Tarshish (Hebrew: תַּרְשִׁישׁ) occurs in the Hebrew
Bible with several uncertain meanings, most frequently as a place
(probably a large city or region) far across the sea from the Land of
Tarshish is currently the name of a village in
Lebanon District in Lebanon).
Tarshish was said to have supplied
vast quantities of important metals to Israel and Phoenicia. The same
place-name occurs in the Akkadian inscriptions of
Assyrian king, d. 669 BC) and also on the Phoenician inscription on
the Nora Stone; its precise location was never commonly known, and was
eventually lost in antiquity. Legends grew up around it over time so
that its identity has been the subject of scholarly research and
commentary for more than two thousand years. Its importance stems in
part from the fact that Hebrew biblical passages tend to understand
Tarshish as a source of King Solomon's great wealth in metals -
especially silver, but also gold, tin and iron (
Ezekiel 27). The
metals were reportedly obtained in partnership with
King Hiram of
Phoenician Tyre (
Isaiah 23), and the fleets of Tarshish-ships.
However, Solomon's Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, thus
archaeological evidence has been difficult to uncover.
The existence of
Tarshish in the western Mediterranean, along with any
Phoenician presence in the western Mediterranean before circa 800 BC,
has been questioned by some scholars in modern times, because there is
no direct evidence. Instead, the lack of evidence for wealth in Israel
Phoenicia during the reigns of Solomon and Hiram, respectively,
prompted a few scholars to opine that the archaeological period in
Mediterranean prehistory between 1200 and 800 BC was a 'Dark Age'
The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the
Targum of Jonathan render
Tarshish as Carthage, but other biblical commentators as early as 1646
(Samuel Bochart) read it as
Tartessos in ancient Hispania (the Iberian
Peninsula), near Huelva and Sevilla today. The Jewish-Portuguese
scholar, politician, statesman and financier
Isaac Abarbanel (A.D.
Tarshish as “the city known in earlier times
Carthage and today called Tunis." One possible identification
for many centuries preceding the French scholar Bochart (d. 1667), and
following the Roman historian
Flavius Josephus (d. 100 A.D.), had been
with inland town of Tarsus in
Cilicia (south-central Turkey).
William F. Albright
William F. Albright (1891-1971) and Frank Moore
Cross (1921-2012) suggested
Sardinia because of the
discovery of the Nora Stone, whose Phoenician inscription mentions
Tarshish. Cross read the inscription to understand that it was
Tarshish as Sardinia. Recent research into hacksilber
hoards has also suggested Sardinia.
1 Hebrew Bible
2 Other ancient and classical era sources
3 Identifications and interpretations
Sardinia or Spain
3.4 Phoenician coast
Tyrsenians or Etruscans
3.7 Southeast Africa
3.8 Southern India and Ceylon
3.9 "Tarshishim" as "fiery angels"
5 See also
7 Further reading
Tarshish also occurs 24 times in the
Masoretic text of the Hebrew
Bible with various meanings:
Genesis 10:4 lists the descendants of Japhet, the son of Noah, as "The
sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim." This is
restated verbatim in 1 Chronicles 1:7.
1 Kings (1Kings 10:22) notes that
King Solomon had "a fleet of ships
of Tarshish" at sea with the fleet of his ally
King Hiram of Tyre. And
that "Once every three years the fleet of ships of
Tarshish used to
come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks." (repeated with
some notable changes in
2 Chronicles 2Chronicles 9:21), while 1 Kings
22:48 states that "
Jehoshaphat made ships of
Tarshish to go to Ophir
for gold, but they did not go, for the ships were wrecked at
Ezion-geber." This is repeated in
2 Chronicles 20:37 preceded by the
information that the ships were actually built at Ezion-geber, and
emphasizing the prophecy of the otherwise unknown Eliezer son of
Dodavahu of Mareshah against
Jehoshaphat that "Because you have joined
with Ahaziah, the Lord will destroy what you have made." And the ships
were wrecked and were not able to go to Tarshish. This may be
referenced in Psalm 48:7 which records "By the east wind you shattered
the ships of Tarshish." From these verses commentators consider that
"Ships of Tarshish" was used to denote any large trading ships
intended for long voyages whatever their destination, and some
Bible translations, including the NIV, go as far as to translate the
phrase ship(s) of
Tarshish as "trading ship(s)."
