According to the picture which emerges with the removal of the dark centuries from ancient history, the Late Minoan civilization finds its place at the beginning of the first millennium before the present era alongside the Mycenaean culture of mainland Greece and the New Kingdom in Egypt. In Israel the corresponding period gets underway with the anointing of Israel’s first king, David, and the brilliant reign of his son and successor, Solomon; it continues with the divided monarchy till the time of Isaiah.

The impressive power of Minoan Crete, whose ships plied the sealanes of the ancient Mediterranean and regularly called at Levantine ports, and whose rulers were for a time uncontested masters of the busy, and vital, trade routes, could not have passed unnoticed on the pages of the Old Testament. And indeed, in several books of the Scriptures frequent reference is made to a trading nation called Tarshish. Biblical scholars widely disagree on the whereabouts of Tarshish: but Minoan Crete is not among the suggested sites.

The debate had an early start: the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, translated Tarshish as Carthage;1 Josephus and others with him identified Tarshish with Tarsus in Cilicia;2 Julius Africanus thought it was a name for Rhodes or for Cyprus;3 Eusebius and Hippolytus conjectured that the city of Tartessos in Iberia, mentioned by Herodotus and other ancient writers4 was the Biblical Tarshish.5 Modern authors are divided between Tartessos in Iberia6 and Tarsus in Cilicia7—although some would regard the expression “ships of Tarshish” as a general term for ships sailing on long-distance voyages;8 others consider the name Tarshish to refer to foreign lands in general9 and William F. Albright and several others with him, suggested that it referred to mines for precious ores and was applied to certain countries which produced them.10 However, as another scholar rightly remarks, Tarshish is for the writers of the Old Testament a specific land11—it is mentioned in the company of Lud (Lydia) and Javan (Ionia).12 The great perplexity of scholarship on this question and the fact that none of the suggested locations for Tarshish was compelling enough to have produced a general concensus, result from a mistaken chronological scheme which eliminated the possibility of a correct identification before it was ever suggested.

I will attempt to bring evidence in support of Velikovsky’s view that Tarshish was the name employed by the writers of the Old Testament to designate Crete as a whole, or its chief city Knossos.13

The first mention in the Book of Kings of this geographical location refers to the activities of Solomon: “The king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish bringing gold and silver, ivory and apes, and peacocks.”14

These precious or exotic items were brought from Ophir, a land whose location is uncertain—but it must have been a rather distant place, considering that the return voyage took three years.15

In the next, ninth, century, King Jenoshaphat: “made ships of Tharshish to go to Ophir for gold: but they went not; for the ships were broken at Ezion-geber.”16 The parallel account in the Book of Chronicles explains the destruction as being due to the Lord’s wrath at Jehoshaphat’s alliance with the wicked Ahaziah of Israel.17 It would thus appear that the Minoans had a fleet on the Red Sea which participated with the Phoenician navy in trading ventures to far-away lands. Ezion-geber also must have been the harbor whence the ships of Tarshish set out on their long journey to Ophir in the time of Solomon.18 The ill-fated attempt by Jehoshaphat to resume the voyages to Ophir was cut short by the intervention of nature, if we may so understand the verse in the forty-eighth Psalm: “Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.”19

The destruction of the fleet from Tarshish at Ezion-geber did not stop that nation’s commercial activity, for In the next century we again hear of the ships of Tarshish frequenting the port of Tyre in Phoenicia. The prophet Isaiah in his message to Tyre refers to some overwhelming disaster which overtook the city in his time;20 and since Tyre had been a major base for the ships of Tarshish, they are said to bemoan their loss: “Howl ye, ships of Tarshish, for it [Tyre] is laid waste, so that there is no house, no entering in. . .” The Inhabitants of the devastated city are invited to “pass over to Tarshish”—possibly indicating that some of Tyre’s citizens resettled on Crete. As a sign of the two countries’ commercial interdependence Tyre is called a “daughter of Tarshish”. The ships of Tarshish are said to be fatally weakened by the loss of their chief port of call: “Howl ye, ships of Tarshish, for your strength is laid waste.”

The tradition of the close links which had existed, ever since Hiram’s expeditions to Ophir, between the ships of Tarshish and the merchant city of Tyre was re-echoed down the centuries. In the time of the Babylonian exile Ezekiel wrote in his message to Tyre: “Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches. . . the ships of Tarshish did sing of thee in thy market: and thou wast replenished and made very glorious in the midst of the seas.”21

The trade between Tarshish and the Levant continued in the mid-seventh century, as is shown by the story of Jonah, who was able to board at Joppa (Jaffa) a ship making a regular commercial run to Tarshish.22

So far we have based our discussion of the identity of Tarshish on Biblical sources; but there also exists an allusion to that land in another source, a cuneiform text found about a hundred years ago at Assur on the Tigris. The text is part of the annals of the Assyrian king Esarhaddon, who ruled over Assyria from -681 to -669. It reads:

“All the kingdoms from (the islands) amidst the sea—from the country of Iadanan and Jaman as far as Tarshishi bowed to my feet and I received heavy tribute.”23

The identities of the first two countries mentioned by Esarhaddon are known: Iadanan is Cyprus and Iaman is the Ionian coast of Asia Minor; the location of Tarshishi, however, became the subject of some debate, for this statement by Esarhaddon is the only time the name appears in any Assyrian text. It was noted that “Tarshishi” has the determinative măt for “country” in front of it, as do Idanana, or Cyprus and Iaman, or Ionia. The only clue to its location was its being described as a kingdom “amidst the sea”, apparently somewhat farther removed from Assyria than either Cyprus or Ionia.

