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Geographia Sacra seu Phaleg et Canaan

Geographia Sacra seu Phaleg et Canaan
Cover of the fourth edition, 1708
AuthorSamuel Bochart
CountryCaen, France
GenreBiblical criticism
Publication date

Geographia Sacra seu Phaleg et Canaan (in English: "Sacred Geography or Peleg and Canaan") was a work of biblical criticism and world history by French author Samuel Bochart, first published in 1646. It was originally written in two books, combined in later editions. The first of these books, entitled Phaleg, seu de Dispersione Gentium et Terrarum Divisione Facta in Aedificatione Turris Babel ("Peleg or the Dispersion of Nations and the Division of Lands Made in the Building of the Tower of Babel"), was devoted to the Generations of Noah and the modern names of the tribes lists in Genesis 10. The second book, originally entitled Chanaan seu de Coloniis Et Sermone Phoenicum ("Canaan or On the Colonies and the Phoenician Language"), studied the history of Phoenician colonization and the Phoenician and Punic languages.[1][2] The work was highly influential in seventeenth-century Biblical exegesis and modern Phoenician historiography.

Peleg was the first detailed analysis of the Generations of Noah since classical times, becoming – and remaining – the locus classicus for such scholarship.[3]

Canaan was the first full-length book devoted to the Phoenicians, creating a framework narrative for future scholars of a maritime-based trading society with linguistic and philological influence across the region.[4] By doing this, the work also established the foundations for the comparative science of Semitic antiquities.[5][6]


First edition (Phaleg)
Bochart's illustration of the world according to Genesis 10

Bochart's goal was to reconstruct the historical geography of the ancient world by studying biblical philology.[7] The name Phaleg / Peleg refers to Genesis 10:25 and 1 Chronicles 1:19, which state that it was during the time of Peleg that the earth was divided.

The book is split into four parts:

  1. Prologue (προλεγόμενον)
  2. The Descendants of Shem
  3. The Descendants of Japheth
  4. The Descendants of Ham

The prologue is split into 16 chapters. The first two compare the Genesis story with Roman gods: Noah with Saturn, Canaan with Mercury, Nimrod with Bacchus, and Magog with Prometheus. Chapters 3–14 provide detailed commentary on the Genesis flood narrative and the Tower of Babel. Chapter 15 comments on the confusion of languages, and chapter 16 on the dispersion of nations.

In the three following sections, Bochart dedicated a chapter each for every name mentioned in Genesis 10:[8] 30 chapters for Shem's descendants, 15 chapters for Japheth's descendants, and 38 chapters for Ham's descendants.

Bochart’s analysis of the Generations of Noah in Genesis 10 became very popular, and provided the inspiration for numerous works on the same topic in the following centuries. It was one of the earliest attempts to build a single historical narrative from Biblical and classical sources.[9]


First edition (Chanaan)

The book is split into two parts:

  • The Phoenician colonization
  • The Phoenician and Punic language.

According to Victor Bérard, Bochart's work reconstituted a "Phoenician Mediterranean": in Cyprus, Egypt, Cilicia, Pisidia, Caria, Rhodes and Samos among others - Bochart even went as far as suggesting the Phoenician influence had reached Britain and possibly America.[10] He reached these conclusions by examining historical legends and contemporary place names; often he would extrapolate conclusions from single facts resulting in a "less admirable habit of finding a Semitic language etymology for all the names of Greek or Roman places."[10][11]


  • Bochart, Samuel (1646). Geographiae sacra: Phaleg, seu de Dispersione gentium et terrarum divisione facta in aedificatione Turris Babel (in Latin). Vol. 1. typis Petri Cardonelli.
  • Bochart, Samuel (1646). Geographia Sacra: Chanaan Seu De Coloniis Et Sermone Phoenicum. Geographia Sacra: Chanaan Seu De Coloniis Et Sermone Phoenicum (in Latin). Vol. 2. Cardonelli.
  • Bochart, Samuel (1708). Geographia sacra, seu Phaleg et Canaan, cui accedunt variae dissertationes philologicae, geographicae, theologicae, &c., antehac ineditae, ut et tabulae geographicae et indices longè quam antea luculentiores et locupletiores (in Latin) (Fourth ed.). Cornelium Boutesteyn & Jordanum Luchtmans.


