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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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TYRE ( Tsôr ‘rock,’ Joshua 19:29 ) was situated on the coast of Palestine about half-way between Carmel and Beyrout. The narrow strip of land between the sea and the background of mountains was almost inaccessible owing to massive rocky promontories (the most famous being ‘the Ladder of Tyre’), which barred the approach of invaders. The date of the foundation of Tyre is unknown. That given by Herodotus is b.c. 2740, by Josephus about b.c. 1217. Isaiah ( Isaiah 23:7 ) calls her ‘the joyous city whose antiquity is of ancient days’; Strabo, ‘the most ancient of all PhÅ“nicla.’ Her original inhabitants probably came from the Semitic homeland near the Persian Gulf. But Tyre was not ‘the most ancient.’ Isaiah ( Isaiah 23:2; Isaiah 23:12 ) calls her ‘daughter of Sidon ’ (cf. Genesis 10:15 ); Homer mentions ‘Sidonian wares,’ but ignores Tyre. Justin says Sidon suffered so severely at the hands of Ascalon that her trade passed to her daughter Tyre. The Tell el-Amarna letters ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 1430) reveal Abi-milki, king of Tyre, sending appeals to his lord Amenhotep iv. for assistance against the swarms of Khabiri, who were ravaging the land, while the citizens were dying of want on the islets off the coast. At the conquest of Canaan, Joshua assigned the Tyrian territory to Asher, though it was perhaps never occupied ( Joshua 19:29 , but cf. 2 Samuel 24:7 ).

For the next 430 years the city’s history is a blank. It was Hiram , David’s contemporary, who raised Tyre to fame. Old Tyre (Palætyrus), on the mainland, he strongly fortified, its walls being 15 miles in circumference. Hiram now built New Tyre by uniting the scattered islands, half a mile out to sea, till they enclosed an area 2 1 / 2 miles in circumference. At the N. end, two stone piers, about 100 ft. apart, extended E. and W. for 700 ft. These with the shore line embraced an area (the ‘Zidon Harbour’) of 70,000 sq. yds. At the S. end a similar harbour (the ‘Egyptian’), 80,000 sq. yds. In area, was enclosed by a vast pier 200 yds. long, and a breakwater 35 ft. wide and nearly 2 miles in length. The two harbours were united by a canal across the island. The city rose up in tiers of houses, gardens, orchards, and vineyards, and was embellished by a new and splendid temple of Melkarth, a royal palace, and a great piazza (the ‘Eurychorus’) for national assemblies. The city’s wealth was furnished largely from the trade in purple dye, the secret of the extraction of which from two species of murex the Tyrians possessed. The gradual failure of the supply of these shellfish on their own shores led the citizens to become great explorers. Every island and coastline were searched for these precious molluscs. Trade naturally followed. They trafficked up the Nile as far as Memphis; worked copper mines in Cyprus and Crete (cf. Phenice, Acts 27:12 ); erected stations on the Bosporus, the Euxine, and the Crimea; established colonies on the N. African shores, Malta, Sicily, Sardinia, Marseilles, etc., and exploited the gold, silver, lead, and other mines of Spain from their emporium Tartessus (prob. the Tarshish of Genesis 10:4 , Psalms 72:10 , Isaiah 66:19 ). Even the Atlantic was braved, and they worked the tin deposits of Cornwall, and had depôts in the Scilly Isles and the Isle of Wight. Hiram co-operated with David in the erection of the latter’s palace in Jerusalem, sending cedars from Lebanon ( 1 Chronicles 14:1 ). Under Solomon, Tyrian artizans built the Temple on PhÅ“nician models ( 2 Chronicles 2:1-18 ). Hiram and Solomon had joint maritime adventures, Jewish ships with Tyrian seamen trading to Ophlr every three years ( 1 Kings 9:26; 1 Kings 10:22 ). ‘Hiram’s Tomb,’ a massive limestone sarcophagus, is still shown on the shore 6 miles S. of Tyre.

The years following Hiram’s death were very troubled, changes of dynasty occurring through repeated assassinations. At length Eth-baal, by the murder of his brother, seized the throne, and married his daughter Jezebel to Ahab (1 Kings 16:31 ). Some time after the death of Eth-baal a domestic rebellion led to the emigration of the Tyrian princess Elissa, who is said to have fled from Tyre with her murdered husband’s riches and to have founded Carthage, thereby winning fame for herself as the Dido of Virgil’s Æneid . About b.c. 880 Assyria began to interfere with Western politics. Tyre purchased her liberty from Assur-nazir-pal by a heavy indemnity. In d.c. 726 Shalmaneser iv. came against the city, but, having no ships, could not reach the island fortress till he had bribed Sidon to furnish 60 vessels. These the Tyrians, with only 12 ships, easily routed. Shalmaneser retired, leaving a garrison in Old Tyre, which kept up a fruitless blockade for five years. At the next attack, under Sennacherib, Elulæus, the king, fled in despair to Cyprus, the Assyrians appointing a tributary king, Tubaal, in his stead (b.c. 705). Under Esarhaddon, Tyre rebelled. The Assyrians held the shore, and captured Sidon, but Tyre again escaped. In b.c. 664 it submitted to Ashurbanipal on honourable terms. On the decline of Nineveh, Tyre again proclaimed her independence (b.c. 630), and after Nineveh fell (b.c. 606) she reached the zenith of her glory. Ezekiel (27 28) gives a marvellously vivid picture of the island city at this period, yet prophesies her fall on account of her colossal sins.

