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The City of Tyre

Robert I. Bradshaw

 



Map 1: The Location of Tyre

Map 1: The Location of Tyre

1 History of Tyre

The city of Tyre was located on two islands 600-700m from the mainland and 40 km south of Sidon. The prophet Isaiah called her "the old, old city" (Isa. 23:7) and we have evidence that she was inhabited from early in the 3rd millennium BC. The first written reference appears in an Egyptian Execration text dating from c. 1780-1750 BC (Katzenstein & Edwards, 1992). The book of Joshua refers to Tyre a "the fortified city" (19:29), an apt description of a fortress with strong walls ascending from the very edge of the sea (see 1.6). The island had two ports, one on the North side, the other on the South, but lacked agricultural land, an adequate supply of fresh water, fuel and room for burials (Liverani, 1988: 932). The city's population is estimated to have been about 30 000 in its heyday (Katzenstein & Edwards, 1992). To support these inhabitants water and food had to be ferried to the island from the mainland city which contained large freshwater springs (Pritchard, 1955: 477). Mainland Tyre was originally an independent city called Ushu, it later became a suburb of the island city (Liverani, 1988: 933). The city grew rich through its extensive trade in timber with Egypt and in turn relied on Pharoah's protection. We know from the Amarma Letters that as Egyptian power declined during the 12th Century BC the King of Tyre appealed repeatedly to Pharoah for assistance against his rival the King of Sidon. No help was sent and Tyre fell victim to the invasion of the Sea Peoples.

1.1 The Rule of Hiram I. Hiram I of Tyre was an ally of both David and Solomon, assisting them in the construction of Solomon's palace (2 Sam. 5:11-12) and timber for the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 5:1-11). Hiram was no stranger to temple-building, being responsible for the construction of temples dedicated to Ba'al Melqart ("God of the City," patron deity of Tyre and was the Tyrian name for Heracles - Jidejian, 1992:8) and Astarte (Asherah) in Tyre itself (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.18 [116-120]). His major achievement was to join together the two islands and reclaim a large area of land from the sea (Josephus, Against Apion 1:113). Good relations between Tyre and Israel benefited both parties. Tyre depended upon Israel for its food supply (Acts 12:20), while Israel made use of the two major assets of Tyre: its access to the sea-trading routes and its abundant supply of timber (1 Kings 5:8-11) (Patterson & Austel, 1988: 58). During the time of Solomon's major building projects he became indebted to Hiram and gave him twenty towns in Galilee (9:10-11, 14). Hiram was not happy with them and complained to Solomon that they were worthless (9:12-13). Chronicles records that Solomon later rebuilt these towns and resettled them with his own people (2 Chron. 8:2). It is possible either than Hiram refused to accept them, or that he accepted them as collateral and returned them when Solomon had repaid the debt he owed (Dillard, 1987: 63).

The fact that Scripture records Hiram offering praise to Yahweh (1 Kings 5:7; 2 Chron, 2:11-12) does not mean that he was converted. It was common in polytheistic cultures to accept the existence of other people's gods and even enter into their theology to some extent (Keil, 1989: 60). The two kingdoms also co-operated on other projects besides building. Solomon had a fleet of trading ships build at Ezion Geber at the northernmost point in the Red Sea and Hiram supplied him with sailors to man them, for the Israelites had no previous experience on the sea (1 Kings 9:26-28). Solomon's fleet traded with "Ophir" (location uncertain) and returned every three years laden with "gold, silver and ivory, apes and baboons" (10:22).

1.2 Ethbaal, Priest King of Tyre. We know from records preserved by Josephus that Hiram's grandson was killed in a palace coup led by the four sons of his nurse in about 919 BC (Against Apion, 1.22). After him came Astartus, son of Deleastartus, from another family. He in turn was succeeded by his brother Asermymus, who is murdered by his brother Pheles. Pheles only survived eight months before he fell victim to Ethbaal, the priest of Astarte. By this time the kingdom of Tyre had grown to include Sidon and the text of 1 Kings calls him Ethbaal of the Sidonians (Josephus (Antiquities, 8.317). The rule of Ethbaal marked a return to the "golden age" of Hiram I. Tyre's international power and trade increased, demanding an expansion in her harbour. Ezekiel records that Tyre was renowned for her trade, which included:

...slaves, cypress, cedar, oak, ebony, ivory, embroidered linen, purple and scarlet cloth, gold, silver, iron, tin, lead, bronze, horses, mules and other livestock, coral, rubies, corn, wax, honey, tallow, balm, wine, wool and spices. The word cinnamon is Phoenician, as are probably the words cumin, coriander, crocus, myrrh, aloe, balsam, jasper, diamond and sapphire (Bikai, 1992: 48).

