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Tarshish (Hebrew: תרשיש, Tarshīsh; "smelter," "refiner") was a son of Javan and brother of Elishah, Kittim, and Dodanim, according to Genesis 10:4 .



The Western Tarshish

The root form of Tarshish is rasasu which means "to be smelted." Tarsisu is derived from this root and means a "smelting-pant" or "refinery."[1] The inhabitants of Tarshish were called Tharsians or Tarseaiium in times of old. They founded the city of Tarsus or Tharsos in Cilicia, Asia Minor (see Acts 9:11 , 30; 11:25; 21:39; 22:3) before one group branched off westwards. The Assyrians called it Tarzu.[2] The peoples of Tarshish have marks of their migration left behind them in the Mediterranean. For instance, a monumental inscription bearing the name of Tarshish was erected by the Phoenicians in Sardinia.

The famous Biblical character, Jonah, attempted to flee to Tarshish:

"But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD."Jonah 1:3

Tarshish was a city-port on the Mediterranean sea-coast. Bible scholars state it may be found in southern Spain.[3] For in Spain lay the city of Tartessos. According to Herodotus[4] and Strabo, Tartessos is where Cádiz now stands. Carteria on the Bay of Gibraltar was also known as Tartessus.[5] The Tarshish of southern and central Spain was noted, for it's silver, iron, tin and lead.[6] (compare with Ezekiel 27:12 ). It is no wonder they were named "Tartessos" ("to be smelted").

King Ahasuerus (i.e. Xerxes, reigned c. 485-464 BC) "laid a tribute upon the land, and upon the isles of the sea" (Esther 10:1 ). This may have included Tarshish as his empire probably had interests there at the height of his power.[7] One of his chief counselors was actually named Tarshish (Esther 1:14 ). This was often done in those times as high-ranking persons were often named after distant provinces.[8]

One of Benjamin's grandsons was called Tarshish (1 Chronicles 7:10 ), which may indicate that a part of that tribe either lived in Spain or traded with it. The heart of the Tarshish civilization was Andalusia in southern Spain, before spreading northwards. Their arts and industries indicates a striking similarity to those of the Phoenician Canaanites and Greeks. The Greeks and Canaanites also established trading colonies in Spain, but this did little to alter the original racial strain.

The Eastern Tarshish

The peoples descended from Javan mutated into two different racial types; one remaining the original olive-skinned Caucasian phenotype; the other a yellow-skinned Asiatic type. Undoubtedly the eastern branch of Tarshish, dwelling anciently in Asia Minor, migrated with Kittim, a similar-looking people, into the Far East. A branch of Elishah may have traveled with them. Chambers, in one publication, asserts that there was indeed an eastern Tarshish, but feels that it is in India.[9]

Where did the eastern Tarshish finally put down roots? The Bible gives us plenty of clues:

"For the king had a fleet of ships of Tarshish at sea with the fleet of Hiram. Once every three years the fleet of ships of Tarshish used to come bringing gold, silver, ivory, apes, and peacocks."1 Kings 10:22
"Jehoshaphat made ships of Tarshish to go to Ophir for gold, but they did not go, for the ships were wrecked at Ezion-geber."1 Kings 22:48

These scriptures speak in terms of a sea port to Tarshish at Ezion-geber on the Red Sea coast. The New Bible Commentary maintains that although these ships went as far as India, they could not have circumvented Africa to get to western Tarshish (Spain)[10] as this would have taken too long and would have been uneconomical. This commentary concludes that a careless scribal error must have slipped into the two accounts of Tarshish in 2 Chronicles.[11] Two scribal errors of the same nature in one book? How preposterous. Instead here is a mention of an eastern Tarshish, a possibility most scholars overlook.

The same Commentary admits that there was more than one Tarshish and that there may have been one in the Orient, but rejects the idea because there is no record of such a port.[12] We shall see. Custance also believes such, but admits that it is impossible to think in terms of ships of Tarshish bringing ivory, apes, and peacocks from Spain.[13] And the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia[14] states that there was a Tarshish accessible from Ezion-geber[15]

Back to the scripture first quoted. The words used here of apes and peacocks are Indian (Tamil), not Hebrew.[16] The Tarshish of Jonah and the Tarshish of Solomon were evidently two different colonies. Jonah reached his from a port called Joppa on the Mediterranean (Jonah 1:3 ) while Solomon's navy reached theirs from Ezion-geber on the Red Sea gulf of the Indian Ocean (1 Kings 10:22 ). The Hebrew word used for "ape" is קוף, Koph, is regarded by the best some Oriental scholars (Wilhelm Gesenius, Julius Fürst, Max Müller, etc.) as identical with the Sanskrit and Tamil Kapi (कापी and காபி).[17] But a more definite case is furnished by the peacocks; the Hebrew name Tukkiim (תכיים) appears to be the very same as the Tamil tokei or togëi (டோகி), the name by which peacocks were called on the Malabar coast and in Sri Lanka. All the evidence that exists on the point seems to prove that the peacock came originally from India. So this would indicate that the ships to and from Tarshish stopped over in India on the way back to Israel.

