to the Gentiles in
While Jesus' initial ministry took place mainly among the Jews of Galilee, the phenomenal public attention in the region was intense, and on one occasion, according to John 6:15, the people attempted to "make him king by force," causing him to withdrew by himself.
one point, according to Matthew and Mark, Jesus headed for the notoriously pagan
"region of Tyre and Sidon" in Phoenicia (modern Lebanon), which borders Galilee
to the northwest. These commercially magnificent cities had been a source of
cultural and religious seductiveness since the time of Jezebel (9th century BC),
the wife of King Ahab of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The heavy influence on
the cities by the sophisticated Greek culture (Hellenism) was apparent in their
architecture and coinage. The shekel produced in Tyre
(right) from 126 BC to 56 AD, was made of such high-quality silver that,
despite its engraved animal and human images, became the preferred currency for
payments of the yearly half-shekel Temple tax required of all Jews. Each city
was also a historic center of Canaanite paganism, with temples to Melqart,
Astarte and other deities. But even here Jesus' fame had spread. He could not
keep his presence secret and many came to hear him. It is not clear how far
north or west he went. A journey of about 30 miles from Capernaum would have
brought him to the vicinity of Tyre, the southernmost of the two cities, and it
may be that Jesus ministered there:
"Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.' Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.' He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' The woman came and knelt before him. 'Lord, help me!' she said. He replied, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.' 'Yes, Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour" (Matthew 15:21-28).
In the footsteps of Jesus...
The principal seaport on the Phoenician coast, Tyre was located about 45 miles north of Ptolemais (ancient Acre; modern Acco). Tyre was in reality two cities. One lay on an island, the other on the mainland, and each had its own harbor. Its Hebrew name, Tzor, signifies a rock, as in flint, which was used as a knife. Its most coveted export was the costly scarlet-purple dye, called 'Tyrian,' made from the local murex shell. Legend says the deities Melqart and Astarte were walking along the beach when their dog picked up a shell that stained its mouth crimson. Astarte told Melqart she would love him forever if he would make her a dress of that color. In response he built the dyeworks. The Tyrians jealously guarded the processes used to extract and blend their dyes. Some of these trade secrets still lie buried in the ruins of ancient Tyre.
(Above left) harbor and buildings of modern Sour (Tyre) in Lebanon; (Above right) triumphal arch on the principal road leading into Roman Tyre. The road was lined by colonnades; an aqueduct ran along the south side. Right, another view of the triumphal arch on the principal road leading into Roman Tyre.
The wording in Mark indicates that Jesus went as far north as Sidon:
"Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon" (Mark 7:31).
Sidon (Greek form of the Phoenician "Zidon") was located in the narrow plain running along the Mediterranean Sea, less than 20 miles north of Tyre. Like most Phoenician cities, it was built on a promontory facing an island, which sheltered its fleet from storms and served as a refuge during military incursions from the interior. Sidon was the third great Phoenician city-state, rivaling Byblos and Tyre as a naval power. Together, the three cities symbolized Phoenician maritime prominence. In early times Sidon was more influential that Tyre. This view is confirmed by "Sidonians" being used as the generic name for the Phoenicians or Canaanites in the Bible. However, by the 9th century BC, it had become a dependency of Tyre.
When Sidon, like the other cities of Phoenicia, fell under Roman domination, it continued to mint its own silver coins. The Romans also built a theater and other major monuments in the city. Later, it became famous for its glassware and purple-dye industries. Located about fifty miles northwest of Nazareth it is the most northern city mentioned in connection with Christ's journeys.
(Above left) Sea Castle, a 13th century Crusader fortress built on a small island at modern Saida, Lebanon (ancient Sidon); (Above right) waterfront of modern Saida.
After Jesus left "the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon," he apparently headed southeast through the territory of Herod Philip. He took this rather circuitous route to avoid entering Galilee, controlled by Philip's half-brother, Herod Antipas, who, according to the Gospels, had taken a hostile attitude toward Jesus:
"King Herod heard about this, for Jesus' name had become well known. Some were saying, 'John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, and that is why miraculous powers are at work in him.' Others said, 'He is Elijah.' And still others claimed, 'He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of long ago.' But when Herod heard this, he said, 'John, the man I beheaded, has been raised from the dead!'" (Mark 6:14-16).
Also... "At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, 'Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you'" (Luke 13:31).
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