Question: Where was Tarshish?
In Biblical terms the name "Tarshish" can refer to one of two places:
a. Tarsis in Cilicia (Southeast Turkey)
b. Tarshish (or Tartessus) in Spain.
There are however other candidates:
(1. The Septuagent, the Greek version of the Old Testament, translated Tarshish as "Carthage" though at that time "Carthage" (in Tunis, North Africa) also ruled over the former areas of Tarshish in Spain;
(2 Julius Africanus thought "Tarshish" was another name for the islands of Rhodes or for Cyprus;
(3 There is a city in Sicily named Tarsus.
(4. A Phoenician inscription in Sardinia mentions Tarshish but exactly in what context is not clear.
(5. The name "Tarshish" was once explained as connoting "furnace" in Akkadian and Phoenician and therefore as possibly applicable to nearly any Phoenician colony specializing in metallurgy. Similarly William F. Albright and several others with him, suggested that it referred to mines for precious ores and was applied to certain countries which produced them.
(6. Cyrus Gordon related the name "Tarshish" to a Semitic root also found in the Greek "Thalasos" meaning sea. This explanation is close to that of the Talmud which however seems to connect Tarshish to the Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean in particular.
"C. Gordon attempts to interpret the name Tarshish with the wine-dark sea of Homer" Journal of Near-Eastern Studies 37 (1978), pp. 51-52. "
"Attic thalatta, meaning sea, becomes thalassa in Doric".
Cyris Gordon has also been quoted as identifying Tarshish with America.
(7. The Biblical expression "Ships of Tarshish" is often explained as a general term for ships sailing on long-distance voyages. There is however no proof for this supposition. In our opinion "Ships of Tarshish" means "Ships from (the Place) Tarshish" or from the direction of Tarshish. This is the simple meaning of the Hebrew text.
(8. Immanuel Velikovsky thought Tarshish was Crete, or its chief city Knossos.
Ages in Chaos, vol. I, section Troglodytes or Carians?, n. 17
(9. Some former British-Israel writings identified Tarshish with the British Isles. They claimed (without providing any references as far as we are aware) that the name "Tarshish" is to be found applied to Britain on "old maps". D'Arbois de Jubainville, a foremost French scholar, believed that at one time Tarshish had ruled over all of Spain and most of Gaul. There could be something to this. Tarshish was a trading emporium with imperial pretensions dealing with metals mined in both Spain and the British Isles. It was later taken over by the Phoenicians who also had outposts in Britain. It may be that this whole complex was included under the term "Tarshish".
10. In Assyrian Terms Tarshish was somewhere towards the Western Mediterranean.
The annals of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon (681-669 BCE):
"All the kingdoms from (the islands) amidst the sea from the country of Iadanan and Jaman as far as Tarshishi bowed to my feet and I received heavy tribute."
Iadanan ("Isle of Dan") is Cyprus and Iaman is the Ionian coast of Asia Minor;
"Tarshishi" has the determinative "m" for country in front of it, as do Idanana, or Cyprus and Iaman, or Ionia.
The accepted impression is Tarshishi as described was
"a kingdom amidst the sea, apparently somewhat farther removed from Assyria than either Cyprus or Ionia."
The Assyrian inscriptions are compatible with our belief that Tarshish referred to Tartessos on the Southern Spanish coast by the straits of Gibraltar.
11. We idenitify Tarshish as Tartessos but some believe Tartessos to have been a mere remnant of a much lareger entity known as "Atlantis". The decription of Atlantis given by Plato does fit a possible region near Tartessos that was submerged under the sea.
See more on this subject below.
12. Some claim Tarshish to have been somewhere to the east in the Indian Ocean or beyond it. Alternately there is the notion that two places named "Tarshish" existed both reached by ship, one in the east, the other in the west. The names of products brought back by the Ships of Tarshish are said to be derived from the Tamil language of Southern India and Ceylon. See more on this below under the heading: The Eastern Solution?.
