II. Ancient and Classical Periods, 3500 B.C.E.–500 C.E. > B. Kingdoms of Western Asia and Africa, to 323 B.C.E. > 5. Syria-Palestine, c. 3500–323 B.C.E. > b. Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture
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b. Economy, Technology, Society, and Culture
 
Syria-Palestine was originally heavily forested, and home to panthers, lions, and even elephants. Deforestation and overgrazing, however, destroyed much of the woodland even in antiquity, though the cedars of Lebanon were a valuable item of trade. The desert fringe was the home to pastoralists, who used donkeys for transport until the domestication of the camel around 1000 B.C.E. In the steppe region wheat, barley, olives, and grapes were grown. The coastal area relied on trade: routes from Anatolia, Mesopotamia, and Arabia led to the Mediterranean coast and were linked by ship to Cyprus, Greece, and Egypt. The coastal cities also produced a famous purple dye made from the murex sea-mollusk.  1
Cuneiform texts from Ebla are the earliest writing in Syria and included historical texts, lexicons (including a massive Eblaite-Sumerian dictionary), mathematical texts, administrative documents, and letters, as well as literary and mythological texts. By 1400 B.C.E. scribes at Ugarit (Ras Shamra) developed a cuneiform alphabet in which is preserved Canaanite literature, including legal, historical, religious, and mythological texts. It is unclear whether the alphabet known as “Phoenician” developed before or after Ugaritic, but it was sometime in the mid-second millennium. Around 750 the Greeks borrowed this alphabet from the Phoenicians (See Geography).  2
At Ebla and Mari the main deity was Dagan—other gods were Ishtar, Baal, Rasap, and Adad. The chief gods of the Canaanite pantheon were El (God), creator of heaven and earth; Asherah, El's consort and the mother-goddess; their son Baal Haddu (or Lord Storm); `Anat, goddess of love and war; and Dagan, a grain god. The course of the development of the monotheistic worship of Yahweh by the Israelites is problematic. Some scholars see monotheism as an early element of Hebrew religion; others think it a much later development from an earlier polytheism. A Hebrew inscription of the 9th century suggests Yahweh had a consort named Asherah.  3
 
 
 
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

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