Tarshish (Hebrew: תַּרְשִׁישׁ) occurs in the Hebrew Bible with several uncertain meanings. One of the most recurring is that Tarshish is a place, probably a city or country, that is far from the Land of Israel by sea where trade occurs with Israel and Phoenicia. The Septuagint, the Vulgate and the Targum of Jonathan render this as Carthage. But other biblical commentators read it as Tartessos in ancient Hispania (Iberian Peninsula). W.F. Albright (1941) and F.M. Cross (1972) suggested Tarshish was Sardinia because of the discovery of the Nora Stone or Nora Fragment. The Phoenician inscription on the Nora Stone has been combined with metallic evidence from Phoenicia and ancient documentary sources (biblical, classical and Assyrian) to indicate that the Tarshish which the biblical tradition remembers as a supplier of silver to King Solomon, was a large island in the western Mediterranean Sea (Thompson and Skaggs 2013) - the biblical passages and commentaries that understand Tarshish as a location in Africa, at Tarsus or as far afield as the Tamilakkam in Southern India and Ceylon appear to be confused readings of the earlier textual sources. Tartessos in Spain was eventually equated with Tarshish in later antiquity, but Thompson and Skaggs show that Solomon's Tarshish was a large island (Sardinia), and not a hinterland (Tartessos).
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 in 2 Chronicles2Chronicles 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 (Psa 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 2013, Thompson and Skaggs recognized that this passage is composed formulaically with a chain of scaled correlates that indicate 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 craft," then 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 Isaiah 60:9 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 "Tarshish did 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 ships of 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 merchants of 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. The term tarshish may also be derived from the Greek tarsos which is the name for an oar used in ancient ships. 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. Jonah also attempted to sail 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 Tarshish, bowed to my feet." Here, Tarshish is certainly an island, and cannot be confused with Tarsus (Thompson and Skaggs 2013).
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 by the 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 breastplate.
Bochart the French reverend (in his Phaleg 1646) suggested, followed by later authors like Hertz (1936), Tarshish as the city of Tartessos in Southern Spain. In the Oracle against Tyre, the prophetEzekiel (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. The editors of the New Oxford Annotated Bible suggest that Tarshish is either Tartessos or Sardinia.
However Bochart also suggested eastern localities for the ports of Ophir and 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 Thiruketheeswaram.
Sir Peter le Page Renouf thought that "Tarshish" means a coast, and, as the word occurs frequently in connection with Tyre, the Phoenician coast is to be understood. Some have read Psalm 72 as an indication that Tarshish was a coastland, but the reference there can and seems to mean 'island'.
Cheyne 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. Thus the name may denote Italy or the European coasts west of Greece.
Around 1665, the followers of Shabbatai Zvi in İzmir interpreted the ships of Tarshish as Dutch ships that would transport them to the Holy Land.
Irish politician and traveler 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.
Some 19th Century commentators believed the Tarshish power to be Britain and possibly related to an Eastern Tarshish, namely India. Some, looking for the 2nd coming of Jesus and the Kingdom of God based round the land of Israel, believe that the prophecies regarding the Tarshish power have their latter day fulfilment in modern times. This was particularly current in the 19th Century, and taken up by some Christian denominations such as the early Christadelphians, although there are differing opinions on this today among their members.
Another theory is by Fr. Francisco Collin SJ. He claims that the Filipino people were descendants of Tarshish.
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 Joppa, as Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days, when the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea" (Chapter 9, "The Sermon").
Jewish liturgy mentions "Tarshishim," commonly translated into English as "fiery angels."
It has now been recognized that the inscriptions of Esarhaddon (AsBbE) indicate that Tarshish was an island (not a coastland) far to the west of the Levant (Thompson and Skaggs, 2013).
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 Tarshish among 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 village Tarshish.
^William Parkin - 1837 "Festus Avinus says expressly that Cadiz was 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 ..."
^Metzger, Bruce M. and Roland E. Murphy, eds. (1991), New Oxford Annotated Bible, annotation on Jeremiah 10:9.
^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
^Procedures of the Society for Biblical Archaeology, xvi. 104 et seq., Le Page Renouf
^Orientalische Litteraturzeitung, iii. 151, Cheyne
^J. P. Weethee The Eastern Question in Its Various Phases Page 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 is the Tarshish of Eze. xxxviii. 13, or the chief of both the ..."
^Sacred Annals; Or, Researches Into the History and Religion of ... - Page 557 George Smith - 1856 "Heercn fully confirms this view ; shows from Strabo, that the Phenicians not only traded with Spain and Britain, but actually conducted mining operations in the former country ; and is so fully satisfied of the identity of Tarshish and Spain, that he ..."
Albright, W.F. 1941 'New light on the early history of Phoenician colonization', Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 83, 14-22. Cross, F.M. 1972 'An interpretation of the Nora Stone', Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 208, 13-19.
Aubet, M.E. 2001: The Phoenicians and the West: Politics, Colonies, Trade. 2nd edition, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Beitzl, B. 2010: 'Was there a joint nautical venture on the Mediterranean Sea by Tyrian Phoenicians and Early Israelites?', Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 360, 37-66.
Elat, M. 1982: 'Tarshish and the problem of Phoenician colonization in the western Mediterranean', Orientalia Lovaniensia Periodica 13, 55-69.
Gonzalez de Canales, F., Serrano, L. and Llompart, J. 2010: 'Tarshish and the United Monarchy of Israel', Ancient Near Eastern Studies 47, 137-64.
Hertz J.H. 1936: The Pentateuch and Haftoras. Deuteronomy. Oxford University Press, London.
Jongbloed, D. 2009" Civilisations antédiluviennes. ed Cap Aventures
Koch, M. 1984: Tarschisch und Hispanien, Berlin, Walter de Gruyter and Co.
Lipiński, E. 2002: Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 80, Leuven: Peeters.
Lipiński, E. 2004: Itineraria Phoenicia, Studia Phoenicia XVIII, Leuven: Peeters.
Muhly, J.D. 1998:, copper, tin, silver and iron: the search for metallic ores as an incentive for foreign expansion. In: Gitin et al. (eds.), Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: 13th to early 10th centuries BC. In Honor of Professor Trude Dothan. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 314-329.
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
Thompson, C.M. 2007: Silver in the Age of Iron and the Orientalizing Economies of Archaic Greece. Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, Los Angeles.