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Eusebius of Caesarea: Book 1 – Chapter X

By , May 12, 2009 1:02 pm

Description: This text Describes the Phoenician story of creation and their Pantheon.

This is the excerpt from Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica From Book 1. Chapters 9 and 10.

Chapter 9


Now the historian of this subject is Sanchuniathon, an author of great antiquity, and older, as they say, than the Trojan times, one whom they testify to have been approved for the accuracy and truth of his Phoenician History. Philo of Byblos, not the Hebrew, translated his whole work from the Phoenician language into the Greek, and published it. The author in our own day of the compilation against us mentions these things in the fourth book of his treatise Against the Christians, where he bears the following testimony to Sanchuniathon, word for word:

[PORPHYRY] ‘Of the affairs of the Jews the truest history, because the most in accordance with their places and names, is that of Sanchuniathon of Berytus, who received the records from Hierombalus the priest of the god Ieuo; he dedicated his history to Abibalus king of Berytus, and was approved by him and by the investigators of truth in his time. Now the times of these men fall even before the date of the Trojan war, and approach nearly to the times of Moses, as is shown by the successions of the kings of Phoenicia. And Sanchuniathon, who made a complete collection of ancient history from the records in the various cities and from the registers in the temples, and wrote in the Phoenician language with a love of truth, lived in the reign of Semiramis, the queen of the Assyrians, who is recorded to have lived before the Trojan war or in those very times. And the works of Sanchuniathon were translated into the Greek tongue by Philo of Byblos.’ 20

So wrote the author before mentioned, bearing witness at once to the truthfulness and antiquity of the so-called theologian. But he, as he goes forward, treats as divine not the God who is over all, nor yet the gods in the heaven, but mortal men and women, not even refined in character, such as it would be right to approve for their virtue, or emulate for their love of wisdom, but involved in the dishonour of every kind of vileness and wickedness.

He testifies also that these are the very same who are still regarded as gods by all both in the cities and in country districts. But let me give you the proofs of this out of his writings.

Philo then, having divided the whole work of Sanchuniathon into nine books, in the introduction to the first book makes this preface concerning Sanchuniathon, word for word: 21

[PHILO] ‘These things being so, Sanchuniathon, who was a man of much learning and great curiosity, and desirous of knowing the earliest history of all nations from the creation of the world, searched out with great care the history of Taautus, knowing that of all men under the sun Taautus was the first who thought of the invention of letters, and began the writing of records: and he laid the foundation, as it were, of his history, by beginning with him, whom the Egyptians called Thoyth, and the Alexandrians Thoth, translated by the Greeks into Hermes.’

After these statements he finds fault with the more recent authors as violently and untruly reducing the legends concerning the gods to allegories and physical explanations and theories; and so he goes on to say:

‘But the most recent of the writers on religion rejected the real events from the beginning, and having invented allegories and myths, and formed a fictitious affinity to the cosmical phenomena, established mysteries, and overlaid them with a cloud of absurdity, so that one cannot easily discern what really occurred: but he having lighted upon the collections of secret writings of the Ammoneans which were discovered in the shrines and of course were not known to all men, applied himself diligently to the study of them all; and when he had completed the investigation, he put aside the original myth and the allegories, and so completed his proposed work; until the priests who followed in later times wished to hide this away again, and to restore the mythical character; from which time mysticism began to rise up, not having previously reached the Greeks.’

Next to this he says:

‘These things I have discovered in my anxious desire to know the history of the Phoenicians, and after a thorough investigation of much matter, not that which is found among the Greeks, for that is contradictory, and compiled by some in a contentious spirit rather than with a view to truth.’

And after other statements:

‘And the conviction that the facts were as he has described them came to me, on seeing the disagreement among the Greeks: concerning which I have carefully composed three books bearing the title Paradoxical History.’

And again after other statements he adds:

‘But with a view to clearness hereafter, and the determination of particulars, it is necessary to state distinctly beforehand that the most ancient of the barbarians, and especially the Phoenicians and Egyptians, from whom the rest of mankind received their traditions, regarded as the greatest gods those who had discovered the necessaries of life, or in some way done good to the nations. Esteeming these as benefactors and authors of many blessings, they worshipped them also as gods after their death, and built shrines, and consecrated pillars and staves after their names: these the Phoenicians held in great reverence, and assigned to them their greatest festivals. Especially they applied the names of their kings to the elements of the cosmos, and to some of those who were regarded as gods. But they knew no other gods than those of nature, sun, and moon, and the rest of the wandering stars, and the elements and things connected with them, so that some of their gods were mortal and some immortal.’

