TRADE, COMMERCE, AND BUSINESS. Trade is essentially the exchange of commodities either by barter or for some fiscal medium. Commerce is trade on a large scale, esp. on an international basis. Business comprises a highly complicated commerce, with credits, futures, and multiple exchanges of commodities.

Local trade.

The major local products carried over the roads of OT Pal. were foodstuffs of all kinds. These included the grains, esp. wheat, and barley, and other seeds such as sesame, lentils, and beans. Also included were in-season fruits of many varieties. The city dweller ate green fruit as well as ripe fruit. Grapes, esp. valuable, could be consumed fresh, dried as raisins, fermented into wine and vinegar, or boiled down into dibs, a variety of sweet syrup similar to maple syrup. Figs, like grapes, were dried for use in winter as well as summer. Dates were ideal for food since they were always fresh, and contained a heavy sugar content.

As for “sweets,” there was honey—both native (wild) and farm varieties. Palestinian honey could be bought in any flavor since the beehives were moved among the wide variety of flowers in season. The olive, another year-round food, was preserved either in brine or oil. Olive oil had several uses—for cosmetics, cooking, or lamp fuel, corresponding to grades one, two, and three. Nuts of all kinds, with the almond and the pine nut leading the sales list, were sought for their oil content, since meat fat was too expensive. Vegetables of many varieties were sold to city dwellers; Jericho could grow them every month of the year.

Most meat animals, i.e. sheep and goats, were taken to market on foot. Cattle were primarily farm animals and took the place which the horse later held in farm work. When cattle became too old to work or languished in a drought, they were sold for food. The rich, however, always had meat on their menus, esp. if the animals had been stall fed. Wild animals of the deer family and a good variety of wild fowl always found a ready market. The same was true of fish, but the travel distance before sale was necessarily shorter. Salted fish, however, was a staple food everywhere. Rome used some salted fish from the Sea of Galilee. Dairy products such as milk, cheese, and “leban” were profitable.

Nonperishable foodstuffs such as grains, oil, and wine were sold in small stores within the city. Perishable goods were usually sold at a daily market, outside the gates of the city. In the larger cities sheep might be sold at one gate, and vegetables and fruit at another. When fruits were in season, hucksters went from street to street with their produce.

Both rich and poor liked condiments and spice. Among the former were anise, bay leaves, coriander, caper berries, cummin, mint, mustard (various varieties), rue and saffron. Their favorites were onions, leeks, and garlic, which Israelites missed most in the Sinai experiences. Their spices were usually imported, esp. from Arabia. The most important were cassia, cinnamon, and cloves.

The city dweller either went to the countryside to obtain his fuel for cooking, or bought it at the city gate. The best fuel was charcoal, second came wood, and finally thornbush.

Some foodstuffs were locally “manufactured goods.” One could, for example, go to a bakery to buy bread, cakes, and pastry instead of baking them at home. One could also buy a meal at a small cafe or a drink at a winery. Most people, however, usually thought of manufactured goods in other terms. The cook, for example, needed pottery storage jars for flour, oil, and wine. She needed water jars to carry the water from the spring or cistern, cooling jars for the table, and cups to serve it. She also needed various sizes of cooking pots and a variety of dishes in which to serve the meal. Pottery was in large part of local manufacture, although imported ware attracted the rich as it does today.

Clothing was the next major industry after food. Every woman was expected to spin, weave, and sew. There was always a market for superior workmanship in cloth and clothing. The most expensive garments were listed among the prizes in war. The most common cloth was wool; linen was more expensive. Silk became available in NT times, as did cotton, but it lacked the popularity of silk. In the winter, fleeces were used as overcoats and shoes. The shepherd’s sling was woven of wool, but might have had a leather pocket.

Weaving was also accomplished, using reeds and branches. Baskets were a major type of container for many materials. Reed mats became a popular floor covering. They were also made into summer houses, esp. for those who watched the vineyards and cucumber fields. If liquid was necessary and if the pottery was not fit for that purpose, a leather container was used. The farmer’s seed bag for scattering grain might be cloth or leather, but the shepherd’s bag was prob. leather. Water bags and wineskins were made of leather.

If foot coverings could be afforded, leather sandals, shoes, and boots were available. John the Baptist wore a leather girdle. The leather worker was also busy making saddles and harnesses, and in NT times in the making of phylacteries. Fine leather was also the MS material used for the copying of the books of the Bible, as well as other valuable writings.