Psalm 72 (Ps 72:10), a Psalm often interpreted as Messianic in Jewish
and Christian tradition, has "May the kings of
Tarshish and of the
coastlands render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring
gifts!" This verse is the source text of the liturgical antiphon Reges
Tharsis in Christian Cathedral music. In this Psalm, the 'chain of
scaled correlates' consisting of 'mountains and hills', 'rain and
showers', 'seas and river' leads up to the phrase '
islands', indicating that
Tarshish was a large island.
Isaiah contains three prophecies mentioning Tarshish. First 2:16
"against all the ships of Tarshish, and against all the beautiful
Tarshish is mentioned at length in Chapter 23 against
Tyre. 23:1 and 14 repeat "Wail, O ships of Tarshish, for Tyre is laid
waste, without house or harbor!" and 23:6 "Cross over to Tarshish;
wail, O inhabitants of the coast!". 23:10 identifies Tyre as a
"daughter of Tarshish" These prophecies are reversed in
where "For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish
first, to bring your children from afar," and 66:19 " and I will set a
sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations,
to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to
the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory.
And they shall declare my glory among the nations."
Jeremiah only mentions
Tarshish in passing as a source of silver; 10:9
"Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz."
Ezekiel contains two prophecies describing Israel's trading relations
with Tarshish. The first is retrospective in 27:12 "
business with you because of your great wealth of every kind; silver,
iron, tin, and lead they exchanged for your wares." and 27:25 "The
Tarshish traveled for you with your merchandise. So you were
filled and heavily laden in the heart of the seas." The second in
Ezekiel 38:13 is forward looking where "Sheba and Dedan and the
Tarshish and all its leaders will say to you, ‘Have you
come to seize spoil? Have you assembled your hosts to carry off
plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and
goods, to seize great spoil?’"
Jonah 1:3 (
Jonah 1:3), 4:2 mentions
Tarshish as a distant place: "But
Jonah rose to flee to
Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went
down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish." Jonah's fleeing to
Tarshish may need to be taken as "a place very far away" rather than a
precise geographical term. It may however refer to Tarsus in Cilicia
where Saul, later Paul hailed from. On the Mediterranean Sea, ships
that used only sails were often left stranded without wind while ships
with oars could continue their voyage. Therefore, trading ships
most likely would have used oarsmen rather than sails. During Jonah's
attempted escape to Tarshish, his rebellion against the Hebrew God
YHWH led to his being tossed overboard by sailors, swallowed by a
large fish (sometimes called the "whale"), and vomited out onto dry
land by God's command. He then made his way to Nineveh, now known as
Mosul, in Iraq.
Other ancient and classical era sources
Esarhaddon, Aššur Babylon E (AsBbE) (=K18096 and EŞ6262 in the
British Museum and Istanbul Archaeological Museum, respectively)
preserves "All the kings from the lands surrounded by sea- from the
country Iadanana (Cyprus) and Iaman, as far as Tarsisi (Tarshish),
bowed to my feet." Here,
Tarshish is certainly a large island, and
cannot be confused with Tarsus (Thompson and Skaggs 2013).
