TARSHISH

Granada’s fine poet of the golden age of Spanish Jewry (900-1200), Moses ibn Ezra, wrote Sefardim liturgy as well as sacred poetry, the latter including Tarshish, a requiem to love, wine, and birdsong also lamenting faithlessness and old age. His Arabic treatise on Arabic, Castilian, and Jewish poetry, “Conversations and Recollections” was translated into Hebrew as Shirat Yisraʾel, or “Song of Israel,” in 1924 (B. Halper) remains an important Spanish literary history. As his Arabic philosophical treatise, “The Bed of Spices”, which deals with metaphysical attributes of God and man’s microcosm.

[Redacted from Encyclopaedia Britannica]

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Ezekiel 27 begins with what sounds a lament on Tyre (Tyrus):

27 The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, Now, thou son of man, take up a lamentation for Tyrus;

The Who, What, Where of Tyre

Founded ca. 2750 BC (Herodotus), built as a walled city on the Phoenician mainland, the name Tyre appears on monuments as early as 1300 BC. Philo of Byblos (Eusebius) quotes the antiquarian authority, Sanchuniathon, stating that it was first occupied by Hypsuranius. [Redacted from Wikipedia]

Eighteenth and 19th dynasty Egyptian inscriptions suggest that Tyre (“Ṣa-ru,” “Ṣa-ra”) predominated [over Zidon/Sidon], reinforced by Carthage’s claim to have been founded from Tyre (probably much before the 826 or 814 BC date assumed by the Greeks). (Isa. 23:1, 6, 10 do not necessarily imply Tyrian colonization of Tarshish, but only flourishing intercourse with that remote country). Tyre is first heard of under King Hiram, who furnished his friends David (II Samuel) and Solomon (I Kings) for their buildings — wood from Mount Lebanon and skilled working men (Sidonians), for which aid he received not only payment in grain (I Kings 5: 11), but also land concessions in Galilee. Solomon’s chief architect, Hiram, was a Tyrian (I Kings; II Chron.). Tyrian ships in Solomon’s service sailed even from the ports on the Red Sea (II Chron 27-28).  Tyre became immensely rich (Zech. 9:3) by her commerce (Isa. 23:2-3; cf. the elaborate description of Ezek. 27); and the curses of the Prophets refer especially to its flourishing slave-trade (Amos 1:9; Joel 3:4). Tyrian merchants—if the term “Tyrians” did not include all Phenicians at that period—furnished the timber for Ezra’s Temple also (Ezra 3:7), and “brought fish and all manner of ware” to Jerusalem (Neh. 13:16). Ps. 45:2, 133:7, and 137:4 treat the city as representative of all Phenicia; elsewhere, however, the Tyrians and the Zidonians are identified in a way which seems to indicate that “Zidonians” was the earlier name for the Phenicians (cf. I Kings 5:6; Judges 18:7; Isa. 23:2; and the Homeric use). “Ethbaal king of the Zidonians,” the father of Jezebel (I Kings 16:31), is identical with Ithobalos of Tyre (Josephus, “Ant.” VIII. 13, § 2), who, however, may have possessed both cities. This earlier usage dates from a time when Zidon was preponderating among the Phenician cities (cf. the reference in Gen. 10:15 to Sidon, the first-born of Canaan; Tyre is not even mentioned in verse 18 of the same chapter). [Redacted from Jewish Encyclopedia]

Map of the Siege of Tyre [Text and Image: Ancient Encyclopedia; Original image: The Department of History, United States Military Academy, 17 October 2011 – Public Domain]

How does that help explain Tarshish?

Later, in Ezekiel 27:12 (KJV), still lamenting on Tyre, we read:

Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches ; with silver, iron, tin, and lead they traded for thy wares.

Ships of Tarshish seems to refer to one of many merchants (regions) that trades with a Tyre rich in silver, iron, tin, and lead.

Phoenician Trade Network [Image: Ancient History Encyclopedia – Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 3.0]

25 The ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market: and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the midst of the seas.

Some scholars argue that merchants of Tarshish includes a horde of Mediterranean sea-traders and, by extension, can be considered to refer more-or-less to Europe.