The craftsman in wood had plenty of work. He made the farmer’s plow, threshing sledge, pitchforks, and the yoke for his oxen. He also made the doors and door frames, the windows and window frames for the new and old houses in the city, as well as all the furniture used in the house.

In the larger cities the craftsmen of the same trade lived in one section of the city. Thus, there would be a potters’ quarter, a clothing quarter, a food market, a bakers’ street, etc.

Different sections of Pal. would exchange products. The shepherds and farmers exchanged produce and sheep. The maker of charcoal found a market in areas where the forests had been cut down. The coastal cities and Jericho sold salt to the inland population. The carpenter was prob. often paid in kind by the people for whom he worked.

Palestine had a few major exports for nearby nations. Because Phoenicia needed food, central and northern Pal. sold to her grains and olive oil, wine and food animals. Egypt had plenty of grain and animals but she needed olive oil and wine. Syria and Pal. grew the same farm products so there was little international commerce in these items except in periods of war or drought. When the camel made trade with Arabia common, the caravans sought Palestinian food stuffs. Raisins, dried figs, and dates were prob. international produce because they were easily transported. Linen was sold to all nearby nations except Egypt, who made the best linen.

Natural products other than those already mentioned were primarily copper, bitumen, and raw wool. The prosperous copper periods were in patriarchal times, under Solomon, and during the southern kingdom. The intervening time has produced no evidence either for or against the working of the great copper deposits in the mountains on either side of the Arabah S of the Dead Sea. The military campaign of Genesis 14 was occasioned by the desire to control the valuable copper deposits in Edom and Sinai. Since iron was the ideal metal in Solomon’s day and quite inexpensive, he sold his copper to the backward people in the Red Sea area. In return Solomon received gold, precious incense, and rare spices. Bitumen had a good market in Egypt, Pal. and the adjacent lands. Its source was the Dead Sea, which, during intertestamental times, was called the Asphalt Sea. Its quality was excellent but the quantity was small, quite the opposite of Mesopotamia. Sulphur was also a natural product from the Dead Sea area. Palestine always produced more wool than she could manufacture so this was a constant export commodity, esp. to heavily populated areas. Moab was the major wool producer. It is not yet known when iron came into mass production in Pal., but it was not before David’s time. Gilead was a major center for iron ore. Palestine also exported rare resins and gums as myrrh and balm. Balm was very expensive and was a major source of income for Herod the Great, from his vast balm groves at Jericho.

The real manufacturing age in Pal. began about the time of Isaiah. Note that the Pentateuch has no laws relating to manufacturing.

Isaiah saw the beginning of the manufacturing age in Palestine as Jeremiah saw the climax and then the cataclysmic end of all those industries. Here were modern assembly-line techniques and here were one-industry towns. The farmers flocked to the industrial cities and the sweat shops absorbed them. Over-supply of labor glutted the market and wages fell to starvation levels.

Micah, a farmer contemporary of Isaiah, attacked the courts for their conniving in the nation’s economic crimes. In 3:1-3, using the background of the butchering of sheep and cutting them up for stew, Micah calls these business tycoons and their lawyers cannibals living off the flesh of their helpless employees (Kelso, J., Archeology and Our Old Testament Contemporaries [1966], 144).

The potter used mass production techniques with assembly-line methods, turning out a good product in great quantities at a reduced price. These ancient potters knew all the skills of their trade, and a modern ceramist can do nothing but admire them.

Industry’s greatest change came in the cloth market. Kiriath-sepher, when excavated, turned out to be a one-industry town. It was located in a fine sheep district and the whole city was given over to the weaving and dyeing of cloth. Every house had large looms and dye plants, each one of them standardized. The raw material was right at the “factory’s” door, and both industries had a heavy and constant market. Most of Pal’s. manufactured goods were sold in that country, and did not reach international markets.

Palestine’s major imports seem to have been luxury goods. Human nature has always enjoyed the label that reads “made in a foreign country.” (For a detailed description of trade routes in Pal. and the Near East see the article Travel.) Both Abraham and Solomon were international businessmen. The latter’s work is well known but man is just beginning to appreciate the fact that Abraham was a big businessman in modern terminology.

