Tarshish (Josephus' Tarsus Reconsidered)

Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld y de la Torre, M.A. Ed.

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02 Dec 2001--- Important Update on Yener's discoveries at Kestel and Goltepe 
(appended to the end of this article)

09 Oct. 2002 ---Update on Spain's Tartessian Silver mines of the 8th-7th centuries BCE and the Phoenican prescence (appended to the end of this article)

The location of biblical Tarshish remains a mystery. Various proposals from the 1st century CE to modern times still have not settled the question. Some scholars favor Josephus' understanding that Tarsus in Cilicia (modern Turkey) is Tarshish while others favor a more remote location preserved in Greek sources as Tartessos in Spain (on the west coast, above ancient Gades/Gadir, modern Cadiz).

Josephus, a Jewish historian of the 1st century CE  made the Tarsus-Tarshish association on the basis of etymology, that is, the words possess the same consonants, ancient Hebrew not using vowels, rendering "t-r-s-s."  

"...Tharsus to the Tharsians, for so was Cilicia of old called; the sign of which is this, that the nobelest city they have, and a metropolis also is Tarsus..."(Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews.  6.1.127)

Josephus, citing from the Hebrew Bible, notes that Tarshish is a descendant of Japheth (Greek Iapetos/Japetus) and Javan (Hebrew Iawan), associated with the Greek Ionia, a province in modern western Turkey. The ancient Greek historian Athendorus, a citizen of Tarsus, gives a descent from Japetus, the ancestor of Javan, for Tarsus:

"Athendorus, the Tarsian, said that the city was originally called Parthenia, from Parthenius, son of Cydnus, the grandson of Anchiale, daughter of Japetus..." (p.686, Vol.4, "Tarsus," James hastings. A Dictionary of the Bible. Peabody, Mass. Hendrickson Publications [1898] 1988 reprint)

Against Tartessos, etymologically speaking, is the second "t" and third "s", in "t-r-t-s-s-s."

Professor Whiting as advised me that  Shalmaneser III rendered Tarsus as alternately Tarzi and Tarzu, while Sennacherib rendered it as Tarsisu.

According to Whiting,  Haider favors the identification of Tarshish/Tarsisi with Tarsus (cf. P. W. Haider, "Griechen im Vordern Orient und in Ägypten bis ca. 590 v. Chr.," in Ch. Ulf (Hrsg.) Wege zur Genese griechischer Identität:  die Bedeutung der früharchaischen Zeit, Berlin 1996, pp. 86-88 and n. 151). 

My research has concentrated on clues found in the Hebrew Bible regarding Tarshish. It was reached by ship; it was a trading partner with Tyre (the Phoenicians); its trade items were precious metals. Among the metals noted is Silver and TIN, which caused several scholars to suggest  Spain.. 

Recent research however, since 1990, has found a pit mine and an associated site with slag and crucibles, revealing that in the Early Bronze Age, TIN was being mined within  a hundred miles, just to the north of Tarsus, in the Taurus mountains !  Ancient Anatolia was famous for its metals which were carried in Phoenician ships as trade items to other parts of the Ancient Near Eastern world. Phoenician inscriptions have been found at Karatepe, in Cilicia (cf. p. 336 "Karatepe," Charles F. Pfeiffer. The Biblical World, A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology. Nashville, Tennessee. Broadman Press. 1966), suggesting for some scholars they were there to purchase Anatolian metal products. Phoenicians settled at Kition, near modern Larnaca, Cyprus and were active in acquiring Cyprian copper as a trade item by the 9th century BCE (Cyprus being Kypros in Greek, from whence we get the word Copper). 

Silver heads the list of precious metals associated with Tarshish, and ancient Assyrian sources noted that the Taurus mountains above Tarsus were referred to as the Silver mountians.  In fact, modern metalury maps indicate that every single metal associated with Tarshish, can be found in the Taurus mountains (cf. minerals map titled  Turkey Maden Zuhurlari. Maden Tetkik Arama Enstitusu Yayinlarindan. Haziran. 1960).

Ezekiel 27:12 (RSV)
"...Tarshish was they merchant by reason of the multitude of all kind of riches: with silver, iron, tin and lead, they traded in thy fairs..."

Jeremiah 10:9 (RSV)
"...Silver beaten into plates is brought from Tarshish..."

