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Where was Tarshish?

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Where was Tarshish?

The city of Tarshish (or Tharshish) is mentioned several times in the Old Testament. Scholars are divided on what place this refers to. It may be Tarsus in Asia Minor, or it may be Tartessos in Iberia (ancient Spain) at the mouth of the Quadalquavir river. It has also been identified with ancient Carthage or the island of Crete.

The  Greek translators of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, translated Tarshish as Carthage. The Jewish historian Josephus and others believed Tarshish was Tarsus in Cilicia, in Asia Minor. Julius Africanus thought it was a name for Rhodes or for Cyprus; Eusebius and Hippolytus claimed that "Tarshish" referred to the city of Tartessos in Iberia, mentioned by Herodotus and other ancient writers was the Biblical Tarshish.

Biblical mentions of Tarshish as a place

"Oniyot Tarshish" (ships of Tarshish) are mentioned in 1 Kings 10  and 1 Kings 22.

In 1 Kings 10 the following is noted of King Solomon:

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

In 1 Kings 22 it is said of king Jehoshaphat:

1 KINGS 22:48 Jehoshaphat made ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold: but they went not; for the ships were broken at Eziongeber.

This same incident is recorded in Chronicles:

2 Chronicles: 36 And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish: and they made the ships in Eziongeber.

2 Chronicles: 37 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.

Etzion Gever (EtzionGeber) is identified with the modern location the Red Sea port of Eilat. Therefore, if Tarshish was in the Mediterranean, "ships of Tarshish" must refer to a general class of ships. Ophir was probably a place in Africa.

Tarshish appears in later writings both as a place and with reference to ships.

Psalms 48:7 Thou breakest ships of Tarshish with an east wind.

Isaiah  mentions both ships of Tarshish and a specific place called Tarshish, an island:

Isaiah 23:1 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 Pass ye over to Tarshish; howl, ye inhabitants of the isle.

Isaiah 23:10 Pass through thy land as a river, O daughter of Tarshish: there is no more strength.

Jeremiah mentions Tarshish as a source of silver:

JEREMIAH 10:9 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.

Likewise Ezekiel prophecies against Tyre and mentions both Tarshish and ships of Tarshish

Ezekiel 27:12  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 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.

Likewise in the book of Jonah we find:

Jonah 3 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 [actually "ba'ah" - coming from] Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the LORD.

It is thought that ships of Tarshish were long distance ships constructed so that they could get to Tarshish or perhaps ships built on the model of ships constructed at Tarshish. The mention of an Island of Tarshish gives credence to the idea that it may have been the island of Cyprus or Crete. On the other hand, the frequent mention of Tyre in conjunction with Tarshish led some to believe that it was the Phoenician colony of Carthage (Kiriat Hadasht in Phoenician, meaning "new city") in what is now Tunisia. In ancient times most navigation was conducted close to the coasts, and vessels that would sail great distances or sail in the open sea were practically unknown. Carthage's great trade routes mostly hugged the coasts of the Mediterranean and the East Atlantic. An ancient island kingdom, such as the Minoan kingdom in Crete, would have need for ships that could navigate in the open sea, without hugging the coastline. The Phillistines, "People of the Sea," are thought to be refugees who arrived from Minoa by boat.

 


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Tarshish