Abraham was a “merchant prince” whose sales territory reached from Haran to Egypt, but he concentrated especially on three areas: Palestine south of Shechem, Egypt and Arabia. We have no specific mention of the items sold by Abraham, but they were doubtless the ordinary luxury goods which were exchanged between the rich of all countries....These items would be especially profitable for Abraham as he would buy copper cheap at the mines in Edom or Sinai and transport it to Phoenicia and Syria which were then the major manufacturing centers. From there he could sell these products anywhere from Anatolia to Egypt and Arabia.

Haran was Abraham’s original business capital. It was located about halfway between the Mediterranean coast and Nineveh. It was a miniature Chicago with trade routes radiating in all directions. This city was a blend of two distinct cultures, Semitic and Hurrian, and both of these are reflected in the Genesis narrative. His father, Terah, had worked the Ur-Haran sales territory at the time when Ur was the most influential commercial city in the world. The family must have been highly influential as at least three of Abraham’s ancestors (Serug, Nahor, and Terah) had cities named in their honor. Sarah was also wealthy in her own right, for she is spoken of as a “wife-sister.” This was a Hurrian legal term used in Haran. It identified Sarah as a member of the aristocracy of Haran.

Later Abraham concentrated on the Palestine-Egypt trade. Gerar, the commercial heart of the Palestine Negeb, became Abraham’s adopted city. Such an action was necessary to give him a legal base of supplies for his Egyptian trade....

The first stop that Abraham made in Palestine was at Shechem which was a Hurrian business center related to Haran. The city was located in central Palestine with good trade routes in all directions. Abraham now took over grazing rights in the virgin territory on the mountain ridge between Shechem and Hebron. (Later Jacob extended this range north to Dothan.) Only a merchant prince could control such an extended pasturage. Genesis 13:2 mentions cattle along with Abraham’s capital funds in silver and gold. Like a good businessman his money was distributed in various enterprises. His caravans always needed food and fodder and Abraham supplied both of these from his own agricultural projects (Kelso, pp. 18-21).

International commerce.

Palestine’s major commercial neighbor on the S was Egypt, one of the great civilizations of antiquity. It is no surprise to discover the strong influence of Egyp. commerce in the objects found in the excavations in Pal. Even Ethiopia sent ebony to Pal., and part of the ivory prob. came via the Sudan, although elephants were in Syria in early Bible times.

The main trade road left Egypt about where the modern Suez Canal is located and then followed along the coast past Raphia, ending at Gaza. This city was the great bridgehead for Egypt in all of history, even as late as World War I.

Palestine’s other commercial neighbor on the S was Arabia. Her water commerce came to Ezion-geber on the Gulf of Aqabah and then it was carried by camel caravan N to Macan. One of the land caravan routes from Arabia also ended here. The Wadi Sirhan was another long caravan route from Arabia, but it was E of Pal. proper, and its commerce only came into the N-S trade route at Rabath-Ammon. This Arabian commerce consisted entirely of luxury items, such as gold, frankincense, myrrh, coral, pearls, emeralds, and agates and other precious stones. Rare spices and scented woods of various kinds from India also came in via Arabia. In the intertestament and NT periods the Nabateans dominated the trade from Arabia to Pal. As for international trade, note that a Babylonian garment was listed in the spoil at Jericho (Josh 7:21), which was only a small fortress in early Israelite history.

To the N of Pal. was Syria, which was not a good market for Palestinian goods since both countries produced similar products. Syria and Pal., however, did have some commercial dealings, for the dynasties of Omri and Benhadad had business quarters in one another’s capital city. The important fact is that the route by which both Mesopotamian and Anatolian (Hitt.) commerce went S to Egypt was via Syria and Pal. Anatolia, i.e. Asia Minor, was one of the world’s most important sources of metals in antiquity. The Hittites and their successors were the miners, smelters, and refiners of copper, silver, and iron ores. They also manufactured all types of metal wares. Before David’s era this area had a major monopoly on iron. Copper was so important to the island of Cyprus that its name means “the copper island.” Damascus was rightly called the “seaport for all the desert people.”

Sumeria and its successor, Babylonia, were the only early great manufacturing civilizations rivaling Egypt. Abraham represented these two commercial giants, for his father, Terah, ran the trade routes from Ur to Haran under the shadow of Anatolia, and Abraham carried it on from there to Egypt with a major banking office in Damascus under Eliezer. The Babylonian trade route started at the Persian Gulf and followed the Euphrates River to the Taurus mountains of Asia Minor at Haran and Carchemish. The Assyrian capital of Nineveh on the Tigris was also a commercial center. It was not as large a manufacturing district as Babylonia to the S, but it was a collecting point for commerce from Persia and points E, and also a junction point for goods from Urartu and points N. From Nineveh the trade route followed the Armenian foothills W to Haran and Carchemish.