Later, in chapter 38, G-d asks Ezekiel to prophesy against Gog and Magog:

38 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, And say, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:

Further along, in verse 13, Ezekiel continues prophesying against Gog and Magog, this time taking the view of other nations witnessing events unfold. Those other nations include the merchants of Tarshish:

13 Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?

Yet in I Kings (10:22) we read:

For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram. Once in three years came the navy of Tarshish bringing gold and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.

This conjures images of Africa (east or west) or even India, rather than western Europe (although it could also be used in a more general sense to refer to the west hitherto beyond their understanding and description).

Noah begat Japheth, father of many nations, who begat Javan who begat Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.

By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.

Genesis 10 (KJV)

Cultural region of Tartessos [Wikimedia Commons]
European Geopolitic

Europe is Christendom and Christendom is Europe, yet they are a heterogeneous entity. There is northern Protestant Europe, southern Catholic Europe, and south-eastern Orthodox Europe.


annotations
  • “Tarshish is the father of the peoples of Tarshish (Tartesis), who are thought by most to have settled in SPAIN. The Mediterranean Sea was once known as the Sea of Tarshish, and it is known that the Phoenicians built a class of vessel called a ship of Tarshish (one of which Jonah tried to flee Joppa in the 8th century BC.). Phoenician inscriptions found on Sardinia, and dating to the 9th century BC, mention Tarshish without, unfortunately, providing us with a positive identification of its geographical location. Josephus records the name as Tharsus, and tells that it used to be the name under which Cilicia∗ was known, the chief and noblest city of which was Tarsus. (This identification is now considered unlikely, and the matter remains unresolved.)” – Bill Cooper
    • *In antiquity, Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor [southeast Turkey] and existed as a political entity from Hittite times into the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia during the late Byzantine Empire. – Wikipedia
  • The word Tarshish has 26 occurrences in 23 sections in the Holy Bible [KJV, WordSearch Bible, 20.11.16]. Other meanings of the word Tarshish:
    • a Sanskrit or Aryan word, meaning “the sea coast” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary) – Topical Bible Hub
    • contemplation; examination (Hitchcock’s Bible names Dictionary) – Topical Bible Hub
    • eponym of a Benjamite family, see 1 Chronicles 7:10 (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia) – Topical Bible Hub
    • one of the “seven princes” at the court of Ahasuerus, see Esther 1:14 (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)  – Topical Bible Hub
    • Hebrew name of a precious stone [“beryl”], see Ezekiel 10:9; Exodus 28:20; Exodus 39:13 Ezekiel 1:16; Ezekiel 28:13 Songs 5:14 Daniel 10:6 (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)  – Topical Bible Hub
The History of Spain

Spain sits at number 38 in the Global Firepower index of military rankings.

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Jonah

Tarshish: An Island in the Stream of Consciousness, Bruce Patterson pp. 32 [Google Books]
Excerpt from On a Ship to Tarshish: God’s Will, Your Life By Jeff Crawford [Google Books]

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Bible Atlas
Tarshish and surrounding area [Biblos.com]
Topical Bible Hub
Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary

Tarshish: contemplation; examination

Smith’s Bible Dictionary

Tarshish: (established).