Josephus renders the same verse as "ivory, Ethiopians, and Apes."[18] The Hebrew here for "Ethiopians" is Sukkiim (סכיים). There were no Black Cushitic peoples in Spain. They were only in Africa and India. Here is further proof that there was an eastern Tarshish. Undoubtedly, as stated previously, Tarshish migrated with Kittim. They stayed with Kittim for a time in northern China. The Chinese Yuan-Yuan Empire and Yunnan region take their names from Javan, father of Tarshish. The peoples of Persia called those descended from Javan in Asia Minor, Yuna or Yuana.[19] In addition, the island of Java in Indonesia may be named after him.

In China, along the coast, there was a people called the Three Han by the early Chinese writers. Han may be a derivation of Javan or Yahan. They were recognized as being a very different people to the rest of the Chinese. The three were the Ma-Han, Shon-Han and the Pien-Han. There is, as Bishop writes, a very close relationship between them and the people who settled Japan.[20] No doubt they were the very ones who settled Japan later. Their culture may be described as partly Chinese and partly central Asian,[21] where the Scythians were. Hurlimann traces them back to central Asia[22] and Japanese traditions maintain they originated in the far west of Asia.[23]

The ancient maps, says Professor Odlum, show the Sacæ or Saka right across south Siberia and into Korea.[24] The name Saka is found in Japan, even on modern maps: Sakai (near Osaka), Saeki, Sakaiminato, Sakata, Sakishima, and Sakurai. In addition, the burial customs of the Japanese as revealed in the ancient tombs resemble those of the Scythians, says Hurlimann.[25]

Hurlimann continues: the ancient Japanese constructed dolmens. They were radically different to those in Korea; and the Chinese built none. Another proof, he says, that the Chinese and Japanese (in the main) are ethnologically dissimilar.[26] In fact, the dolmens of Japan are similar to those in the West and no dolmens are found east of the Caspian Sea.[27]

It is not generally known that the Japanese claim in their tradition to have been led to the island of Japan by a symbolic three-legged sun-crow (it appears somewhat like a swastika in shape).[28] It is interesting that the only other area of the world where one finds such symbols are the regions of southern Turkey. Josephus wrote that "Tharsus [gave his name] to the Tharsians; for so was Cilicia of old called."[29] Therefore it should come as no surprise that the ancient capital of Cicilia was Tarsus. Is this where the Japanese first settled after the Tower of Babel incident?

Of further interest is the statement in a Japanese document compiled in 720 AD, the Nihon Shoki (日本書紀; The Chronicles of Japan), that Ninigi (瓊瓊杵), a forefather of their race, had four sons. This may have been Javan, who also had four sons. From one of these sons descended the Japanese emperor Jemmu Tenno. This son was named Po-wori which means "Fire Bender" and may be compared to Tarshish which means "smelter" or "refiner."


When the Spaniards first encountered the Japanese, they referred to them as "the Spaniards of Asia"—by which they meant the Tarshish of Asia.[30] This is where the eastern Tarshish is—in Japan. The Spanish were aware of the presence of Tarshish in Spain in ancient times. Francisco Colin in his Native Races and Their Customs writes:

The principle settler in these archipeligoes was Tharsis, son of Java, together with his brothers.[31]

Where does the name Japan come from? Very likely from Javan. The name Jih'pún (日本) was used by the Chinese of them and later came to mean, "rising sun." The Japanese people, themselves, refer to themselves as Nihonjin (日本人) and to their language as Nihongo (日本語). Both Nippon (にっぽん) and Nihon (にほん)—the Japanese name for Japan—mean "sun-origin" and are often translated as "Land of the Rising Sun."

The Kittim in northeastern China are taller than the Magogites, have lighter skins and are fairly dolichocephalic. The Japanese, say anthropologists, are related to the former.[32] And at least 20% of the northern Chinese in build, proportion and features resemble Mediterranean-Middle Eastern peoples.[33] So say anthropologists.