In the early unsettled days of the New Babylonian Empire the Tyrians entered into a league with Pharaohnecho of Egypt. They were invited to make a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, and even to circumnavigate Africa. The latter feat they accomplished in three years, the voyagers sailing down the E. coast, and reaching the Pillars of Hercules after a feat of unheard-of daring. Nebuchadnezzar II. attacked Tyre, and besieged it for 13 years. Old Tyre was destroyed (Ezekiel 26:7-12 ), but the Babylonian army in vain wearied itself in trying to subdue the island ( Ezekiel 29:18 ). It is probable that the city finally capitulated on favourable terms. The long siege, however, had ruined her commerce, and for 50 years Tyre was a poverty-stricken town. An attempt at a republic did not improve her fortunes. She was involved in the struggle between Nebuchadnezzar II. and Pharaoh-hophra ( Jeremiah 44:30 ). was for a time under Egypt, but finally fell to Babylon, and remained a dependency until the overthrow of the Babylonian Empire. Her humbled state did not change her people’s temper. Their pride ( Ezekiel 28:2 ), their contempt for the rights of man ( Amos 1:9 ), their slave-trading propensities ( Joel 3:4-8 ) are denounced by the Hebrew prophets. In b.c. 538 Cyrus II., the founder of the Persian Empire, ordered Tyrian workmen to assist with Lebanon cedars in the re-building of the Jewish Temple ( Ezekiel 3:7 ). Cambyses II. engaged the Tyrians to supply a fleet for his invasion of Egypt. On his proposing to send them to subdue Carthage they refused, on the score of their blood relationship with the daughter colony of Tyre. Under Artaxerxes Longimanus (b.c. 430) we read of Tyrian fish-merchants at the gates of Jerusalem ( Nehemiah 13:16 ). In the Persian-Greek wars Tyrian fleets fought on the Persian side, till, after the Peace of Antalkidas (b.c. 387), Tyre transferred her allegiance to Persia’s enemies. Artaxerxes III. (Ochus) took fearful vengeance. Sidon disappeared in flame and torrents of blood. Tyre in horror opened her gates, and was spared. In b.c. 332 Alexander the Great appeared in front of the city. The Tyrians declined to allow him to sacrifice personally to Melkarth in their fortress. The memorable siege began. Alexander built a mole 200 ft. wide out towards the island. It was repeatedly destroyed. The defence was desperate and successful, till Alexander invested the city with a fleet of 224 ships. Tyre was stormed, 8000 of her inhabitants massacred, 2000 crucified on the shore, and 30,000 sold into slavery. Tyre ceased to be an island, and henceforth was permanently joined to the mainland. Only a blunt headland to-day suggests the existence of the former island fortress. The mole is now 1 /2 mile broad.

Tyre was again re-peopled. She figured in the wars of the Ptolemys and Seleucldæ. In b.c. 314 Antigonus besieged her for 15 months. After 70 years’ subjection to Egypt she was under Antioch till b.c. 65, when the Romans made her a free city. Some of her citizens came to hear the preaching of Jesus (Mark 3:8 ). Christ visited the neighbourhood ( Mark 7:24-31 ), and got a favourable reception ( Luke 10:13 ). Tyre figured in connexion with St. Paul in Apostolic times ( Acts 12:20; Acts 21:3-7 ). Was the Church in Tyre not a fulfilment of Psalms 87:4 ? A Christian church was built on the site of the Melkarth temple. Origen found refuge in Tyre, and died there. Jerome (4th cent.) speaks of it as the ‘most noble and beautiful city of PhÅ“nicia.’ Captured by the Saracens (a.d. 638), it was recovered (a.d. 1124), and William of Tyre celebrates its fame under the Crusaders. Here was burled Frederick Barbarossa. Saladin was repelled in 1187, but the spot was abandoned in 1291, and the Moslems took possession of it. Tyre has since sunk to a miserable stagnant village, where the waves mournfully crash amid the ruins of her former magnificence.

G. A. Frank Knight.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tyre'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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