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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 (2Chronicles 9:21, 1Kings 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 (Jonah 1:3). His rebellion against the LORD led to his being tossed overboard by sailors, swallowed by a large fish, and vomited out onto dry land by God's command. He then made his way to Nineveh, 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.[citation needed] 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 Cilicia 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 editors of the New Oxford Annotated Bible suggest that Tarshish is either Tartessos or Sardinia.[7]
  • Tarshish is also called Tarish. [8]
  • 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[9] thought that "Tarshish" means a coast, and, as the word occurs frequently in connection with Tyre, the Phoenician coast is to be understood.
  • Cheyne [10] 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 advisers who were princes of Persia and Media (Esther 1:14).

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