The name Tarshish in the Bible
The name Tarshish (or Tharshish according to some translations) is assigned five times in the Bible:
- The first Tarshish is a son of Javan, son of Japheth, son of Noah (Genesis 10:4).
- Most famous is Tarshish the city famed for its wealth and merchant fleet (1 Kings 10:22), but which location is unknown; some scholars believe that it's the same as the Tarsus mentioned in the New Testament as the birthplace of the apostle Paul (spelled Ταρσος, Tarsos; Acts 9:11). Tarshish was located on a coast, possibly an island (Psalm 72:10, Isaiah 23:6) at a great distance from Palestine (Isaiah 66:19, Jonah 1:3). It is quite possible that the town Tarshish was located in the territory of the Javanite Tarshish, and that the Book of Genesis suggests that the town was named after the man. In the Old Testament Tarshish is firmly connected with the merchant navy; merchant ships are referred to as 'ships of Tarshish', even when they sail for Ophir. (1 Kings 22:48). The fleet of Israel was most successful under Solomon, who built it in Ezion-geber, near Eloth.
- A Benjaminite (1 Chronicles 7:10).
- One of seven Persian princes (Esther 1:14). Note that the name of one of two aspiring assassins of king Ahasuerus, namely תרש or Teresh (Esther 2:21), seems like a truncated version of Tarshish. And both may have something to do with the Persian governmental title תרשתא tirshatha, usually translated with "governor" (Ezra 2:63, Nehemiah 7:65).
- The Hebrew name of a certain precious stone (perhaps yellow jasper, says BDB Theological Dictionary, but translated chrysolite by NIV and beryl by NAS) is also tarshish (Exodus 28:20).
Etymology of the name Tarshish
These names (and noun) Tarshish come from different languages and have different etymologies. The Persian prince was probably known as Tarshata, meaning His Excellency (says BDB Theological Dictionary). Another suggestion is a relation to the word tarsta, meaning the feared or revered (BDB Theological Dictionary). HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament suggests that the name of the wealthy city Tarshish may mean Refinery, probably in the language of its most likely location.
A Hebrew audience, however, may have connected the name Tarshish to words that occur in the Hebrew language. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names relates the name to the verb רשש (rashash) meaning to beat down, shatter:
Hence Jones translates the name Tarshish with Breaking or Subjection, and the prefix taw would denote a thorough destruction or an ongoing one. But although Tarshish is mentioned here and there as subject of God's wrath (Psalm 48:7, Isaiah 2:16, 23:1), it is mostly known for its great success in the economical arena. Isaiah even predicts that Tarshish is not going to be simply destroyed, as were Sodom and Gomorrah, but that its legacy will one day be employed to service God (60:9). It is unlikely that the name Tarshish is supposed to be linked to a verb that denotes defeat and destruction.
Note that the shish-part of the name Tarshish looks a lot like the word שיש (shayish), meaning alabaster a mostly translucent or white crystal:
And the tar-part looks a lot like תר (tor), meaning dove:
To a Hebrew audience, the name Tarshish may have sounded like White Dove, Dove-White, or Search For Alabaster.