Seeking to make an alliance with his powerful neighbour as David had done, Omri of Israel arranged for a marriage of state to take place between his son Ahab and Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal (1 Kings 16:31). It was common practice in the ancient world to allow foreign wives facilities for worshipping their native god(s) in their new homes (Bruce: 1987, 43-44), but Jezebel had different ideas about religious tolerance - and set about exterminating the Lord's prophets (18:4). The ensuing crisis had dramatic repercussions in the royal lines of both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, because Jehoshaphat had cemented his alliance with Ahab with another royal marriage of their children, Jehoram and Athaliah (see 2 Kings 11:1-3) (See Elijah 2).

Table 1: Significant Events in the History of Tyre

Date

Event

988

Hiram I born (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.117).

971

Baleazarus, son of Hiram, born (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.121).

969 BC

Hiram I becomes king of Tyre and rules for 34 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.17).

948

Abdastartus, son of Baleazarus, born (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.22).

935

Hiram I dies is succeeded by his son Baleazarus, who rules for 7 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.117, 21).

928

Baleazarus dies and is succeeded by his son Abdastartus, who reigns 9 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.21).

924

Ethbaal born (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.23).

919

Abdastartus slain in a coup led by the four sons of his nurse. The eldest son takes the throne and rules for 12 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.22).

907

Astartus, son of Deleastartus becomes king and reigns for 12 years . (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.22).

895

Asermymus, brother of Astartus becomes king and rules for 9 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.23).

c. 887

Asermymus killed by his brother Pheles and reigns for 8 months (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.23).

c. 887

Ethbaal, priest of Baal Melqart, overthrows Pheles and becomes King of Tyre and rules 32 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.23).

868

Ashurnasirpal II of Assyria makes Tyre a vassal state and demands tribute.

855 (?)

Ethbaal dies and is succeeded by his son Badezorus, who reigned 6 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.23-24).

849 (?)

Baal-azzor (Matgenus) succeeds his father and reigns for 9 years (Josephus, Against Apion, 1.24).

841

Jezebel slain in Jehu's purge.

820

Pygmalion becomes king of Tyre.

833

Date given for the founding of Carthage by Menander the Ephesian, cited by Josephus (Against Apion, 1.25).

814/815

Carthage founded.

774

Pygmalion dies.

738

Ethbaal II brings tribute to Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria (744-727).

724

Assyrians under Shalmaneser V lay siege to Tyre.

720

Assyrian siege ends after the surrender of the mainland city to Sargon II (721-705).

701

Tyre stops paying tribute and is besieged by Sennacherib (704-681) for five years who recaptured the mainland city.

c.700

Tyrian ships named "the pillars of Hercules" and sail out of the Mediterranean.

672

Tyre besieged by Esarshaddon, but is not taken.

668/667

Tyre besieged by Ashurbanipal, but is not taken.

663

Tyre surrenders to Ashurbanipal.

605

Assyrian Empire ends and Tyre becomes a vassal state of Babylon.

586

Nebuchadnezzar besieges Tyre for 13 years.

573

Mainland city captured, but everything of value removed to the island.

539

Tyre accepts the rule of Cyrus the Persian and becomes a Persian vassal for the next two centuries.

352

Sidon rebels against Persian rule and is burnt to the ground by its defenders.

332

Alexander the Great captures Tyre after a 7 month siege.

48 BC

Tyre surrenders the contents of her temple treasury to Caesar to pay for her support of Pompey.

335 AD

Church Council of Tyre.

502

Half of Tyre destroyed an earthquake on August 22.

551

Tyre again badly damaged by an earthquake.

636

Tyre surrenders to Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan and his brother Mucawiyah and becomes a Muslim city.

969

Tyre becomes part of the Egyptian Fatimid Empire.

1111

The Crusader Baldwin I besieges Tyre unsuccessfully for 5 months.

1124

Tyre surrenders to the Crusaders on June 29th..

1187

The crusaders besieged by Salah-al-Din from November 8th until January 3 1188.

1291

Tyre falls to the Mamluks on May 19th. The city was destroyed as part of a "scorched earth" policy.

1516

Tyre became part of the Ottoman Empire.

1766

Tyre comes under the rule of Zahiral-cUmar of Safad (in Palestine) who rebuilt the city walls.