  1. Probably Tartessus, a city and emporium of the Phoenicians in the south of Spain, represented as one of the sons of Javan. (Genesis 10:4; 1 Kings 10:22; 1 Chronicles 1:7; Psalms 48:7; Isaiah 2:16; Jeremiah 10:9; Ezekiel 27:12,25; Jonah 1:3; 4:2) The identity of the two places is rendered highly probable by the following circumstances: 1st. There is a very close similarity of name between them, Tartessus being merely Tarshish in the Aramaic form. 2nd. There seems to have been a special relation between Tarshish and Tyre, as there was at one time between Tartessus and Phoenicians. 3rd. The articles which Tarshish is stated by the prophet Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 27:12) to have supplied to Tyre are precisely such as we know, through classical writers, to have been productions of the Spanish peninsula. In regard to tin, the trade of Tarshish in this metal is peculiarly significant, and, taken in conjunction with similarity of name and other circumstances already mentioned, is reasonably conclusive as to its identity with Tartessus. For even not when countries in Europe or on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea where tin is found are very few; and in reference to ancient times, it would be difficult to name any such countries except Iberia or Spain, Lusitania, which was somewhat less in extent than Portugal, and Cornwall in Great Britain. In the absence of positive proof, we may acquiesce in the statement of Strabo, that the river Baetis (now the Guadalquivir) was formerly called Tartessus, that the city Tartessus was situated between the two arms by which the river flowed into the sea, and that the adjoining country was called Tartessis.
  2. From the book of Chronicles there would seem to have been a Tarshish accessible from the Red Sea, in addition to the Tarshish of the south of Spain. Thus, with regard to the ships of Tarshish, which Jehoshaphat caused to be constructed at Ezion-geber on the Elanitic Gulf of the Red Sea, (1 Kings 22:48) it is said in the Chronicles, (2 Chronicles 20:36) that they were made to go to Tarshish; and in like manner the navy of ships, which Solomon had previously made in Ezion-geber, (1 Kings 9:26) is said in the Chronicles, (2 Chronicles 9:21) to have gone to Tarshish with the servants of Hiram. It is not to be supposed that the author of these passages in the Chronicles contemplated a voyage to Tarshish in the south of Spain by going round what has since been called the Cape of Good Hope. The expression “ships of Tarshish” originally meant ships destined to go to Tarshish; and then probably came to signify large Phoenician ships, of a particular size the description, destined for long voyages, just as in English “East Indiaman” was a general name given to vessels, some of which were not intended to go to India at all. Hence we may infer that the word Tarshish was also used to signify any distant place, and in this case would be applied to one in the Indian Ocean. This is shown by the nature of the imports with which the fleet returned, which are specified as “gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks .” (1 Kings 10:22) The gold might possibly have been obtained form Africa, or from Ophir in Arabia, and the ivory and the apes might likewise have been imported from Africa; but the peacocks point conclusively, not to Africa, but to India. There are only two species known: both inhabit the mainland and islands of India; so that the mention of the peacock seems to exclude the possibility of the voyage having been to Africa.
ATS Bible Dictionary

Tarshish

1. The second son of Javan, Genesis 10:4.

2. Tartessus, an ancient city between two mouths of the Guadalquiver, in the south of Spain. It was a Phoenician colony, and was the most celebrated emporium in the west to which the Hebrews and Phoenicians traded. That Tarshish was situated in the west is evident from Genesis 10:4, where it is joined with Elisha, Kittim, and Dodanim. See also Psalm 72:10. According to Ezekiel 38:13, it was an important place of trade; according to Jeremiah 10:9, it exported silver, and according to Ezekiel 27:12,25, silver, iron, tin, and lead to the Tyrian markets. They embarked for this place from Joppa, Jonah 1:3-4. In Isaiah 23:1,6,10, it is evidently represented as an important Phoenician colony. It is named among other distant states, in Isaiah 66:19. All these notices agree with Tartessus.

In some of these passages, however, Tarshish may be used as a general expression, applicable to all the distant shores of Europe; and thus the custom may have arisen of designating as “ships of Tarshish” any large merchant ships bound on long voyages in any direction. The English term Indiaman is very similarly used. Whether the ships fitted out by Solomon at Ezion-geber on the Red sea, sailed around Africa to Tarshish in Spain, or gave the name of Tarshish to some place in India of Ethiopia, as the discovers of America gave it the eastern names India and Indians, cannot now be determined, 1 Kings 10:22 22:48,49 2 Chronicles 9:21 20:26 Isaiah 23:1,14 60:9.

Easton’s Bible Dictionary

A Sanscrit or Aryan word, meaning “the sea coast.”

(1.) One of the “sons” of Javan (Genesis 10:4; 1 Chronicles 1:7).

(2.) The name of a place which first comes into notice in the days of Solomon. The question as to the locality of Tarshish has given rise to not a little discussion. Some think there was a Tarshish in the East, on the Indian coast, seeing that “ships of Tarshish” sailed from Eziongeber, on the Red Sea (1 Kings 9:26; 22:48; 2 Chronicles 9:21). Some, again, argue that Carthage was the place so named. There can be little doubt, however, that this is the name of a Phoenician port in Spain, between the two mouths of the Guadalquivir (the name given to the river by the Arabs, and meaning “the great wady” or water-course). It was founded by a Carthaginian colony, and was the farthest western harbour of Tyrian sailors. It was to this port Jonah’s ship was about to sail from Joppa. It has well been styled “the Peru of Tyrian adventure;” it abounded in gold and silver mines.

