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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Ships and Boats
1. Among the Hebrews
(1) In Early Times
(2) During the Monarchy
(3) In Later Times
2. Among Neighboring Nations
(2) Assyria and Babylonia
3. General References
1. In the Gospels
2. In the Acts of the Apostles
3. In Other Books
In the Old Testament the following words are found:
(1) The word most commonly used in Hebrew for "a ship" is אניּה ,
The collective term for "a navy of ships" is אני ,
(2) צי ,
(3) ספינה ,
In Apocrypha πλοῖον ,
In the New Testament there are four words in use: (1) ναῦς ,
Cognate expressions are: "shipmen," אניּות אנשׁי ,
I. The Hebrews and the Sea.
The Hebrews were a pastoral and agricultural people, and had no inducements to follow a seafaring life. They were possessed of a considerable seaboard along the Mediterranean, but the character of their coast gave little encouragement to navigation. The coast line of the land of Israel from Carmel southward had no bays and no estuaries or river-mouths to offer shelter from storm or to be havens of ships. Solomon landed his timber and other materials for the Temple at Joppa, and tradition has handed down what is called "Solomon's Harbor" there. The builders of the second temple also got timber from Lebanon and conveyed it to Joppa. It was Simon Maccabeus, however, who built its harbor, and the harbor at Joppa was "the first and only harbor of the Jews" (G. A. Smith,
II. Ships in the Old Testament and Apocrypha.
1. Among the Hebrews:
(1) In Early Times.
In the early books of the Old Testament there are references connecting certain of the tribes, and these northern tribes, with the activities of the sea. In the "Blessing of Jacob" and in the "Blessing of Moses" Zebulun and Issachar are so connected (Genesis 49:13; Deuteronomy 33:19 ); and in Deborah's Song, which is acknowledged to be a very early fragment of Hebrew literature, Dan and Asher are also spoken of as connected with the life and work of the sea (Judges 5:17 ). The Oracle of Balaam (Numbers 24:24 ) looks forward to a day when a fleet from Kittim should take the sea for the destruction of Assyria. "Ships of Kittim" are mentioned in Daniel (Daniel 11:30 ). Kittim is referred to in the three greater Prophets (Isaiah 23:1 , Isaiah 23:12; Jeremiah 2:10; Ezekiel 27:6 ). The land of Kittim is Cyprus, and in the references in Isaiah it is associated with Tyre and the ships of Tarshish.
(2) During the Monarchy.
It is not till the time of the monarchy that the Hebrews begin to figure as a commercial people. Already in the time of David commercial relations had been established between Israel and Tyre (2 Samuel 5:11 f). The friendly cooperation was continued by Solomon, who availed himself not only of the cedar and the fir at Hiram's command on Lebanon, but also of the skilled service of Hiram's men to bring the timber from the mountains to the sea. Hiram also undertook to make the cedar and the fir into rafts ( 1 Kings 5:9 , דּברות ,
Tarshish is the name of the Phoenician colony on the river Tartessus, called also Baetis, the modern Guadalquivir. It was the farthest limit of the western world as known to the Hebrews. Attempts have been made to identify it with Tarsus of Cilicia, but they are not convincing. It is conceived of in Hebrew literature as remote (Isaiah 66:19; Jonah 1:3; Jonah 4:2 ), as rich (Psalm 72:10; Jeremiah 10:9 ), as powerful in commerce (Ezekiel 38:13 ). Ships of Tarshish were no doubt ships actually built for the Tarshish trade (2 Chronicles 20:36 f; Jonah 1:3 ), but the expression became a general designation for large sea-going vessels to any quarter. Ships of Tarshish made a deep impression upon the imagination of the Hebrew people. The Psalmist takes it as a proof of the power of Yahweh that He breaks the ships of Tarshish with an east wind (Psalm 48:7 ). Isaiah includes them among the great and lofty objects of power and glory which the terror of the Lord would certainly overtake (Isaiah 2:16 ). Ezekiel regards them as the caravans that bore the merchandise of the mistress of the sea (Ezekiel 27:25 ). It is in ships of Tarshish that the prophet of the Return sees the exiles borne in crowds to Jerusalem as their natural home (Isaiah 60:9 ).