1.(b) Answer: Tarshish in the Bible
(13. Tarshish (sometimes spelt as "Tharshish") as a thing: The term "Tarshish" in the Bible is also:
The name of a precious stone in the breastplate of the High Priest (Exodus 28:20 translated in the King James as "Beryl"). This stone is usually considered to be that of the Tribe of Asher. It has been identified as aquamarine though other candidates exist. The identification of "Tarshish" as the Stone of the Tribe of Asher is interesting since out of all the Israelite Tribes Asher was probably the most "Phoenician" in character and environment.
The Tribe of Asher received its territory in the Phoenician-Cananaite area including the regions of Sidon ("Zidon") and Tyre (Joshua 19:28-29) which were the major Phoenician cities.
See our Commentary to Joshua 19:28.
The Tribe of Asher settled amongst the Phoenicians and intermixed with them.
[Judges 1:31] NEITHER DID ASHER DRIVE OUT THE INHABITANTS OF ACCHO, NOR THE INHABITANTS OF ZIDON, NOR OF AHLAB, NOR OF ACHZIB, NOR OF HELBAH, NOR OF APHIK, NOR OF REHOB:
[Judges 1:32] BUT THE ASHERITES DWELT AMONG THE CANAANITES, THE INHABITANTS OF THE LAND: FOR THEY DID NOT DRIVE THEM OUT.
The Phoenicians were destined to conquer Tarshish in Spain and establish settlements in its domain including the forced resettlement of Israelite Exiles. It may not be coincidence that one of the symbols of the Tribe of Asher was the "Tarshish" stone.
14. Tarshish as a People or Place.
A grandson of JEDIAEL son of Benjamin.
[1-Chronicles 7:6] THE SONS OF BENJAMIN; BELA, AND BECHER, AND JEDIAEL, THREE.
[1-Chronicles 7:10] THE SONS ALSO OF JEDIAEL; BILHAN: AND THE SONS OF BILHAN; JEUSH, AND BENJAMIN, AND EHUD, AND CHENAANAH, AND ZETHAN, AND THARSHISH, AND AHISHAHAR.
Some Commentators identify JEDIAEL with Ashbel son of Benjamin (Numbers 26:38).
c. A Minister of Ahaseurus the King of Persia (Esther 1:14).
d. A grandson of Japhet (Genesis 10:4) and son of Javan (Greece):
"AND THE SONS OF JAVAN; ELISHAH, AND TARSHISH, KITTIM, AND DODANIM" [Genesis 10:4].
Tarshish son of Javan [Ionia, Greece] gave rise to the settlement of Tarsis in Cilicia (Southeast Turkey). This area was conquered and ruled by enclaves from Dan and Judah. The nearby island of Cyprus was also associated with Dan and referred to as 'Ydnnana" ("Isle of Dan") by the Assyrians. Tartessos (Tarshish) in Spain had originally been founded by a group related to the Greeks and the peoples of Anatolia but it was later taken over by the Phoenicians. Tarsis in Anatolia also fell under the influence of the Phoenicians. There may have been an ethnic link between "Tarsis" (Cilicia) and Tartessos.
In Genesis 10Tarshish is linked with Javan (Greece, Ionia in Western Anatolia= Modern Turkey), possibly Cyprus (Kittim), and other such entities.
We would say that Tarshish gave rise to Tarsis in Cilicia (Southeast Turkey) and to Tartessos in Southwest Spain which in Phoenician terms would also have been referred to as Tarshish.
Herodotus (1:163) speaks of Tartessos in Spain and relates how they welcomed the people of Phocia in Ionia (Greek Anatolia), sent money back to Phocia to help them rebuild the city walls, and requested that Phocia send them immigrants.
The capital of Lydia, Sardis (in Anatolia neighboring Ionia), was also known as "Sepharad" and this name was later applied to Spain. Jews from Spain are known as "Sepharadim" meaning that Spanish" just as Jews from Europe are called "Ashkenazim" meaning "German".
The Greek term "Hesperides" was also once a term applied to Sardis but later became applied to Spain or Britain.
The people of Tubal son of Japhet were also in Anatolia but later moved to Spain where their descendants are known as the Basques.
Tartessos was also connected with the Greek colony of Mainake in Spain. The name Tartesssos has the suffix "-essos" which is common in Anatolia and the Middle East including areas of Greek settlement.
