When the prophet Jonah fled from the presence of God to Tarshish, he took a ship from Joppa on the west coast of Israel (Jon 1:3). From Joppa the ship would sail westward on its journey to Tarshish.

Tarshish was one of Tyre’s important trading partners and Ezekiel provides a catalogue of its products: “Tarshish was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of all kinds of riches; with silver, iron, tin, and lead, they traded in thy fairs” (27:12). Of these metals tin was the rarest and, in the ancient world, one of the few sources of tin was Cornwall in south-west Britain.1 It is therefore reasonable to identify Tarshish in the west with Britain.2

Tin was vital for the production of bronze, an alloy of tin and copper. Bronze articles dating from earliest times have been found in Ur, Persia and other ancient sites in the Middle East. Phoenician Tyre appears to have been expert in working with bronze and various other metals. King Solomon employed Hiram and other technicians from Tyre because of their skills in fashioning bronze objects (1 King 7:13-14, 46 AV, where “brass” may refer to bronze or, less likely, to copper).

In ancient times, it appears that tin was exported from north Cornwall’s Padstow area, where shelter for the merchant vessels of that period would be available in a suitable estuary. A concentration of large and extremely fine ancient artefacts found there seems to confirm this conclusion. From Cornwall, ships of Tarshish would carry tin and other products to trade in Tyre’s market.

 

According to Dr Chris Standish of Southampton University, there is good evidence to suggest that in early times the tin was not mined but extracted from local rivers by panning or some other method, like damming or sluicing. This process, however, also returned gold. Geologist Simon Camm, a leading expert on Cornish gold, says the gold would have attracted substantial numbers of prospectors.

Significant as gold production may have been for the Cornwall traders, the more important in­dustry was tin extraction.3 So what did happen to the gold that was found in Cornwall? Work by Dr Standish and others on the composition of some of the earliest gold artefacts found in Ireland, suggests that the precious metal originated in Cornwall.

It appears that people were trading gold be­tween the south-west of Britain and Ireland as far back as the early Bronze Age4 (ie about 2000 BC according to some scholars). As Dr Standish observes: “Perhaps what is most interesting is that during this time, compared to Ireland, there ap­pears to be much less gold circulating in Cornwall and southern Britain. This implies gold was leaving the region because those who found it felt it was of more value to trade it in for other ‘desirable’ goods – rather than keep it.” 5

Although the trading empire of Tyre and the merchant ships of Tarshish passed into history long ago, it is remarkable that in Ezekiel 38:13 mention is made of a power called Tarshish in the latter days: a “merchant” power with “young lions” or colonies, answering to Britain, USA and the Commonwealth. Allied with Sheba and Dedan, the southern Arab powers, they will attempt to withstand Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal and his con­federates (38:2). Indeed, when Gog comes like a storm against Israel, Tarshish will be there, and will survive to enter the service of the Lord Jesus Christ: “Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them” (Isa 60:9).

1 John Boardman, The Greeks Overseas, Penguin, 1964, p216­ 217; M. Cary and EH Warmington, The Ancient Explorers, Revised ed, Penguin, 1963, p47,49.

2 John Thomas, Elpis Israel, 14th ed revised, Birmingham: The Christadelphian, 1958, p434, Nigel Bernard, “Britain in Bible prophecy”, The Testimony, January 2005, p18. There was also a Tarshish to the east (1 King 10:22), which can be identified with India.

3 David Keys, “Cornwall was scene of prehistoric gold rush, says new research”, The Independent, 4 June 2015 [Online] URL: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/archaeol­ogy/news/cornwall-was-scene-of-prehistoric-gold-rush-says­new-research-10298343.html

4 “Archaeologists discover evidence of prehistoric gold trade route”, Archaeology at Southampton, 5 June 2015 [Online] URL: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2015/05/irish­gold-trade.page

5 David Keys, “Cornwall was scene of prehistoric gold rush, says new research”