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Nebuchadnezzar's Siege of Tyre

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Archives / 1941 / June



Nebuchadnezzar's Siege of Tyre

Lynn H. Wood

By L. H. Wood, Professor of Archeology, Theological Seminary


Not infrequently our workers are called upon to meet the challenge sometimes hurled by skeptics that history does not say that Nebuchadnezzar took Tyre ; that he besieged it for thirteen years, but failed to take it. So the claim is made that this proves the Bible to be untrue and unreliable, for Ezekiel 26 prophesied that Nebuchadnezzar would capture the city and destroy it. We have asked a trained archeologist to here give an explanation to this ques­tion, and he has produced an adequate and docu­mented answer.—Editor.

In order to understand Ezekiel's prophecy concerning Tyre, as recorded in chapters 26 to 28 of his book, it is essential first to consider the setting in which it was given. Tyre had been tributary to Assyria until the time of her overthrow in 612 B. C. Necho, king of Egypt from 609-594, having been defeated by Nebuchadnezzar, was not so energetic in his aspirations toward the eastern Mediterra­nean states as was Apries (588-570), who brought Phoenicia and Cyprus under Egyptian suzerainty. In the fourth year of Zedekiah, some five years before Apries came to the throne, the king of Judah had received mes­sengers from the kings of the surrounding nations, including the king of Tyre, urging a rebellion against Babylon. (Jer. 27:3,ff.) Al­though Judah was sympathetic, it evidently was not until Apries showed his hand in Palestine that Zedekiah mustered enough courage to ig­nore the warnings of Jeremiah (Jer. 52:2, 3) and follow the action of his brother Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26; 2 Kings 24:1), in rebelling against Nebuchadnezzar.

It was perhaps the realization that Judah had forsaken the counsel God gave both to Jehoiakim and to Zedekiah through Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26-28), and had accepted the suggestion of Tyre, more than the knowledge of the destruction wrought by Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem in the days of Jehoiakim, that led Ethbaal, the king of Tyre, to exclaim, "Aha, she is broken [shattered] that was the gate of the people; she is turned [as a gate turns on its hinges] unto me; I shall be replenished [filled full], now that she is laid waste [desolate]." Eze. 26:2, A.R.V. This prophecy is dated a year previous to the final destruction of Jeru­salem in 586 B.C. (compare Eze. 26:1; 33:23; Jer. 39:2; 52 :4-12) ; SO Tyre could not here be rejoicing over Judah's downfall the following year. He seemingly is gloating over the fact that Judah has turned from the God of Israel to the gods of Tyre. Because God's power and vision have thus been called into question, and He is compared with the gods of wood and stone, He sees fit to open the future of Tyre to the prophet who is now in Babylon (Eze. 1:3, 2), saying:

"Behold, I am against thee, 0 Tyrus, and will cause many nations to come up against thee, as the sea causeth his waves to come up. And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers : I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea : for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God : and it shall become a spoil to the nations. And her daughters which are in the field shall be slain by the sword; and they shall know that I am the Lord." Eze. 26:3-6.

How this statement that many nations shall come against Tyre, like the waves of the sea, can be harmonized with Ezekiel 26:14 ("I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon ; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it.") is not clearly stated. A careful study of the topography of Tyre, together with the various bits of recorded history, may, however, clarify it. (See map.)

Historians think that Tyre's original name was Tsor, the "Rock," and that it was situated about half a mile from the shore on an isolated hill—the modern Tell Mashuk—which rises quite abruptly from the plain. On the summit of this rock a tiny village could be supported. Beneath it there was a sacred cave. Later on, water was brought from Ras el-Ain—copious springs some three miles to the south, as shown on the map. (A. T. Olmstead, "History of Pal­estine and Syria." p. 319.) As early as the fifteenth century, the residents of Tyre were copying the Hyksos plan of setting aside a certain part of the city as a citadel or acropolis. An island some fifteen hundred yards off the coast was fortified, and to this the Tyrians fled in time of danger. At this time, according to the Amarna letters, the mainland town seems to have been called Sazu. The king of Tyre had fled to his island fortress and was, in these letters, requesting the king of Egypt to provide him with water and wood, as his supplies had been cut off by Zimrida when he captured Sazu. (C. Bezold, "The Tell el-Amarna Letters in the British Museum," pp. lvi-lxii.)