Tarshish in Spain
e. "Tarshish" was the name of at least two different places according to the context as explained from
a Brit-Am Biblical-Historical point of view:
Tarshish can refer to either Tarsis in Cilicia (Southeast Turkey) or to Tarshish (Tartessos to the Greeks) in Southwest Spain.
Other candidates for the name "Tarshish" in Biblical-Prophetic terms exist include America as discussed below.
In this feature, unless otherwise indicated, we use the term "Tarshish" as synonymous with Tartessos in Spain.
The Bible and Tarshish
[Genesis 10:4] AND THE SONS OF JAVAN; ELISHAH, AND TARSHISH, KITTIM, AND DODANIM.
From the above we see that "Tarshish" could be applied to either "Tarsis" or "Tartessos" according to the context.
Kings and Chronicles
King Solomon of Israel together with Hiram the King of Tyre (chief city of Phoenicia) maintained "ships of Tarshish".
[1-Kings 10:22] FOR THE KING [Solomon] 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.
A NAVY OF THARSHISH>>: In the Hebrew Bible it says "Oni-Tarshish" meaning "Ships of Tarshish".
This is repeated in Chronicles:
[2-Chronicles 9:21] 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.
The word translated as "peacocks" in "Tuciim" which in Modern Hebrew would be understood to mean "Parrots".
Why did the ships of Solomon and Huram (i.e. the ships of Tarshish) need to take three years to make the trip?
The Greek historian Herodotus (484 - ca . 425 BCE) supplies an answer.
Herodotus explains that Phoenician ships would leave from a Red Sea port, sail down the east coast of Africa circumvent Africa and return to the eastern Mediterranean via the Straits of Gibraltar. On the way they would stop, sow corn, reap it, and continue. Archaeological findings (discussed below) indicate the presence of Phoenicians in both East and Western Africa.
4;42: "As for Libya [in Classical terms "Libya" meant the entire Continent of Africa] we know it to be washed on all sides by the sea, except where it is attached to Asia. This discovery was first made by Necos, the Egyptian king, who on desisting from the canal which he had between the Nile and the Arabian Gulf, sent to sea a number of ships manned by Phoenicians, with orders to make for the Pillars of Hercules [Straits of Gibraltar], and to return to Egypt through them, and by the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians took their departure from Egypt by way of the Erythraean Sea [Red Sea], and so sailed into the southern ocean. When autumn came, they went ashore, wherever they might be, and having sown a tract of land with corn, waited until the grain fit to cut. Having reaped it, they again set sail; and thus it came to pass that two whole years went by, and it was not until the third year that they doubled the Pillars of Hercules, and made good their voyage home. On their return they declared - I for my part do not believe them - that in sailing round Libya they had the sun upon their right hand. In this way was the extent of Libya first discovered.
4;43. "Next to these Phoenicians the Carthaginians, according to their own accounts made the voyage..."
After Solomon Jehoshapat (four generations later) of Judah together with Ahaziah, the King of Northern Israel, attempted to send a joint group of Ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold.
[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.
[2-Chronicles 20:35] AND AFTER THIS DID JEHOSHAPHAT KING OF JUDAH JOIN HIMSELF WITH AHAZIAH KING OF ISRAEL, WHO DID VERY WICKEDLY:
[2-Chronicles 20:36] AND HE JOINED HIMSELF WITH HIM TO MAKE SHIPS TO GO TO TARSHISH: AND THEY MADE THE SHIPS IN EZIONGABER.
It is often claimed that "Ships of Tarshish" were a type of ship this has not been proven we have additional evidence must be considered as mere speculation.
"Ships of Tarshish" means ships sailing to Tarshish.
"Ophir" probably means Darkest Africa since the root "Afer" in Hebrew means "ash". Other solutions have also been proposed.
[Isaiah 2:16] AND UPON ALL THE SHIPS OF TARSHISH, AND UPON ALL PLEASANT PICTURES.
Here the "Ships of Tarshish" are parties to a general worldwide destruction. There is nothing to give a specific identification but see our Commentary to Isaiah and how the US dollar sign represents the two pillars of Hercules at Gibraltar and thus by extension "Tarshish".