It appears that this name also is used without reference to any locality. “Ships of Tarshish” is an expression sometimes denoting simply ships intended for a long voyage (Isaiah 23:1, 14), ships of a large size (sea-going ships), whatever might be the port to which they sailed. Solomon’s ships were so styled (1 Kings 10:22; 22:49).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia

TARSHISH

tar’-shish (tarshish):

(1) Eponym of a Benjamite family (1 Chronicles 7:10); Rhamessai, A and Lucian, Tharseis

(2) One of the “seven princes” at the court of Ahasuerus (Esther 1:14 Massoretic Text).

(3) The Hebrew name of a precious stone (Ezekiel 10:9 margin, English Versions of the Bible “beryl”; Exodus 28:20; Exodus 39:13 Ezekiel 1:16; Ezekiel 28:13 Songs 5:14 Daniel 10:6).

See STONES, PRECIOUS.

TARSHISH, NAVY (SHIPS) OF

See SHIPS AND BOATS, II, 1, (2).

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Beautiful Bible Facts
Tarshish of Rome
Tarshish is known for her trading ships and merchants, and their merchandisegold, silver, iron, tin, lead, ivory, apes, and peacocks. The discovery of the Nora Stone proves Tarshish is today’s Sardinia (The name Sardinia could be from “Sardus,” or “Sardus Pater”, a mythological hero of the nuragic pantheon).
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LDS Bible Dictionary

Tarshish

(1) Probably Tartessus in Spain; ships of Tarshish (the name came to be used to denote ships of the largest size, suitable for long voyages) (1 Kgs. 10:22; Ps. 48:7; Isa. 2:16; 23:1; 60:9; Ezek. 27:25); kings of Tarshish (Ps. 72:10); merchants of Tarshish (Ezek. 27:12; 38:13; also Isa. 66:19; Jer. 10:9; Jonah 1:3; 4:2).

(2) A Tarshish in the Indian Ocean (1 Kgs. 22:48; 2 Chr. 9:21; 20:36).

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Easton’s Bible Dictionary
Tarshish: a Sanscrit or Aryan word, meaning “the sea coast.”

  • One of the “sons” of Javan ( Genesis 10:4 ; 1 Chronicles 1:7 ).
  • The name of a place which first comes into notice in the days of Solomon. The question as to the locality of Tarshish has given rise to not a little discussion. Some think there was a Tarshish in the East, on the Indian coast, seeing that “ships of Tarshish” sailed from Eziongeber, on the Red Sea ( 1 Kings 9:26 ; 22:48 ; 2 Chr 9:21 ). Some, again, argue that Carthage was the place so named. There can be little doubt, however, that this is the name of a Phoenician port in Spain, between the two mouths of the Guadalquivir (the name given to the river by the Arabs, and meaning “the great wady” or water-course). It was founded by a Carthaginian colony, and was the farthest western harbour of Tyrian sailors. It was to this port Jonah’s ship was about to sail from Joppa. It has well been styled “the Peru of Tyrian adventure;” it abounded in gold and silver mines.It appears that this name also is used without reference to any locality. “Ships of Tarshish” is an expression sometimes denoting simply ships intended for a long voyage ( Isaiah 23:1 Isaiah 23:14 ), ships of a large size (sea-going ships), whatever might be the port to which they sailed. Solomon’s ships were so styled ( 1 Kings 10:22 ; 22:49 ).