Just N of Pal. and bordering the Mediterranean was Phoenicia, whose E boundary was usually the Lebanon Mountains. The Litany and Orontes valleys were normally Syrian. Phoenicia, like England at her peak, was both a manufacturing and maritime nation. This was the country that taught Greece to become a manufacturer. The Greeks obtained their alphabet by copying it from their Phoen. business teachers. Phoenicia’s major natural resource was her cedar forests, whose lumber all the world prized. Phoenicia, like prewar Japan, was a good imitator and modifier of other cultures. Her wares ran from excellent to mediocre. The most important international product she manufactured was purple dyed cloth. The wool was imported, but the cloth and dye were Phoen. Some commerce going to Phoenicia went overland via the sources of the Jordan River N of Lake Huleh and into Phoenicia at the upper reaches of the Litany River. Some followed a road along the Mediterranean Sea from Acco to Tyre. Most commerce prob. traveled by sea from a Pal. port to one in Phoenicia. Indeed, most of the sea freight of Pal. went in Phoen. ships. Egypt, however, prob. sent her own ships to Pal. When Persia came to world power, she used the Phoenicians as her maritime agents. With Persia’s fall, Alexander’s successors controlled Mediterranean commerce until Rome made that sea her own.

Much of Egypt’s manufacturing was a government monopoly and was part of her produce trade, esp. in grains. Solomon had a definite monopoly in copper. He was also the nation’s “horse trader,” which included chariots (1 Kings 10:28, 29). Solomon and Hiram of Tyre had a joint business venture in the Red Sea trade (9:26-28; 10:11-12, 22). Later Jehoshaphat planned a similar venture but the ships were wrecked at Ezion-geber (2 Chron 20:36, 37).

Trade in the intertestamental and NT periods.

Alexander’s successors revolutionized some of the Palestinian business. Greek became the dominant influence. All over the world people of many nationalities suddenly became Greeks, even taking new Gr. names. At Marissa in Pal. the tombs show that in one generation many Sem. families changed their names. Some of the worst features of Gr. life were revealed in Pal. under the Ptolemaic and the Seleucid rulers of that land.

Much slavery among the Israelite population in OT times was simply “a man paying a bad debt by working a few years for his creditor.” Greek slavery was entirely different. Greek culture was largely built around slavery; the slave was simply merchandise, not a person. Since Pal. was the object of contention between the Ptolemies and Selucids, Jews often were taken as slaves in the booty of war. The Seleucids were the worst offenders for they sold their prisoners of war, including women and children, at bargain prices. Antiochus Epiphanes, who made Jerusalem into a pagan Gr. city, led in this crime. Palestine had two cultures; the Maccabean revolt was the Jews’ desperate but successful return to Judaism, although it was still tinted by some features of Gr. culture. Later Jewish leaders, however, were virtually Greeks themselves so far as their actions were concerned. Nevertheless, from the time of the restoration of true worship in Jerusalem under the early Maccabees, Pal. had two cultures—one Jewish and one Gr. Jewish culture was best represented by the city of Jerusalem, although Herod the Great introduced many features of Gr. culture there. The fullest influence of the Gr. culture was most evident in the cities of the Decapolis in Trans-Jordan. Samaria was another example in W Pal. since it had a temple dedicated to the Emperor Augustus.

There is not too much information from the intertestamental period concerning trade and commerce in Pal. One major improvement was the quality of flax, which, woven into first-class linen, went into the international market. Herod the Great had large estates near Jericho where he grew the balm that was one of the most expensive gums. The fisheries around the Sea of Galilee prospered, and exported their salted fish as far as Rome.

International business between differing national groups was inevitable. Sidon dealt with the Pal. town of Marissa; Egypt dealt with Transjordanian Philadelphia. Greek influence was also seen in Palestinian real estate. Marissa was planned like a Gr. city, and NT Samaria used the same layout of city blocks. The Nabateans carried by camel caravan much of the Arabian traffic that the Egyptians had shipped via the Red Sea.

