Tarshish occurs in the Hebrew Bible with these meanings:

  • One of the sons of Javan (Gen 10:4).
    • In the Bible Solomon setup a trade with Tarshish and received ivory, apes, and peacocks [9:21] [10:22] from Tarshish which are all native to the jungles in India. India's state bird for example is the peacock [1]. The Bible also indicates that Jonah also attempted to sail to Tarshish [1:3]. His rebellion against the LORD led to his being tossed overboard by sailors, swallowed by a large fish, and vomitted out onto dry land by God's command. He then made his way to Ninevah, now known as Mosul, in Iraq.
    • Flavius Josephus (Antiquitates Iudaicae i. 6, § 1) reads "Tarshush", identifying it as the city of Tarsus in southern Asia Minor which was referred to in Assyrian records from the reign of Esarhaddon as Tarsisi. Prior to this time, the Assyrians referred to Tarsus as Tarzi. Modern research has shown that the metals the Old Testament associates with Tarshish existed in the Taurus Mountains north of Tarsus. In addition, Phoenician inscriptions have been found at Karatepe in Cilicia[2]. Bunsen and Sayce [3] follow Josephus.
    • However, the name is sometimes also used in more general meanings. The Bible uses the term ships of Tarshish to denote large ships intended for large voyages whatever their destination;[4] some Bible translations, including the NIV, go as far as to translate the phrase ship(s) of Tarshish as "trading ship(s)," and 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 Cicilia where Saul, later Paul hailed from.[5] 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.[6] Therefore, trading ships most likely would have used oarsmen rather than sails.
    • Bochart (in his Phaleg) and later authors like Hertz (1936) identify Tarshish as the city of Tartessos in Southern Spain. 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.
    • The 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)[4].
    • Le Page Renouf[7] thought that "Tarshish" means a coast, and, as the word occurs frequently in connection with Tyre, the Phoenician coast is to be understood.
    • Cheyne [8] thinks 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.
  • In the Torah, it is also the name of a gem-stone associated with the Tribe of Asher that has been identified as chrysolite or aquamarine. It is the first stone on the fourth row of the Hoshen (Exodus 28:20).
  • One of King Ahasuerus' seven advisors who were princes of Persia and Media (Esther 1:14).

In later history

Tarshish 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.

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.

English historian James Emerson Tennent also theorized 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 believe 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.[who?]

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.

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."

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

Further reading

  • J. D. Muhly, 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.
  • Hertz J.H. (1936) The Pentateuch and Haftoras. Deuteronomy. Oxford University Press, London.


  2. p. 336 "Karatepe," Charles F. Pfeiffer. The Biblical World, A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology. Nashville, Tennessee. Broadman Press. 1966
  3. Expository Times, Christian Charles Josias Bunsen and Sayce, 1902, p. 179)
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Tarshish" in the Jewish Encyclopedia, by Isidore Singer and M. Seligsohn.
  6. Cecil Torr (1895). "Ancient Ships". Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 18 February 2010. 
  7. Procedures of the Society for Biblical Archaeology, xvi. 104 et seq., Le Page Renouf
  8. Orientalische Litteraturzeitung, iii. 151, Cheyne
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Tarshish. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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