When Esarhaddon’s text was first published and transliterated the name was read as “Nu-shi-shi.”24 At that time there were several conjectures as to the identification of this land. The city of Nysa in Caria was one suggestion; another was that the world refers to “nesos” for Peloponnesos. In 1914 D. D. Luckenbill ventured that “Knossos, for Crete, would fit better.”25 Three years later B. Meissner made a fresh examination of the cuneiform tablet and found that the original transliteration of the name had been mistaken, and that “Tar-shi-shi” was the correct reading.26 The new reading took away Luckenbill’s chief reason for his identification; yet he had the right solution, even if he reached it on wrong grounds. More recent scholarship identifies the land of Tarshishi mentioned by Esarhaddon with the city of Tarsus in Cilicia.27 Had Tarshishi been a city the name would have been preceded by the determinative URU; however, as mentioned above, it has măt for “country”. It is also difficult to see how a place in Cilicia would fit the description “from Iadanana and Iaman as far as Tarshishi.” Clearly Tarsisi was farther west than either Cyprus or Ionia. These criteria are filled admirably by Crete.

Velikovsky sought to support this identification by the following facts: In the work of the ancient Greek grammarian Hesychius, who composed his biographical lexicon in the fourth century of the present era, it is said that “Tritta” was another name for Knossos.28 A double t is often substituted in ancient Greek by a double s.29 From Trissa could have been derived the name Tarshish, and the designation may later have been extended to cover the whole island of Crete.

Whoever held sway over the island in the early part of the seventh century, the motive for sending gifts to Esarhaddon is clear. After the subjugation of Sidon and the imposition of a treaty of vassalage on Tyre, the sealanes of the Levant were under Assyrian control; and the gifts may have been intended to gain access for the ships of Tarshish to their traditional ports of call; Crete could hardly have felt itself directly threatened by the land-based power of Assyria.

The reason why the identification of Tarshish with Crete, so evident from the texts quoted above—the Old Testament narrative of the trading ventures of Solomon and Hiram, the prophecies of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the story of the voyage of Jonah, as well as the annals of Esarhaddon—was not made before is due to the fact that the end of Minoan Crete is considered by scholars who follow the accepted chronology to have occurred some four to six hundred years before these texts were written. In the days of Solomon, as in those of Isaiah and of Esarhaddon, Crete is said to have been immersed In its own Dark Ages, without the possibility of a high civilization, with no question of a far-ranging fleet. Only when the disarrayed centuries are brought to their proper order does the identity of Tarshish with Minoan Crete emerge into the light of history: the solution to an old puzzle.


  1. Cf. Jerome (St. Hieronymus) in his Latin translation of the Scriptures, the Vulgate, in the passage Ezekiel 27:2.

  2. Josephus, Jewish Antiquities I. vi. 1; the Scholiast to Lycophron’s Cassandra, 653; Stephen of Byzantium, ‘Ligystiné’, Cod. A; Eustathius to Dion, 195.

  3. Quoted in G. Syncellus, Chronography, 380.

  4. Herodotus 1.163; IV 152, 191; Sfesichorus (fl. -608) in Strabo 3.2.11; the Scholiast to Aristophanes, Ranae, 475; Eustathius to Dion, 337.

  5. Eusebius, Chronicle 11.17 in Syncellus, Chronography, 91; Hippolytus, Chronicon Paschale, II. 98.

  6. S. Mazzarino, Fra Oriente e Occidente (Florence, 1947), p. 272; G. Charles Picard, La vie quotidienne à Carthage au temps d’Hannibal (Paris, 1958), p. 265, n. 7; A. Schulten, Tartessos, second ed., (Madrid, 1945), pp. 54ff.; A. Garcia y Bellido, La Peninsula Ibérica en los comienzos de su Historia (Madrid, 1954), pp. 170ff.; the last-named author professes not to be absolutely certain about this identification. Cf. D. Harden, The Phoenicians (London, 1962), p. 160. P. Bosch-Gimpera considers it very doubtful: Zephyrus 13 (1952), p. 15; La nouvelle Clio 3 (1951).

  7. G. Conteneau, La civilization phénicienne (Paris, 1949), p. 235; Bérard, L’expansion et la colonization qrecques jusqu’au guerres médiques (Paris, 1960) p. 129; H. L. Lorimer, Homer and the Monuments (London, 1950), pp. 65ff. On Tarsus see also J. Boardman in Journal of Hellenic Studies 85 (1965), pp. 16ff. Cf. U. Täckholm in Opuscula romana 5 (1965), pp. 143ff. and W. Culican, The First Merchant Ventures (London, 1966), pp. 77ff.