When the Mediterranean became Rom. property, sea commerce took on new life. The major harbors were expanded to handle the increased commerce. Rome was fed in large part from the grain of the valleys of the Nile and the Orontes, and N. Africa.

The Book of Acts makes the reader aware that the Jew was a world citizen. At Pentecost Jews gathered from sixteen countries:

Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God (Acts 2:9-11).

As Paul traveled the eastern Mediterranean world he was in a new commercial world. Much of it was old; but there were new attractions. Paul, for example, was as much a man of ships as he was of Rom. roads (see nodetitle).

Paul made “Antioch on the Orontes” the center for world evangelism. (This was the city’s full name, since sixteen cities had the name Antioch.) Antioch was the second most influential city in the world, although Alexandria outranked it in size. Antioch was the end of the road for all overland commerce coming in from China via Persia to the Mediterranean, i.e. commerce from farther Asia. Alexandria, on the other hand, was the shipping point for all African commerce, whether it came via the Nile River or the Red Sea. There were no major seaports between these two cities but a wealth of local ports, some of which Paul used. Antioch catered primarily to the luxury trade, and the world was as avid for luxuries then as now. Alexandria catered to both the common and luxury markets.

Paul’s home city was Tarsus. It was the S terminus of the best pass from the great Anatolian plateau through the rugged Taurus mountains, in the SE part of Asia Minor. The “Berlin to Bagdad” Railroad now uses the same pass. Tarsus was a major business center since it also had direct access to the Mediterranean. Iconium was one of the key commercial cities of that great Anatolian plateau. It is often referred to as “the Damascus of Turkey” because of its abundant water supplies. When the Turks became masters of the eastern world they made it their capital city, and from there they moved on to capture Constantinople.

When Paul wanted to reach Bithynia, he was headed for Constantinople, then called Byzantium. It has always been a major commercial city since it dominates Black Sea traffic. Russia is N of that sea. One can ride horseback across the rolling Russian plains between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and only occasionally be interrupted by major mountain masses. Paul knew that this commercial center would be an ideal evangelistic center. He always appreciated the businessman and established his major church centers at great commercial centers (see Antioch, Thessalonica, Corinth and Ephesus).

Paul wished to visit the Rom. province of Asia, but he was denied entrance at this time, although he did conduct a glorious ministry later at Ephesus. Asia was the most populous province in the empire; even today the ruins of its great cities testify to the former prosperity of that area. The province was the most fertile area in Asia Minor and also the most fertile area around the Aegean Sea. It is no wonder that the Greeks loved it and colonized it early.

Thessalonica was the next major commercial city visited by Paul. It was situated at the S end of the best pass between the Danube Valley and the Mediterranean. A great amount of commerce passed over this road, as the civilizations at each end were different. The Danube Valley was so valuable commercially that Emperor Trajan added it to the empire early in the 2nd cent. a.d. He also conquered the Nabateans, giving Rome direct access to the Arabian commerce.

In Paul’s time Athens was living on her past glory. Corinth became “the” city of Greece. Its growth had been as quick and as spectacular as modern Sao Paulo in Brazil. Julius Caesar had recognized that this city in ruin could rise to become one of Rome’s major commercial centers. He was murdered before he could found the city, but his wish was fulfilled and the city was named in his honor. It was the greatest transhipment center in the Mediterranean (see nodetitle). Corinth also quickly developed into a major manufacturing city with most of the labor done by slaves. The Corinthian letters give the best description of a commercial city in the NT.

In Corinth Paul was one of the “free born” laborers, as he was by trade a weaver of awnings used in the great market places, and also of sails used by the ships entering either of Corinth’s two ports. It was here that Christianity obtained its legal right to be a “permitted religion.” Every religion in the Rom. empire had to have a government license to exist. The Jews of Corinth tried to persuade Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia, that Christianity was an illegal religion for it was not Judaism. Gallio rejected their charge and thus ruled Christianity a legal religion. Nero persecuted the church in Rome, but he did it to save his own influence as emperor. The next century saw extensive Christian persecutions. Corinth demonstrated that then, as now, major commercial ports are often wicked places; “Corinthian” became an adjective to express the utmost wickedness. Antioch was runner-up to this disgraceful epithet. Nevertheless, both cities were major centers for world evangelism.

