Philo of Byblos’ Genealogy of the Gods


1 Introduction and Testimonia

[… testimonia …]

I subdivide the remaining fragments as follows:

  • 2. ‘Philo’s Introduction’ …
  • 3. ‘Cosmogony and Zoogony’ corresponds fairly closely to the Sidonian theogony recorded by Eudemus and that of Mochus of Sidon. It seems that all three theogonies belong to a Phoenician tradition that influenced, or is in some other way related, to Hesiod and other Greek theogonies.
  • 4. ‘Genealogy of the Gods’ …
  • 5. ‘On Serpents’ …

2 Philo’s Introduction

3 Cosmogony and Zoogony

(Philo writes:) “As the first principle of all things, he (=Sanchuniathon) sets down a hazy and breathy Air¹ (Aḗr zophṓdēs kaì pneumatṓdēs m.), or a breath of hazy air, and a Chaos² turbid and dark as Erebus (Kháos tholerón, erebôdes n.). These were undelimited and for a long time were without delimitation.

“But when, he says, the Breath³ (pneûma n.) became enamored with its own principles and a mixing⁴ occured, that intertwining was called Desire⁵ (Póthos m.). And this intertwining was the beginning of the creation of all things.

“But it did not know its own creation,⁶ and from its entwining was born Mṓt;⁷ this, some say, is is mud (hilýs f.), others a fermentation of watery mixture⁸ (hydatṓdous míxeōs sêpsis f.). And from it was produced every seed of of creation, and the birth of all things.⁹

“There were certain living beings who did not have perception;¹⁰ from them were born intelligent living beings, and they were called Zophēsamín, that is, observers of heaven.¹¹

“And they were (‘it was’?) formed similarly to the shape of an Egg¹² (ōión n.).

“And Mṓt shone forth, and Sun and Moon and the stars and the great constellations.”¹³

(Eusebius comments:) Such is their (=the Phoenicians’) cosmogony, which introduces open godlessness.¹⁴ But let us see next how he claims that the zoogony occured.¹⁵

Now, he says: “And as the air was illuminated, there were produced, through this heating, exhalations (pneúmata) and vapors of Sea and Earth,¹⁶ and great downpours and sheddings of celestial waters.¹⁷

“And because things were divided and separated from their own place through the heating from the Sun, and then all things were suddenly brought together again, these with those, and they crashed together, thunder and lightning storms were produced, and at the crashing sound of thunder, the aforementioned intelligent living beings awoke, and they were scared of the sound and began to move, in the Earth and in the Sea, male and female.”¹⁷

And such is their zoogony. To these, the author next adds:

“These things are found written in the Cosmogony of Taaútos and in his commentaries, based on conjectures and proofs which his understanding grasped, found, and illuminated for us.”¹⁸

Next, after mentioning the names of the winds,¹⁹ the Southerly (Nótos m.), Northerly (Boréas m.), and the rest, he adds:

“But these first consecrated the growths of the Earth,²⁰ and regarded them as gods and worshipped them, because they were sustained by them, as were those after them, and all before them, and they made libations and burnt offerings.” And he adds: “These were their notions of worship, which accorded to their weakness and their feebleness of soul.²¹

“Then, he says, there were born from the wind Kolpias²² and the woman Báau²³ – they translate this as ‘Night’ – Eternity²⁴ (Aiṓn m.) and Firstborn²⁵ (Prōtógonos), mortal men, although they had these names; and Eternity discovered food from trees.

“Those born from them were called Offspring (Génos m.) and Progeny (Geneá f.), and they settled Phoenicia.²⁶

“When there were droughts, they raised their hands to heaven, towards the sun; for they believed him to be a god, he says, the only lord of heaven, and called him Beelsámēn, which is Phoenician for ‘lord of heaven’ (kýrios ouranoû), ‘Zeus’ in Greek.”²⁷

7: Due to shifts in the pronunciation of vowels, Philo’s Mṓt does not correspond to Ugaritic Mot, ‘Death’, who instead appears transliterated as Moúth later on in Philo. (The divergence between t and th is not decisive, but the vocalization is.) […]
11: The manuscripts have Zophasēmín, but it would seem that the a and ē must be reversed to render the meaning Philo tells us (Aramaic ṣōphē šamīn, ‘watcher of heaven’).
beings from earth: cf. Nonnus; Berossus?; etc.
21: Taaútos (pronounced Taˀut in Phoenician, I suppose) is none other than Thōouth, the Egyptian Hermes, as Philo will explain below. He is one of several Egyptian gods popular in Phoenicia, and it is no wonder he serves the same function (as a writer of sacred texts, including cosmogonies) as in his native land; this is not so different from his function as author of the so-called Hermetica.
22: Kolpías refers to wind “from the gulfs (kolpoí)” (Achilles Tatius, Isagoge 33). It is an ordinary Greek work, here used with the genitive Kolpía; it is certainly not an indeclinable Phoenician word.
23: I have not seen a plausible interpretation of this name. Some scholars equate it with Hebrew בֹהוּ bōhū, but I do not see how this is possible phonetically.
24: Almost certainly a translation of Phoenician ˤulōm. See Mochus of Sidon.
25: Phoenician unknown. The name is ambiguous in gender and so could be masculine or, as the context seems to demand, feminine, if “men” is not meant in a gendered sense.
26: Phoenician names unknown.
27: The more familiar Phoenician form is Baˤl-Šamēm. The final –n might be an accomodation to Aramaic or to Greek. Beel = Beˤl reflects, I suppose, a late or local shift in vowel pronunciation. The equation with Zeus is intuitive and may reflect common usage, that with the Sun is probably an innovation of Philo’s, and parallels occasional identifications of Zeus with the Sun in Greek literature. Of course such an astral interpretation/identification is not out of the question for an earlier Phoenician text either, but in cult, Baˤl-Šamēm and the Sun were distinct.

4 Genealogy of the Gods


5 On Serpents