  8. Garcia y Bellido, Bosch-Gimpera and Conteneau, cited above.

  9. Conteneau, La civilization phénicienne.

  10. Albright, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 83 (1941), pp. 14ff.; Cintas, Céramique punique (Paris, 1950), p. 578; Hitti, History of Syria (London, 1951), p. 104.

  11. J. M. Blazquez, Tartessos y Los Origenes de la colonizacion feaicia en Occidente (Universidad de Salamanca, 1975), p. 18. This fact should be remembered in connection with C. Gordon’s attempt to interpret the name ”Tarshish” with the ”wine-dark sea” of Homer—Journal of Near-Eastern Studies 37 (1978), pp. 51-52.

  12. Isaiah 66:19; cf. Psalm 72:10: “The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba shall offer gifts.”

  13. The name for Crete in the Bible is generally assumed to have been Caphthor (Keftiu of the Egyptian texts). Velikovsky has already indicated that Caphthor is the Biblical designation for Cyprus (Ages in Chaos, vol. I, section “Troglodytes or Carians?”, n. 17). it follows that the tribute bringers from Keftiu depicted on the walls of Egyptian tombs of the Eighteenth Dynasty were in reality Cypriots, and not Cretans, and that the homeland of the Philistines was Cyprus, and not Crete. The idea that Caphthor refers to Cyprus was long ago expressed by Birch (“Mémoire sure une patère égyptienne du Musée du Louvre [1857]”, Mém. Soc. Imp. Ant, Fr. XXIV [1858]) but found little support. Cf. H.R. Hall, “The Peoples of the Sea” in Recueil d’études égyptologigues dédiées à la mémoire de Jean-François Champollion (Paris, 1922), p. 300.

  14. I Kings 10:22; cf. I Chron. 9:21.

  15. Suggestions for the site of Ophir have ranged over the five continents, and this is not the place to discuss their relative merits. Some part of Africa or India could furnish the products listed as coming from Ophir; both are accessible from Ezion-geber on the Red Sea. The three-year return voyage is compatible with a journey around Africa (cf. Herodotus IV. 42 for the three year duration of the circumnavigation of Africa in the time of Pharaoh Necho II, i.e., the late seventh or early sixth centuries. Since King Hiram of Tyre, in association with Solomon, also sent his own ships, unassisted by the Tarshish fleet, to Ophir [Kings 9:27-28, 10:11; II Chron. 8:17-18, 9:10], it is not unthinkable that the Phoenician sailors despatched more than three hundred years later by Necho II, had prior knowledge of the route.) In recent years R. D. Barnett has made a detailed and plausible case for locating Ophir in India—though his placement of Tarshish in the same region is untenable. See Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimurd Ivories in the British Museum (London, 1957) pp. 59-60, 168; Antiquity 32 (1958), p. 230. For a general discussion of Solomon’s trading ventures, see O. Eissfeldt, The Hebrew Kingdom (Cambridge, 1965), pp. 56ff.

  16. I Kings 22:48.

  17. II Chronicles 20:35-37. The words “to make ships to go to Tarshish” should likely be understood as meaning ships of the navy of Tarshish which were being readied for the voyage to Ophir. The passage may be based on a misunderstanding of a tradition more accurately recorded in the Book of Kings.

  18. Cf. n. 15 above.

  19. Psalm 48:7. The passage may, however, refer to a later event. Whether the storm alluded to in the Psalm has any connection with the very violent eruption of the volcano on the island of Thera north of Crete (which, by the revised chronology, belongs In the mid-ninth century) must remain an open question.

  20. Isaiah, chapter 23.

  21. Ezekiel 27:12, 25.

  22. The Book of Jonah purports to deal with events of the mid-seventh century when Nineveh, Assyria’s capital, was still standing, but in paramount danger of destruction by hostile armies. Although the book was written much later than this, some of the background of the story, such as the Tarshish-bound ship which Jonah boards at Joppa, probably preserve memories of actual seventh-century conditions.

  23. J. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, 1955), p. 260.

  24. Messerschmidt in Keilschrifttexte aus Assur historischen Inhalts vol. I, Nr. 75, vs. 10f.

  25. D. D. Luckenbill, “Jadanan and Javan (Danaans and Ionians)”, Zeitschrift für Assyriologie 28 (1914), pp. 94-95, n. 3.

  26. B. Meissner in Orientallstische Literaturzeitung (1917), p. 410; Cf. F. Hommel, Ethnologie und Geographic des Alten Orient, p. 1001.

  27. S. Mazzarino, Fra Oriente e Occidente, pp. 132f.; Blazquez, Tartessos, p. 21.

  28. Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyklopädie der Altertumswissenschaft, article “Knossos” ; cf. v. C. Burian, Geographie von Griechen-land. vol. II (Leipzig, 1868-72), p. 559 n. 1; see also Diodorus V. 70, 72.

  29. E.g. Attic thalatta, meaning “sea,” becomes thalassa in Doric.