From Solomon's time onward the kings of Judah retained their hold upon Eloth (1 Kings 22:48 f; 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 ) till it was seized by the Syrians in the days of Ahaz (2 Kings 16:6 ).
(3) In Later Times.
As Solomon had the cooperation of Hiram in securing material and craftsmen for the building of the first Temple, so Joshua and Zerubbabel by the favor of Cyrus obtained timber from Lebanon, and masons and carpenters from Sidon and Tyre for the building of the second. Again, cedar trees were brought from Lebanon by sea to Joppa, and thence conveyed to Jerusalem (Ezra 3:7 ).
From Joppa Jonah fled to avoid compliance with God's command to go to Nineveh and preach repentance there (Jonah 1:1 ff). He found a ship bound for Tarshish as far toward the West as Nineveh to the East. The fare (
It was in the time of Simon, the last survivor of the Maccabean brothers, that Joppa became a seaport with a harbor for shipping - "Amid all his glory he took Joppa for a haven, and made it an entrance for the isles of the sea" (1 Maccabees 14:5 ). When Simon reared his monument over the sepulcher of his father and brothers at Modin, he set up seven pyramids with pillars, upon which were carved figures of ships to be "seen of all that sail on the sea" (1 Maccabees 13:29 ). About this period we hear of ships in naval warfare. When Antiochus 4 Epiphanes planned his expedition against Egypt, he had with other armaments "a great navy," presumably ships of war (1 Maccabees 1:17 ); and at a later time Antiochus 7 speaks expressly of "ships of war" (1 Maccabees 15:3 ).
2. Among Neighboring Nations:
The Egyptians, like other nations of antiquity, had a great horror of the open sea, although they were expert enough in managing their craft upon the Nile. Pharaoh-necoh built up a powerful navy to serve him both in commerce and in war. See PHARAOH-NECOH .
Of explicit references to Egyptian ships in the Old Testament there are but few. Isaiah speaks of "vessels of papyrus upon the waters" of the Upper Nile, on board of which are the messengers of Cush or Ethiopia returning to tell the tidings of the overthrow of Assyria to the inhabitants of those remote lands (Isaiah 18:2 the King James Version has "bulrushes" instead of "papyrus"). Ezekiel also, foretelling the overthrow of Egypt, speaks of messengers traveling with the news on swift Nile boats to strike terror into the hearts of the "careless Ethiopians" ( Ezekiel 30:9 ). When Job compares his days to "the swift ships" ("the ships of reed" the Revised Version margin), the allusion is most likely to Egypt's, these being skiffs with a wooden keel and the rest of bulrushes, sufficient to carry one person, or at most two, and light, to travel swiftly (Job 9:26 ).
(2) Assyria and Babylonia.
The Assyrians and Babylonians were mainly an inland people, but their rivers gave them considerable scope for navigation. The Assyrian monuments contain representations of naval engagements and of operations on the seacoast. When Isaiah pictures Yahweh as a better defense of Judah than the rivers and streams of Assyria and Egypt are to their people he says, "There Yahweh will be with us in majesty, a place of broad rivers and streams, wherein shall go no galley with oars (
It was from the Phoenicians that the Mediterranean peoples learned seamanship and skill in navigation. It is fitting, therefore, that in his dirge over the downfall of the mistress of the sea, Ezekiel should represent Tyre as a gallant ship, well built, well furnished, and well manned, broken by the seas in the depths of the waters, fallen into the heart of the seas in the day of her ruin. Ezekiel's description (chapter 27, with Davidson's notes) brings together more of the features of the ship of antiquity than any other that has come down to us. Her builders have made her perfect in beauty with planks of fir or cypress, mast of cedar, oars of the oak of Bashan, benches or deck of ivory inlaid with boxwood, sail of fine linen with broidered work from Egypt, and an awning of blue and purple from the coastlands of Elisha (possibly Sicily). She is manned with oarsmen of Sidon and Arvad, pilots of the wise men of Tyre, calkers from Gebal to stop up the cracks and seams in her timbers, mariners and men of war from other lands who enhanced her beauty by hanging up the shield and helmet within her. She is freighted with the most varied cargo , the produce of the lands around, her customers, or as they are called, her traffickers , being Tarshish in the far West, Sheba and Arabia in the South, Haran and Asshur in the East, Javan, which is Greece, and Togarmah, which is Armenia, in the North.