1832

Governorship of Tyre transferred to Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt. Walls and gates rebuilt. Population begins to grow.


1.3 Tyre Under Assyrian Rule. Following the death of Ethbaal the order of succession within the royal house becomes uncertain as Josephus' records do not agree within themselves or with other sources (Against Apion, 1.124-127). During this period Tyre's importance as a trading and naval power continued to grow, making it the leading naval power. Carthage, the most important of Tyre's colonies was founded in 815/814 by Elissa (Dido), elder sister of King Pygmalion of Tyre (820-774) and great granddaughter of Ethbaal. Since the decline of Egyptian power in the 12th century Tyre had enjoyed political independence, but with the rise of the Assyrian Empire during the 9th century this came to an end when in 868 Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) extended his empire to the Mediterranean coast. The Tyrians' consistent policy was to offer tribute rather than engage in warfare, but when in 724 Shalmaneser laid siege to the city for five years he found himself outmatched by the powerful Tyrian navy.

Accordingly, when the Tyrians would not submit to him, the king returned, and fell upon them again, while the Phoenicians had furnished him with threescore ships, and eight hundred men to row them; and when the Tyrians had come upon them in twelve ships, and the enemy's ships were dispersed, they took five hundred men prisoners, and the reputation of all the citizens of Tyre was thereby increased; but the king of Assyria returned, and placed guards at their rivers and aqueducts, who should hinder the Tyrians from drawing water. This continued for five years; and still the Tyrians bore the siege, and drank of the water they had out of the wells they dug." And this is what is written in the Tyrian archives concerning Shalmaneser, the king of Assyria (Josephus, Antiquities, 9.285-287).

Although on that occasion Shalmaneser took the mainland city he was unable to capture the island and was forced to place guards to deny the Tyrians access to the mainland springs until the islanders submitted to him. In 705 Tyre withheld tribute following the death of Sargon and as a result was besieged by his son Sennacherib (704-681) in 701 for five years. Sennacherib captured the mainland city (Bruce, 1987: 70-71) forced the king of Tyre to flee to Cyprus and replaced him with a loyal vassal (Bright, 1980: 285-286). Despite these incidents Tyre generally benefited from the existence of the Assyrian Empire with whom she traded freely (Bikai, 1992: 48-49).

1.4 Nebuchadnezzar's Campaign Against Tyre. In 605 Assyrian rule was brought to an end by the Babylonian victory at Carchemish. By 594/593 we find Tyre plotting along with Sidon, Judah, Edom, Ammon and Moab against Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 27:3) (Bright, 1980: 329). No co-ordinated strategy of rebellion seems to have come from that meeting, for we know only of Nebuchadnezzar's subsequent campaigns against Judah in 589 (2 Kings 24:20b-25:21), Ammon (Ezek. 21:18-23) and Tyre in 586 (26-28; 29:17-20) (Miller & Hayes, 1986: 413).

In 586 BC Nebuchadnezzar brought his forces against Tyre.

This siege lasted for 13 years, during which the Babylonian soldiers aged (Ezekiel 29:18): "Their heads have all gone bald, their shoulders are all chafed," all to no avail as Tyre did not capitulate (Bikai: 1992, 52).

At the end of thirteen years Nebuchadnezzar had little to show for all his efforts. He had captured the mainland city and left it in ruins, but he won none of the cities great wealth (Ezek. 26:7-14; 29:17-18). The island city grudgingly acknowledged his suzerainty, but remained a semi-independent state (Bright, 1980: 352), although her king and the royal family were deported to Babylon. More significantly the political change caused by the rise of Babylon effectively ended much of the cities trade links to the East and the city began to decline (Bikai, 1992: 52). Shortly afterwards two of her largest colonies, Carthage and Kitton, declared itself independent in an attempt to counter Greek expansion in the western Mediterranean.

1.5 Tyre Under Persian Rule. Tyre achieved a certain degree of independence once more under the Persian rule. She assisted the Persians in their campaigns, providing them with naval forces. In 352 Sidon was destroyed in an uprising against the Persians and for the next 20 years Tyre was free from the competition of its old rival (Bikai, 1992: 52-53).

1.6 Alexander's Conquest of Tyre. Alexander the Great's dealings with Tyre are described in detail by two ancient historians: Arrian and Quintus Curtius Rufus (1st century AD). During his southward march of conquest against the waning Persian Empire Alexander received envoys from Tyre with courtesy (Rufus, History, 4.2.2), but when they refused to allow him to enter their city (ostensibly in order to worship their chief deity, Hercules) he became angry (Rufus, 4.2.3-5; Arrian, 2.15.6-7; 2.16.7.). Confident of their security in their island fortress and bolstered by promises of support from Carthage, the Tyrians decided to fight, murdering a party of heralds sent by Alexander with terms of peace (Rufus, 4.2.6-7, 10-12, 15).


