What is Tyre in the Old Testament
The Physical Features of Tyre
The most noted of the Phoenician cities situated on the coast, lat. 33ø 17 minutes, about 20 miles South of Sidon and about 35 North of Carmel. The date of its foundation is uncertain, but it was later than that of Sidon.
It is mentioned in the travels of the Egyptian Mohar, dating probably from the 14th century BC, and in the Tell el-Amarna Letters of about the same period. Herodotus describes the temple of Hercules at Tyre and says it was built 2,300 years before his time, which would carry back the beginning of the city to more than 2700 BC.
It was a double city, one part on an island, a short distance from the shore, and the other on the mainland opposite. The island city had two harbors, connected by a canal, one looking North and the other South. The island was rocky and the city was fortitled on the land side by a wall 150 ft. high, the wall being of less elevation on the other sides.
It was an exceedingly strong position, and is referred to in the Bible as the "strong" or "fortitled" city (Josh 19:29). The space within the walls was crowded with buildings, and is said to have contained 40,000 inhabitants. The town on the mainland was situated in a plain extending from the Ras el-`Abyad, on the South to Sarepta on the North, a distance of about 20 miles. It was fertile and well watered, the river Leontes (Litany) passing through it to the sea, about 5 miles N. of Tyre, and the copious fountain of Ras el-`Ain, 3 miles to the South, furnishing an abundant supply both for the city and the gardens.
The History of Tyre
(1) Tyre was for centuries subordinate to Sidon, but when the Philistines subdued the latter city, probably in the 12th century. Tyre received an accession of inhabitants from the fugitives which gave it the pre-eminence. From this time dates its great commercial and colonial activity. Its mariners pushed boldly out to the West and founded colonies in Spain and North Africa, some of which, like Gades, Abdera and Carthage, became famous.
They extended their commerce more widely than Sidon had ever done and ventured into the Atlantic and reached the coasts of Britain and West Africa. They reached out to the East also, and had their ships in the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, and their land routes threaded all Western Asia.
Tyre, like all the Phoenician cities, became subject to Egypt under Thothmes III in the first half of the 15th century BC, and remained so for some 300 years, but it enjoyed practical autonomy under native kings, being only subject to tribute and to furnishing contingents of ships when the Egyptian kings made their expeditions to the North. In the Tell el-Amarna Letters, dating from the first half of the 14th century, we find a certain Abi-melek (or Abi-milki) writing from Tyre to the king of Egypt asking for aid against the Amorite leader, Aziru, and the king of Sidon, who had joined the rebels. The name is Phoenician, and we know that it was the policy of the Egyptian kings to leave the native dynasts on the throne.
(2) After the decline of Egypt, Tyre regained her independence and exercised the hegemony over most of the Phoenician towns, at least as far North as Gebal (Byblus), as appears in the control that Hiram had over the Lebanon forests in the time of David and Solomon. Hiram was evidently desirous of an alliance with Israel, since he sent messengers to David and furnished cedar and workmen to build him a house, apparently without solicitation. The friendly connection between the two kingdoms was advantageous to both, since David and Solomon needed the timber and the skilled artisans that Hiram could furnish, and Hiram needed the food products of the land of Israel (1 Ki 5).
Tyre was at this time noted for the skill of its artificers, and its manufactured products were famous throughout the world. The purple dye and works in bronze were especially famous, and Hiram, the Tyrian artisan, was engaged by Solomon to cast the bronzes required for the temple (1 Ki 7:13 ff). Hiram, the king, enlarged and beautified his capital. He united the two small islands on which the city was built by filling up the space between, where he made an open square and built a splendid temple to Melkarth and Astarte. He engaged in commercial enterprises with Solomon (1 Ki 9:26-28; 10:22), both in pursuance of the friendly alliance and also for the advantage of having the use of the port of Ezion-geber on the Red Sea. His brilliant reign lasted 43 years.
(3) The list of kings who succeeded him contains the names of Baal-azar, Abd-ashtoreth, murdered by his brothers, the eldest of whom succeeded him, followed by Astartus and Aserymus murdered by his brother, Pheles, who was overthrown by the high priest Eth-baal, showing how disturbed the period was. Eth-baal, or Ithobal, was the king who made an alliance with Ahab and gave him Jezebel, his daughter, in marriage, which proved most disastrous both to her and the country because of the introduction of the Baal-worship into Israel.
Eth-baal was an energetic monarch, and is said to have rounded Botrys (Batrun). He reigned 32 years, and was followed by Badezor and Mattan, who gave his daughter, Elissa (Dido), in marriage to her uncle Sicharbas and transferred the throne to them; but they were set aside by an uprising of the people, and Pygmalion, son of Mattan, was placed on the throne, and Sicharbas put to death. Elissa fled with a party of nobles, by sea, to Africa and founded the city of Carthage. This happened about the middle of the 9th century BC, Josephus putting it at 860 BC.