About the twelfth century, Ascalon defeated Sidon, and many of the fugitives fled to Tyre. Probably the town was enlarged to meet this influx. ( Justin, XVIII, 4; Josephus, "Anti­quities," VIII, 3.) By the time of Rameses II (3292-3225 B.c.), the island was also known as Tsor, and it was stated that drinking water was brought thither in boats. (H. Brugsch-Bey's "History of Egypt," Vol. II, p. 105, trans. by H. ID. Seymour, London, 3879.) From this time on, down past the days of the Assyrian aggressions, there is plenty of evidence that the town on the shore was the chief seat of popu­lation. The island seems to have been used as a naval station, a place of security, and the seat of the national deities. (J. Kenrick, "Phoe­nicia," pp. 343-346; Encyclopedia Americana, 1929, article, "Tyre.") In the third campaign of Ashurbanipal, directed against Tyre in 664, the record says: "Towers round him I raised on land and sea; his roads I took : their spirits I humbled and caused to melt away : to my yoke I made them submissive."—G. Smith, Records of the Past," 0. S., Vol. 1, p. 68. There was a temple still in use on shore, however (Justin. XI, 10), and an aqueduct brought a bountiful supply of water from Ras el-Ain to the shore town, but all water for the island had to be carried over in boats or caught in cisterns.

The shore town was in ex­istence in the days of Nebu­chadnezzar, and, according to Kenrick, "was abundantly supplied with all the imple­ments of war," and "capable of holding out against a nu­merous army." ("Phoeni­cia," p. 388.) And Josephus says, "Moreover, we meet with a confirmation of what Berosus says in the archives of the Phoenicians, concern­ing this king Nebuchodono­sor, that he conquered all Syria and Phoenicia; in which case Philostratus agrees with the others in that history which he composed, where he mentions the siege of Tyre."—C. Apion, 1, 20. But this does not necessarily imply that the island was de­stroyed by him. Concerning the mainland town, however, Kenrick concludes : "That he (Nebuchadnezzar) took and destroyed Palae-Tyrus can­not be doubted, as it remained a ruin to the time of Alex­ander, and no other event than the attack of Nebuchadnezzar can be alleged as the cause of its being in this state."—Id., p. 389.

Archeology has brought us documents show­ing Nebuchadnezzar's presence at Tyre, and her dependence on Babylon. A receipt has been found for flour brought to the king and the soldiers who accompanied him against the land of Tyre. (R. P. Dougherty, "Archives From Erech," Vol. I, p. 61, Text 15i.) Busi­ness documents dated in the thirty-fifth, for­tieth, forty-first, and forty-second years of Nebuchadnezzar, speaking of the sale to Ty­rians, of commodities like sesame, cattle, dates, etc., have been excavated. A list of high gov­ernment officials of Babylon, prepared by Nebuchadnezzar, among which are found the names of the kings of the lands of Tyre, Gaza, Sidon, Arvad, Ashdod, and two unknown cities, has also been brought to our attention. (A. T. Olmstead, "Higtory of Palestine and Syria," p. 535; Pinches, "Records of the Past," N. S., Vol. IV, pp. 99, too.)

Josephus quotes the "records of the Phoenicians," saying: "Nabuchodonosor besieged Tyre for thirteen years in the days of Ithobal their king; after him reigned Baal ten years"—C. Apion, 1, 21. As to whether Ithobal died, was killed, or was taken prisoner to Babylon, is not stated. Fleming suggests that he died.

("The History of Tyre," p. 46.) Hommel quotes Pietschmann ("Ges­chichte der Phonizier," 1889), saying that Ithobal was finally compelled to surrender to the Babylonians because of "the straits to which his subjects were reduced through being cut off from the mainland and through the cessation of all industry," and that "Itho­bal's family had to remove to Babylon in order that in the event of Baal II with whom Nebuchadnezzar invested Tyre. proving recalcitrant, the Babylonians might have at their disposal pretenders to the crown."

Then Hommel adds:

"It would appear that in the end the city elected voluntarily to surrender to the Babylonian king, the terms being that they would accept of a new king Baal at the hands of the Babylonians and give up Ethbaal in return for immunity from the plunder and destruction of their city... 

When Nebuchadnezzar died in the year 562, complications at once began in Tyre. From 562­556 (i.e., till the accession of Nabonidus) Tyre was ruled not by kings, but, with a single brief exception (Balatros, one year), by Suffetes ('—judges) until finally a party came to the front which sent to Babylon for a new regular king, Merbaal.

Nothjog could indicate more clearly than these circum­stances, that the Tyrians only waited for the death of their conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar, to make them­selves once more independent of Babylon."—Exposi­tory Tintes, 1899, p. 520.

After studying the situation carefully, Sayce, the brilliant English archeologist, says: "The turn of Tyre came next. For thirteen years it was patiently blockaded, and in 573 B.C. it passed, with its fleet, into Nebuchadnezzar's hands."—"Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations," p. 240.