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Jewish Encyclopedia

Tarshish by Isidore Singer, M. Seligsohn

In the genealogical table of the Noachidæ, Tarshish is given as the second son of Javan and is followed by Kittim and Dodanim (Gen. x. 4; I Chron. i. 7). As with all these names, Tarshish denotes a country; in several instances, indeed, it is mentioned as a maritime country lying in the remotest region of the earth. Thus, Jonah flees to Tarshish from the presence of Yhwh (Jonah i. 3, iv. 2). With Pul, Tubal, and Javan, it is mentioned as one of the remote places that have not heard of Yhwh (Isa. lxvi. 19, comp. lx. 9; Ps. lxxii. 10; Ezek. xxxviii. 13). Any large vessel capable of making a long sea-voyage was styled a “ship of Tarshish,” though this did not necessarily mean that the vessel sailed either to or from Tarshish (Ps. xlviii. 7; I Kings x. 22, xxii. 48; Isa. ii. 16; et al.). It seems that in parallel passages referring to Solomon’s and Jehoshaphat’s ships (I Kings l.c.) the author of Chronicles did not understand the meaning of “ships of Tarshish” (II Chron. ix. 21, xx. 36).

Tarshish appears to have had a considerable trade in silver, iron, tin, and lead (Jer. x. 9; Ezek. xxvii. 12). It gave its name, besides, to a precious stone which has not yet been satisfactorily identified ( See Gems). The Targum of Jonathan renders the word “Tarshish” in the prophetical books by “sea,” which rendering is followed by Saadia. Moreover, the term “ships of Tarshish” is rendered by Jewish scholars “sea-ships” (comp. LXX., Isa. ii. 16, πλοῖα θαλαρρης). Jerome, too, renders “Tarshish” by “sea” in many instances; and in his commentary on Isaiah (l.c.) he declares that he had been told by his Jewish teachers that the Hebrew word for “sea” was “tarshish.” In Isa. xxiii. 1 the Septuagint, and in Ezek. xxvii. 12 both the Septuagint and the Vulgate, render “Tarshish” by “Carthage,” apparently suggested by Jewish tradition. Indeed, the Targum of Jonathan renders “Tarshish” in I Kings xxii. 48 and Jer. x. 9 by “Afriḳi,” that is, Carthage.

Josephus (“Ant.” i. 6, § 1), apparently reading “Tarshush,” identifies it with Tarsus in Cilicia. This identification was adopted by Bunsen and Sayce (“Expository Times,” 1902, p. 179); but it seems from Assyrian inscriptions that the original Hebrew name of Tarsus was not “Tarshush.” Bochart (in his “Phaleg”), followed by many later scholars, identifies Tarshish with Tartessus, mentioned by Herodotus and Strabo as a district of southern Spain; he thinks, moreover, that “Tartessus” is the Aramaic form of “Tarshish.” On the other hand, Le Page Renouf (“Proc. Soc. Bibl. Arch.” xvi. 104 et seq.) refutes this theory, declaring besides that Tartessus never really existed. Renouf’s opinion is that “Tarshish” means a coast, and, as the word occurs frequently in connection with Tyre, the Phenician coast is to be understood. Cheyne (in “Orientalische Litteraturzeitung,” iii. 151) thinks that “Tarshish” of Gen. x. 4, and “Tiras” of Gen. x. 2, are really two names of one nation derived from two different sources, and might indicate the Tyrsenians or Etruscans. Thus the name may denote Italy or the European coasts west of Greece.

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Bible verses
Occurrences

1 Kings 10:22 For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram: once every three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.

1 Kings 22:48 Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold: but they didn’t go; for the ships were broken at Ezion Geber.

2 Chronicles 9:21 For the king had ships that went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram; once every three years came the ships of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.

2 Chronicles 20:36 and he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish; and they made the ships in Ezion Geber.

2 Chronicles 20:37 Then Eliezer the son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because you have joined yourself with Ahaziah, Yahweh has destroyed your works. The ships were broken, so that they were not able to go to Tarshish.

Isaiah 2:16 For all the ships of Tarshish, and for all pleasant imagery.

Isaiah 23:1 The burden of Tyre. Howl, you ships of Tarshish! For it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in. From the land of Kittim it is revealed to them.

Isaiah 23:6 Pass over to Tarshish! Wail, you inhabitants of the coast!

Isaiah 23:10 Pass through your land like the Nile, daughter of Tarshish. There is no restraint any more.

Isaiah 23:14 Howl, you ships of Tarshish, for your stronghold is laid waste!

Isaiah 60:9 Surely the islands shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, for the name of Yahweh your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has glorified you.

Isaiah 66:19 “I will set a sign among them, and I will send such as escape of them to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the islands afar off, who have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the nations.