Flavius Josephus (Antiquitates Iudaicae i. 6, § 1) of the 1st century
AD reads "Tarshush", identifying it as the city of Tarsus in southern
Asia Minor, which some have later equated with the Tarsisi mentioned
in Assyrian records from the reign of Esarhaddon. Phoenician
inscriptions found at
Karatepe in Cilicia. Bunsen and Sayce have
seemed to agree with Josephus, but the Phoenicians were active in many
regions where metals were available, and classical authors, some
biblical authors and certainly the
Nora Stone that mentions Tarshish
generally place Phoenician expansion aimed at metals-acquisition in
West of the Mediterranean.
Septuagint and the
Vulgate in several passages translate it with
Carthage, apparently following a Jewish tradition found in the Targum
of Jonathan ("Afriki", i.e., Carthage).
The Hebrew term also has a homonym, tarshish, occurring seven times
and translated beryl in older English versions Some interpretations
give that in the
Torah (Exodus 28:20), it is also the name of a
gem-stone associated with the Tribe of
Asher that has been identified
Septuagint and by Josephus as the "gold stone"
χρυσόλιθος (whose identification remains in dispute,
possibly topaz, probably not modern Chrysolite), and later as
aquamarine. It is the first stone on the fourth row of the priestly
Identifications and interpretations
Tarshish is placed on the shores of the
Mediterranean Sea by several
biblical passages (
4:2), and more precisely: west of Palestine (Genesis 10:4, 1
2 Chronicles 9:21 erroneously situates it on the Red
Sea. It is described as a source of various metals: "beaten silver
is brought from Tarshish" (
Jeremiah 10:9), and the Phoenicians of Tyre
brought from there silver, iron, tin and lead (
Ezekiel 27:12). The
Isaiah 23:6 and 66:19 seems to indicate that it is an
island, and from Palestine it could be reached by ship, as attempted
Jonah 1:3) and performed by Solomon's fleet (2 Chronicles
9:21). Some modern scholars identify
Tarshish with Tartessos, a
port in southern Spain, described by classical authors as a source of
metals for the Phoenicians, while Josephus' identification of Tarshish
with the Cilician city of Tarsus is even more widely accepted.
However, a clear identification of
Tarshish is not possible, since a
whole array of Mediterranean sites with similar names are connected to
the mining of various metals.
Thompson and Skaggs argue that the Akkadian inscriptions of
Esarhaddon (AsBbE) indicate that
Tarshish was an island (not a
coastland) far to the west of the Levant. In 2003, Christine Marie
Thompson identified the Cisjordan Corpus, a concentration of
hacksilber hoards in Israel and the Palestinian Territories
(Cisjordan). This Corpus dates between 1200 and 586 BC, and the hoards
in it are all silver-dominant. The largest hoard was found at
Eshtemo'a, present-day as-Samu, and contained 26 kg of silver.
Within it, and specifically in the geographical region that was part
of Phoenicia, is a concentration of hoards dated between 1200 and 800
BC. There is no other known such concentration of silver hoards in
contemporary Mediterranean, and its date-range overlaps with the
King Solomon (990 - 931 BC) and Hiram of Tyre (980 - 947
Hacksilber objects in these Phoenician hoards have lead isotope
ratios that match ores in the silver-producing regions of
Spain, only one of which is a large island rich in silver. Contrary to
translations that have been rendering Assyrian tar-si-si as 'Tarsus'
up to the present time, Thompson argues that the Assyrian tablets
inscribed in Akkadian indicate tar-si-si (Tarshish) was a large island
in the western Mediterranean, and that the poetic construction of
Psalm 72.10 also shows that it was a large island to the very distant
west of Phoenicia. The island of
Sardinia was always known as a hub of
the metals trade in antiquity. The same evidence from hacksilber is
said to fit with what the ancient Greek and Roman authors recorded
about the Phoenicians exploiting many sources of silver in the western
Mediterranean to feed developing economies back in Israel and
Phoenicia soon after the fall of
Troy and other palace centers in the
eastern Mediterranean around 1200 BC. Classical sources starting with
Homer (8th century BC), and the Greek historians
Diodorus Siculus (d. 30 BC) said the Phoenicians were
exploiting the metals of the west for these purposes before they set
up the permanent colonies in the metal-rich regions of the
Mediterranean and Atlantic.