At Ephesus Paul was in the city that was later considered the capital of the empire, when the emperor was in the E. Paul’s preaching seriously challenged two major industries of the city. The makers of books of magic watched their publications valued at 50,000 pieces of silver, burn (Acts 19:19). That sum was the equivalent of one day’s wage paid to 50,000 men. The makers of silver shrines of the goddess Artemis suffered such losses that they created a riot (19:23-41).

The Book of Revelation includes the letters to the seven churches of the province of Asia. From Ephesus the Gospel had gone with such evangelistic power that strong churches were established in the adjacent cities, each one also a commercial center. Laodicea (Rev 3:18) was a major banking center but the church members were admonished “to buy from me [Christ] gold refined by fire.” The city was famous for its heavy black felt coats of goat hair for use in the bitter Anatolian winter, but the church folk were admonished to obtain “white garments.” From the same city came one of the famous “patent medicines” of the age, “eye salve.” The Christians were advised to procure another “salve to anoint [their] eyes.”


When money becomes a major factor in trade and commerce, the emphasis is on business, for the common denominator in all business is money. In the OT there were three major methods of sale: (1) barter, (2) weighing of silver or gold, and (3) coins. Barter was the most common method of sale among the poorer people, although King Solomon and King Hiram also used the method. Hiram furnished cedar and cypress wood to Solomon, who, in turn, gave wheat and olive oil to Hiram (1 Kings 5:10, 11). These farm products were the taxes which Solomon had collected, for taxes were at that time paid in kind. The farmer gave wheat and oil and wine, the shepherd sheep and goats, etc. Each man paid taxes in what he produced. In the southern kingdom the government had its own pottery factories that made standard sized jars with the government stamp on the handle. These were required for use in the payment of taxes.

If commerce is to be successful in international markets it must have a basic medium of exchange, for which the ancients used silver and/or gold. The former was the more valuable until the metallurgists solved the problem of smelting and refining complicated silver ores. Gold, then, took first place. Another reason for gold taking priority was that placer gold was becoming rare and the miner turned to gold ores which were expensive to work. These metals came in various sized rings, bars, and other shapes. The phrasing of Deuteronomy 14:25 implies that this money was in rings, which could be tied together. Remember the tongue of gold that Achan found at Jericho. The Heb. term for money was silver. If a less valuable metal was used as money, it was copper. Rare gems and expensive jewelry also served as money. They provided a means whereby a large amount of wealth could be transported easily and secretly.

The metals were weighed; and this act could be either honest or dishonest. Archeologists have found weights with which to purchase items, and weights by which to sell that same purchase. This dishonesty is referred to in Deuteronomy 25:13. “You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small.” In Amos 8:5, the prophet echoes the same theme and adds that dry measures were used dishonestly in his day (cf. Deut 25:14).

The next step in currency was the coin. Not only was there dishonesty in the weight of gold and silver bars, etc., but there was a wide variety in the purity of the metal, esp. in silver. That problem was solved by governments minting coins and guaranteeing the weight and purity of each coin struck. This was done by putting the symbol of that government (state or city) upon the coin. The first such coin mentioned in the Bible is the Pers. gold daric (Ezra 2:69). The Persians permitted the Jewish exiles to mint their own silver coins in Judea. Coins did not become commonplace in Pal. until the times of the Ptolemies and the Seleucids (for details on barter, metals, and coins, See Coins).

Where money is used—either the weighing of gold or silver, or the use of the coin—the banker is present, and money itself becomes a new commodity. There is no evidence of OT banking, but early Mesopotamia was very efficient in banking methods. During the Exile, the Jews learned Babylonian banking techniques. Jewish bankers from Babylon were widely used later by the successors of Alexander the Great. The author believes that good banking is the most likely reason why Paul’s ancestors secured their Rom. citizenship at Tarsus. The Exile marked the beginning of the Jews’ major emphasis on banking and business in general. This was augmented by Jewish business exiles in the intertestamental times who were taken to Alexandria where they later controlled much of the business of that city. This meant branch offices for the Jewish enterprises in all the seaports of the Rom. empire.

By NT times, banking covered the whole Rom. empire; and bankers were licensed to be kept under control. The banker, then as now, took money on deposit and paid interest for its use. Jesus referred to this in His parable of the talents (Matt 25:27). A common interest rate was eight percent in the days of Jesus and Paul. The banker then, as now, lent this money on mortgages. The earliest Bible reference to a mortgage is Nehemiah 5:3ff. The people borrowed money to pay their taxes, just as people do today. One position of the banking fraternity was the money changer, and Christ dealt with them (see MONEY CHANGERS). Checks were used then as now; bills of exchange were available, i.e. one could deposit money in one city and draw it out in another. Banks related to one another were scattered all over the empire. Good bookkeeping systems, however, were much earlier than banking; they can be traced to the early Sumerians, who invented writing.

