Ezekiel's Prophecy of Tyre: a failed prophecy

Ezekiel's Prophecy of Tyre: a failed prophecy

Bible-believers are full of clever (and some not so clever) rationalizations. The crucial question, however, is not whether “answers” can be generated in response to Bible difficulties but whether credible answers can be produced. What is the best explanation? Bible-believers seem to think that any loophole, however improbable, that gets the Bible off the hook has solved the problem. Thus, it is not surprising that different, conflicting answers are often presented side by side. It never seems to occur to these people that such logic will also support the story of Goldilocks and the three bears! Or the Koran. Or, anything else. Once we abandon the probable in favor of the improbable—or even the less probable—we have abandoned objectivity. Without objectivity, there is not much hope of finding the truth; we only succeed in confirming our own prejudiced views—even as a group of flat-Earth folks in California did for years in their newsletters.

My main source is: Tyre Through the Ages by Nina Jordanian (1969), a scholar who lived in Lebanon. At 264 pages, with illustrations, maps and notes, not to mention a serious bibliography, it may well be the standard work on the long history of Tyre. The forward was written by Emir Maurice Chehab, Director General of Antiquities of Lebanon. Jordanian makes one thing very clear: Tyre proper always referred to the island and not to a mainland site.

The Mainland Settlement Was Not Tyre

Both the Hebrew name (Zor) and the Arabic name (Sour) of Tyre mean “rock,” and the only rock around is the island. The surrounding mainland is rather flat, and it is hard to see how one could make a “rock” out of flat land, even if the land had been rocky. Relief from the Bronze gates of Balawat of Shalmaneser III (858-824 BC) show Tyre paying tribute. This tribute is brought from an ISLAND by boat; Tyre proper is identified as an island city—not a mainland settlement. Esarhaddon (680-669 BC) of Assyria boasts of conquering Tyre, which is identified as an island. “I conquered Tyre, which is (an island) amidst the sea.” (ANET, p.290)

“(Baʼlu, King of Tyre, living (on an island amidst the sea)…threw off my yoke…” (ANET p. 291)

In Ashurbanipalʼs third campaign, directed against Tyre, he said: “In my third campaign I marched against Baʼil (Baʼlu), King of Tyre, who lives (on an island) amidst the sea…;” (ANET, p.295-296)
Needless to say, the king would have lived in his palace in Tyre proper—not in some unprotected suburb! Tyre proper is clearly the fortress island with walls that were said to be 150 feet tall (Rufus, 4.2.7-9; Arrian, 2.21.4). Joshua 19:29 refers to Tyre as “the fortified city.” Nobody is talking about TWO fortified cities! This island city was certainly no appendage of the mainland settlement! The Encyclopaedia of the Orient, in an Internet account written by Tore Kjeilen, had this to say: “Tyre was originally built on an island right off the coast, providing for natural defense. Many functions were established on the mainland as well, but all important institutions remained on the island.” Two of those institutions were the temple of Baʼal Melqart (the patron deity of Tyre) and the temple of Astarte (Asherah), which were built on the island by Hiram I. (Originally, there were two main islands, but they were joined with fill early on.)

Put on your thinking cap. Why would the main settlement be on the coast, which lacked a harbor and a ready defense, when the island (with two excellent harbors) could hold 30,000 people? Donʼt you think it rather preposterous to argue that, once the Phoenicians utilized those two, wonderful ports afforded by the island, they would choose to live on an unprotected beach? How silly and stupid it would be to transport tons of goods from around the Mediterranean to a poorly defended beach without a harbor, a beach subject to a constant battering of waves by a strong, south-westerly wind (Bradshaw, p.8)—when goods could be conveniently and safely unloaded on an island city! Obviously, the mainland settlements—at best—were later colonies of Tyre proper. Food and water on the island would not initially have been much of a problem for a small settlement. However, once Tyre became an important city, food and water would have to be obtained from the mainland. In fact, the original mainland settlement was an independent city called Ushu, which later became a suburb of the island city of Tyre (Liverani, 1988: 933).

