The Origin of Tyre
Whether Tyre originated on the land or the island seems to be in some dispute, but for our purposes it is not relevant. Neither is it relevant to determine the location or influence of Tyre in the distant past, well before Ezekiel’s day. What is relevant is Tyre in the period leading up to Ezekiel, which is the context of the prophecy in Ezekiel 26. We are not concerned about questions of whether Tyre was on the island or the land prior to its heyday.
The Scope and Influence of Tyre at Its Peak
Hiram was king of Tyre starting in c.969 BC. and was a contemporary of Israel’s kings David and Solomon (2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Kings 5:1 – 10:22). By Hiram’s day, Tyre was a major economic powerhouse and a major independent sovereign nation. Hiram sold cedar to David and Solomon, which tells us Hiram had ownership of the mainland forests of Lebanon. Hiram sent Solomon quite a large sum of gold (2 Chron. 9;18, 1 Kings 9:14). In payment of some trade, Solomon paid Hiram with 20 towns (probably villages) , all in the land of Galilee, which was about 25 to 30 miles from the coast of Tyre. At some point Hiram gave some towns to Solomon also (2 Chron. 8:2).
Secular history corroborates Tyre’s vast size and wealth. In The Heritage of Tyre: Essays on the History, Archaeology, and Preservation of Tyre, by Martha Sharp Joukowsky, ed., (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall / Hunt Publishing, 1992)*, we not only find that the Bible’s accounts of Hiram are accurate, but also learn that Tyre was large enough to have “many colonies” (p.50) including ones at Carthage, Kition, and Libya (p.47, 48, 52). “Tyre seems to have been in control of a good part of the Phoenician coast” and likely had established trade routes to Africa and modern-day England (p.50). Indeed, Tyre was a “sea empire that knew no equal in ancient history.” (p.47). Tyre was “the cosmopolitan center of the ancient Near East”(p.9). The wealth of Tyre was vast:
The prophet Zecheriah [sic] reports (9:3) that Tyre “has heaped up silver like dust and gold like the dirt of the streets.” There is probably more than some truth to this as even today there are people who make a living on the beach at Tyre by panning — California Forty-Niner style — for gold dust. (p.49)
Thus even the poetic language of Zechariah appears to be literally fulfilled. The mainland control and influence of Tyre was huge, going well beyond the island and the immediate mainland city.
Further, the island had no water or fuel sources. Fleming tells us water was brought from Ras-al-Ain (about three miles inland) via an aqueduct, then loaded onto boats and offloaded onto the island. The island contained a royal palace, a temple, two ports, a “grand square’, multi-story buildings, and presumably government offices.
When we consider the structures on the relatively small island, which was only about three-quarters of a mile wide and two percent of the city, the large size of the economy, and the influence of Tyre that controlled vast landholdings onshore and across the sea, we can be safe to conclude that in its heyday, Tyre was both the island and the land, not one or the other. While the island was the capital and the keep, it is not true that the island equals the main part of Tyre, for Tyre was vast.
The Effects of Nebuchadnezzar’s Attack
Ezekiel predicts Nebuchadnezzar will attack Tyre, and the Bible and secular history tell us this was literally fulfilled. He attacked the city, demolished the mainland, but after a 13-year siege, failed to take the island fortress. The question then arises of whether we can say Nebuchadnezzar defeated Tyre.
Consider this comparison. Let’s pretend that in the war of northern aggression, southern general Robert E. Lee captured Maryland, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, and all the other northern states, but exhausted his army and resources in a failed attempt to capture Washington DC, then went home. Did he defeat the US? Well the US government would still be standing and in power, so in that sense, no, he did not. But there would not be a “United States” left to govern, for all the states had been captured, killed, turned over to the enemy, so the country would be the United States in name only, but not in the same sense as before, certainly not in the same level of power and influence. Would Robert E. Lee be considered the winner? Well, he captured 98% of the country but went home broke and with most of his men dejected. Such is the message of Ezekiel.
After Nebuchadnezzar, Tyre later surrendered to the Persians, leaving her in subject to them for years. By the time Alexander the Great arrived in 332 BC, Flemming tells us “Alexander began the siege. He seized Palaetyrus which was in great part in ruins or deserted of its inhabitants.” This tells us that after Nebuchadnezzar, the mainland portions of the city were in ruins for centuries, even though no doubt people still lived there and the island continued a good business.
The Effects of Alexander’s Attack
Alexander attacked in 332 BC, literally fulfilling Ezekiel 26:4, “make her like the top of a rock.” He did so by taking the ruins of the mainland and putting them into the sea to make a roadway to the island.
After Alexander conquered the island city, he killed great numbers. Fleming tells us holdouts in buildings “were overpowered and killed almost to the last man. There was a general slaughter in the streets and squares.” Alexander’s men killed an estimated eight thousand in the streets, two thousand were crucified on the seashore, and thirty thousand were sold into slavery.
An important note is that so many people were killed or deported that “Colonists were imported and citizens who had escaped returned.” Thus the city of Tyre had been destroyed, its inhabitants killed or sold, and a new ethnic colonists moved into the small island city. In the following centuries the language of the people of Tyre would change at least twice with the invading armies. (Joukowsky, 63)
There is an old philosophical conundrum that goes like this: A ship sets sail, headed for the far shore. During the voyage, the crew begins to remove boards and replace them with new ones. Every board on the ship is changed out for a new one. Before the ship arrives at its destination, even the crew is replaced. Question: Is the ship that arrived the same ship that left? In the case of Tyre, we now have the city destroyed and the people replaced. Is Tyre then the same, or another? Certainly it was not the same nation, but only Tyre in some lesser form only.
