In his recent book, “Israel’s History And The history Of Israel,” author Mario Liverani casts weighty personal doubt upon the Biblical picture of the reign of Solomon, and especially of early Israel’s maritime trade and colonization.
Dr. Liverani writes in particular that I Kings chapter 4 is “all woven of fairy-tale elements,” and says further that “[Solomon’s] commercial enterprises are also quite suspect. The maritime ventures (I Kings 9:26-28:10:11, 22) involving the King of Tyre, who is said to have contributed his own experienced sailors, exhibit the literary form of a fairy tale.” (p. 100)
I am not sure what he thinks a fairy tale “literary form” exactly is, but the Biblical text never begins any chapter with the “once upon a time” designation of so many fairy tales, nor is there any mention of leprechauns, gnomes or elves! Nor does Scripture give any indication that the text is relating anything other than literal, factual, recorded history.
Yet, for centuries critics have ridiculed the historical portions of Scripture as the stuff of myth and legend. Just as the city of Troy and the Trojan War were widely considered to be figments of Homer’s vivid imagination until rediscovered a century and a half ago, so too the great ancient cities of Nineveh and Babylon were regarded as figments of the Biblical writer’s imagination until archaeologists rediscovered them in the mid-nineteenth century. It may seem counterintuitive, but historians often exhibit the most rabid agnosticism concerning historical subjects, and even more so when it involves Scripture.
One of the passages Dr. Liverani questions reads as follows: “And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea, in the land of Edom. And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon. And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon.” (1 Kings 9:26-28) Historians have no disagreement with the idea of Phoenician ships trading and colonizing the coasts of Africa and Europe, yet many seem horrified to think of the presence of an Israelite on board one of those ships!
The book, “The Story of Celto-Saxon Israel,” published by CBIA is a wonderful sourcebook to use in countering historical and Biblical agnosticism. Appendix 7 contains an excellent quote from one of the most well-respected historians of the past, Dr. Robert G. Latham, concerning ancient Israel’s seafaring abilities. Here is just a portion of his statement from the book:
“The influences from Syria and Palestine were either Phoenician or Jewish, and by no means exclusively Phoenician. The selling of the sons and daughters of Judah into captivity beyond the sea is a fact attested by Isaiah. Neither do I think that the eponymus of the Argive Danai was other than that of the Israelite tribe of Dan; only we are so used to confine ourselves to the soil of Palestine in our consideration of the history of the Israelites, that we treat them as if they were adscripti glebae [i.e. “embedded to the land”], and ignore the share they may have taken in the ordinary history of the world. Like priests of great sanctity, they are known in the holy places only—yet the seaports between Tyre and Ascalon, of Dan, Ephraim, and Asher, must have followed the history of seaports in general, and not have stood on the coast for nothing. What a light would be thrown on the origin of the name Pelop-o-nesus, and the history of the Pelop-id family, if a bona fide nation of Pelopes, with unequivocal affinities, and contemporary annals, had existed on the coast of Asia! Who would have hesitated to connect the two? Yet with the Danae and the tribe of Dan this is the case, and no one connects them.” (pp. 173-4)
Some scholars have no problem accepting the Biblical account of ancient Israel’s commercial sea traffic. For one recent example, Marvin Alan Sweeney (“I & II Kings,” 2007) believes that this sea trade by Israel and Phoenicia “enables them both to become rich.” (p.146) Dr. Sweeney pointed out that Israel needed money to pay Phoenicia for expensive labor and materials—lumber, gold, and silver—for the construction of Solomon’s Temple. Solomon attempted to pay for this work by giving “twenty cities” in Galilee, but Phoenician king Hiram called them “kabul,” a Semitic term meaning “like nothing,” that is, worthless! (1 Ki. 9:11, 13) Dr. Sweeney believes that Solomon’s Temple was paid for instead with the rich profits from Israel’s commercial sea trade, indicating that it must have been quite extensive.
Dr. Liveroni also referred to the Biblical text of 1 Kings 10:11, 22, which reads: “And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones… For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.”
Ophir is thought by many scholars to be a reference to India, and Flavius Josephus (Ant. 8:164) connected it with (S)upora, forty miles north of Bombay. Tharshish is believed to refer to the lands of the western Mediterranean, including Spain and the west coast of Africa. Since seafaring techniques changed little from the time of Solomon until the mid-fifteenth century, A.D., there is little doubt that Phoenician-Israelite ships were well able to sail the coasts of the Mediterranean and beyond.
There is much evidence of Israelite colonization in early Europe, especially the tribe of Dan. Southwestern England was anciently known as “Dumnoni,” or “Danmoni,” an area comprising today the British counties of Cornwall and Devon. English historian William Camden stated, “That region, which according to the geographers, is the first of all Britain, and…was in ancient times inhabited by those Britans, whom Solinas called, Danmonii, Ptolomy [called] Damnonii, or (as we find in some other copies), more truly Danmonii. Which name…derived from the ever-continuing mines of tin in this tract, which the Britans call moina.” (Britannia, p. 183) This compound word is therefore composed of “moina,” a tin mine, and “Dan,” the people who mined the tin. So, this most ancient region of England is properly called “Danmoni,” meaning “Dan’s Tin Mines.” That these early inhabitants known as “Dan” were in fact the Biblical tribe by the same name has been established by leading modern scholars such as Cyrus Gordon. If these early colonists had actually been Phoenicians, the region would have been called, not “Danmoni,” but “Fenimoni,” because the Phoenicians were known as the “Punic” or “Feni” civilization.
Further information on the connection of the Biblical tribe of Dan with Greece, Spain, Britain, and Ireland, was researched in a study, “The Hebrew-Celtic Connection” found on the CBIA website at www.israelite.ca.