Philo having explained these points in his preface, next begins his interpretation of Sanchuniathon by setting forth the theology of the Phoenicians as follows:


‘The first principle of the universe he supposes to have been air dark with cloud and wind, or rather a blast of cloudy air, and a turbid chaos dark as Erebus; and these were boundless and for long ages had no limit. But when the wind, says he, became enamoured of its own parents, and a mixture took place, that connexion was called Desire. This was the beginning of the creation of all things: but the wind itself had no knowledge of its own creation. From its connexion Mot was produced, which some say is mud, and others a putrescence of watery compound; and out of this came every germ of creation, and the generation of the universe. So there were certain animals which had no sensation, and out of them grew intelligent animals, and were called “Zophasemin,” that is “observers of heaven”; and they were formed like the shape of an egg. Also Mot burst forth into light, and sun, and moon, and stars, and the great constellations.’

Such was their cosmogony, introducing downright atheism. But let us see next how he states the generation of animals to have arisen. He says, then:

‘And when the air burst into light, both the sea and the land became heated, and thence arose winds and clouds, and very great downpours and floods of the waters of heaven. So after they were separated, and removed from their proper place because of the sun’s heat, and all met together again in the air dashing together one against another, thunderings and lightnings were produced, and at the rattle of the thunder the intelligent animals already described woke up, and were scared at the sound, and began to move both on land and sea, male and female.’

Such is their theory of the generation of animals. Next after this the same writer adds and says:

‘These things were found written in the cosmogony of Taautus, and in his Commentaries, both from conjectures, and from evidences which his intellect discerned, and discovered, and made clear to us.’

Next to this, after mentioning the names of the winds Notos and Boreas and the rest, he continues:

‘But these were the first who consecrated the productions of the earth, and regarded them as gods, and worshipped them as being the support of life both to themselves, and to those who were to come after them, and to all before them, and they offered to them drink-offerings and libations.’

He adds also:

‘These were their notions of worship, corresponding to their own weakness, and timidity of soul. Then he says that from the wind Colpias and his wife Baau (which he translates “Night”) were born Aeon and Protogonus, mortal men, so called: and that Aeon discovered the food obtained from trees. That their offspring were called Genos and Genea, and inhabited Phoenicia: and that when droughts occurred, they stretched out their hands to heaven towards the sun; for him alone (he says) they regarded as god the lord of heaven, calling him Beelsamen, which is in the Phoenician language “lord of heaven,” and in Greek “Zeus.”‘

And after this he charges the Greeks with error, saying:

‘For it is not without cause that we have explained these things in many ways, but in view of the later misinterpretations of the names in the history, which the Greeks in ignorance took in a wrong sense, being deceived by the ambiguity of the translation.’

Afterwards he says:

‘From Genos, son of Aeon and Protogonus, were begotten again mortal children, whose names are Light, and Fire, and Flame. These, says he, discovered fire from rubbing pieces of wood together, and taught the use of it. And they begat sons of surpassing size and stature, whose names were applied to the mountains which they occupied: so that from them were named mount Cassius, and Libanus, and Antilibanus, and Brathy. From these, he says, were begotten Memrumus and Hypsuranius; and they got their names, he says, from their mothers, as the women in those days had free intercourse with any whom they met.’

Then he says:

‘Hypsuranius inhabited Tyre, and contrived huts out of reeds and rushes and papyrus: and he quarrelled with his brother Ousous, who first invented a covering for the body from skins of wild beasts which he was strong enough to capture. And when furious rains and winds occurred, the trees in Tyre were rubbed against each other and caught fire, and burnt down the wood that was there. And Ousous took a tree, and, having stripped off the branches, was the first who ventured to embark on the sea; and be consecrated two pillars to fire and wind, and worshipped them, and poured libations of blood upon them from the wild beasts which he took in hunting.

‘But when Hypsuranius and Ousous were dead, those who were left, he says, consecrated staves to them, and year by year worshipped their pillars and kept festivals in their honour. But many years afterwards from the race of llypsuranius were born Agreus and Halieus, the inventors of hunting and fishing, from whom were named huntsmen and fishermen: and from them were bom two brethren, discoverers of iron and the mode of working it; the one of whom, Chrysor, practised oratory, and incantations, and divinations: and that he was Hephaestus, and invented the hook, and bait, and line, and raft, and was the first of all men to make a voyage: wherefore they reverenced him also as a god after his death. And he was also called Zeus Meilichios. And some say that his brothers invented walls of brick. Afterwards there sprang from their race two youths, one of whom was called Technites (Artificer), and the other Geinos Autochthon (Earth-born Aboriginal). These devised the mixing of straw with the clay of bricks, and drying them in the sun, and moreover invented roofs. From them others were born, one of whom was called Agros, and the other Agrueros or Agrotes; and of the latter there is in Phoenicia a much venerated statue, and a shrine drawn by yokes of oxen; and among the people of Byblos he is named pre-eminently the greatest of the gods.

