occurs in the Hebrew Bible
with these meanings:
- One of the sons of Javan (Genesis 10:4).
- The name of a remote place across the sea which first comes into notice in the days of Solomon ().
- Flavius Josephus (Antiquitates Iudaicae i. 6, § 1) reads "Tarshush", identifiying 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. In addition, Phoenician inscriptions have been found at Karatepe in Cilicia. Bunsen and Sayce 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; 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.
- 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 mentions that silver, iron, lead and tin came to Tyre from Tarshish (Trsys). They were stored in Tyre and resold, probably to Mesopotamia.
- 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).
- Le Page Renouf thought that "Tarshish" means a coast, and, as the word occurs frequently in connection with Tyre, the Phoenician coast is to be understood.
- Cheyne thinks that "Tarshish" of and "Tiras" of , 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.
- One of King Ahasuerus' seven advisors who were princes of Persia and Media.
In later history
Tarshish is the name of a village in Lebanon. The village is located in the Baabda Kadaa at an elevation of 1400m and is 50 km away from Beirut.
Around 1665, the followers of Shabbatai Zvi in İzmir interpreted the ships of Tarshish as Dutch ships that would transport them to the Holy Land.
Some Old Testament scholars believe the Tarshish power to be Britain and possibly related to an Eastern Tarshish, namely India. Some, looking for the 2nd coming of Jesus and the Kingdom of God based round the land of Israel, believe that the prophecies regarding the Tarshish power have their latter day fulfilment in modern times.
Tarshish was also the name of a short-lived political party founded by would-be assassin of Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dwek.
The Greek form of the name, Tharsis, was given by Giovanni Schiaparelli to a region on Mars.
Another theory is by Fr. Francisco Collin SJ. He claims that the Filipino people were descendants of Tarshish.
In Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick, Father Mapple gives a sermon on the story of Jonah. Father Mapple identifies the Tarshish to which Jonah flees with the port of Cádiz in Spain, "as far by water, from Joppa, as Jonah could possibly have sailed in those ancient days, when the Atlantic was an almost unknown sea" (Chapter 9, "The Sermon").
- J. D. Muhly, copper, tin, silver and iron: the search for metallic ores as an incentive for foreign expansion. In: Gitin et al. (eds.), Mediterranean Peoples in Transition: 13th to early 10th centuries BC. In Honor of Professor Trude Dothan. Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 314-329.
- Hertz J.H. (1936) The Pentateuch and Haftoras. Deuteronomy. Oxford University Press, London.