Jeremiah 10:9 There is silver beaten into plates, which is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the artificer and of the hands of the goldsmith; blue and purple for their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men.

Ezekiel 27:12 Tarshish was your merchant by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded for your wares.

Ezekiel 27:25 The ships of Tarshish were your caravans for your merchandise: and you were replenished, and made very glorious in the heart of the seas.

Ezekiel 38:13 Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions of it, shall tell you, Have you come to take the spoil? have you assembled your company to take the prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great spoil?

Jonah 1:3 But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh. He went down to Joppa, and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid its fare, and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of Yahweh.

Jonah 4:2 He prayed to Yahweh, and said, “Please, Yahweh, wasn’t this what I said when I was still in my own country? Therefore I hurried to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and you relent of doing harm.

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Further Reading

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Oxford Bible Church

The Imminent Invasion of Israel

Appendix 12: Who are the Merchants of TARSHISH?

The Merchants of Tarshish are not part of the invading forces for they protest against Russia when she invades Israel.Tarshish in Ezekiel’s day was in the farthest western regions of the known world (Spain and/or the British Isles). It was wealthy and flourishing, exporting silver, iron, tin and lead through the seafaring Phoenicians (Jeremiah 10:9; Ezekiel 27:12,25). This hints at it being the UK. Tarshish occupied the uttermost parts of the west. It could be used by Ezekiel to represent the nations of western Europe that will join Saudi Arabia in denouncing the invasion. When God commanded Jonah to go preach to Nineveh (500 miles NE of Israel), he headed to Tarshish, which was as far in the other direction as he could go (see Jonah 1:1-3).

Tarshish is associated in Scripture with the West. “The western kings of Tarshish and the islands will bring him tribute”(Psalm 72:10, NLT).

The Merchants of Tarshish receive their name from the ancient city of Tarshish, where they once traded their goods. These merchant men could represent all of the nations of Western Europe that would one day become the Roman Empire.

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The Rise and Fall of “the Ships of Tarshish”

“The ships of Tarshish crossed the seas for your trade.”​—EZEKIEL 27:25, THE JERUSALEM BIBLE

THE ships of Tarshish helped make King Solomon rich. The people who built them influenced the development of the Greek and Roman alphabets. They also founded a city that gave its name, Byblos, to the most influential book ever published.

Who built and sailed the ships of Tarshish? How did the ships get their name? And how do events involving these people and their ships attest to the accuracy of the Bible?

Lords of the Mediterranean

The Phoenicians built the vessels that came to be known as the ships of Tarshish. Phoenicians had already become expert seamen about a thousand years before the time of Christ. Their homeland was a narrow strip of coast that more or less corresponds to modern-day Lebanon. Other nations occupied the land to the north, east, and south. To the west lay the vast Mediterranean Sea. To gain wealth, the Phoenicians looked to that sea.

The Phoenician seamen gradually built a thriving merchant fleet. As profits grew and technology advanced, they constructed larger ships that could handle longer voyages. After reaching Cyprus, Sardinia, and the Balearic Islands, the Phoenicians followed the North African coastline in a westerly direction until they reached Spain. (See the accompanying map.)

Phoenician shipwrights built boats a hundred feet long. These oceangoing vessels were apparently called “ships of Tarshish” since they could undertake the 2,500-mile [4,000 km] journey from Phoenicia to southern Spain, the possible location of Tarshish.*

The Phoenicians may not have been bent on ruling the world, only on making money from it. They did so by establishing trading posts. As traders, however, they became the lords of the Mediterranean.

Beyond the Mediterranean

In their quest for profit, Phoenician explorers ventured into the Atlantic Ocean. Their ships continued to hug the southern coast of Spain until they came to an area called Tartessus. About the year 1100 B.C.E., they founded a city that they called Gadir. This port, now known as Cádiz, Spain, became one of the first large cities of Western Europe.

The Phoenicians traded salt, wine, dried fish, cedar, pine, metalwork, glass, embroidery, fine linen, and cloth dyed the famous Tyrian purple. What wealth did Spain have to offer in return?

Southern Spain proved to be the Mediterranean’s richest source of silver and other valuable metals. Regarding Tyre, the principal port of the Phoenicians, the prophet Ezekiel said: “You did business in Spain and took silver, iron, tin, and lead in payment for your abundant goods.”​—Ezekiel 27:12, Today’s English Version.

