Solomon's overseas trading expeditions

1 Kings 9:26-28  In c.947BC, Solomon builds a fleet of ships at Ezion Geber on the Gulf of Aqaba (see 5 on Map 57). Solomon's ally, King Hiram of Tyre sends experienced shipbuilders and sailors, and the joint Phoenician-Israeli expedition returns with gold from Ophir (on the east coast of Africa), together with silver, ivory, apes and monkeys (see 7 on Map 57 & 1 Kings 10:22).


Aqaba from the sea (Gérard Janot)

Aqaba (Ezion Geber) from the sea  (Gérard Janot)


Ships of Tarshish

During the reign of King Solomon (c.971-931 BC), the undoubted masters of the Mediterranean Sea were the Phoenecian mariners from Tyre. In c.947BC, Solomon persuaded his ally, King Hiram of Tyre, to join him in mounting an exciting trading venture. Solomon (with the help of Phoenician shipbuilders) built a new fleet of heavy Tyrian-style cargo ships at Ezion Geber (modern-day Aqaba) near Elath (Eilat) on the Gulf of Aqaba, while Hiram sent experienced sailors from Tyre. After three years, the expedition returned with fabulous riches - gold from Ophir (on the east coast of Africa), together with silver, ivory, apes and monkeys (see 1 Kings 10:22).

The island city of Tyre had been founded on the coast of what is now Lebanon by the Phoenicians as early as 2750BC. The Phoenicians (like the Philistines who settled further south on the coast of Palestine) are often believed to be ‘sea peoples’ who had sailed across from the islands of the Aegean and the southern coast of Anatolia to found new colonies on the eastern side of the Mediterranean, though recent DNA studies suggest that the Phoenicians are in fact direct descendents of the Canaanites who were already settled in this area before the Israelites invaded Canaan under Joshua in c.1400BC.

The heavy cargo ships sailing under the authority of the King of Tyre were referred to as ‘ships of Tarshish’. In c.730BC, the prophet Isaiah talks about ‘ships of Tarshish’ trading from the island fortress of Tyre (see Isaiah 23:1& 6) while the prophet Ezekiel also gives a graphic description of the ‘ships of Tarshish’ being shipwrecked in a strong easterly gale and the merchants of Tyre being ruined as a consequence (see Ezekiel 27:25-36). In c.855BC, King Jehoshaphat of Judah and King Ahaziah of Israel built a fleet of ‘ships of Tarshish’ – the Hebrew expression is usually translated as ‘trading ships’ (see 2 Chronicles 20:36-37).


Tyre Al Mina Roman remains (Heretiq)

Roman remains at Tyre (Tarshish)  (Heretiq)


In the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet tried to escape from God by fleeing to the port of Joppa and boarding a ship ‘bound for Tarshish’ (see Jonah 1:3). This ship, too, was undoubtedly one of the many heavy cargo ships known as ‘ships of Tarshish’ which carried grain from Egypt along the coast of Palestine to the city of Tyre and beyond (see Isaiah 23:3).

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