Sardinia or Spain
The editors of the New Oxford Annotated Bible, first published in
1962, suggest that
Tarshish is either
Tartessos or Sardinia.
Rufus Festus Avienus the Latin writer of the 4th century AD,
Tarshish as Cadiz.
Bochart, the 17th-century French Protestant pastor, suggested in his
Phaleg (1646) that
Tarshish was the city of
Tartessos in southern
Spain. He was followed by others, including Hertz (1936). In the
Oracle against Tyre, the prophet
Ezekiel (27:12) mentions that silver,
iron, lead and tin came to Tyre from
Tarshish (Trsys). They were
stored in Tyre and resold, probably to Mesopotamia.
In Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick,
Father Mapple gives a sermon on
the story of Jonah.
Father Mapple identifies the
Tarshish to which
Jonah flees with the port of
Cádiz in Spain, "as far by water, from
Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days, when
the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea" (Chapter 9, "The
Sermon").[dubious – discuss]
Peter le Page Renouf (1822–1897) thought that "Tarshish"
meant a coast, and, as the word occurs frequently in connection with
Tyre, the Phoenician coast is to be understood. In
Isaiah 23, however,
the inhabitants of the Phoenician coast are exhorted to 'cross over'
to Tarshish; it also identifies Tyre as a daughter of
'Hebrew Bible' above).
Tyrsenians or Etruscans
Cheyne (1841–1915) thought that "Tarshish" of Gen 10:4 and
"Tiras" of Gen 10:2, are really two names of one nation derived from
two different sources, and might indicate the
Tyrsenians or Etruscans.
Some 19th-century commentators believed that
Tarshish was Britain,
Alfred John Dunkin who claimed "
Tarshish demonstrated to be
Britain" (1844), George Smith (1850), James Wallis and David
King's The British Millennial Harbinger (1861), John Algernon Clarke
(1862), and Jonathan Perkins Weethee of Ohio (1887). This idea
stems from the fact that
Tarshish is recorded to have been a trader in
Tin, Silver, Gold and Lead  which were all mined in Cornwall. This
is still reputed to be the 'Merchants of Tarshish" today by some
Augustus Henry Keane
Augustus Henry Keane (1833–1912) believed that
Tarshish was Sofala,
and that the Biblical land of
Havilah was centered on the nearby Great
Southern India and Ceylon
Bochart, apart from
Spain (see there), also suggested eastern
localities for the ports of
Tarshish during King Solomon's
reign, specifically the
Tamilakkam continent (present day South India
and Northern Ceylon) where the
Dravidians were well known for their
gold, pearls, ivory and peacock trade. He fixed on "Tarshish" being
the site of Kudiramalai, a possible corruption of
Irish politician and traveller
James Emerson Tennent suggested that
Galle, a southern city in Sri Lanka, was the ancient seaport of
Tarshish from which
King Solomon is said to have drawn ivory, peacocks
and other valuables.
"Tarshishim" as "fiery angels"
Jewish liturgy mentions "Tarshishim," which is commonly translated
into English as "fiery angels."
Around 1665, the followers of
Shabbatai Zvi in
İzmir interpreted the
Tarshish as Dutch ships that would transport them to the Holy
1 Chronicles 7:10 forms part of a genealogy mentioning in passing a
Jewish man named
Tarshish as a son of a certain Bilhan.
Esther 1:14 mentions in passing a Persian prince named
the seven princes of Persia.
Tarshish (Lebanon) is the name of a village in Lebanon. The village is
located in the Baabda Kadaa at an elevation of 1400m and is 50 km
away from Beirut.
Tarshish is a family name found among Jews of Ashkenazic descent. A
variation on the name, Tarshishi, is found among Arabs of Lebanese
descent, and likely indicates a family connection to the Lebanese
Tarshish was also the name of a short-lived political party
founded by would-be assassin of Israeli Prime Minister David
Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dwek.
