Syrophoenician woman’s daughter
“Jesus…went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon’. But he did not answer her at all” (NRSV, Matthew 15:21,22,23)
In Our Lord’s day the coast of Northern Palestine was inhabited by one of the most remarkable peoples of the ancient world – the Phoenicians. They were from early times a nation of seafarers. This was due to the geographical fact that their country was just a coastal strip between the mountain range of Lebanon and the Mediterranean. Though nowhere more than 20 miles wide this strip was some 120 miles in length and contained the fine natural harbours of Tyre and Sidon. From there the Phoenician seamen, who were incidentally the first to navigate using the pole star, sailed out into the Mediterranean and beyond.
The Jews had never attempted to establish themselves in Phoenicia, and in both Old and New Testament times its people were heathen. Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, was the heathen daughter of the King of Tyre.
Thus it was that Our Lord, who deliberately confined his ministry to the Jews, the Chosen People of Israel, regarded the frontier of Phoenicia as marking the north-west limit of his travels. Of course the news of his teaching and especially of his miracles, spread far and wide; and St Mark tells us that very early on the vast crowds which converged on the Lake of Galilee, where he had his headquarters, contained many folk from Tyre and Sidon.