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  • Did Nehemiah Own Tyrian Goods? Trade between Judea and Phoenicia during the Achaemenid Period
  • Benjamin J. Noonan

In recent years, much debate has centered on the status of Jerusalem during the Achaemenid period, particularly with regard to the size and composition of its population.1 Relevant for this discussion is Neh 13:16, which in the context of Nehemiah’s reforms refers to Tyrian traders in Jerusalem: “Tyrians lived there, bringing fish and every kind of merchandise and selling them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah and in Jerusalem.”

This interesting verse has been largely neglected by scholars and commentators. Nearly forty years ago, Ben-Zion Luria argued for the historicity of Neh 13:16 on various grounds, but many of his arguments are now outdated or questionable.2 This text was discussed more recently in a study by Diana V. Edelman, but because her primary question was whether the Tyrian trade colony of Neh 13:16 was endorsed by the Persian government, Edelman did not discuss in much detail evidence [End Page 281] for a Tyrian enclave in Jerusalem.3 Similarly, many commentators on the book of Nehemiah have glossed over the mention of the Phoenician traders, simply assuming the existence of trade between Judea and Tyre during this period.4

The goal of this article is to assess the pertinent archaeological and textual evidence concerning a Phoenician presence in Jerusalem, supplementing the studies of Luria and Edelman and incorporating recent and important archaeological finds. Thus, a framework of Phoenician commerce will be constructed within which the plausibility of a Tyrian trade colony in Jerusalem as described in the book of Nehemiah can be evaluated.

I. Historical Context and Questions

According to Neh 13:16, Tyrians ()5 had established a trade enclave in Jerusalem to conduct their trade in fish and other merchandise.6 This verse is found [End Page 282] in the framework of Nehemiah’s social and religious reforms, which constitute most of the chapter. Many scholars consider Neh 13:4–31 to be a discrete account of Nehemiah’s second term as governor,7 and many agree that this pericope is part of the Nehemiah Memoir, a first-person account traceable to Nehemiah himself or someone writing under his immediate direction.8 Based on the chronological information of Neh 13:6, the events described in this section probably took place ca. 430 b.c.e. Assuming this to be the case, the Tyrian enclave would have existed in Jerusalem during the Achaemenid period in Palestine.9

With this background in mind, a number of questions need to be examined in order to assess the historical plausibility of Neh 13:16. What evidence is there for the establishment of Phoenician trade colonies in the ancient world, and what evidence is there for trade between Phoenicia and Palestine? Is there evidence of a Tyrian trade colony selling fish in Jerusalem during the Achaemenid period, or at the very least a Phoenician presence in the city?

II. Evidence for Phoenician Trade Colonies

Phoenician establishment of trading centers in foreign cities is well attested in a variety of textual sources.10 As early as the ninth century b.c.e., the Tyrian king [End Page 283] Ithobaal I (887–856 b.c.e.) is credited with establishing several trade colonies. Citing the Tyrian chronicles of Meander of Ephesus, which are otherwise lost, Josephus notes that Ithobaal I founded trade colonies at Auza in Libya as well as at Botrys, located north of Byblos (A.J. 8.324).11 The Assyrian annals of Ashurnasirpal II (883–859 b.c.e.) and Tiglath-pileser III (744–727 b.c.e.) refer to the presence of Phoenicians in northern Syria and Turkey during this period, and other evidence points to their presence in this region at sites such as Karatepe, Zincirli, and Myriandros.12

Around 820 b.c.e., Tyre founded a colony at Kition on Cyprus in order to obtain commercial control of the island’s copper supply.13 It was also around the end of the ninth century that the Tyrian colony of Carthage was founded. According to the Latin historian Justinus (Epitoma historiarum Philippicarum 18.4–5) and...


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