to them the Lebanese people going around their business were the guardians of the letter…that bridges the communication gap across cultures and continents.

I shall forever remember Byblos as an integral part of my journey to Lebanon, even though I never set foot on it.

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