(4) In the first half of this century Tyre became subject to Assyria, and her hegemony in Phoenicia came to an end, but her prosperity was not seriously checked as we may infer from Isa 23:8, which was written a century or so later. Assyria was satisfied with the payment of tribute until the time of Tiglath-pileser III (745-727), who laid a heavier hand upon her, and this led Elulaeus, king of Tyre, to form a confederacy of the Phoenician cities against Assyria. Shalmaneser IV subdued all except Tyre, which he distressed by cutting off her water-supply.
But the people dug wells and obtained enough to subsist upon for five years, when Shalmaneser was killed and Elulaeus recovered control of his territory. He was not molested by Sargon, but Sennacherib advanced against him with 200,000 men, and Elulaeus fled to Cyprus. The citizens made a successful resistance and Sennacherib did not take Tyre, but it submitted to Esar-haddon, and its king, Baal, obtained the special favor of the Assyrian king, who made him ruler of all the coast cities from Dor to Gebal, and the Lebanon was placed under his control (680-673 BC).
It is rather surprising that Baal refused to assist him in his attack upon Egypt and that Esar-haddon did not punish him, probably because he was too much occupied with Egypt. Ashur-banipal, however, did compel him to submit and to give him his daughter, and those of his brothers, as secondary wives, but left him as king of Tyre.
(5) On the decline of Assyria, Tyre regained its independence, and its greatness is indicated by the fact that it resisted Nebuchadnezzar 13 years (598-585); it is uncertain whether the island city was taken, but it evidently came to terms with the king of Babylon (compare Ezek 27:26; Josephus, Ant, X, xi, 1 and see The Expository Times, 1899, pp. 378, 430, 475, 520). After this siege Sidon took the lead and Tyre was in a disturbed state: the monarchy was overthrown and suffetes, or judges, took its place for six years, when the old order was restored. The decline of Babylon enabled Tyre to regain her independence for a short period until its submission to the Persians about 525 BC, and thenceforth it was a vassal state during the continuance of the Persian empire.
(6) It was by no means hindered in its commercial prosperity, and its great strength is seen in the brave and energetic resistance it made to Alexander the Great. All Phoenicia submitted to him without resistance, and Tyre was willing to admit his suzerainty, but declined to receive him into the city. This so angered Alexander that he at once commenced a siege that proved the most difficult undertaking in all his wars.
He had no fleet and was obliged to build a mole (causeway) from the mainland to the island, but before he could finish it the Tyrians destroyed it and beat back their assailants handily. Alexander had to do the work all over again, and since he was convinced that without a fleet he would not be able to take the city, he procured ships from the Phoenician towns that had submitted, and with the aid of these was able to blockade the port and prevent the besieged from issuing forth to destroy the new causeway.
This was at length pushed up to the very wall of the city, which was finally breached, and the troops of Alexander forced their way in. But even then the defenders would not yield, and the king himself had to lead the assault upon them with his bodyguard and put them all to the sword. Those who died with arms in their hands were 8,000, and the survivors, women, children and slaves, to the number of 30,000, were sold in the open market. He placed over the ruined city, into which he introduced some colonists, a certain Abd-elonim, and left it after having spent about seven months in subduing it.
(7) After the death of Alexander, Tyre passed into the hands of Ptolemy Lagi, and when Antigonus, in 314 BC, took Phoenicia from him, Tyre resisted, and he had to blockade it 15 months before it would yield, showing how quickly it had recovered from its previous disaster.
It became a part of the Seleucid kingdom when Antiochus III drove the Ptolemies from Syria (198 BC), and the Seleucid kings regarded it of importance and gave it the right of asylum, and it was allowed the status of a free city by the Romans, Antony recognizing the magistrates and council of Tyre as allies. When the Parthians attacked and took Syria, in 40 BC, Tyre would not submit and was left untouched, being too strong for them. Augustus deprived it of its freedom, but it was given the status of a "metropolis" by Hadrian, and this title appears on its coins.
(8) Tyre is mentioned in the New Testament several times: Christ visited its territory (Mt 15:21; Mk 7:24), and people from there came to hear Him (Lk 6:17). Herod Agrippa I had trouble with Tyre, and a deputation came to visit him at Caesarea (Acts 12:20). Paul visited Tyre on his journey from Asia to Jerusalem (Acts 21:6-7).
Christianity was accepted by the people of Tyre, so that the 2nd century AD saw a bishopric established there, and in the 4th a council was held there to consider charges against Athanasius, by the party of Arius; he was condemned, a decision which brought the Tyrian church into disrepute. Tyre was already obnoxious to Christians because the anti-Christian philosopher Porphyry was from there. Tyre continued a commercial center, and Jerome says that it was the noblest and most beautiful of the Phoenician cities and an emporium of commerce for almost the whole world (Commentary on Ezekiel). It was of considerable importance in the Crusades and continued so until toward the end of the 13th century, when its trade declined, and it has now dwindled to a town of some 5,000 inhabitants.
- International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, which is in the public domain (with minor edits).