Figure 1: Alexander the Great's Conquest of Tyre

Figure 1: Alexander's Conquest of Tyre

The Tyrians had good reasons for their confidence: Alexander's navy was some distance away (Rufus, 4.2.15) and so to take the island by force would require the construction of an artificial causeway, called a mole (see Figure 1). This was a mammoth undertaking because the island was located in deep water (up to 5.5 metres near the walls). A strong south-westerly wind brought a constant battering of waves against the shore. Besides the natural obstacles the Tyrians were well equipped with an array of missiles that could be fired from the 45 m high walls (Rufus, 4.2.7-9; Arrian, 2.21.4). His hand forced by the murder of the heralds, Alexander had no choice but to commit his forces to a siege (Rufus, 4.2.15). The soldiers found a ready supply of rock near at hand, in the form of the rubble of old mainland Tyre, while timber was brought from Mt. Libanus (Rufus, 4.2.18). At first the Tyrians seem to have underestimated the threat it posed because the construction of the mole was well under way before they began to attack it (Rufus, 4.2.19-21). Their command of the sea allowed them to launch rapid sorties around the mole, while raiding parties landing on the coast attacked the Macedonians carrying stones (Rufus, 4.2.22-24).

Frustrated by the length of time the siege was taking Alexander decided to take a detachment of the army to Arabia. On his return he found the mole all but ruined. The Tyrians had beached a fire-ship on the mole and razed to the ground the two towers built on the mole to protect the soldiers as they worked. In addition a sudden storm had swept away the centre of mole (Rufus, 4.3.1-7). Alexander responded by having his men start again, this time building the mole into the wind, and making it wide enough to support towers along its centre (Rufus, 4.3.7-8). The Tyrians too developed new tactics, sending divers to drag away the logs supporting the stones and soil, so that the remaining materials collapsed into deep water (Rufus, 4.3.9-10).


Table 2: The Constitution of Alexander's Navy During the Siege of Tyre

No. of ships

Origin

80

Sidon, Aradus, Byblus

10

Rhodes

3

Soli & Mallus

10

Lycia

1

Macedon

120

Cyprus

Source: Arrian, 2.20.1-3

The turning point in the campaign came with the arrival of Alexander's fleet from Cyprus (Rufus, 4.3.11-12) (see Table 2). The Tyrians had now lost their superiority on the water, and some began to evacuate their wives and children (Rufus, 4.3.20), while others resorted to human sacrifices to the gods (Rufus, 4.3.23). Nevertheless they still continued to defend their city (Rufus, 4.3.24-26). A naval engagement resulted in the loss of nearly all of the Tyrian fleet (Rufus, 4.4.6-19) and two days later Alexander launched his main assault in which he himself played no small part (Rufus, 4.4.9-10). The wall was breached and the defenders vanquished, Alexander paying them back for the lives they had claimed by crucifying 2 000 of them along the wall (Rufus, 4.4.12-18) and selling 20 000 into slavery (Arrian, 2.24.5). The city had taken him six months to capture (Rufus, 4.4.19).

1.7 Tyre After Alexander. The history of the city did not end there, however. Eighteen years after Alexander captured the city it was again besieged, this time by Antigonus, one of Alexander's generals. That the city was far from indefensible is demonstrated by the fact that it took 15 months for Antigonus to capture it. Far greater than the damage caused by Alexander's siege was the reopening of the canal connecting the Red Sea with Egyptian port of Alexandria. This diverted much of the trade that had formerly passed through Tyre. Over the centuries the city changed hands on numerous occasions (see Table 1), but it was not until it was recaptured by Moslems from the Crusaders in 1291 that the city was finally ruined (Jidejian, 1992: 10). Despite several attempts to re-establish the city it never regained its former glory.


2 Tyre in Prophecy

The Bible contains a number of specific prophesies concerning Tyre. Many of these prophecies have been cited used by apologists in defence of the divine origin of Scripture because their fulfilment was very accurate. It is therefore worth examining each in some detail.