One or two of the particulars of this description may be commented upon. ( a ) As regards rigging , the Phoenician ships of the time of Ezekiel, as seen in Assyrian representations, had one mast with one yard and carried a square sail . Egyptian ships on the Red Sea about the time of the Exodus, from reliefs of the
( b ) As regards the crew , in the two-banked Phoenician ship the rowers of the first bank work their oars over the gunwale, and those of the second through portholes lower down, so that each may have free play for his oar. The calkers were those who filled up seams or cracks in the timbers with tow and covered them over with tar or wax, after the manner of the instruction given to Noah regarding the Ark: "Thou ... shalt pitch it within and without with pitch" ( Genesis 6:14 ).
( 100 ) As regards cargo , it is to be noted that "the persons of men," that is, slaves, formed an article of merchandise in which Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, countries to the North, traded with Tyre.
3. General References:
Of general references to shipping and seafaring life there are comparatively few in the Old Testament. In his great series of Nature-pictures in Psalm 104 , the Psalmist finds a place for the sea and ships (Psalm 104:25 ff), and in Ps 107 there is a picture of the storm overtaking them that go down to the sea in ships, and of the deliverance that comes to them when God "bringeth" them into their desired haven" ( Psalm 107:23 ff). In the Book of Proverbs the ideal woman who brings her food from far is like "the merchant ships" ( Proverbs 31:14 ). In the same book the drunkard, because of his unnatural insensibility to danger, is likened to a man "that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth upon the top of a mast" (Proverbs 23:34 ); and among the inscrutable things of the world the writer includes "the way of a ship in the midst of the sea" (Proverbs 30:19 ). In Wisdom, human life is described "as a ship passing through the billowy water, whereof, when it is gone by, there is no trace to be found, neither pathway of its keel in the billows" (Wisd 5:10). The same book notes it as a striking example of the case of a divine and beneficent Providence that "men entrust their lives to a little piece of wood, and passing through the surge on a raft are brought safe to land" (Wisd 14:1-5). The Jews like the Egyptians and the Assyrians had a natural shrinking from the sea, and Ecclesiasticus interprets their feeling when he says: "They that sail on the sea tell of the danger thereof; and when we hear it with our ears, we marvel" (43:24).
III. Ships in the New Testament.
1. In the Gospels:
It is the fishing-boats of the Sea of Galilee which exclusively occupy attention in the Gospels. In the time of our Lord's ministry in Galilee the shores of the Sea were densely peopled, and there must have been many boats engaged in the fishing industry. Bethsaida at the northern end of the Lake and Tarichea at the southern end were great centers of the trade. The boats were probably of a size and build similar to the few employed on the Lake today, which are between 20,30 ft. in length and 7 ft. in breadth. The word "launch," of putting a boat or a ship into the sea, has disappeared from the Revised Version (British and American), except in Luke 8:22 , where it is more appropriate to an inland lake. They were propelled by oars, but no doubt also made use of the sail when the wind was favorable (Luke 8:23 ), though the pictures which we have in the Gospels are mostly of the boatmen toiling in rowing in the teeth of a gale (Mark 6:48 ), and struggling with the threatening waves (Matthew 14:24 ). In the boat on which Jesus and the disciples were crossing the Lake after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus was in the stern "asleep on the cushion" (Mark 4:38 , the King James Version "a pillow"; Greek
2. In the Acts of the Apostles:
It is Paul's voyages which yield us the knowledge that we possess from Biblical sources of ships in New Testament times. They are recorded for us in the Acts by Luke, who, as Sir William Ramsay puts it, had the true Greek feeling for the sea ( St. Paul the Traveler , 21). In Luke's writings there are many nautical terms, peculiar to him, used with great exactitude and precision.
