Phaleg, the first part of Geographia sacra by Samuel Bochart, traced the dispersion of peoples following the confusion of languages at the Tower of Babel. The various locations into which the different nations descended from the sons of Noah moved are shown on the map, engraved by R. Hubert, illustrated opposite. From the near East, people eventually spread to inhabit the entire globe.
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.
Bochart’s account of the history of language postulated that the primitive Hebrew had been communicated to the Canaanites, and by them to the Phoenicians. In Chanaan, the second, larger part of Geographia sacra, Bochart was principally concerned with the language, voyages, and colonies of the Phoenicians. Here, he argued that the settlement and original language of the British Isles derived from Phoenician mariners, who had come there in search of tin. Although Bochart’s work gave primacy to the historical narrative of the Bible, and to the antiquity of the primitive Hebrew language, it did not always defer to the dates mentioned in the Old Testament. Instead, Bochart often preferred to rely on the chronology of the Samaritan Pentateuch. Such choices reflected his humanist concern with the reconstruction of the most ancient sources for his work and his conviction that language and custom were subject to providential and historical change.
Edward Herbert Smith, Samuel Bochart (Caen, 1833); François Laplanche, L’écriture, le sacré et l’histoire: Érudits et politiques protestants devant la Bible en France au XVIIe siècle (Amsterdam, 1986), pp. 250–4; A. Dupront, Pierre-Daniel Huet et l’exégèse comparatiste au XVIIe siècle (Paris, 1930), pp.95–9; Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Florence, Ms.Ashburnham 1866, numbers 64–69 (Correspondence of Bochart and Huet concerning Phaleg).