The Phoenicians discovered a seemingly inexhaustible supply of these minerals near the river Guadalquivir, not far from Cádiz. The same minerals are still extracted from this area, now called Río Tinto. These mines have been producing high-quality ore for some three thousand years.

With the Spanish-Phoenician shipping line firmly established, the Phoenicians claimed a monopoly on Spanish silver. The silver flooded into Phoenicia and even into nearby Israel. King Solomon of Israel formed joint business ventures with Phoenician King Hiram. As a result, in Solomon’s day silver was counted as “nothing at all.”​—1 Kings 10:21.*

Although the Phoenicians became successful merchants, they could be ruthless. Reportedly, they sometimes lured people aboard ship on the pretense of showing them their wares, only to enslave them. In time, they even turned on their former trading partners, the Israelites, and sold them into slavery. Hence, Hebrew prophets predicted the destruction of the Phoenician city of Tyre. These prophecies were finally fulfilled by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E. (Joel 3:6; Amos 1:9, 10) This destruction marked the end of the Phoenician era.

The Phoenician Legacy

Like all good businessmen, the Phoenician traders put their agreements in writing. They used an alphabet very similar to ancient Hebrew. Other nations saw the advantages of the Phoenician alphabet. With modifications, it became the basis for the Greek alphabet, which in turn was the forerunner of the Roman script, one of the most widely used alphabets today.

In addition, the important Phoenician city of Byblos became a center for the distribution of papyrus, the precursor of modern paper. The use of papyrus in writing encouraged the development of books. In fact, the English word for the world’s most widely distributed book, the Bible, is derived from the name Byblos. Indeed, the historical record of the Phoenicians and their ships builds confidence that the Bible is firmly rooted in fact.

[Footnotes]

Over time, the term “ships of Tarshish” came to signify a type of ship, one capable of long sea voyages.

Solomon’s “fleet of ships of Tarshish” collaborated with Hiram’s fleet, probably operating out of Ezion-geber and trading in the Red Sea and beyond.​—1 Kings 10:22.

[Map on page 27]

(For fully formatted text, see publication)

PHOENICIAN TRADE ROUTES

SPAIN

TARTESSUS

Guadalquivir River

Gadir

Corsica

Balearic Isls.

Sardinia

Sicily

Crete

Cyprus

Byblos

Tyre

MEDITERRANEAN SEA

Ezion-geber

Red Sea

AFRICA

[Picture on page 27]

A coin depicting a Phoenician ship, third to fourth century B.C.E.

[Picture on page 27]

Remains from a Phoenician settlement, Cádiz, Spain

[Picture Credit Line on page 26]

Museo Naval, Madrid

[Picture Credit Lines on page 27]

Coin: Museo Arqueológico Municipal. Puerto de Sta. María, Cádiz; remains: Yacimiento Arqueológico de Doña Blanca, Pto. de Sta. María, Cádiz, España

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McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia

Tarshish

Tar’shish (Heb. תִּרשַׁישׁ, Tarshish’, subdued [Gesen.] or established [Fürst]; Sept. Θάρσεις [but Καρχηδών in Isaiah 23; Καρχηδόνιοι in Ezekiel; θάλασσα in Isa 2; Isa 16]; Vulg. usually Tharsis; A.V. “Tharshish,” 1Ki 10:22; 1Ki 22:48; 1Ch 7:10; once Heb. תִּרשַׁישָׁה, Tarshishah’, 1Ch 1; 1Ch 7), the name of three men, of a country, and of a gem.

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Question: The Young Lions of Tarshish (Eze 38:13)

 

There are those who speculate that this is a prophetic prediction of the British Isles. The evidence is nebulous but not impossible. However it would mean that there is a third Tarshish in addition to the ones existing, probably around the Rock of Gibralter as in the book of Jonah and also the Horn of East Africa as in the days of Solomon. There is simply no proof. No proof does not mean it cannot possibly be true but that it cannot be proven to be true.

They then draw the conclusion that since countries like the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand came mainly from Britain that it applies to them. This is of course more speculation.