When Paul had appealed to Caesar and was proceeding to Rome in charge of Julius, the centurion, along with other prisoners, a ship of Adramyttium, a coasting vessel, carried the party from Caesarea along the Syrian coast, northward of Cyprus, past Cilicia and Pamphylia, to Myra of Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy, one of the great corn fleet carrying grain from Egypt for the multitudes of Rome. (After the capture of Jerusalem the emperor Titus returned to Italy in such a vessel, touching at Rhegium and landing at Puteoil.) The size of the vessel is indicated by the fact that there were 276 persons on board, crew and passengers all told (Acts 27:37 ). Luke has made no note of the name of this or of the previous vessels in which Paul had voyaged. Of the presumably larger vessel, also an Alexandrian corn ship bound for Rome, which had wintered in Melita, and which afterward took on board the shipwrecked party (Acts 28:11 ), "the sign" (παράσημον ,
Of those engaged in handling the ship we find (Acts 27:11 ) the master ( κυβερνήτης ,
Of operations belonging to the navigation of the vessel in the storm there were (1) the taking on board of the ship's boat and securing it with ropes (Acts 27:16 , in which operation Luke seems to have taken part; compare 27:32), (2) the undergirding of the ship (Acts 27:17 , using helps , that is taking measures of relief and adopting the expedient, only resorted to in extremities, of passing cables under the keel of the ship to keep the hull together and to preserve the timbers from starting), (3) the lowering of the gear (Acts 27:17 , reducing sail, taking down the mainsail and the main yard), (4) throwing freight overboard and later casting out the tackling of the ship (Acts 27:19 ), (5) taking soundings (Acts 27:28 ), (6) letting go four anchors from the stern (Acts 27:29 , stern-anchoring being very unusual, but a necessity in the circumstances), (7) further lightening the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea (Acts 27:38 ), (8) cutting the anchor cables, unlashing the rudders, hoisting up the foresail to the wind, and holding straight for the beach (Acts 27:40 ).
Of the parts of the ship's equipment there are mentioned "the sounding lead" ( βολίς ,
3. In Other Books:
In 2 Corinthians 11:25 Paul mentions among sufferings he had endured for Christ's sake that thrice he had suffered shipwreck, and that he had been "a night and a day in the deep," implying that he had been in danger of his life clinging to a spar, or borne upon a hurriedly constructed raft. It may be a reminiscence of the sea when Paul in the very earliest of his Epistles ( 1 Thessalonians 4:16 ), speaking of the coming of the Lord, says "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout" ἐν κελεύσματι ,
In Hebrews the hope of the gospel is figured as "an anchor ... sure and stedfast, and entering into that which is within the veil" (Hebrews 6:19 , especially with Ebrard's note in Alford, at the place). James, showing the power of little things, adduces the ships, large though they be, and driven by fierce winds, turned about by a very small "rudder" (πηδάλιον ,
The usual books on Greek and Roman antiquities furnish descriptions and illustrations. Works on the monuments like Layard, Nineveh , II, 379 ff; Maspero, Ancient Egypt and Assyria ; Ball, Light from the East , and Reissner, Cairo Museum Catalogue , "Models of Ships and Boats," 1913, contain descriptions and figured representations which are instructive. On shipping and navigation in classical antiquity Smith of Jordanhill, Voyage and Shipwreck of Paul , is still the standard authority.
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Ships and Boats'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/s/ships-and-boats.html. 1915.