Isaiah in Chapter 23 describes the coming fall of Tyre and how refugees from Tyre would flee overseas eventually reaching Tarshish and attempting to re-establish themselves there. Archaeological findings show that in the south of Spain in the late 700s BCE (just after the fall of Tyre) there was an influx of colonist of Phoenician culture. They were however overtaken by Assyria as predicted by Isaiah, forced to work for Assyria, and participated in the transportation of and resettlement of Exiles from Israel as predicted by Amos (1:9 4:1-3). Not only the Phoenicians but also the Philistines participated in the forced relocation of Israelites (Amos 1:6). The political and economic rationale underlying the Phoenicians and Philistines being co-opted as agents by Assyria is given in part by Mitch Allen ("POWER IS IN THE DETAILS. Administrative Technology and the Growth of Ancient Near Eastern Cores", USA, 2002) who discusses the importance of silver mining in Spain and luxury goods imported by sea but however neglects to discuss Phoenician control of tin mining in Galatia (Northwest Spain) and Britain.
[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 23:2] BE STILL, YE INHABITANTS OF THE ISLE; THOU WHOM THE MERCHANTS OF ZIDON, THAT PASS OVER THE SEA, HAVE REPLENISHED.
Here Isaiah is addressing the Phoenician rulers of Tyre as well as those of Sidon. For a description of Tyre see our Commentary to Isaiah 23:18.
[Isaiah 23:10] PASS THROUGH THY LAND AS A RIVER, O DAUGHTER OF TARSHISH: THERE IS NO MORE STRENGTH.
Tarshish will be overwhelmed with refugees from Phoenicia like the waters of a river overflowing its banks.
[Isaiah 23:11] HE STRETCHED OUT HIS HAND OVER THE SEA, HE SHOOK THE KINGDOMS: THE LORD HATH GIVEN A COMMANDMENT AGAINST THE MERCHANT CITY, TO DESTROY THE STRONG HOLDS THEREOF.
[Isaiah 23:12] AND HE SAID, THOU SHALT NO MORE REJOICE, O THOU OPPRESSED VIRGIN, DAUGHTER OF ZIDON: ARISE, PASS OVER TO CHITTIM; THERE ALSO SHALT THOU HAVE NO REST.
The refugees from Tyre were to move to Italy (Chittim) but to continue onwards from there to Tarshish in Spain.
[Isaiah 23:14] HOWL, YE SHIPS OF TARSHISH: FOR YOUR STRENGTH IS LAID WASTE.
The Ships of Tarshish were connected with Phoenicia and received their livelihood through Phoenician enterprise. The fall of Phoenician Tyre would have spelt economic disaster for the Ships of Tarshish.
[Isaiah 60:9] 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.
THE SHIPS OF TARSHISH FIRST: Ships that plough the Atlantic Ocean bringing people back from America, Britain, and Western Europe.
See the Brit-Am Commentary to this verse for more details.
[Isaiah 66:19] 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.
See the Brit-Am Commentary where it is explained that it refers to descendants of Israel in the End Times.
Ezekiel predicts the fall of Phoenician Tyre. He describes the greatness and riches of Tyre and recalls Tarshish that supplied Tyre with silver, iron, tin, lead. Tin was needed in the production of Bronze and Bronze was the chief metal in use in that era which in History is even named "The Bronze Age".
[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.
Later Ezekiel speaks of Tarshish in a future time with the Merchants of Tarshish apparently anxious to partake of the future spoliation of Israel in the time of Gog and Magog.
[Ezekiel 38:13] 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?
In the Psalms Tarshish is described as being broken by an east wind. This would place Tarshish in the west since an "east wind: blows from east to west.
[Psalms 48:7] THOU BREAKEST THE SHIPS OF TARSHISH WITH AN EAST WIND.
Jeremiah ridicules the heathen who make idols and decorate them using, amongst other things, silver from Tarshish.
[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.
Silver from Tarshish in Spain. The Phoenicians had great silver mines there. It was once fabulously rich in silver production.
Jonah sought to flee from before the Almighty taking a ship from the port of Joppa headed for Tarshish.
Jonah 1:3 - 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 TARSHISH: SO HE PAID THE FARE THEREOF, AND WENT DOWN INTO IT, TO GO WITH THEM UNTO TARSHISH FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD.