For a quick resumé of Heb. and Gr. terms used in trade, commerce, and business, see W. N. Bennett, “Trade and Commerce,” HDB IV, 802B-806B. See Business; Commerce.


G. A. Barrois, “Manuel d’Archaeologie” vol. II, 207-273 (1953); A. C. Bouquet, Everyday Life in New Testament Times (1955).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)



1. Terms

2. Position of Palestine

3. Trade Products of Palestine

4. Palestinian Traders


1. To David

2. Solomon

3. Maritime Trade

4. To the Exile

5. The Exile and After


I. General. 1. Terms:

For a full list of the commercial terms used in the nodetitle, reference must be made to EB, IV, cols. 5193-99. Only the more important can be given here.

See Chapman; Occupy.

2. Position of Palestine:

3. Trade Products of Palestine:

4. Palestinian Traders:

In comparison with the great volume of international trade that was constantly passing across Palestine, the above products could have had no very great value and the great merchants would normally have been foreigners. A wide activity as "middlemen" and agents was, however, open to the inhabitants of Palestine, if they cared to use it. Such a profession would demand close contact with the surrounding nations and freedom from religious scruples. The Canaanites evidently excelled in commercial pursuits of this time, so much so that "Canaanite" and "merchant" were convertible terms.

II. History.

1. To David:

2. Solomon:

Under Solomon, however, Israel’s real trade began. The writer of Ki lays special stress on his imports. From Tyre came timber (1Ki 5:6, etc.) and gold (1Ki 9:11). From Sheba came gold and spices (1Ki 10:10, "gave" here, like "presents" elsewhere, is a euphemism). From Ophir and elsewhere came gold, silver, precious stones, almug trees, ivory, apes and peacocks (1Ki 10:11,22,25). According to Massoretic Text 1Ki 10:28 f, horses and chariots were brought from Egypt and re-sold to the North.

But the text here is suspected. Egypt had no reputation as a horse-mart in comparison with Northern Syria and Western Armenia (see Togarmah). So many scholars prefer to read "Musri" (in Northwestern Arabia) for "Egypt" (mtsr for mtsrym--see the comms., especially EB, III, cols. 3162-63). Yet the change does not clear up all the difficulties, and Egypt was certainly famous for her chariots. And compare De 17:16.

In exchange Solomon exported to Tyre wheat and oil (1Ki 5:11; 2Ch 2:10,15 adds "barley .... and wine"). What he sent to the other countries is not specified, and, in particular, there is no mention of what he exchanged for gold. 1Ki 5:11; 9:11, however, indicate that Hiram was the intermediary for most of this gold traffic, so that at the final settlement of accounts Solomon must have been heavily in Hiram’s debt. 1Ki 9:11 proves this. Solomon had undertaken a larger task than the resources of Palestine could meet, and in payment was obliged to cede Northern Galilee to Hiram. (The writer of 1 Kings explains that `the cities were worthless,’ while Chronicles passes over the unedifying incident altogether, if 2Ch 8:2 is not a reversal of the case.)

3. Maritime Trade:

Among Solomon’s other activities sea-commerce was not forgotten. David’s victory over Edom gave access to the Red Sea at Eziongeber, and this port was utilized by Hiram and Solomon in partnership (1Ki 9:26 ), Hiram, apparently, supplying the ships and the sailors (1Ki 10:11). After Solomon’s death, Edom revolted and the way to the sea was closed (1Ki 11:14). It was not recovered until the time of Jehoshaphat, and he could do nothing with it, "for the ships were broken at Eziongeber" (1Ki 22:48), i.e. in the home harbor. Either they were badly built or incompetently manned. The Hebrews had no skill as sailors.

See Ships and Boats.

4. To the Exile:

5. The Exile and After:


The appropriate sections in the HA’s and Biblical diets., especially G. A. Smith’s indispensable article "Trade" in EB, IV, cols. 5145-99 (1903); for the later period, GJV4, II, 67-82 (1907), III, 97-102 (1909). Compare also Herzfeld, Handelsgeschichte der Juderi des Alterthums2 (1894).