Thursday, August 17, 2006

Tyre and Sidon

Tyre and Sidon. The names of these two ancient biblical cities have been floating in my head since the fighting between Israel and the Hezbollah began a month ago. These two coastal cities in Lebanon are always shown on the war maps on TV, being among the places threatened by Israeli fire.

These cities are mentioned in the bible 14 times, always as a pair (like Sodom and Gomorrah) and in significant situations that they have a way of remaining in one’s subconscious. In mine, at least. But since I’m no bible scholar, I couldn’t easily find where in the bible they’re mentioned.

Then last week, at the height of the Middle East crisis, the twin names popped up on the Inquirer’s “The Daily Gospel” readings. Synchronicity?

The names are mentioned in Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman who begged him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. The scene portrays an example of great faith and feminine spunk. But Tyre and Sidon are mentioned here rather casually, to only establish the location perhaps, while in other parts of the bible, the mention of Tyre and Sidon seems to have greater significance. Like the ones in Isaiah 23, Joel, Luke and Matthew.

I started off by doing a biblical research exercise. Where first to start if not in the Inquirer research department. The research head, Miner Generalao, is a budding Catholic biblical scholar who has been taking biblical courses even while sharpening her expertise in e-research on any topic under the sun.

One of the first things I learned from her was how to search the bible online, all versions if I wanted. She started me off with the Revised Standard Version (RSV) which we used in college theology class. ( My initial “Tyre and Sidon” search (as a pair) turned up 14 matches grouped “by work”.

Maccabees (Apocrypha)5:15 - While they were reading this letter, suddenly other messengers, in torn clothes, arrived from Galileee to deliver a similar message: that against them had gathered together men of Ptolemais and Tyre and Sidon, and all Galilee of the Gentiles, "to annihilate us."

2 Esdras (Apocrypha) 1:11 - I have destroyed all nations before them, and scattered in the east the people of two provinces, Tyre and Sidon; I have slain all their enemies.

Acts 12:20: Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and they came to him in a body, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food.

Jeremiah 47:4 - Because of the day that is coming to destroy all the Philistines, to cut off from Tyre and Sidon every helper that remains. For the Lord is destroying the Philistines, the remnant of the coastland of Caphtor.

Joel 3:4 - "What are you to me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the regions of Philistia? Are you paying me back for something? If you are paying me back, I will requite your deed upon your own head swiftly and speedily.

Luke 6:17 - And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases…

Luke 10:13 (and Matthew 11:21) - "Woe to you, Chora'zin! woe to you, Beth-sa'ida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Luke 10: 14 (and Matthew 11: 22) - But it shall be more tolerable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you…

Mark 3: 8 - …and Jerusalem and Idume'a and from beyond the Jordan and from about Tyre and Sidon a great multitude, hearing all that he did, came to him.

Mark 7: 24 - And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid.

Matthew 15: 21 - And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Zechariah 9:2 - Hamath also, which borders thereon, Tyre and Sidon, though they are very wise.

The entire chapter 23 of Isaiah has “Tyre and Sidon” as title. I like Isaiah with the soaring, wailing style. Listen to him:

“Oracle on Tyre: Wail, O ships of Tarshish, for your port is destroyed; From the land of Kittim the news reaches them. Silence! You who dwell on the coast, your merchants of Sidon…Shame O Sidon, fortress on the sea, for the sea has spoken… Who has planned such a thing against Tyre, the bestower of crowns, Whose merchants are princes, whose traders are the earths’s honored men…At the end of the 70 years the Lord shall visit Tyre. She shall return to her hire and deal with all the world’s kingdoms on the face of the earth. But her merchandise and her hire shall be sacred to the Lord. It shall not be stored up or laid away, but from her merchandise those who dwell before the Lord shall eat their fill and clothe themselves in choice attire.”

Tyre was an ancient Phoenician port city on the Mediterranean coast of what is today southern Lebanon just north of the boarder of Israel. According to historians, Sidon was the oldest Phoenician city but Tyre eventually exceeded Sidon in fame and posterity.

Sure, Jesus used Tyre and Sidon unflatteringly to denounce Chorazin and Bethsaida. But, ah, more poetic and tragic is his denunciation of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children, as a hen gathers her young under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold your house will be abandoned, desolate.”

Some hardcore biblical websites consider the present-day conflicts in the Middle East as Old Testament prophecies come to pass.