"Tarshish" in this case could mean either "Tarsis" in Cilicia or Tartessos in Spain but Spain was probably the desired destination here intended.
We identify Tarshish primarily with Tartessos in Spain since:
The names are similar and in the light of Phoenician contact apparently identical.
The sea trip to Tarshish is the same as that of the Phoenicians around Africa and returning via Tartessos in Spain.
The Products obtained by the Ships of Tarshish are those that would be obtainable from Tartessos and probably nowhere else.
Isaiah 23 describes the people of Tyre fleeing to Tarshish and attempting to re-establish themselves there. This is what the Phoenicians did in Tartessos.
Three Candidates have been proposed for Biblical Tarshish:
a. Tarsis in Cilicia (southeast Turkey).
b. Somewhere in the east, e.g. India, Indonesia, Japan?
c. Tartessos in Spain
We accept answer (c) identifying Tarshish with Tartessos.
1. "Navy of Tarshish" (1-Kings 10:22), "Ships of Tarshish" ( Isaiah 23:14): It has been claimed that a type of ship is being spoken of similar to the expression "East Indiamen" applied to a type of ship once used by the British.
This is speculation. Until there is evidence to the contrary the term "Tarshish" applied to ships must be taken as its primary level to mean ships going to Tarshish.
2. These ships brought "gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks"(1-Kings 10:22) . Gold, and silver, came from Spain. "Ivory, and apes, and peacocks [parrots?]" were available in Africa but could just as easily been obtained from Spain especially from Tarshish which adjoins the straits of Gibraltar connecting Spain with North Africa.
(Steven A. Arts "Looking For A Lost City").
3. "Ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold that were broken at Ezion Geber" (1-Kings 22:48) on the Red Sea coast.
Herodotus (4:42-43) tells us of Phoenicians sailing from the Red Sea around the coast of Africa and returning via the straits of Gibraltar (i.e. via Tarshish which adjoined the straits).
They took three years to make this journey since they stopped off on the way, sowed crops, and harvested them before continuing.
The ships of Tarshish used by Solomon also took three years to make the journey (1-Kings 10:22).
Africa (Uganda) was also a source of tin:
"Central Africa as a Source of Tin" by John E. Dayton item #163
"Recent lead isotope analysis of lead ingots found in Haifa in 1982 have thrown new light on possible sources of Bronze Age tin. The analyses of Bergernanli show that some of the Haifa tin came from the extensive tin fields of Central Africa".
"From the Red to the Med" by Harry Bourne, 2003:
" John Taylor (Oxford Journal of Archaeology 1988) noted the closeness of dates for the Voyage of Hanno and that for the oldest workings for Nigerian tin. Both Dayton and Taylor attribute this tin-trade to Phoenicians. "
Bourne gives additional evidence for the presence of Phoenicians in East Africa. This includes Phoenician shipwrecks reportedly found in Mozambique and Tanzania. Phoenician type dogs and cats are found in Madagascar. Phoenician jewellery was depicted by Egyptians on the leg of the African King of Punt. Phoenician shipbuilders and sailors were in Egyptian service along the African coast. The Old-Egyptian word for sea ("ym") is of Phoenician origin. The Egyptian contacts with East Africa were dependent on Phoenician seafaring. The originally-Phoenician trident-symbol of Poseidon is noted in East and West Africa and other signs of Phoenician influence exist. The Carthaginians who were of Phoenician descent also maintained contacts with West Africa.
We see from here that the Phoenicians had a presence in both East and West Africa. This ties in with the account of the Bible and of Herodotus. The Phoenicians set out from the Red Sea area to go to Tarshish went down the East Coast of Africa, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and continued northward along the West Coast of Africa re-entering the Mediterranean via the Straits of Gibraltar in the Tarshish area.
4. Silver from Tarshish (Jeremiah 10:9) means silver from Spain. The Phoenicians supplied the Assyrians with silver causing the Assyrian economy to be more "capitalist" in nature with silver replacing copper as the unit of currency.
5. Silver, iron, tin, and lead (Ezekiel 27:12): Silver was obtainable from Tarshish in Southwest Spain. Tin and lead were obtainable from Galatia in Northwest Spain and from Britain but Tarshish traded with these two areas and served as an emporium for their transit to the east.