The Greek form of the name, Tharsis, was given by Giovanni
Schiaparelli to a region on Mars.
The classic short story "Ship of Tarshish" by
John Buchan refers to
the book of Jonah.
Sons of Noah
^ a b c "Tarshish" in the Jewish Encyclopedia,
Isidore Singer and M.
^ a b Thompson, C.M. 2003: 'Sealed silver in Cisjordan and the
‘invention’ of coinage,' Oxford Journal of Archaeology 22.1,
^ a b c Thompson, C. M. and Skaggs, S. 2013: 'King Solomon’s
silver?: southern Phoenician
Hacksilber hoards and the location of
Tarshish' Internet Archaeology, (35). doi:10.11141/ia.35.6
^ "Paul". Scriptures.lds.org. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
^ Cecil Torr (1895). Ancient Ships. Cambridge University Press.
pp. 1–3. Retrieved 18 February 2010.
^ Charles F. Pfeiffer (1966). "Karatepe". The Biblical World, A
Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman
Press. p. 336.
^ Expository Times,
Christian Charles Josias Bunsen
Christian Charles Josias Bunsen and Sayce, 1902,
^ "H8658 - tarshiysh - Strong's Hebrew Lexicon (KJV)".
Blueletterbible.org. Retrieved 2016-08-20.
^ a b c d e Avraham Negev and Shimon Gibson (2001). Tarshish.
Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. New York and London:
Continuum. p. 494. ISBN 0-8264-1316-1.
^ Metzger, Bruce M. and Roland E. Murphy, eds. (1991), New Oxford
Annotated Bible, annotation on
^ William Parkin - 1837 "Festus Avinus says expressly that
Tarshish. This agrees perfectly with the statement of Ibn Hankal, who
no doubt reports the opinion of the Arabian geographers, that
Phoenicia maintained a direct intercourse with Britain in later ..."
^ Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, xvi. 104 et
seq., Le Page Renouf
^ Orientalische Litteraturzeitung, iii. 151, Cheyne
^ George Smith Sacred Annals; Or, Researches Into the History and
Religion of Mankin 1856 p. 557 "Heeren fully confirms this view ;
shows from Strabo, that the Phenicians not only traded with
Britain, but actually conducted mining operations in the former
country ; and is so fully satisfied of the identity of Tarshish
and Spain, ..."
^ J. P. (Jonathan Perkins) Weethee The Eastern Question in Its Various
Phases 1887 p. 293 "The expression is this — "the merchants of
Tarshish, with the young lions of Tarshish." Assuming, what we have
proved, that England was the ancient Tarshish, and that Great Britain
Tarshish of Eze. xxxviii. 13, or the chief of both the ..."
^ Ezek 27:12
^ The Gold of
Ophir - Whence Brought and by Whom? (1901)
^ Richard Leslie Brohier (1934). Ancient irrigation works in Ceylon,
Volumes 1-3. pp. 36
^ A Dictionary of the Bible by Sir William Smith published in 1863
notes how the Hebrew word for peacock is Thukki, derived from the
Classical Tamil for peacock Thogkai: Ramaswami, Sastri, The Tamils and
their culture, Annamalai University, 1967, pp. 16, Gregory, James,
Tamil lexicography, M. Niemeyer, 1991, pp. 10, Fernandes, Edna, The
last Jews of Kerala, Portobello, 2008, pp. 98, Smith, William, A
Dictionary of the Bible, Hurd and Houghton, 1863 (1870), pp. 1441
^ Burke, Aaron (2006). "
Tarshish in The Mountains of Lebanon:
Attestations of a Biblical Place Name". Maarav.
^ Reich, Bernard; Goldberg, David H. (2008). Historical Dictionary of
Israel (2nd ed.). Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press. p. 488.
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