Truth, Understanding, Insight

India, Britain & the Merchants of Tarshish

17th January 2014, hej


1) In the Beginning they crossed the Sea

According to the Bible, in ancient times there existed a group of sea trading people 'of' Tarshish.

It is likely the place Tarshish had its name from a person. Noah had three sons, one of whom was Japheth.

The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah. And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. (Genesis 10:2-5, I Chron 1:7 )

Both Gomer and Javan have sons listed, indicating that their sons were noteworthy people. These descendants of Japheth go forth to the 'isles' and carve up these more distant lands (the word isles in the Hebrew can mean dry land, coast, or island). To go to the isles, or coasts, of the Gentiles required travel by sea. Already by the time of this record the Japhethites are mentioned as travelling overseas. This is in contrast to Shem and Ham, whose descendants remain close to the Middle East. The technology for ship making to travel overseas was available, as they were only three generations from the building of the ark, a storm-worthy cargo ship of significant size which Noah and his sons built.


Noah says something remarkable regarding Japheth. In Hebrew there is a play on the name of Japheth, which means ‘expansion’,

‘Japheth (expansion) the Mighty Ones shall enlarge and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem’. Genesis 27

But the word ‘enlarge’ yapth also means ‘entice’ or ‘persuade’ and is translated as that in 1 Kings 22:20.

Our article Tnets of Shem shows the Vikings as Japhethites from the furthest of the 'isles of the Gentiles' or coasts of the nations, who through trade to the Middle East, change the world and argues that Noah's prophecy was concerned with the national struggles over the Land of Israel to the present day.

A sea trading warrior expanding their influence over the sea as far as the Middle East through Russia

Tarshish as a Japhethite, travelled over sea to a distant coast and expanded. The Hebrew 'divided' פּרד pârad in the phrase translated 'by these the isles of the Gentiles divided', indicates to spread forth or scatter, that is, scatter widely or expand. We would expect Japhethites to go every where. But where did Tarshish's sons go to?

It seems that ships on the sea were their home.

Tarshish appears as a destination of trade: India

By a thousand BCE all trading ships whose purpose was to travel the trade routes to Tarshish were called Ships of Tarshish. Solomon's ships with sailors from Tyre (the servants of Huram who was the king of Tyre) were called “ships of Tarshish” as their destination was Tarshish.

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. (2 Chronicles 9:21)

This verse locates Tarshish at a distance of a three year sea voyage away, as it would take three years for them to come once. This indicates that Tarshish was not in the Mediterranean, and was further afield than Africa or the Persian Gulf. By the time of Jehoshaphat approximately 850BCE they were building the ships to travel to Tarshish at Eziongeber on the shores of the Red Sea (modern Eliat the southern tip of Israel).

And after this did Jehoshaphat king of Judah join himself with Ahaziah king of Israel, who did very wickedly: And he joined himself with him to make ships to go to Tarshish: and they made the ships in Eziongeber.
Then Eliezer the son of Dodavah of Mareshah prophesied against Jehoshaphat, saying, Because thou hast joined thyself with Ahaziah, the LORD has broken thy works. And the ships were broken, that they were not able to go to Tarshish. (2Ch 20:35-37)

This indicates that this Tarshish was seen as best being accessed from the Red Sea rather than from the Mediterranean. Ships leaving for Tarshish in Solomon's day, 100 years before Jehoshaphat's era, left from Eziongeber.

Then went Solomon to Eziongeber, and to Eloth, at the sea side in the land of Edom. And Huram sent him by the hands of his servants ships, and servants that had knowledge of the sea; and they went with the servants of Solomon to Ophir, and took thence four hundred and fifty talents of gold, and brought them to king Solomon. (2Chron. 8:17-18)

That the ships' starting point to Tarshish and Ophir was Southern Israel would explain why the ships were Solomon's but the sailors were Huram's servants from Tyre. The inhabitants of Tyre would have had many ships of their own. To cart them over land, however, would not make much sense. This also indicates how Solomon came to control the trade route, as he had control of the overland part of the route to the markets of Tyre, as it was through his territory.

Tarshish is a three year sea voyage from the Red Sea to the East Coast of Africa, or to the East as far as India. A contemporary psalm of the sons of Korah speaks of the bad weather encountered,

You break the ships of Tarshish with an east wind. (Psalm 48:7)

It so happens that an East wind blows around the equator, indicating that the trade ships possibly went to the equator in their voyage. If they were heading East the monsoon winds would determine the sailing time and direction of sailing to India, and, a three year round voyage may have been required to fit in with the winds.

The items traded on the voyage to Tarshish indicates an area along East Africa and possibly as far as India. They traded,

'gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks'

The peacock is native to India and must originally have come from there.

As an aside, this list indicates Israel and Tyre were wealthy nations. Not one of the things obtained from a journey to Tarshish is an essential item. Gold is decorative only, though indicative of wealth. Silver possibly has some use, but mostly likely was for decorative items. Ivory was used for Solomon's throne, again this is decoration. Apes would have been for entertainment as they were not edible under the law of Moses. Peacocks were for the wealthy to look at. It would seem likely then that the journey was an import drive from the wealthy.

