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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
2. Position of Palestine
3. Trade Products of Palestine
4. Palestinian Traders
1. To David
3. Maritime Trade
4. To the Exile
5. The Exile and After
For a full list of the commercial terms used in the Old Testament, reference must be made to
For "merchant" the Hebrew uses almost always one of the two participial forms סחר ,
In Apocrypha and New Testament "merchant" is for ἔμπορος ,
2. Position of Palestine:
Any road map of the ancient world shows that Palestine, despite its lack of harbors, occupied an extremely important position as regards the trade-routes. There was no exit to the West from the great caravan center Damascus, there was virtually no exit landward from the great maritime centers Tyre and Sidon, and there was no exit to the North and Northeast from Egypt without crossing Palestine. In particular, the only good road connecting Tyre (and Sidon) with Damascus lay directly across Northern Palestine, skirting the Sea of Galilee. In consequence, foreign merchants must at all tames have been familiar figures in Palestine (Genesis 37:25 , Genesis 37:28; 1 Kings 10:15; Nehemiah 13:16; Isaiah 2:6; Zephaniah 1:11 , etc.). As a corollary, tolls laid on these merchants would always have been a fruitful source of income (1 Kings 10:15; Ezekiel 26:2; Ezra 4:20 ), and naturally Palestine enjoyed particular advantages for the distribution of her own products through the presence of these traders.
3. Trade Products of Palestine:
Of these products the three great staples were grain, oil and wine (Hosea 2:8; Deuteronomy 7:13 , etc.). The wine of Palestine, however, gained little reputation in the ancient world, and its export is mentioned only in 2 Chronicles 2:10 , 2 Chronicles 2:15; Ezra 3:7 , while Ezekiel 27:18 says expressly that for good wine Tyre sent to Damascus. Grain would not be needed by Egypt, but it found a ready market in Phoenicia, both for consumption in the great cities of Tyre and Sidon and for export ( 1 Kings 5:11; Ezra 3:7; Ezekiel 27:17 , etc.). A reverse dependence of Palestine on Tyre for food (Isaiah 23:18; compare Genesis 41:57 ) could have occurred only under exceptional circumstances. Oil was needed by Egypt as well as by Phoenicia (Hosea 12:1; Isaiah 57:9 ), but from Northern Israel was probably shipped into Egypt by way of Phoenicia. Hosea 2:5 , Hosea 2:9 mentions wool and flax as products of Israel, but neither could have been important. Flax was a specialty of Egypt ( Isaiah 19:9 ) and is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament, while for wool Israel had to depend largely on Moab (2 Kings 3:4; Isaiah 16:1 ). Minor products that were exported were "balm ... honey, spicery and myrrh, pistachio-nuts and almonds" (Genesis 43:11 margin; see the separate articles, and compare "pannag and ... balm" in Ezekiel 27:17 ). These were products of Gilead (Genesis 37:25 ). "Oaks of Bashan" had commercial value, but only for use for oars (Ezekiel 27:5 ), and so in small logs. Palestine had to import all heavy timbers (1 Kings 5:6 , etc.). Despite Deuteronomy 8:9 , Palestine is deficient in mineral wealth. The value of Pal's manufactured products would depend on the skill of the inhabitants, but for the arts the Hebrews seem to have had no particular aptitude (1 Kings 5:6; compare 1 Samuel 13:19 ff).
4. Palestinian Traders:
In comparison with the great volume of international trade that was constantly passing across Palestine, the above products could have had no very great value and the great merchants would normally have been foreigners. A wide activity as "middlemen" and agents was, however, open to the inhabitants of Palestine, if they cared to use it. Such a profession would demand close contact with the surrounding nations and freedom from religious scruples. The Canaanites evidently excelled in commercial pursuits of this time, so much so that "Canaanite" and "merchant" were convertible terms.
1. To David:
The Israelites entered Canaan as a nomadic people who had even agriculture yet to learn, and with a religious self-consciousness that restrained them from too close relations with their neighbors. Hence, they were debarred from much participation in trade. The legislation of the Pentateuch (in sharp distinction from that of Code of Hammurabi) shows this non-commercial spirit very clearly, as there are no provisions that relate to merchants beyond such elementary matters as the prohibition of false weights, etc. (Deuteronomy 25:13; Leviticus 19:36; Covenant Code has not even these rules). In particular, the prohibition of interest (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19 , etc.) shows that no native commercial life was contemplated, for, without a credit-system, trade on any extensive scale was impossible. All this was to be left to foreigners (Deuteronomy 23:20; compare Deuteronomy 15:6; Deuteronomy 28:12 , Deuteronomy 28:44 ). The Jewish ideal, indeed, was that each household should form a self-sufficient producing unit (Prov 31:10-27), with local or national exchange of those commodities (such as tools and salt) that could not be produced at home. And this ideal seems to have been maintained tolerably well. The most northerly tribes, through their proximity to the Phoenicians, were those first affected by the commercial spirit, and in particular the isolated half-tribe of Dan. In Judges 5:17 we find them "remaining in ships" at the time of Barak's victory. As their territory had no seacoast, this must mean that they were gaining funds by serving in the ships of Tyre and Sidon. Zebulun and Issachar, likewise, appear in Deuteronomy 33:19 as the merchants of Israel, apparently selling their wares chiefly at the time of the great religious assemblages. But the disorders at the time of the Judges were an effectual bar against much commerce. Saul at length succeeded in producing some kind of order, and we hear that he had brought in a prosperity that showed itself in richer garments and golden ornaments for the women ( 2 Samuel 1:24; see MONEY ). David's own establishment of an official shekel (2 Samuel 14:26 ) is proof that trade was becoming a matter of importance.
