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Tarshish

Tarshish, meaning the sea coast, was the name of a port city first mentioned in Bible History (see also Bible Places) in the time of Solomon. The location of Tarshish is disputed; some believe that it was to the east, in India, while others think that it was a Phoenician port to the west, in Spain, which is the more likely, if there was just one port by that name. Jonah's famous voyage began when he boarded a ship to Tarshish from Joppa. There was no Suez Canal back then; rather than sailing all around Africa to non-African destinations, ships sailing to the west departed from Mediterranean seaports, such as Joppa, whereas ships bound for the east, to places like India, sailed from southern ports on the Gulf of Aqaba, such as Ezion-geber.

The Ships of Tarshish

Holy Bible Biblical references to ships sailing to Tarshish indicate departure locations on both the Mediterranean and Gulf of Aqaba. This could mean that there were in fact two places named Tarshish, and/or that Tarshish, or "ships of Tarshish," came to be used as a general term for distant trade voyages.

King Solomon had a fleet of ships of Tarshish (again the location of Tarshish is uncertain; the verses below indicate a Mediterranean location, while it is also known with certainty that Solomon had ships of Tarshish located at his port at Ezion-geber, on the Gulf of Aqaba):

"All King Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the House of the Forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver, it was not considered as anything in the days of Solomon. For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks." (1 Kings 10:21-22 RSV)

After Israel divided into Israel and Judah (see Israelite Dynasties), the two kingdoms sometimes allied themselves (see also Jews At War With Israel), but not always to their common good, such as when The Lord destroyed their ships of Tarshish at Ezion-geber, on the Gulf of Aqaba:

"After this Jehoshaphat king of Judah joined with Ahaziah king of Israel [see Kings of Israel and Judah], who did wickedly. He joined him in building ships to go to Tarshish, and they built the ships in Ezion-geber. Then Eliezer the son of Dodavahu of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, "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. (2 Chronicles 20:35-37 RSV)

The Lord's prophecies through Isaiah included Tarshish as one of the distant nations:

"I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Put, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands afar off, that have not heard My fame or seen My glory; and they shall declare My glory among the nations" (Isaiah 66:19 RSV)

One of the most famous sea voyages of the Bible was of Jonah, who tried to flee to Tarshish (i.e. very likely the Phoenician port in Spain, see also Phoenicia) from Joppa:

"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; so he paid the fare, and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of The Lord. But The Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up." (Jonah 1:3-4 RSV)

Fact Finder: Instead of letting him run to Tarshish, where did The Lord send Jonah?
Jonah 1:2
See also Nineveh


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