It is possible all of the items could have been obtained from a journey to India from 1000 to 850 BCE. It is even possible that Ophir, the source of fine gold could be in India. There is some dispute with some locating Ophir in India and others locating it on the coast of Africa and some in Southeastern Arabia.

“All the wares mentioned are more or less appropriate to India, even including the fuller list of 1 Kings 10:22. "Almug"-wood is conjectured to be the Indian sandal-wood. Another argument is based on the resemblance between the Septuagint form of the word (Sophera) and the Coptic name for India (Sophir)”. (

Some argue Ophir was located in Africa, as at Sofala they have found worked out gold mines. Others favour Ophir being located in Southern Arabian on the Indian Ocean. Paolo Bernardini and Norman Fiering (2002) concluded that ancient sources such as Josephus and Herodotus and Jerome associate Ophir with India. Not of course making it a fact, as even by classical times Ophir, as is the fate of all mines – had been worked out - and was a place of legend, and its location lost.

However all these locations support a seaworthy ship of Tarshish travelling to or from India. Ophir may not have even been the place gold was mined, rather it may have been a place where the gold was refined or a trading place. Whether Ophir, the source of fine gold, was in India or not is not particularly important as the gold could come from Ophir to be traded through Tarshish.

Tarshish was a place where they also worked silver. Jeremiah speaks specifically of silver in plates being brought from Tarshish.

Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: (Jeremiah 10:9)

This indicates that the silver was worked into plates before being traded. The Indian region of Gujarat close to the Indus valley is today still famous for its making of silver plates ( India is also famous for its work with stones, including agate (Jamnagar on net). And they still export their work to Africa and Egypt.

Gems called in the Hebrew 'tarshish' translated as Beryl and gold of Uphaz are seen in combination by Daniel in a vision of a symbolic man (Daniel 10:6). Uphaz is thought by some to be Ophir ( The gem 'tarshish' is consistently translated as beryl. The Easton's Bible Dictionary states

“probably so called as being brought from Tarshish.... In Ezek. 28:13 the LXX. render the word by "chrysolite," which the Jewish historian Josephus regards as its proper translation. .. That was a gold-coloured gem, the topaz of ancient authors.” (

Pliny indicates this stone was from India.

The gem stone 'tarshish' occurs in six other places in the Bible. The first 2 it is a stone in the 4th row of Aarons' breastplate – which was for the tribe of Dan meaning 'judge'. It is also used of the wheels of the Cherubic chariot of Ezekiel's vision, a fearful sight of the power of Yahweh going forth on earth in judgement. But the new testament Tarshish stone represents the priestly tribe of Levi. Tarshish is from rahshash or “to break in pieces, to destroy”.

That this stone of tarshish means 'destroyer', does not mean that Tarshish, (or India) itself is the destroyer rather that the material for judgement comes from there. This is in the same way as a famous gem is not made famous by the person who mines or trades the raw stone, but rather by the person who carves the facets into its final form. Tarshish (as India) is the storehouse, or mine, of the other nations, and the traders are those who 'entice' and 'persuade' and so 'break in pieces' and 'destroy'.

In the court of Esther there was a Tarshish

Now it came to pass in the days of Ahasuerus, (this is Ahasuerus which reigned, from India even unto Ethiopia, over an hundred and seven and twenty provinces:) (Est 1:1)
And the next unto him was Carshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena, and Memucan, the seven princes of Persia and Media, which saw the king's face, and which sat the first in the kingdom;) (Est 1:14)

The use of Hodu – Hindustan – for India indicates that this region to the North bordering on Persia was not seen as Tarshish – yet one of the princes was called Tarshish. In this name there is a trace of a historical connection.

The Tarshish reached from Mediterranean: Britain

With the passage of time it emerges that there is a second place that is associated with the traders of Tarshish. The prophet Jonah (approx. 800BC) seeks to flee as far as possible from Yahweh, and goes to Joppa on the Mediterranean coast where he seeks passage on a ship going to Tarshish.

This indicates that a second Tarshish had emerged, as a place of trade, which was accessed from the Mediterranean. Where was Jonah going to?

The people on the ship were called in Hebrew 'mallach' or 'following the salt'. We might think this is a reference to the salt water, such as we might say an 'old salt', but remarkably and accurately it seems to refer to their trade in salt. From the Iron age, the time of Jonah, before Roman times there was a huge salt mining and extraction operation in Britain located at Maldon in Essex where the very dry climate and shallow salty water combine to make salt extraction relatively easy. It seems the salt of the Roman empire came from there, indicating that this may have been a reason, among others, for Roman occupation of Britain. Even today Maldon salt is thought of as being high quality.

The people 'following the salt' seem multi-lingual, with some knowing Hebrew. They were not from one nation, as they each had their own god and easily accepted Jonah's God as another God.


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