The scholars agree, for Joukowsky’s book tells us “After the siege of Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.E., Tyre was never again an island fortress.” (p. 61) After Alexander, many other nations conquered Tyre. The list includes the Greeks, Ptolemies, Seleucids, Armenians, Romans, Byzantine Empire, Islamists, Egyptians, Turks, Crusaders, and finally the Islamists again. (p. 10) Ezekiel 26:3 was literally fulfilled when God predicted, “I will cause many nations to come up against you, as the sea causes its waves to come up.” This process took many years, with the Crusaders final battle in 1291 A.D. This is not a problem for Ezekiel, for he did not put a time frame on the prophecy.
The Destruction of Tyre
To what extent was the destruction of Tyre? Part of the confusion occurs with the historians repeatedly telling us that still another country would conquer Tyre, but the city would still be, for example under the Romans, “relatively autonomous, superior in the maritime world, and rich from her production of purple dye.” (Joukowsky, 62) The answer is twofold.
First, while Tyre does indeed appear to be a viable city, the scholars admit that it was never again as it was in its heyday. Under Hiram, Tyre controlled much of the Mediterranean, with many overseas colonies and control of large portions of land including multiple cities. After Nebuchadnezzar, mainland Tyre was but rubble, the colonies were lost, the forests of Lebanon were lost, and Tyre was reduced drastically. We can be sure of this from Fleming’s repeated citations of Tyrian appeals to the controlling nation for water and fuel. Tyre begged for these items so much that he finally speaks of “the usual plea for wood and water.” This secular history proves true the New Testament passage in Acts 12:20, where Tyre had to beg the authorities to protect its food supplies. So whatever Tyre’s condition, it was a far, far cry from the vast powerhouse it was in Hiram’s day.
Second, the waves of invading countries finally decimated Tyre. Yet another in a long list of invading armies took the city in 1291, either killing the populace or selling them into slavery. In the years after still another invading army in 1291, Tyre was so poor as to not be able to sell provisions to travelers (Joukowsky, 78).
The extent of the destruction was severe. In 1350, the city was “almost deserted” and by 1432, the only inhabitants were in the surrounding hills (Joukowsky, 52). Flemming agrees when he tells us “From the close of the Crusades there is scarcely any story to tell, for Tyre lay in utter ruins.” (preface) Joukowsky tells us:
The city of Tyre was laid to ruin, along with other coastal cities, and never again regained the splendor it had always known. . . The great ancient city now lay buried under accumulated debris. . . Henry Maundrell wrote in 1697, “You see nothing here but a mere babel of broken walls, pillars, vaults, there being not so much as one unbroken house left.” A few years later, Constantin Volney passed through Tyre and noted that the port was so silted in that children could wade from one ruined tower to the other. The population then numbered a mere 50 or 60 families who lived in poverty, subsisting on the produce of their lands and by fishing. In 1881, Canon Tristam tells us: “The inhabitants are chiefly fisherman and some dyers, though the old Tyrian dyes are no more and we search in vain for Tyrian purple.” . . . Renan wrote (1864), “One can call Tyre a city of ruins built out of ruins.” (Joukowsky, 10-11)
Apparently some of the old city has succumbed to the sea. “The columns visible in the eastern part of the southern harbor may have once belonged to a structure which has long since been eaten away by action of the sea.” (Joukowsky, 22) Thus Ezekiel 26:19 was literally fulfilled when God says “I bring the deep upon you, and great waters cover you.”
Even as far back as after the Nebuchadnezzar siege, Tyre lay mostly in ruins. But for 600 years after the Crusades, Tyre consisted of at most 50 or 60 impoverished families, a different ethnic group than the old Tyre, with a different language, who lived in total ruins, with not one of the old buildings rebuilt, “a city of ruins built out of ruins,” literally a place for the spreading of nets, so poor as to not have supplies. Here is where the bulk of Ezekiel’s prophecy was literally fulfilled. Such a city is a far cry from the Tyre of Hiram.
Is the city of Tyre the same as that of the old Tyre? Flemming tells us no: “The present petty town of Sur has arisen since the Mutowalis occupied the district in 1766 A. D. Its humble story present little difficulty, but it is connected with the Tyre of history in location and name only.”
It is telling that Joukowsky’s list of Tyrian kings covers a thousand years, but the list of Tyrian kings and governing judges stops with Azemilcus who was in place when Alexander slaughtered the city. (155-6) The last member of the Tyrian royal family was exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. (Joukowsky, 52)
God’s message in Ezekiel 26:13 says “I will put an end to the sound of your songs, and the sound of your harps shall be heard no more.” Surely this was literally fulfilled, for the songs were the culture of the old glorious Tyre, a Tyre which is gone forever.
We can only conclude that the prophecies of Ezekiel 26 were literally fulfilled. The only lack of confidence in the Bible is with the reader, not the text of holy scripture, which is again proven reliable.
*NOTE: Joukowsky’s book is a publication from an archeological seminar held at the Smithsonian in the early 1990’s and contains the results of the papers presented at that seminar.