‘These two devised the addition to houses of courts, and enclosures, and caves. From them came husbandmen and huntsmen. They are also called Aletae and Titans. From these were born Amynos and Magus, who established villages and sheepfolds. From them came Misor and Suduc, that is to say “Straight ” and “Just”: these discovered the use of salt.

‘From Misor was born Taautus, who invented the first written alphabet; the Egyptians called him Thoyth, the Alexandrians Thoth, and the Greeks Hermes.

‘From Suduc came the Dioscuri, or Cabeiri, or Corybantes, or Samothraces: these, he says, first invented a ship. From them have sprung others, who discovered herbs, and the healing of venomous bites, and charms. In their time is born a certain Elioun called “the Most High,” and a female named Beruth, and these dwelt in the neighbourhood of Byblos.

‘And from them is born Epigeius or Autochthon, whom they afterwards called Uranus; so that from him they named the element above us Uranus because of the excellence of its beauty. And he has a sister born of the aforesaid parents, who was called Ge (earth), and from her, he says, because of her beauty, they called the earth by the same name. And their father, the Most High, died in an encounter with wild beasts, and was deified, and his children offered to him libations and sacrifices.

‘And Uranus, having succeeded to his father’s rule, takes to himself in marriage his sister Ge, and gets by her four sons, Elus who is also Kronos, and Baetylus, and Dagon who is Siton, and Atlas. Also by other wives Uranus begat a numerous progeny; on which account Ge was angry, and from jealousy began to reproach Uranus, so that they even separated from each other.

‘But Uranus, after he had left her, used to come upon her with violence, whenever he chose, and consort with her, and go away again; he used to try also to destroy his children by her; but Ge repelled him many times, having gathered to herself allies. And when Kronos had advanced to manhood, he, with the counsel and help of Hermes Trismegistus (who was his secretary), repels his father Uranus, and avenges his mother.

‘To Kronos are born children, Persephone and Athena. The former died a virgin: but by the advice of Athena and Hermes Kronos made a sickle and a spear of iron. Then Hermes talked magical words to the allies of Kronos, and inspired them with a desire of fighting against Uranus on behalf of Ge. And thus Kronos engaged in war, and drove Uranus from his government, and succeeded to the kingdom. Also there was taken in the battle the beloved concubine of Uranus, being great with child, whom Kronos gave in marriage to Dagon. And in his house she gave birth to the child begotten of Uranus, which she named Demarus.

‘ After this Kronos builds a wall round his own dwelling, and founds the first city, Byblos in Phoenicia.

‘Soon after this he became suspicious of his own brother Atlas, and, with the advice of Hermes, threw him into a deep pit and buried him. At about this time the descendants of the Dioscuri put together rafts and ships, and made voyages; and, being cast ashore near Mount Cassius, consecrated a temple there. And the allies of Elus, who is Kronos, were surnamed Eloim, as these same, who were surnamed after Kronos, would have been called Kronii.

‘And Kronos, having a son Sadidus, dispatched him with his own sword, because he regarded him with suspicion, and deprived him of life, thus becoming the murderer of his son. In like manner he cut off the head of a daughter of his own; so that all the gods were dismayed at the disposition of Kronos.

‘But as time went on Uranus, being in banishment, secretly sends his maiden daughter Astarte with two others her sisters, Ehea and Dione, to slay Kronos by craft. But Kronos caught them, and though they were his sisters, made them his wedded wives. And when Uranus knew it, he sent Eimarmene and Hora with other allies on an expedition against Kronos. and these Kronos won over to his side and kept with him.

‘Further, he says, the god Uranus devised the Baetylia, having contrived to put life into stones. And to Kronos there were born of Astarte seven daughters, Titanides or Artemides: and again to the same there were born of Rhea seven sons, of whom the youngest was deified at his birth; and of Dione females, and of Astarte again two males, Desire and Love. And Dagon, after he discovered corn and the plough, was called Zeus Arotrios.

‘And one of the Titanides united to Suduc, who is named the Just, gives birth to Asclepius.

