🔼The name Tarshish: Summary
- His Excellency
- Breaking, Subjection
- White Dove, Search For Alabaster
- Courage, Confidence
- From a Persian phrase.
- From the verb רשש (rashash), to beat down, shatter.
- From (1) the noun שיש (shayish), white alabaster, and (2) the noun תר (tor), dove.
- From θαρσος (tharsos), courage or confidence.
🔼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). This name is spelled תרשישה (Tarshishah) in 1 Chronicles 1:7, but the -ah ending may in fact stem from a locative suffix that means toward or unto, so that it could refer to the range of the sons of Javan: all the way to Tarshish.
- 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:
The verb רשש (rashash) means to break down or shatter. It's used only twice in the Bible and has no derivatives.
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 economic 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 (Isaiah 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:
There's an odd correlation between the color white and the number six. The nouns שש (shesh) and שיש (shayish) mean alabaster, which is a whitish translucent material. The identical word שש (shesh) means six. The noun שושן (shushan) describes the lily, which has six leaves and is proverbially white. The adjective ישש (yashesh) or ישיש (yashish) means old or white-haired.
The relatively rare verb שוש (sus) or שיש (sis) means to exult or rejoice, and its nouns ששון (sason) and משוש (masos) mean exultation, joy or gladness. Despite their similarity to the previous, these words seem to have little to do with the number six or being white, which is possibly why these words were pointed differently in the Middle Ages (the previous words have sh-sounds while these words have s-sounds).
And the tar-part looks a lot like תר (tor), meaning dove:
The verb תור (tur) means to explore or survey and associates with a broad, circular or sweeping motion. Noun תור (tor) or תר (tor) appears to describe a circular braid of hair. Noun יתור (yetur), seems to mean a searching or range. Noun תר (tor) or תור (tor) means dove or turtledove.
Note that likewise the Greek word for dove, namely περιστερα (peristera), appears to be derived from the prefix περι (peri) meaning around or about. This suggests that to the ancients the dove stood symbol for abundance and being all around and everywhere, which explains the bodily form of the Holy Spirit.
Verb תאר (ta'ar) means to outline or trace. Noun תאר (to'ar), means shape or form. Verb תאר (ta'ar), meaning to draw an outline.
Greek speakers would have certainly noted that the Greek version of our name (as it appears in the Septuagint), namely Θαρσος (Tharsos), is identical to the noun θαρσος (tharsos), meaning courage or confidence:
The noun θαρσος (tharsos) means courage or confidence. The derived verb θαρσεω (tharseo) means to have confidence and occurs in the New Testament only in the imperative mood: have confidence! be courageous!
To a Hebrew audience, the name Tarshish may have sounded like White Dove, Dove-White, or Search For Alabaster. To the Greek, it sounded like Confidence.