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Σαλχουνιάθων), an ancient Phoenician writer, whose works were translated into Greek by Philon Byblius, who lived in the latter half of the first century of the Christian aera.


Translation by Philon

A considerable fragment of the translation of Philon is preserved by Eusebius in the first book of his Praeparatio Evangelica. The most opposite opinions have been held by the learned respecting the authenticity and value of the writings of Sanchuniathon. The scholars of the seventeenth century, Scaliger, Grotius, Bochart, Selden, and others, regarded them as genuine remains of the most remote antiquity, and expended, or rather wasted, no small amount of learning in attempting to reconcile them with the statements in the old Testament. Their views were carried out to the fullest extent by Richard Cumberland, bishop of Peterborough, who translated into English the extracts in Eusebius (London, 1720), with historical and chronological remarks, in which he asserts that all the antediluvian patriarchs of the Old Testament are to be found in Sanchuniathon!

Modern scholars, however, take a very different view of Sanchuniathon and his writings ; but before we state their opinions, it will be advisable to see what the ancient writers themselves say respecting him. The first author who mentions him is Athenaeus, who speaks (iii. p. 126) of Suniaethon (of which variation in the name more will be said presently), and Mochus, as writers on Phoenician matters (Φοινικικά). The next writer who mentions him is Porphyrius (de Abstin. 2.56, p. 94, ed. Holsten.), who says that Sanchuniathon wrote a Phoenician history (Φοινικικὴ ἱστορία) in the Phoenician language, which was translated into Greek in eight books by Philon Byblius. We likewise learn from Eusebius that Porphyrius had made great use of the writings of Sanchuniathon (of course the translation by Philon) in his work against the Christians, which has not come down to us. In that work he called Sanchuniathon a native of Berytus (Euseb. Praep. Ev. 1.6, 10.11). Next comes Eusebius himself, whose attention seems to have been first drawn to Sanchuniathon by the quotations in Porphyrius. It is evident from the language of Eusebius that he had consulted the translation of Philon himself, and that his acquaintance with the writer was not confined to the extracts in Porphyrius, as some modern scholars have asserted. Eusebius also calls Sanchuniathon a native of Berytus, but he says that his Phoenician history was divided into nine (not eight) books by Philon. This is all the independent testimony we possess respecting Sanchuniathon and the Greek translation by Philon, for it is pretty clear that subsequent writers who speak of both borrow their accounts either from Porphyrius or Eusebius. The most important later testimonies are those of Theodoretus and Suidas. The former writer says (de Cur. Graec. Affect. Serm. ii.) : " Sanchuniathon, of Berytus, wrote the Theologia (Θεολογία) of the Phoenicians, which was translated into Greek by Philon, not the Hebrew but the Byblian." Theodoretus calls the work of Sanchuniathon a Theologia, on account of the nature of its contents. Suidas (s. v.) describes Sanchuniathon as a Tyrian philosopher, who lived at the time of the Trojan war, and gives the following list of his works: Περὶ τοῦ Ἐρμοῦ φυσιολογίας, ἥτις μεταφράσθη (namely, by Philon). Πάτρια Τυρίων τῇ Φοινίκων διαλέκτῳ, Αἰγυπτιακὴν Θεολογίαν καὶ ἄλλα τινά. But such an enumeration of different works is of little value from an inaccurate compiler like Suidas. They are probably only different titles of the same work.

Now it is quite clear from the preceding account that we have no evidence even for the existence of Sanchuniathon except the testimony of Philon Byblius himself. He is not mentioned by any writer before Philon Byblius, not even by Josephus or by Philon Judaeus, who might have been expected to have heard at least of his name. This is suspicious at first sight. The discovery of old books written by an author, of whom no one has ever heard, and in a language which few can read, is a kind of imposture known to modern as well as ancient times. The genuineness and authenticity of the work must rest entirely on the nature of its contents; and even a superficial perusal of the extracts in Eusebius will convince almost every scholar of the present day that the work was a forgery of Philon.

Nor is it difficult to see with what object the forgery was executed. Philon was evidently one of the many adherents of the doctrine of Euhemerus, that all the gods were originally men, who had distinguished themselves in their lives as kings, warriors, or benefactors of man, and became worshipped as divinities after their death. This doctrine Philon applied to the religious system of the Oriental nations, and especially of the Phoenicians; and in order to gain more credit for his statements, he pretended that they were taken from an ancient Phoenician writer. This writer he says was a native of Berytus, lived in the time of Semiramis, and dedicated his work to Abibalus, king of Berytus. Having thus invented a high antiquity for his Phoenician authority, he pretended that his writer had taken the greatest pains to obtain information, that he had received some of his accounts from Hierombalus, the priest of the god Jevo, and had collected others from inscriptions in the temples and the public records preserved in each city. This is all pure invention, to impose more effectually upon the public. The general nature of the work is in itself sufficient to prove it to be a forgery; but in addition to this we find an evident attempt to show that the Greek religion and mythology were derived from the Phoenician, and a confusion between the Phoenician and Hebrew religions, which are of themselves sufficient to convince any one that the work was not of genuine Phoenician origin.

But though the work is thus clearly a forgery, the question still remains, whether the name Sanchuniathon was a pure invention of Philon or not. Movers, who has discussed the whole subject with ability, thinks that Philon availed himself of a name already in use, though it was not the name of a person. He supposes that Sanchoniathon was the name of the sacred books of the Phoenicians, and that its original form was San-Chon-iâth, which might be represented in the Hebrew characters by , that is "the entire law of Chon," Chon being the same as Bel, or, as the Greeks called him, the philosopher Heracles, or the Tyrian Heracles. Movers further supposes that Suniaethon (Σουνιαίθων), which occurs in the passage of Athenaeus already referred to, is a shortened form of the name, and signifies the whole law, the Chon being omitted. But on these etymologies we offer no opinion.


The fragments of the so-called Sanchuniathon which have come down to us have been published in a useful edition by J. C. Orelli, under the title of " Sanchoniathonis Berytii, quae feruntur, Fragmenta de Cosmogonia et Theologia Phoenicum, Graece versa a Philone Byblio, servata ab Eusebio Caesariensi, Praeparationis Evangelicae Libro I. cap. VI. et VII., &c.," Lips. 1826, 8vo. Besides these extracts from the first book of the Praeparatio Evangelica, there is another short passage in Eusebius (de Laud. Constant. 3), and two in Joannes Lydus (de Mensibus, p. 116; de Magistr. p. 130), which are evidently taken from the pretended translation of Philon Byblius.

Forgery of Philon Byblius

Philon Byblius himself has also been made the subject of a forgery. In 1835 a manuscript, purporting to be the entire translation of Philon Byblius, was discovered in a convent in Portugal. Many German scholars, and among others Grotefend, regarded it as the genuine work of Philon.


It was first published in a German translation by Fr. Wagenfeld, under the title of " Urgeschichte der Phönizier, in einem Auszuge aus der wieder aufgefundenen Handschrift von Philo's vollstan. Uebersetzung. Mit einem Vorworte von G. F. Grotefend," Hannover, 1836.

In the following year the Greek text appeared under the title of " Sanchuniathonis Historiarum Phoeniciae Libros novem Graece versos a Philone Byblio, edidit Latinaque versione donavit F. Wagenfeld," Bremae, 1837.


It is now, however, so universally agreed that this work is the forgery of a later age that it is unnecessary to make any further remarks upon it.

Further Information

Fabric. Bibl. Graec. vol. i. p. 222, &c.; and especially Movers, Die Phönizier, p. 99, &c. p. 116, &c.

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