‘In Peraea also there were born to Kronos three sons, Kronos of the same name with his father, and Zeus Belus, and Apollo. In their time are born Pontus, and Typhon, and Nereus father of Pontus and son of Belus.

‘And from Pontus is born Sidon (who from the exceeding sweetness of her voice was the first to invent musical song) and Poseidon. And to Demarus is born Melcathrus, who is also called Hercules.

‘Then again Uranus makes war against Pontus, and after revolting attaches himself to Demarus, and Demarus attacks Pontus, but Pontus puts him to flight; and Demarus vowed an offering if he should escape.

‘And in the thirty-second year of his power and kingdom Elus, that is Kronos, having waylaid his father Uranus in an inland spot, and got him into his hands, emasculates him near some fountains and rivers. There Uranus was deified: and as he breathed his last, the blood from his wounds dropped into the fountains and into the waters of the rivers, and the spot is pointed out to this day.’

This, then, is the story of Kronos, and such are the glories of the mode of life, so vaunted among the Greeks, of men in the days of Kronos, whom they also affirm to have been the first and ‘golden race of articulate speaking men,’ that blessed happiness of the olden time!

Again, the historian adds to this, after other matters:

‘But Astarte, the greatest goddess, and Zeus Demarus, and Adodus king of gods, reigned over the country with the consent of Kronos. And Astarte set the head of a bull upon her own head as a mark of royalty; and in travelling round the world she found a star that had fallen from the sky, which she took up and consecrated in the holy island Tyre. And the Phoenicians say that Astarte is Aphrodite.

‘Kronos also, in going round the world, gives the kingdom of Attica to his own daughter Athena. But on the occurrence of a pestilence and mortality Kronos offers his only begotten son as a whole burnt-offering to his father Uranus, and circumcises himself, compelling his allies also to do the same. And not long after another of his sons by Rhea, named Muth, having died, he deifies him, and the Phoenicians call him Thanatos and Pluto. And after this Kronos gives the city Byblos to the goddess Baaltis, who is also called Dione, and Berytus to Poseidon and to the Cabeiri and Agrotae and Halieis, who also consecrated the remains of Pontus at Berytus.

‘But before this the god Tauthus imitated the features of the gods who were his companions, Kronos, and Dagon, and the rest, and gave form to the sacred characters of the letters. He also devised for Kronos as insignia of royalty four eyes in front and behind . . . but two of them quietly closed, and upon his shoulders four wings, two as spread for flying, and two as folded.

‘And the symbol meant that Kronos could see when asleep, and sleep while waking: and similarly in the case of the wings, that he flew while at rest, and was at rest when flying. But to each of the other gods he gave two wings upon the shoulders, as meaning that they accompanied Kronos in his flight. And to Kronos himself again he gave two wings upon his head, one representing the all-ruling mind, and one sensation.

‘And when Kronos came into the South country he gave all Egypt to the god Tauthus, that it might be his royal dwelling-place. And these things, he says, were recorded first by Suduc’s seven sons the Cabeiri, and their eighth brother Asclepius, as the god Tauthus commanded them.

‘All these stories Thabion, who was the very first hierophant of all the Phoenicians from the beginning, allegorized and mixed up with the physical and cosmical phenomena, and delivered to the prophets who celebrated the orgies and inaugurated the mysteries: and they, purposing to increase their vain pretensions from every source, handed them on to their successors and to their foreign visitors: one of these was Eisirius the inventor of the three letters, brother of Chna the first who had his name changed to Phoenix.’

Then again afterwards he adds:

‘But the Greeks, surpassing all in genius, appropriated most of the earliest stories, and then variously decked them out with ornaments of tragic phrase, and adorned them in every way, with the purpose of charming by the pleasant fables. Hence Hesiod and the celebrated Cyclic poets framed theogonies of their own, and battles of the giants, and battles of Titans, and castrations; and with these fables, as they travelled about, they conquered and drove out the truth.

‘But our ears having grown up in familiarity with their fictions, and being for long ages pre-occupied, guard as a trust the mythology which they received, just as I said at the beginning; and this mythology, being aided by time, has made its hold difficult for us to escape from, so that the truth is thought to be nonsense, and the spurious narrative truth.’

Let these suffice as quotations from the writings of Sanchuniathon, translated by Philo of Byblos, and approved as true by the testimony of Porphyry the philosopher.

The same author, in his History of the Jews, further writes thus concerning Kronos:

‘Tauthus, whom the Egyptians call Thoyth, excelled in wisdom among the Phoenicians, and was the first to rescue the worship of the gods from the ignorance of the vulgar, and arrange it in the order of intelligent experience. Many generations after him a god Sourmoubelos and Thuro, whose name was changed to Eusarthis, brought to light the theology of Tauthus which had been hidden and overshadowed, by allegories.’

