Lebanon, A Name Through 4000 Years: Entity and Identity
Source:Daily Star Newspaper
In 2000, Antoine Khoury Harb, secretary general of the Fondation du
Patrimoine Libanais, published what was to be his doctoral thesis. He
didn't suffer from a lack of ambition: the scope of his investigation
was nothing less than the historical nature of Lebanon's national
identity right up through the modern era.
Recently, thanks to the AUB Alumni Association in the US, Harb's work has been translated into an English edition, entitled, "Lebanon, A Name Through 4000 Years: Entity and Identity." The association had been dismayed by what it saw as the US government's questioning of Lebanon's identity and right to its territory, and saw the book as a highly important corrective capable of setting the record straight.
Five hundred copies of the English edition were mailed to the US Congress this New Year's as proof that Lebanon is hardly the "geographic mistake" former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once claimed it to be.
Undaunted by torrential rains, a handful of history lovers made it to the Convent of the Franciscaines in Badaro on Feb. 16 to listen to Harb present an overview of the material in his book.
In 1920, Harb began, the Lebanese delegation to the Peace Conference demanded, in the name of the Lebanese people, the restoration of Lebanon to its "natural and historical borders," a claim then granted by General Gouraud when he proclaimed the "Grand Liban." To the question of the nature of these borders, history gives an unambiguous answer: the two mountain ranges extending, to quote the Bible, "from the mountain of Baal-Hermon to the Entrance of Hamat" (Judges III, 3).
Awed by its snowy peaks, the desert populations of the ancient Middle East unanimously bestowed upon this country a name derived from the root LBN, which meant "white" in all the languages of the region. The Lebanese are therefore among the few, if not the only, people who bear the name of their land and not the other way around. Harb here emphasized an underrated concept: Lebanon is not a historical entity, but a geographic one, and whereas history is a variable, geography is a constant.
Harb has gone through all the texts of the ancient Orient, searching for references to Lebanon by name. The earliest mention of the name is as old as writing itself, so we can only guess at how much older it may be: It is found in the of the 12 tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, dating from 2900 BC. There it is written Laabnana, and preceded by a character that indicates the name refers to a "mountain."
The same mountain-country is also mentioned by all the other cultures of the period and by those that came later: Egyptian, Accadian, Sumerian, Hittite, Hebrew, Arab, etc. We find it in the texts of the library of Ebla, 2400 BC, and of the Assyrian king Shamsi-Adad, who wrote in the 18th century BC : "I have erected my name and my stela in the territory of Laban on the shores of the Great Sea."
It is mentioned again in Egyptian texts, especially in the account of the journey of Wen-Amon, an envoy of the Pharaoh.
When Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Levant in 605 BC, he left a little- known stela in Wadi Brisa, Hermel, claiming: "I made this country happy. I made it so that the inhabitants of Lebanon live together in safety and nobody bothers them."
As for the Bible, the Old Testament contains no fewer than 75 instances of the name Lebanon, and almost as many of its cedars. Both land and tree were regarded by the Hebrews as divine, and evoked the highest praise. On the other hand, the New Testament does not mention Lebanon once: instead, it speaks of Phoenicia, the Greek nickname used by embryonic Europe to designate the country.
Evidence of the name Lebanon has been found in Europe however, attesting to the parallel existence of LBN and Phoenicia: for instance, a seventh century BC artifact in Cyprus mentions "Baal LBNN." Nine Roman emperors struck coins mentioning "Libanon." In the days of Byzantium, maps were drawn that name Phoenice Parhalus, or "Phoenicia of the shore," and Phoenicie Libanensis, "Lebanese Phoenicia," whose capital was Damascus (Syria defined then as two
states north of this entity).
Of the numerous Arabic texts, Harb only mentioned one by Al-Taraby, a historian of the third century best known for his commentary on the life of the Prophet. Taraby stated that stones from Mount Lebanon were used in the construction of the Kaaba, and that Lebanon was venerated by the Arabs along with three other sacred mountains the Sinai, the Mount of Olives and Ararat.
To this geographical survey, Harb added a word about the human element. "People seem to think that some sort of cataclysm emptied the country of its original inhabitants. Why?" he asked. "The original, prehistorical stock was never driven away. We have, in Lebanon, an indigenous population that has been absorbing foreign elements for over 4000 years."
Hopefully the book will achieve its educational objectives. It is not just the ignorance of foreign politicians that is worrisome, however. The lecturer deplored the problem of education in Lebanon itself."Students are not made aware of the country's ancient identity, or made proud of it," Harb said. "They are made to think of it as insignificant in the midst of much larger nations." Yet of all the world's nations, Lebanon's name is the oldest. Its borders were recognized long before the rise of politics. How can we not embrace such a heritage with the respect it is due?
Ambitious scholar lays waste to the notion of Lebanon s `geographical
mistake' in new work Doctoral thesis is translated into English, sent
to US politicians
By Joumana Medlej, Special to The Daily Star Newspaper