  1. ^ Bérard 1902, p. 44
  2. ^ Shalev 2012, p. 141.
  3. ^ Stroumsa 2010, p. 84a: “In any case, Bochart's Geographia sacra would remain the locus classicus for this kind of biblical scholarship, and his seminal analysis would long retain a place of honor in scholarly literature. ”
  4. ^ Burman, Annie; Boyes, Philip J. (1 October 2021). "When the Phoenicians Were Swedish: Rudbeck's Atlantica and Phoenician Studies". The Journal of the American Oriental Society. 141 (4): 749–767. doi:10.7817/jameroriesoci.141.4.0749. ISSN 0003-0279. S2CID 245551968. Retrieved 7 October 2022. The first full-length work devoted to the Phoenicians was Samuel Bochart's Geographia Sacra (1646)... In many ways, the Geographia Sacra sets the pattern for the predominant modes of engagement with the Phoenicians to this day: focus on their maritime voyages and impact on the classical world on the one hand; the Phoenician language's linguistic and philological relationship with Greek and Hebrew on the other.
  5. ^ Stroumsa 2010, p. 76: "In the next chapter, we turn our attention to Samuel Bochart, another Protestant, who also in 1650 was establishing the foundations of the comparative science of Semitic antiquities."
  6. ^ Renan, Ernest. “L’EXÉGÈSE BIBLIQUE ET L’ESPRIT FRANÇAIS.” Revue Des Deux Mondes (1829-1971), vol. 60, no. 1, 1865, pp. 235–45. JSTOR, Accessed 7 October 2022. "Les ouvrages de Cappel, qui roulent pour la plupart sur des problèmes bien limités et susceptibles d'une solution précise, gardent aujourd'hui toute leur valeur. Si l'on n'en peut dire autant de ceux de Bochart, c'est que les questions qu'il attaqua étaient d'un ordre bien plus délicat, et supposaient des principes généraux decritique et de philologie qui n'étaient pas encore découverts. Plusieurs mauvaises étymologies et quelques naïvetés ne doivent pas faire oublier que Bochart posait vers 1650 les bases de la science comparative des antiquités sémitiques. Le temps était aux grands travaux; un éveil extraordinaire régnait dans les esprits. La rivalité féconde des catholiques et des protestans entretenait un merveilleux zèle pour les études savantes. La fondation définitive de l'exégèse biblique fut le fruit de cette émulation. L'un des deux partis n'aurait pu la produire à lui seul. “
  7. ^ Stroumsa 2010, p. 84.
  8. ^ Stroumsa 2010, p. 83-84.
  9. ^ Bennett, J.; Bennett, J.A.; Mandelbrote, S.; Bodleian Library; Museum of the History of Science (1998). The Garden, the Ark, the Tower, the Temple: Biblical Metaphors of Knowledge in Early Modern Europe. Museum of the History of Science. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-903364-09-6. Retrieved 7 October 2022. Bochart's history of nations and languages was widely known in the late seventeenth century, and provided the inspiration for many similar works by other authors. It was a notable attempt to construct a single historical narrative from the available Semitic and classical sources, which, like others of its kind, tended at times to accept interpolated or forged material at face value. Phaleg began from the premise that the account of the settlement of the world given in chapter 10 of Genesis was an accurate one. The evidence for this could be deduced from a study of pagan religions, which demonstrated that Noah (or a figure who could be identified as Noah) was worshipped as a common ancestor in all ancient traditions. The work continued with an account of the history of the Flood, explaining that paradise, and the first human settlement, had been in Babylonia; that the Ark had come to rest on the highest peaks of Assyria, the Gordiaei, which were to the east of the Taurus mountains; and that the original language, Hebrew, had decayed in various ways since the time of the dispersion of peoples. It continued with the story of the travels of each of Noah's three sons and their first descendants.
  10. ^ a b Bérard 1902, p. 44-45: "Par l'examen des légendes et des noms de lieux, grâce à une connaissance admirable de tous les auteurs de l'antiquité classique, historiens, géographes, poètes ou mythographes, grâce aussi, il faut bien l'avouer, à une faculté moins admirable de trouver dans l'une quelconque des langues sémitiques une étymologie pour tous les noms de lieux grecs ou romains, Bochart était arrivé à reconstituer une Méditerranée phénicienne: en Chypre, en Egypte, en Cilicie, en Pisidie, en Carie, à Rhodes, à Samos (on pourrait continuer ainsi, par la seule énumération des trente-six premiers chapitres, tout le périple de la mer Intérieure), partout il retrouvait les témoins de la colonisation sémitique. Aucun littoral n'échappait à ses prises de possession pour le compte des Phéniciens. Il hésitait même à nier (chap. XXXVIII) que l'Amérique fût restée en dehors de leur clientèle. Il savait (chap. XLII) que la langue des Gaulois avait plus d'une ressemblance avec celle des Phéniciens."
  11. ^ Bérard 1902, p. 45: "Malgré toutes ses erreurs, S. Bochart est d'une fréquentation profitable, aujourd'hui que triomphe le préjugé contraire. Fondée sur la Bible et sur le préjugé de l'infaillibilité biblique, la théorie de Bochart s'écroula avec ce préjugé. Le XVIIIe siècle, séparant la vérité de la religion, sépara aussi « l'histoire sainte » de l'histoire et chassa Phéniciens et Juifs de l'antiquité philosophique. Il est grand temps de revenir à certaines conceptions de Bochart. Mais il faut profiler de son exemple pour éviter parfois ses erreurs. A le lire, on s'aperçoit bientôt d'où proviennent surtout la faiblesse de son argumentation et la fantaisie de ses découvertes. C'est que, d'habitude, il n'envisage dans ses recherches toponymiques qu'un seul nom à la fois. Il ne reconstitue presque jamais la classe ou la série à laquelle ce nom peut appartenir. Il n'en recherche pas les similaires ou les complémentaires. Il procède presque toujours sur un fait isolé, et il voudrait en tirer une loi générale. Le vice de la méthode saute aux yeux. Mais la correction est fournie par Bochart lui-même. En deux ou trois points, il est arrivé à des résultats indiscutables; c'est qu'alors il s'est donné la peine de collectionner un grand nombre de faits avant de risquer une hypothèse."


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Geographia Sacra seu Phaleg et Canaan
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