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Ships and Shipping in the Bible
The navy of King Solomon and Isreal
One particular area of interest, which is central to the story of Solomon, was the fact that he was credited with having employed a large Naval force in the conduct of his trade. In addition tohaving a navy Solomon is credited with being a shrewd diplomat with alliances to the kingdoms of Sheba, Egypt, and Phoenicia all of which were known to have had extensive seafaring capabilities at this time in ancient history. The Queen of Sheba alone was credited with having over 400 seafaring ships for conducting trade.
Solomon is also credited with having been successful in diplomacy and trade with the majority of his neighbors. A prime example of this diplomacy was mentioned in 1 Kings Chapter 5. Which relates his alliance with the ruler of Tyre, which was the chief seaport of the Phoenicians at that time. It was these key alliances in trade, diplomacy and the ability to keep the peace that lead to the apparent success of his administration. Other trading alliances credited to Solomon were with, Chittim, Ophir and Tarshish. Add to this list a list of countries from which Solomon took wives and he can truly be said to have been be a figure of international reputation.
Israel was located at the crossroads of the Levant. The historic records from other contemporary cultures before and leading up to the time of Solomon show this geographic region to have been a very volatile area and was usually governed as a vassal state of one of the more prominent powers in the Region. It is apparent from these records that the region had fallen into political turmoil after the onset of invasions by the Sea Peoples against Egypt in 1250 BCE. The early invasions exploits of Merneptah 1224-1210 BCE against the Sea Peoples are recorded as relief murals at Karnak. The later invasions of the sea peoples that were repulsed during the rule of Rameses III and are recorded at Mendinet Habu in graphic detail.
Egypt's influence, political and military dominance was not asserted again until the Palestinian campaign of Shishak 1 following the reign of Solomon in 941 BCE. This was the same historic time frame in which the Hebrews Colonized the Levant according to the Biblical account.
The concept that Solomon had and maintained a naval force is key to understanding the success of his administration. Without understanding the extent to which sea trade effected the economy of the Eastern Mediterranean nations it would be difficult to understand much at all about the foreign policy and diplomacy of Israel during this historic time frame.
Solomon according to Biblical accounts had good relations with Hiram the Phoenician ruler of Tyre (the foremost seafaring nation in the Eastern Mediterranean) to the extent that this foreign king assisted Solomon in the creation of a naval force. This piqued my curiosity as to the likely appearance and structure of the naval forces of Solomon and to find out what seafaring technologies were available at the time to put a naval force to sea.
The Bible clearly records the relationships in ancient history that Solomon's Kingdom had with the seafaring nations of the Eastern Mediterranean. Phoenicia, Sheba, Chittim, Tarshish, Ophir and Egypt were all sea faring nations and/or trading partners of Israel. The entire chapter nine of 2nd Chronicles is a record of Solomon's political alliances for trade. Determining the exact location of and realm of influence of the individual trading partners during Solomon's time is a matter of conjecture and additional scholarship.
Tarshish is taken to the coastal area of Spain near current day Seville and Cartegena. The Tarshish realm of influence would have included the islands of Corsica, Sardinia, Sicily and Malta.
The Bible clearly indicates the Princes of Tyre to be wealthy merchants controlling the sea trading routes in the Eastern Mediterranean, including, Tarsus, Byblos, Tyre, Sidon and until the time of Solomon El-dor, which is credited with becoming the primary sea port of Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean during the reign of King Solomon.
Phoenicia prospered as a trading nation until the time of the Assyrian conquests. At this time it is recorded in the book of Isaiah that the Phoenicians fled in their boats to settle elsewhere. History shows us they fled to the Geographical area of Tunisia in Northern Africa and established Carthage as their Primary Trading post.
The Biblical reference to Isreal and King Solomon trading with the country of Ophir remains a little more shrouded in Mystery. There are indicators in the Bible as to its possible location if you read the clues. It is mentioned that the Voyages going to Ophir left the Ports cities in the gulf of Aquaba and didn't return with their trade items until taking a round trip that lasted three years. The bible also indicates that these journeys were a joint venture of Solomon and Hiram of Tyre. This story indicates that Phoenicia was already in trade with Ophir before Solomon struck his alliance with Hiram.
Sheba located on the southern Arabian Peninsula and its Realm of Influence including the Horn of Africa. Sheba based on its location would have controlled the eastern and southern trade routes through the Red Sea. The Saba Kingdom happened to control Trade routes South of the Gulf of Aquaba both overland and with ports on the Red Sea. Therefore Saba would have controlled access to the eastern African coast, the Arabian Gulf, and India.
The Bible clearly indicates the Princes of Tyre to be wealthy merchants controlling the sea trading routes in the Eastern Mediterranean Including, Tarsus, Byblos, Tyre, Sidon and until the time of Solomon El-dor, which is credited with being Israel's primary sea port on the Mediterranean.
Phoenicia prospered as a trading nation until the time of the Assyrian conquests. At this time it is recorded in the book of Isaiah that the Phoenicians fled in their boats to settle elsewhere. History shows us they went to Northern Africa and established Carthage as their Primary Trading port.
The other indicator as to Ophir's location are the descriptions of contents of the cargo's coming from Ophir. Scriptures indicate that these cargos contained ivory, apes, peacocks, algum trees and spices. This description of the cargos point to India as being Ophir particularly the Peacocks. The other indicator that Ophir may in fact be India is the fact that the journeys to and from Ophir were said to take as long as three years which indicates a very long distance travel route. Travel in open seas covering of distances of this kind were generally done during favorable weather conditions. The traders would have traveled during the season's that best assured their safety at sea and gave them favorable winds for their primary direction of travel.
"Then went Solomon to Ezion-geber, and to Eloth, at the sea side in the land of Edom. And Huram sent him by the hands of his servants ships, and servants that had knowledge of the sea; and they went with the servants of Solomon to Ophir, and took thence four hundred and fifty talents of gold, and brought them to king Solomon" 2 Chronicles 8:17.
"Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the LORD thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee" Isaiah 60:9
For further reading on the trade relationships of Solomon read 2 Chronicles 9.