Miller, on  Tarsus' "Silver Mountains"-

"Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia...The city was built on the banks of the swift Cydnus river, 10 miles from the Mediterranean and 30 miles south of the Taurus ("Silver") mountains, which were veined with lead and silver." (p.727, "Tarsus," Madeleine S. Miller. The New Harper's Bible Dictionary. New York. Harper & Row. 1973)

Archaeologists found evidence of smeltry operations in the vicinity of Tarsus in antiquity, as noted by MacQueen-

"The final shaping into tools and weapons ws done locally, and areas devoted to this have been found at Bogazkoy and TARSUS marked by thepresence of large quantities of slag. Tarsus also produced a clay crucible with bronze adhering to it." (p. 78, J.G. MacQueen. The Hittites and Their Contemporaries in Asia Minor. Boulder, Colorado. Westview Press. 1975)

I note that bronze is an alloy of TIN and copper. Obviously the natives of ancient Tarsus had access to Tin inorder to create bronze !

Hodges notes that the Assyrians were interested in controlling the TIN resources of Eastern Anatolia (Turkey)-

"There can be little doubt that Sargon's chief concern in this enterprise was to attempt to control the sources of supply of his raw materials, and one is tempted, therefore, to suppose that MUCH OF THE TIN required for bronze making came from the mountains of Syria and Turkey..."   (p.108, Henry Hodges. Technology in the Ancient World. Baltimore, Maryland. Penguin Books. 1971)

No later than Early Bronze Age times, Anatolian bronze objects were utilizing tin as an alloy-

"...it seems certain that bronze and bronze working originated in the Middle East, where ANATOLIA and Armenia were mining regions...between 2300-2000 BC...the quantity of the bronze with an already remarkably high TIN CONTENT is impressive." (pp.166-175, "The Appearance and Spread of Metal," The Larousse Encyclopedia of Prehistoric and Ancient Art. London. Hamlyn Publishers. 1970)

Yener's discovery of an Early Bronze Age Tin mine, 60 miles north of Tarsus-

"Aslihan Yener, assistant professor at the university of Chicago's Oriental Institute, believes that a mine and ancient mining village she has found in the central Taurus mountains of Turkey shows that TIN MINING was a well developed industry in the area as early as 2870 BC...the mine at a site called Kestel- some 60 miles north of Tarsus, on the Mediterranean coast- has two miles of tunnels...nearby stands the mining village of Goltepe, which was probably occupied by 500 to 1,000 persons more or less continuously between 3290 and 1840 BC...the site contains no evidence of copper metalurgy...it did not produce bronze; instead IT PRODUCED TIN FOR EXPORT...Yener and her colleagues have analyzed tin-rich slag from 50 crucibles discovered at Goltepe. Within the total one metric ton of metallurgical debris in the form of crucible and vitrified materials, she has excavated some that have 30 percent tin content (a high percentage) still intact in the crucible." (pp.16-17, "Bronze Age Source of Tin Found in Turkey ?" BIblical Archaeology Review, Vol.20 No.3, May-June, 1994)

For the reports on the analysis of the tin found at Goltepe, 60 miles north of Tarsus 
and a brief history of Metalurgy in Hittite times  by K.Aslihan Yener, the following URLs  are reccomended -







If the peoples of Cilicia were capable of mining Tin in the Early Bronze Age, they certainly did not need to sail to far-off Spain and Tartessos to get Tin for their bronze! 

Pfeiffer on the Phoenicians in Cilicia-

"The fact that old Phoenician was used as one of the languages at Karatepe gives a clue to the linguistic history of the area. By the following century Aramaic replaced PHOENICIAN AS THE LANGUAGE OF CILICIA..." (p.336, "Karatepe," Charles F. Pfeiffer, Editor. The Biblical World, A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology. Nashville, Tennessee. 1966)

The Greeks have preserved in their myths, the Phoenician presence in Cilicia. Agenor, a Phoenician king, sends his son Cilix, to hunt for his abducted daughter called Europa. Cilix eventually settles in Anatolia and calls it Cilicia after his name (cf. p.174, "Cilix,"  p.256, "Europa," William Smith. A Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology and Geography. London. John Murray. 1875)

Tarshish was a port city as late as Roman times. Marc Antony's fleet met Cleopatra at Tarsus, she sailing up the Cydnus dressed up as Aphrodite on an elaborate barge. The harbor serving Tarsus in Roman times has silted up, along with the Cydnus.

Conclusions :

Etymologically, Tarsus makes better sense for Tarshish than Tartessos. Assyrian records from the reign of Esarhaddon (ca. 681-669 BCE)  call Tarsus, Tarsisi, which preserves the Hebrew "t-r-s-s." Before Esarhaddon, the city was rendered in Assyrian as Tarzi. I would venture to stick out my neck here, and say that the Hebrew  "t-r-s-s," if indebted to Neo-Assyrian sources, suggest that Genesis' Tarshish is a "marker" that Genesis is no older than the reign of Esarhaddon, it could be later, but not older.

