Where was Tarshish? (Jonah 4)

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Illustration: Many believe that Tarshish was located Southwestern Spain

It is impossible to say with certainty where Tarshish was located. What is known is that Nineveh was to the east and that Jonah was trying to get as far as possible from Nineveh by boarding a ship and sailing westward. If Tarshish were a specific  port, it certainly would have been located somewhere along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, as may be suggested by several Old Testament texts (Psalm 48:7, Isaiah 23:6, Ezekiel 27:25) and by an inscription of Estarhaddon of Assyria. Many suggest that it was a city associated with mining and metallurgy, since the name Tarshish may be derived from a word referring to smelting or refining (see also Ezekiel 27:12). Places that could satisfy these requirements include:

  • Tartessus in Southwestern Spain. This would be appropriate to the story, for it would have been difficult to sail any farther from Nineveh.
  • The island of Sardinia. A ninth century B.C. Phoenician inscription suggests the possible presence of Tarshish there.
  • Carthage in North Africa. This is supported by the Septuagint version of Ezekiel 27:12, which identifies Carthage with Tarshish (but there was also a Carthage in Spain).
  • Tarsus in Anatolia (modern Turkey). This city would later become hometown of Paul.

Some scholars, however, believe that the term “Tarshish” refers not to a specific location but simply to the “open sea”. If this is the case, the author’s intent may have been simply to describe Jonah as going off to sea. The church father Jerome, in his commentary on Jonah, accepted this interpretation.

Regardless of the intended destination of the ship Jonah boarded, it is obvious that the reluctant prophet sought to sail in the opposite direction from the destination to which God was calling him.


 

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