When Scripture speaks of nations in prophecy it defines them geographically, anthropologically, or both. (Greek: basilea = “kingdom” or ethnon = “race” with the Hebrew equivalents of Malchut and Goy respectively).

There is simply no documented nor archaeological evidence that a third Tarshish existed in the British Isles.

A further problem is that those most pressing this view are the British-Israelite cults (known as Armstrongists in the USA). On the basis of the evidence that exists I would never teach that the USA can be said to be the “young lions of Tarshish” (although it may be a possibility in some estimations). The most I would say is, “There are some who have speculated that…”. I would also say that the USA is never specifically mentioned in Scripture nor is Britain. Its existence was not even known (except by God) to people in Israel.

What may be a better case is Spain. One scriptural instance of Tarshish was almost certainly located on the opposite side of the Mediteranian near Gibralter (which the ancient Greek mariners knew as ‘The Pillars of Hercules”). Since one Tarshish was in Spain and since Spain is twice named in the New Testament (Paul wrote of his desire to visit Spain in Romans 15:24, 28), a stronger scriptural case could be made for Spain.

Furthermore, regarding this argument of this pertaining to nations coming from the British Isles, we must remember that geographically the USA was more Spanish than British or French or Dutch. Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and major areas of Oregan, Utah, and Nevada as well as Pueto Rico were all Spanish. Later France temporarily ceeded Louisiana to Spain before the Louisiana Purchase by Jefferson from Napoleon. Americans of Hispanic descent already outnumber those of British (English, Welsh, and Scottish descent); it is only when we add those of Irish descent that Americans decended from the British Isles are the largest ethnic group of Americans. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix, Albuquerque, San Diego, San Juan, and Las Vegas all have huge Hispanic-American populations and Spanish is the second language in the USA. But again, we cannot be dogmatic about these things or over-speculate concerning them. It is fine to consider the evidence, but the evidence is so inconclusive it should not be the object of focus in a major way.

What Scripture states about the Middle East and Europe in eschatological prophecy however, does not require any speculation. It is therefore the focus on which we should mainly concentrate.

That is about all I can tell you.

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Scriptural verses

Genesis 10:4 | View whole chapter | See verse in context And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.

1 Chronicles 1:7 | View whole chapter | See verse in context And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.

2 Chronicles 9:21 | View whole chapter | See verse in context For the king’s ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram: every three years once came the ships of Tarshish bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.

2 Chronicles 20:36 | View whole chapter | See verse in context And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish: and they made the ships in Eziongeber.

2 Chronicles 20:37 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Then Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the LORD hath broken thy works. And the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish.

Esther 1:14 | View whole chapter | See verse in context And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king’s face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;)

Psalms 48:7 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.

Psalms 72:10 | View whole chapter | See verse in context The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.

Isaiah 2:16 | View whole chapter | See verse in context And upon all the ships of Tarshish, and upon all pleasant pictures.

Isaiah 23:1 | View whole chapter | See verse in context The burden of Tyre. Howl, ye ships of Tarshish; for it is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in: from the land of Chittim it is revealed to them.

Isaiah 23:6 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.

Isaiah 23:10 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.

Isaiah 23:14 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Howl, ye ships of Tarshish: for your strength is laid waste.

Isaiah 60:9 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the LORD thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee.

Isaiah 66:19 | View whole chapter | See verse in context And I will set a sign among them, and I will send those that escape of them unto the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, that draw the bow, to Tubal, and Javan, to the isles afar off, that have not heard my fame, neither have seen my glory; and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles.

Jeremiah 10:9 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.

Ezekiel 27:12 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs.

Ezekiel 27:25 | View whole chapter | See verse in context The ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market: and thou wast replenished, and made very glorious in the midst of the seas.

Ezekiel 38:13 | View whole chapter | See verse in context Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?

Jonah 1:3 | View whole chapter | See verse in context But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

Jonah 4:2 | View whole chapter | See verse in context And he prayed unto the LORD, and said, I pray thee, O LORD, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.

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[Atlantipedia]
References
  • The Nations of Japheth, by Bill Cooper – Lambert Dolphin
  • Tyre, Joshua J. Mark  – Ancient History Encyclopedia, September 2, 2009

Further Reading

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