Who Were the Merchants of Tarshish?

Who are the enigmatical "merchants of Tarshish" and the "young lions" mentioned by God's seer, Ezekiel, in his Time of the End vision contained in the 38th chapter of his amazing Book? This question has long been posed by students of the Bible, with a variety of answers being given. One of the sources of power and wealth of King Solomon of Israel was his control of a "navy of Tarshish", which worked in cooperation with that of Hiram, King of Tyre. This doubtless was the beginning of the extensive Tarshish trade with the nation of Israel. The record reads: "For the king had at sea a navy of Tarshish with the navy of Hiram : once in three years came the navy of Tarshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks." Many of these products came from Africa -- and even from the far East. But we know for certain that Palestinian produce, of various kinds, was traded, by sea, with the peoples of Europe, even as far distant as the British Isles.

Most important of these commodities was tin from south-west Britain, important for weapons of war, for tin was the alloy which was mixed with copper to form the much stronger metal, brass. This was used in the armour and weapons of Solomon's soldiers. It gave them a definite superiority over enemies not so equipped. The tin trade was also to figure dramatically at the time of Yeshua the Messiah. His great-uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, by firm tradition a wealthy merchant, owned a fleet of ships which brought tin and lead from Britain to his home ports in Palestine, as in the days of Solomon. Persistent Glastonbury and English West Country traditions maintain that the Messiah sailed with Joseph in one of his ships on a trading expedition to England, when He was yet a boy. According to the traditions, the church at Pilton, Somerset, is built upon the site of the wharf where Joseph landed, to load the ore which had been mined in the nearby Mendip Hills. The sea has since receded from this place, but at that time Joseph would sail by the island then called Avalon, which is now the location of the town of Glastonbury. It was to this hallowed place that Joseph fled, with his company, at the time of the persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem, soon after the death of the Messiah upon the tree. Together with twelve other devoted pioneers, he erected the first Christian meeting-place structure at Glastonbury, about A.D. 37-38.

Thus, links between Britain with the Holy Land were established by Solomon as early as 976 B.C. This was an economic factor which helped build and maintain his great kingdom: it was the zenith of Israel in Canaan. The spiritual link was to be forged a thousand years later when Joseph founded the Christian community at Glastonbury. The result of this was the comparatively unhindered growth of the Christian Ecclesia in the Isles of the West, free from the obstacles met by their comrades in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Roman Empire of the day.

It is significant that the main home base for the "ships of Tarshish" was not Tyre, but a place just outside the pillars of Hercules, called by the Romans "Gades". This was on the Atlantic side of Gibraltar, near the mouth of the Guadalquivir River in south-western Spain. This port came later to be called Cadiz -- in about the 12th century. In more modern times it became the chief base for the navy of Spain under Philip Il. In Davis' The Dictionary of the Bible we find it definitely identified with Tarshish: "It is believed that Tarshish was Tartessus in the south of Spain, near Gibraltar . . . ships of Tarshish were originally ships trading to and from Tarshish; but ultimately ships of first-rate size to whatever place their voyages may have been made."

Thus, it is seen that large sea-going ships carried goods in trade from Tarshish to the four points of the compass. We know from Ezekiel's words that "ships out of Tarshish" traded in iron, tin and lead. Although there were mines in Spain producing tin, these became exhausted and the ships sailed elsewhere in quest of their much-prized tin and lead. They found it in Cornwall and Somerset, in England. They also traded in the much-prized North Sea amber.

In this way, the ships of Tarshish provided the metals so essential to the building up of the ancient Mediterranean empires and of the Middle East. From various authorities of the sixth century, the following description of Tarshish has emerged: "Tartessus is an illustrious city of lberia which takes its name from Baetis (Quadalquivir) formerly also called Tartessus. This river comes from the Celtic region and has its source in the 'silver mountain'; in its stream it carries, besides silver and tin, a great abundance of gold and bronze. The river Tartessus divides into two arms when it reaches the mouth. Tartessus, the city, stands between the two arms, as on an island."

We know that these trading vessels sailed east, south and north, trading their wares. One important port in the north was at the mouth of the River Thames. According to tradition, it was founded by the Trojan prince, Brutus, about 1150 B.C. and now known as the city of London. Other ports in north-west Europe were reached as the merchants of Tarshish built more and bigger ships. But what of trade with the American continent to the west? Were these people able to build ships large enough to span the Atlantic ocean?

There are recently discovered pointers to trade with both Celts and Indians who had by then established themselves in North America. Mysterious inscriptions have been discovered, deep in the interior of the United States showing that a thousand years of commerce was carried on between Tarshish in Spain and their Celtic colonies in what is now the United States. Their ships regularly traded with the northeastern coastland : inscriptions on rocks have been found with Tarshish lettering. Even more; these ancient mariners entered the Mississippi from the Gulf of Mexico, penetrating inland to Iowa and the Dakotas and westward along the Arkansas and Cimarron Rivers to leave behind inscribed records of their presence there. In 1975 an inscription was found at Union, New Hampshire with excellently preserved Tarshish letters: "Voyagers from Tarshish this Stone proclaims."

Recent archaeological finds inspired the book, America, B.C., by Professor Barry Fell of Harvard University. From page 100 we quote his words: "The script of itself cannot be accurately dated, but a likely estimate would be about 700 to 600 B.C. The voyagers were probably not explorers but rather merchants trading with the New England Celts who, by that dates, were already well established fur trappers and very likely also mining precious metals from those sites where ancient workings have been discovered." If the findings of Professor Fell are accurate, large colonies of Celts had been brought by ship from Tarshish, Spain, to mine for ore and trap for furs and thus to establish trading posts deep within the American continent. They must surely be recognized as belonging to Ezekiel's "merchants of Tarshish".

Thus, since there was such substantial trade with the continent known today as America, "the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof" must include the "young lions" of the United States, along with those of Britain and kindred folk in northern Europe. Today the population of the United States is made up basically of Celto-Saxon peoples. Although they had in 1776 been separated politically from the mass of Israel, then Britain, the "young lions" of America came storming back, across the Atlantic in 1917, to help defend Britain and the free world against tyranny. They came again in 1942 during World War II -- millions of them -- from America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa to fight in common cause against tyranny and aggression.

-- J.A.B. Haggart

Hope of Israel Ministries
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