After visiting Tyre in 1783-85, Volney, the French scholar, also came to the conclusion that "at the time when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to it, Tyre was on the continent."—Trav­els Through Syria and Egypt," Vol. II, p. 257. Thus in all probability, Nebuchadnezzar did de­stroy the mainland city as stated in the proph­ecy, the inhabitants fleeing to their citadel on the island. Inasmuch as he had no fleet, about all that he could do then was to establish a blockade in the hope of keeping those who fled from getting water or supplies. Just as in Jerusalem, so also in Tyre, there were probably two parties, one pro-Babylonian and the other anti-Babylonian. Worn out by thirteen years' siege and looking daily at the ruins of their mainland town, the pro-Babylonian party won. Ethbaal either was killed or surrendered, and Nebuchadnezzar placed Baal as king under Babylonian control, as henceforth the years were reckoned by Nebuchadnezzar's reign. The mainland city had been destroyed, but the island acropolis had been, by the terms of the treaty, left intact. This would harmonize with Ezekiel's statement, made just sixteen years after his first prophecy against Tyre (compare Eze. 26:1 with 29:17), that Nebuchadnezzar had received no wages in his long siege, and that the spoil he should receive from Egypt would be remuneration for his service against Tyre. (Eze. 29:18-20.)

A little more than two centuries later (332), Alexander, in laying siege to proud Tyre, took the ruins of the town on the continent, and built a mole across the strait. He so obliter­ated any evidence of the mainland city that even the dust seems to have been carried away. This part of Tyre has never been rebuilt, and from the time of Nebuchadnezzar the preemi­nence of the Tyrian Empire was lost. From that time on she became, as the prophecy said, -a spoil to the nations." Eze. 26 :5. Built partly on the island and partly on the mole, she became willing to pay tribute to any nation. Persian, Grecian, or Roman, which would offer her protection in her commercial undertakings. Many nations did come against her even as the waves of the sea. Because of her commer­cial power and glory in the time of Roman domination, she was recognized by Anthony as a free city. (Josephus, "Antiquities," XV, 4, 1.) She became the home of such church fa­thers as Origen and Marinus, and the seat of a church council under Constantine. She was destroyed by the Moslems in 1291 and from then on for centuries lay in ruins, inhabited by "a few poor wretches, harboring themselves in vaults and subsisting chiefly on fishing."—H. Maundrell, "A Journey from Aleppo to Je­rusalem at Easter;' 1697 A. D., London,, p. 64. In 1831, Syria passed under the rule of the viceroy of Egypt. Liberal and tolerant laws enabled the country to prosper. (H. H. Jessup, "Fifty-three Years in Syria," Vol. I, p. 28.) In 1913 Tyre's population was 6,3oo, occupying about half the former island, ruins of bygone splendor still lying about on every hand. Canon Stanley of Canterbury says:

"The Phoenician power which the prophets de­nounced has entirely perished ; even whilst the `world's debate' of the Middle Ages gave a new animation to these shores, the brilliant Tyre of Alexander and Barbarossa had no real connection with the Tyre of Hiram ; and perhaps no greater stretch of imagination in ancient history is required than to conceive how the two small towns of Tyre and Sidon as they now exist could have been the parent cities of Carthage and Cadiz, the traders with Spain and Britain, the wonders of the East for luxury and magnificence."—"Sinai and Palestine," p. 266. New York, 1857.

The ruins of the Tyrian Empire, with its imposition of pride, slave traffic, and worship of false gods, upon all within range of its ac­quaintanceship, must not be confused with the revival and continuance of the town of New Tyre as "a spoil to the nations." Rawlinson has well stated it thus:

"The pure cult of Judaism—the one hope of the world—contracted a well-nigh indelible stain from the proselytizing efforts of Jezebel and Athaliah, and their furious persecutions ; the heavenly light passed under a thick black cloud, and it required prolonged convulsions throughout the whole East, the downfall of Israel and Judah, and the long purgation of the captivity, to undo the effects brought about with a light heart by a royal bigot, and his cruel daughter and granddaughter."—"His­tory of Phoenicia," p.117.

Public Ordination Vows for Ministers

The question is very properly raised, by a Baptist exchange, of why ordination vows are not only proper but desirable for men who enter the ministry. As it is now, the candidate is not called upon to pledge himself to any­thing. He listens to the charge and exhorta­tion, but obligates himself to nothing by public declaration. Of course, be has given a state­ment of his faith and Christian experience to a smaller group, but does not pledge himself in the public ceremony. In the marriage cere­mony, the direct question and answer of the parties concerned is placed on record "before God and these witnesses." While some prove unfaithful to their marriage vows, the majority remember and keep them as binding. Surely there is as much and even more propriety in a public declaration by a young minister. He would not lightly go back on such a vow. His declaration would prove salutary and perhaps constitute an anchor in times of stress.

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