TARSHISH (tar’shĭsh, Heb. tarshîsh)

A son of Javan, great-grandson of Noah (Gen.10.4), and presumably progenitor of a Mediterranean people, as most of these names in the “Table of the Nations” refer not only to individuals but also to the people descended from them.A place, presumably in the western Mediterranean region, conjecturally identified by many with Tartessus, an ancient city located on the Atlantic coast of Spain but long since lost. Jonah fled to it (Jonah.1.3).“Ships of Tarshish” seems to refer to large ships of the kind and size that were used in the Tarshish trade, for Solomon had “ships of Tarshish” going from Ezion Geber through the Red Sea and on to India, making the round trip in three years (1Kgs.10.22; see niv footnote). See Ships.A great-grandson of Benjamin (1Chr.7.10).One of the seven princes of Persia and Media who stood in the presence of Xerxes (Esth.1.14).

TARSHISH tär’ shĭsh (תַּרְשִׁ֑ישׁ). KJV alternately THARSHISH thär’ shĭsh. 1. A son of Javan, great-grandson of Noah (Gen 10:4ff.); and perhaps a nation founded by him (Isa 66:19). It is thought that most of the names in the table of nations (Gen 10) refer to groups as well as to individuals from whom they were descended; this person presumably is the progenitor of a Mediterranean people.

2. The next Biblical data relating to Tarshish (1 Kings 9:26; 10:22) involve interesting and baffling questions. In these, as in other passages, this word is associated with ships and ports. Thus Hiram, king of Tyre, maintained at Ezion-geber (Tel el Kheleifeh), at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, a refinery and ship-building center, from which he and Solomon operated ships of Tarshish. There were perhaps other Tarshish stations maintained by Phoenicians, in Sardinia, in SW Spain (Tartessus), and possibly in the Near E, where cargoes from India (2 Chron 9:21) could be reshipped.

The word Tarshish in such a connection seems referable not so much to destination (see 5), nor does it signify “belonging to,” or “trading with” Tarshish; but rather there is suggested the nature of the ships, their size and far-voyaging capability—ideas shown in such passages as Psalm 48:7; Isaiah 2:16; 23:1; Ezekiel 27:25. Other references also (viz., Ezek 38:13; Ps 72:10), although embracing the idea of a city, suggest that the ships of Tarshish were symbolic of Mediterranean trade and traders, being well-known in Mediterranean and Red Sea waters, and carrying merchandise of great value.

The genealogical list of Genesis 10, in connection with 1 Chronicles 1:7, gives an intimation that these special Tarshish ships did business with the Greek isles. Such commerce, carried on in the 6th and 7th centuries b.c., is noted by Herodotus (1.163; 4.152).

3. A great-grandson of Benjamin, who was the son of Bilhan (1 Chron 7:10, KJV THAR-SHISH) and an eponym of a Benjaminite family.

4. One of seven princes of Persia and Media, serving Xerxes (Esth 1:14).

5. Evidently originally a city of the W Mediterranean region, near Gibraltar, Spain, which developed trade in minerals (Jer 10:9; Ezek 27:12). It has been considered the same as Tartessus (Herodotus 4:152), the city to which Jonah fled (Jonah 1:3; 4:2). A Phoen. inscr. of the 9th cent. b.c., found in 1773 in Sardinia, notes a Tarshish in the island. Tarshish ships traded there, as also in Eziongeber.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) Eponym of a Benjamite family (1Ch 7:10); Rhamessai, A and Lucian, Tharseis

(2) One of the "seven princes" at the court of Ahasuerus (Es 1:14 Massoretic Text).

(3) The Hebrew name of a precious stone (Eze 10:9 margin, English Versions of the Bible "beryl"; Ex 28:20; 39:13; Eze 1:16; 28:13; So 5:14; Da 10:6).

See Precious Stones.