In Japan today, four primary sub-racial groups may be identified:

1. The Okayama: The ruling class who are taller and more European-looking than the rest; they have a complexion ranging from yellow to almost pure white; small mouth, finer features and slender build; they live many in the north.[34] These are the descendants of Tarshish. Buxton adds that they came from Korea and Manchuria originally,[35] near where Kittim settled. Haddon asserts that they descend from Bronze Age conquerers who came from Central Asia while many others reveal Malayo-Polynesian origins.[36]
2. The Ishikawa / Chikuzen: A darker strain, related directly to the central Chinese; these have prominent cheek-bones, large mouth, heavily boned physique. They are a mixture of the Chinese and Korean invaders with the original inhabitants.[37][38] These are from Magog.
3. The Satsuma: A very dark proto-Malay[39] or southeast Asian strain; they number so few as to be almost negligible; they probably drifted into Japan via the Kuroshio Current which sweeps northward from the Philippines; these dwell mainly in the extreme south.[40] They descend from Ashkenaz.
4. The Ainu: These interesting people are a mixture of proto-Nordic, Australoid, and Mongoloid;[41][42] approximately 25,000 thousand of them are extant today.[43] These remarkable people have such European features as oval eyes, heavy distribution of hair throughout the body, thin lips and well-developed jaws and chin.[44]

Thus, as Buxton maintains, from a physical anthropological point of view, the Japanese are not a mere offshoot of the Chinese race, but a totally different stock, related to them.[45] They also have a higher percentage of wavier hair than the Chinese; the length of head is greater and the cranium smaller. The face is narrower and the eye-fold less developed.[46]

See Also

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  1. Douglas, J (ed) New Bible Dictionary. Inter-Varsity Press, London. (et al): p. 1239
  2. Simon, J (1959) The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament. E J Brill, Leiden, Holland: p. 89
  3. Blaikloch, E & Harrison, R (1983) The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology. Zondervan, Michigan: p. 435
  4. Herodotus, Histories: iv.152
  5. Custance, A (1975) Noah's Three Sons. Zondervan, Michigan: p. 95
  6. Pliny, Natural History 4.20
  7. Gordon, C (1971) Before Columbus. Crown Publishers, New York: p. 200
  8. Ibid.
  9. Chambers, A (1989) "Account on Archaeology," The Australian Christadelphian Shield, October: 9-12
  10. Guthrie, D (1970) The New Bible Commentary Revised. Inter Varsity Press, London. (et al) (eds): p. 386. See also p. 335
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Custance, A (1975) Noah's Three Sons. Zondervan, Michigan: p. 94
  14. Bromiley, G (1988) (ed) International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Eerdmans, Michigan. (et al): p. 734
  15. Simon, J (1959) The Geographical and Topographical Texts of the Old Testament. E J Brill, Leiden, Holland: 88
  16. Bullinger,E (c. 1890) The Companion Bible. Samuel Bagster & Sons, London: p. 466
  17. Duns, J (1863) Biblical Natural Science. (Vol. 2). William MacKenzie, London, p. 278
  18. Josephus Antiquities 8:7:2
  19. Rapson, E (1914) Ancient India. Cambridge University Press, London: p. 86
  20. Bishop, C (1925) "The Historical Geography of Japan", Annual Report of the Smithsonian: p. 556
  21. Ibid: p. 558
  22. Hurlimann, M (1970) Japan. Thames & Hudson, London: p. 90
  23. Odlum, E (1937) Who are the Japanese? Vancouver, Canada: p. 17
  24. Ibid: p. 27
  25. Hurlimann, M (1970) Japan. Thames & Hudson, London: p. 44
  26. Ibid: p. 90
  27. Ibid.
  28. Nihon Shoki: Bk. III, Section 11
  29. Josephus Antiquities 1.6.1
  30. San Augustin's letter on the Filipinos, s.5
  31. Quoted in Blair, E & Robertson, J (c. 1900) The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898, (Vol. 40): p. 192
  32. Huxley, F (1974) Peoples of the World in Colour. Blandford Press, London: p. 160
  33. Broek, J (1968) A Geography of Mankind. McGraw-Weber, J Hill, New York: p. 83
  34. Brinkley, F (1903) Japan and China (Vol 1). T.C.&E.C. Jack, London: p. 38
  35. Buxton, D (1925) The Peoples of Asia. Kegan Paul, London: p. 217-19
  36. Haddon, AC (1912) The Wandering of Peoples. Oxford University Press: p. 40
  37. Brinkley, F (1903) Japan and China (Vol. 1). T.C. & E.C. Jack, London: p. 38
  38. Buxton, D (1925) The Peoples of Asia. Kegan Paul, London: p. 217-19
  39. Ibid.
  40. Brinkley, F (1903) Japan and China (Vol 1). T.C. & E.C. Jack, London: p. 38
  41. Hurlimann, M (1970) Japan. Thames & Hudson, London: p. 90
  42. Storry, R (1968) A History of Modern Japan. Penguin, Middlesex: p. 24
  43. Poisson, B (2002) The Ainu of Japan, Lerner Publications, Minneapolis, p. 5
  44. Befau, H (1971) Japan. Chandler Pub Co., San Francisco: p. 15.
  45. Buxton, D (1925) The Peoples of Asia. Kegan Paul, London: p. 215
  46. Levin, M (1963) Ethnic Origins of the Peoples of Northeastern Asia. University of Toronto Press, Toronto: p. 316-17

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