I have demonstrated that the anicent peoples of Anatolia were capable of mining for Tin in Early Bronze Age times, and certainly their descendants could mine tin in Anatolia in later periods (the Iron Age, when the Hebrew Bible is believed to have been created).

A Phoenician presence in Cilicia is attested at Karatepe in Cilicia, suggesting the biblical portrayal of Tarshish as a trading post of Tyre is plausible (Isaiah 23:2)). The Greek myths reckoned Cilicia to be a Phoenician creation (it wasn't, they are in error, but the Phoenician presence is attested). Tarshish is associated with the land of the Kittim, which Josephus tells us was a designation for not only Cyprus, but the nearby coasts of Asia Minor and Syria.

Finally, ALL THE METALS asociated with Tarshish can be found in the Taurus mountains just above Tarsus, whose archaeological remains reveal metalurgy was practiced in this city, based on slag heaps and crucibles found there.

For me, then, Josephus was right, Tarsus is Tarshish!

Update 02 Dec. 2001

In a recently published article (1995) Yener provides more information on the tin being mined in the central Taurus Mountains, north of Tarsus-

Yener :

"The Kestel tin mine and the production/habitation site of Goltepe are located in the central Taurus mountains...They are strategically situated  along the north-south Ecemis fault zone, providing access to both central Anatolia and the Cilician plains and the Mediterranean coast to the south as well...The extensive deposits of copper, iron, silver, and gold, in addition to the presence of alloying materials, formed the basis of an incipient industrial revolution that subtly altered the way the environment was manipulated...in the Bronze age. The tin mines (including Kestel) and their associated specialized-activity areas are situated upslope from several rivers coursing through the Nigde Massif, a large volcanic dome formation. Kurucay stream, with the highest analyzed cassiterite sediments, also contains sediments rich in cassiterite, pyrite, hematite, garnet, tourmaline, magnetite, scheelite, cinnabar, titanite, rutile, apatite, monzazite, and gold...Cassiterite was found at the Kestel mine by the Turkish Geological and Research Institute (MTA)...The most convincing evidence of tin production, however, is the thousands of crucible fragments with tin-rich slag accretion found at the excavations at Goltepe...As presently understood, the Kestel mine was originally in operation around 3000 BCE, probably as an open-pit mine. Near the beginning of Early Bronze I/II, the mine expanded into shaft-and gallery systems, workshops were set up outside the mine entrance, and Goltepe was settled...Goltepe grew into a possibly substantial walled town as well as a tin-processing workshop site near the middle of the third millenium (Early Bronze II)...The settlement and the mine attained their largest extent during this and the first part of Early Bronze III...Some of the most important finds relating to the processing of tin have been the hundreds of vitrified earthenware crucibles with a glassy slag accretion rich in tin. Constructed of a coarse straw and grit-tempered ware, they have slagged surfaces measuring between 30 and 90 percent tin conent...In some instances, tin-metal particles were trapped in slag and identified by microprobe, scanning electron microscxopy, and x-ray diffraction as the product of the smelt. The activities that are demonstrated by analysis at the Conservation Analytical Laboratory of the Smithsonian Institution include a labor-intensive, multi-step, low-temperature process carried out at between 800 and 950 degrees Celsius. 

Processing involved intentionally producing tin metal by reduction firing of tin oxides in crucibles- with repeated grinding, washing, panning, and resmelting. The raw materials being processed in the crucibles consisted of tin oxide (cassiterite) with no copper ores present, along with calcium carbonate, iron oxide with minor amounts of magnesia...This recent evidence finally puts to rest the initial scepticism as to the concentrations of tin in the Taurus and reveals it to be an important tin-processing center." (Vol.3, pp.1519-1520. K. Aslihan Yener. "Early Bronze Age Tin Processing at Goltepe and Kestel, Turkey." Jack M. Sasson, Editor. Civilizations of the Ancient Near East. Peabody, Massachusetts. Hendrickson Publishers. [1995 Charles Scribner & Sons]  reprinted in two bound volumes in 2000)

I might also add to Yener's concluding remark, that the finding of Tin in the mountains above Tarsus should lay to rest the widely held scepticism amongst many biblical scholars that Josephus' Tarshish is not Tarsus, but Tartessos in faraway Spain !

09 Oct. 2002 Update:

Archaeological excavations in Southwestern Spain on the Rio Tinto River have revealed Silver Mines in use in the course of the 8th-6th centuries BCE. Phoenician wares have been found in this area and it is speculated by some scholars that this is Tartessos, fabled land of Silver, mentioned by Classical authors. Cf. the following url for a synopsis of what was found by archaeologists and mineralogists-

A map of the Tartessian and Phoenician settlements (8th-6th century BCE) is provided-

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