2.1 The Lord's Case Against Tyre. The city of Tyre grew extremely rich through its extensive trade with the nations of the world. This proverbial wealth is referred to in numerous passages in Scripture (Isa. 23:3; Ezek. 27:2-28; Hosea 9:13; Zech. 9:3). The close relationship between Solomon and Hiram clearly benefited both partners and is reflected in Psalm 45:12 (a royal wedding psalm) where it is the people of Phoenicia ("daughters of Tyre") who are the men of wealth bringing gifts for the bride of the son of David. After Hiram's reign the relationship between the two kingdoms was less positive. Omri formed a marriage alliance between his son and the family of the Ethbaal which proved disastrous for the true worshippers of the Lord in both Israel and Judah. From that time on biblical references to Tyre are far less positive and Psalm 83:4 lists Tyre amongst the enemies of Judah.

2.2 Specific Charges. The Prophets makes several charges against Tyre based on her treatment of the Covenant People.

2.2.1 Pride. The city's great wealth and power filled its ruler and his people with pride. As noted above, the Tyrians paid tribute when they were forced to, but felt secure within their island stronghold which, as yet, had never fallen to direct assault (Isa. 23:9; Ezek. 28:1-19).

2.2.2 Rejoicing in the Misfortunes of Judah. Following the fall of Jerusalem Ezekiel records that Tyre celebrated and hoped to benefit as a result (Ezek. 26:2). Joel and Amos record that Tyre through her slave trading was directly involved in the suffering of the people of Judah after 586 BC (Joel 3:2-6; Amos 1:9-10).

2.2.3 Breaking a Covenant. Amos refers to a treaty of brotherhood being set aside (Amos 1:9). It is possible that this refers to the COVENANT made between Solomon and Hiram I (1 Kings 5:12).

2.3 Consequences of the Sins of Tyre. The prophets predicted that the Lord would bring judgement upon Tyre. Many nations would attack Tyre like the beating of the waves on the seashore (Ezek. 26:3), starting with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon 26:6-12; cf. Jer. 47:4). Nebuchadnezzar's army would receive no reward from their campaign against mainland Tyre, but the Lord would give him Egypt instead (Ezek. 29:17-20). The city will be reduced to ruins (26:2; Isa. 23:1, 11) and be subject to Babylon for seventy years (see EXILE). After that it would be allowed to return to its trading (Isa. 23:17-18; Jer. 25:22). The rubble from the city would be thrown into the sea and its treasures taken (Ezek. 26:12). The proud city would become a bare rock (26:4) and would become a place for the spreading of fishing nets (Ezek. 26:5, 14).

With the benefit of hindsight we can see that they prophecies were fulfilled with remarkable accuracy. Nebuchadnezzar did ruin the mainland city and make the island subject to him. It was only after his Empire ended that Tyre regained some of her autonomy under the Persians.

The fulfilment of other prophecies are less easy to identify. Zechariah 9:4 predicts that the city would be consumed by fire, but there is no historical record of the city being burnt. Lack of evidence, of course, is not proof of non-fulfilment, but it is possible that this is an example of prophetic hyperbole and is not meant to be taken literally. The same might be said about Ezekiel's prophecy that the city would never be rebuilt (Ezek. 26:14), which is demonstrable untrue if it refers to the aftermath of Alexander's conquest. However, as Douglas Stuart explains:

...the purposeful hyperbole of the prophecy should not be misunderstood literalistically to imply that Tyre would never have habitation after Ezekiel's time. The point, rather, is that God would judge and punish this state, so powerful and successful from a worldly standpoint, because it is the plan of God that eventually all nations will be humbled before Him and that His people alone would enjoy His permanent blessing (Stuart, 1989: 261).

However one understands the prophecy it is a matter of record that visitors to Tyre in the 19th Century reported that the once great city was now a place for the spreading of fishermen's nets (Ezek. 26:5).


3 Tyre in the New Testament

Tyre appears several times in the Gospel accounts. Jesus spent some time ministering in the region of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21). There he ministered to the daughter of a Syrophoenecian woman who was possessed by an evil spirit (15:22-28; Mark 7:24-31) Afterwards he compared the response he had had in the cities of the Gentiles with that in the towns of Galilee (Matt. 11:21-22; Luke 10:13-14, cf. Psalm 87:4) and many people from that region followed him (Mark 3:8; Luke 6:17).

Luke records a details of dispute between Herod and the people of Tyre and Sidon. It demonstrates that Tyre was still dependent on Judea for its food supply (Acts 12:20). Tyre still remained a port (21:3, 7), if only a shadow of its former glory.

© 1999 Robert I. Bradshaw

Bibliography

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