ONE Magazine

The official publication of
Catholic Near East Welfare Association

Celebrating 50 years | God • World • Human Family • Church

Byblos and the Bible

An ancient site in a small town in Lebanon holds keys to the Scriptures.

There is an extensively-excavated area in the otherwise-drab little town of Jebeil, Lebanon – a conglomerate array of ruined temples, castles and prehistoric dwellings – that stirs the imagination of those who read the guide books from the area or are fortunate enough to gaze upon the panorama first-hand.

In recent years, this ancient site, called Byblos, has attracted the attention of those interested in studying the Scriptures in the light of new archaeological findings. For, besides shedding light on the early history of mankind in the Near East, Byblos has interesting associations with the Bible. Perhaps the most fascinating link is that through a long sequence of events, spanning centuries, the very word “Bible” itself came indirectly from this ancient Phoenician seaport.

Located about twenty miles north of Beirut, this historic commercial center is claimed to be the oldest, continuously-inhabited city in the world. Excavations undertaken since 1921 have unearthed ruins that date from the Neolithic Age, as well as from the periods of the Amorites, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greco-Romans, Arabs, Turks, Crusaders and others.

It was in the Greco-Roman period that Byblos came into prominence as the great import-export center for the much-needed and highly-prized Egyptian writing material called “papyri.” This was one of the early forms of paper cleverly developed from a swamp plant called “papyrus” which grew profusely in the Nile Delta.

The literary leaders of the Greco-Roman civilization soon recognized the improvement of the papyrus over older materials, such as the baked-clay tablets of Babylonia and the more costly leather and parchments. As such, the demand for this newer type of writing material increased, as did the importance of its main shipping center.

In time, the Greeks came to associate the product with its shipping port, and so they gave the name “byblos” to the papyri material which had originated in Egypt. Later on, as single pages of papyri were glued together into rolls and bound, the word “byblos” developed into the word “biblia,” meaning “books.”

According to Biblical scholars, the Greek Church Fathers finally applied the word “biblia” to the Sacred Scriptures in the fifth century A.D., and from that point on, the Holy Book has been known as the “Bible.”

Besides lending its name to the greatest book of all time, Byblos has contributed much to the history of Civilization in general. Undamaged by the most recent civil war which has caused so much destruction elsewhere, Byblos continues to fascinate those who attempt to unravel the very long and complicated history of the Near East. As one writer has said: “Byblos constitutes a sort of condensed history of Lebanon.”

This writer’s point can readily be understood if one climbs to the highest point of the massive castle-fortress which the Crusaders built in the twelfth century, and which still dominates the area.

There are few, if any, other places in the entire Near East where one can stand on a single elevated spot, and with only moving head and eyes, can gaze down on the visual evidences of human life covering a span of 7,000 years.

From this vantage point, one sees primitive walls, sacred ponds, ancient temples and homes, Royal tombs and obelisks, a reconstructed Roman theatre, and finally, the manmade harbor where the ships from Egypt found haven with their precious cargoes of papyri…and at the same time began a long chain of events which ended with Byblos permanently giving its name to the Bible.

Rev. Leon V. Kofod, whose photographs frequently appear in this magazine, is a freelance photographer who has traveled in over 130 countries. To date, he has made ten photographic expeditions to the Bible Lands.

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