Under Solomon, however, Israel's real trade began. The writer of Ki lays special stress on his imports. From Tyre came timber (1 Kings 5:6 , etc.) and gold (1 Kings 9:11 ). From Sheba came gold and spices (1 Kings 10:10 , "gave" here, like "presents" elsewhere, is a euphemism). From Ophir and elsewhere came gold, silver, precious stones, almug trees, ivory, apes and peacocks (1 Kings 10:11 , 1 Kings 10:22 , 1 Kings 10:25 ). According to Massoretic Text 1 Kings 10:28 f, horses and chariots were brought from Egypt and re-sold to the North.
But the text here is suspected. Egypt had no reputation as a horse-mart in comparison with Northern Syria and Western Armenia (see TOGARMAH ). So many scholars prefer to read "Musri" (in Northwestern Arabia) for "Egypt" (
In exchange Solomon exported to Tyre wheat and oil (1 Kings 5:11; 2 Chronicles 2:10 , 2 Chronicles 2:15 adds "barley ... and wine"). What he sent to the other countries is not specified, and, in particular, there is no mention of what he exchanged for gold. 1 Kings 5:11; 1 Kings 9:11 , however, indicate that Hiram was the intermediary for most of this gold traffic, so that at the final settlement of accounts Solomon must have been heavily in Hiram's debt. 1 Kings 9:11 proves this. Solomon had undertaken a larger task than the resources of Palestine could meet, and in payment was obliged to cede Northern Galilee to Hiram. (The writer of 1 Kings explains that 'the cities were worthless,' while Chronicles passes over the unedifying incident altogether, if 2 Chronicles 8:2 is not a reversal of the case.)
3. Maritime Trade:
Among Solomon's other activities sea-commerce was not forgotten. David's victory over Edom gave access to the Red Sea at Eziongeber, and this port was utilized by Hiram and Solomon in partnership (1 Kings 9:26 ff), Hiram, apparently, supplying the ships and the sailors ( 1 Kings 10:11 ). After Solomon's death, Edom revolted and the way to the sea was closed (1 Kings 11:14 ). It was not recovered until the time of Jehoshaphat, and he could do nothing with it, "for the ships were broken at Eziongeber" (1 Kings 22:48 ), i.e. in the home harbor. Either they were badly built or incompetently manned. The Hebrews had no skill as sailors. See SHIPS AND BOATS .
4. To the Exile:
After the time of Solomon the commerce established by him of course continued, with fluctuations. Samaria became so important a city from the trade standpoint that Ben-hadad I forced Baasha to assign a street there to the merchants of Damascus, while Ahab succeeded in extracting the reverse privilege from Ben-hadad 2 (1 Kings 20:34 ). The long and prosperous contemporary reigns of Jeroboam
5. The Exile and After:
The deportation into Babylon brought the Jews directly into the midst of a highly developed commercial civilization, and, although we are ignorant of the details, they must have entered into this life to a very considerable extent. Indeed, it is more than probable that it was here that the famed commercial genius of the Jews made its appearance. Certain it is that exiles acquired great wealth and rose to high position (Zechariah 6:10 f; Nehemiah 1:11; Nehemiah 5:17 , etc.), and that when an opportunity to return to Palestine was opened, most of the exiles preferred to stay where they were (see EXILE ). As a matter of fact, the Palestinian community was beggarly poor for years (Zechariah 8:10; Haggai 1:6; Nehemiah 1:3; Malachi 3:10-12 , etc.) and could not even prevent the sale of its children into slavery (Joel 3:6 ). Such trade as existed was chiefly in the hands of foreigners (Joel 3:17; Zechariah 14:21 ), but the repeated crop-failures must have forced many Jews into commerce to keep from starving. The history of the 4th century is very obscure, but for the later commercial history of the Jews the foundation of Alexandria (332 BC) was a fact of fundamental importance. For Alexandria rapidly became the commercial center of the world and into it the Jews, attracted by the invitations of the Ptolemies, poured in streams. Alexandria's policy was closely copied by Antioch (on the period see Ant. ,
The appropriate sections in the HA's and Biblical diets., especially G. A. Smith's indispensable article "Trade" in
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Trade'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/t/trade.html. 1915.