And soon after he says:

‘It was a custom of the ancients in great crises of danger for the rulers of a city or nation, in order to avert the common ruin, to give up the most beloved of their children for sacrifice as a ransom to the avenging daemons; and those who were thus given up were sacrificed with mystic rites. Kronos then, whom the Phoenicians call Elus, who was king of the country and subsequently, after his decease, was deified as the star Saturn, had by a nymph of the country named Anobret an only begotten son, whom they on this account called ledud, the only begotten being still so called among the Phoenicians; and when very great dangers from war had beset the country, he arrayed his son in royal apparel, and prepared an altar, and sacrificed him.’

Again see what the same author, in his translation from Sanchuniathon about the Phoenician alphabet, says concerning the reptiles and venomous beasts, which contribute no good service to mankind, but work death and destruction to any in whom they inject their incurable and fatal poison. This also he describes, saying word for word as follows:

‘The nature then of the dragon and of serpents Tauthus himself regarded as divine, and so again after him did the Phoenicians and Egyptians: for this animal was declared by him to be of all reptiles most full of breath, and fiery. In consequence of which it also exerts an unsurpassable swiftness by means of its breath, without feet and hands or any other of the external members by which the other animals make their movements. It also exhibits forms of various shapes, and in its progress makes spiral leaps as swift as it chooses. It is also most long-lived, and its nature is to put off its old skin, and so not only to grow young again, but also to assume a larger growth; and after it has fulfilled its appointed measure of age, it is self-consumed, in like manner as Tauthus himself has set down in his sacred books: for which reason this animal has also been adopted in temples and in mystic rites.

‘We have spoken more fully about it in the memoirs entitled Ethothiae, in which we prove that it is immortal, and is self-consumed, as is stated before: for this animal does not die by a natural death, but only if struck by a violent blow. The Phoenicians call it “Good Daemon”: in like manner the Egyptians also surname it Cneph; and they add to it the head of a hawk because of the hawk’s activity.

‘Epeïs also (who is called among them a chief hierophant and sacred scribe, and whose work was translated [into Greek] by Areius of Heracleopolis), speaks in an allegory word for word as follows:

‘The first and most divine being is a serpent with the form of a hawk, extremely graceful, which whenever he opened his eyes filled all with light in his original birthplace, but if he shut his eyes, darkness came on.’

‘Epeïs here intimates that he is also of a fiery substance, by saying “he shone through,” for to shine through is peculiar to light. From the Phoenicians Pherecydes also took the first ideas of his theology concerning the god called by him Ophion and concerning the Ophionidae, of whom we shall speak again.

‘Moreover the Egyptians, describing the world from the same idea, engrave the circumference of a circle, of the colour of the sky and of fire, and a hawk-shaped serpent stretched across the middle of it, and the whole shape is like our Theta (θ), representing the circle as the world, and signifying by the serpent which connects it in the middle the good daemon.

‘Zoroaster also the Magian, in the Sacred Collection of Persian Records, says in express words: “And god has the head of a hawk. He is the first, incorruptible, eternal, uncreated, without parts, most unlike (all else), the controller of all good, who cannot be bribed, the best of all the good, the wisest of all wise; and he is also a father of good laws and justice, self-taught, natural, and perfect, and wise, and the sole author of the sacred power of nature.

‘The same also is said of him by Ostanes in the book entitled Octateuch.’

From Tauthus, as is said above, all received their impulse towards physiological systems: and having built temples they consecrated in the shrines the primary elements represented by serpents, and in their honour celebrated festivals, and sacrifices, and mystic rites, regarding them as the greatest gods, and rulers of the universe. So much concerning serpents.
Such then is the character of the theology of the Phoenicians, from which the word of salvation in the gospel teaches us to flee with averted eyes, and earnestly to seek the remedy for this madness of the ancients. It must be manifest that these are not fables and poets’ fictions containing some theory concealed in hidden meanings, but true testimonies, as they would themselves say, of wise and ancient theologians, containing things of earlier date than all poets and historians, and deriving the credibility of their statements from the names and history of the gods still prevailing in the cities and villages of Phoenicia, and from the mysteries celebrated among each people: so that it is no longer necessary to search out violent physical explanations of these things, since the evidence which the facts bring with them of themselves is quite clear. Such then is the theology of the Phoenicians: but it is now time to pass on and examine carefully the case of the Egyptians.

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