Isaac Asimov speculated that the very first settlement in the area might well have been on the mainland. However, our job is to identify the Tyre proper of Ezekielʼs prophecy. Where the first settlement may (or may not) have been is irrelevant to that purpose. By Ezekielʼs time, Tyre proper was, and had long been, the island city.

Ashurbanipal, one of the Assyrian kings, identifies the mainland town across from Tyre as Ushu. “On my return march, I conqured the town Ushu the emplacement of which is on the seacoast.” (ANET, p.300)

Here is a school text used in Egypt, from the late 13th century BC: “What is Uzu like? They say another town is in the sea, named tyre-the-port. Water is taken (to) it by the boats, and it is richer in fish than sand.” (ANET, p.477) Note that this text didnʼt say that Tyre HAD a port in the sea; Tyre IS the port! Also, note the word “another.” Uzu (Ushu) is NOT Tyre!

Even a careful reading of the Bible makes it clear that Tyre proper is the island fortress. The rubble was to be scrapped away to make Tyre a bare rock. The only “rock” in that area is the island; the mainland is flat ground. How do you make a “rock” out of flat, often sandy land?

Tyre is an Island City—The Bible Says So!

Ezekiel 26:17 “… O city renowned, that was mighty on the sea …”

Not by the sea. That this is not simply referring to Tyreʼs fleet is made clear in other passages.

Ezekiel 27:3-4 “… O Tyre, you have said ‘I am perfect in beauty.’
          4) Your borders are in the heart of the seas; …”

Ezekiel 27:25 “… ‘So you were filled and heavily laden [with riches]
          in the heart of the seas.”

A mainland city would hardly be in the “heart” of the seas.

Ezekiel 27:32 “… ‘Who was ever destroyed like Tyre in the midst of the sea?”

Tyre is in the midst of the sea, not on the mainland. Furthermore, its early ruins lie not at the bottom of the sea but underneath the present island city, beneath layers of debris from Tyreʼs long history.

Ezekiel 27:34 “Now you are wrecked by the seas, in the depths of the waters;
your merchandise and all your crew have sunk with you.”

That would be pretty difficult to accomplish if Tyre were on the mainland! However, it is a nice bit of hyperbole befitting Tyreʼs island status. Contrary to J. P. Holding, Tyre does not lie beneath the sea! Tyre, as obvious reasoning would suggest, and we may include some archeological exploration here, lays beneath the modern city on the island and, more generally, beneath centuries of ruble on the old, island portion due to a more or less continuous occupation. Wind-blown sand has also contributed to the burial of parts of the old city. That parts of the old, southern (“Egyptian”) port may be observed by divers, and that some artifacts may have been cast into the sea, can hardly be interpreted to mean that Tyre, itself, has sunk into the depths of the waters! Tyre most certainly has not! The debris for Alexanderʼs causeway came from the abandoned, mainland settlement—which was not Tyre. Wind-blown sand and later landfills widened the original causeway so that the whole resembles a peninsula today.

Ezekiel 28:2 “‘son of man, say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord God:
‘Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart of the seas, …”

Note that this prince does not have his throne on the mainland! Of course not, because that is not where Tyre proper is.

Ezekiel 26:4-5 “They shall destroy the walls of Tyre, and break down her towers; and I will scrape her soil from her, and make her a bare rock. 5) She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets…”

Here we have what seems to be another obvious confirmation of Tyreʼs island status, but Holding disagrees! “Note that verse 5 refers to ‘out in the sea,’ a prophecy against the island Tyre. It is only the mainland site that is to be scrapped bare.” (Holding, p.5)

It seems to me that the pronouns “her” and “she” both refer to the same Tyre; I see no discussion whatsoever of two Tyres here! Furthermore, there is no reference here to a mainland city—that only exists in Holdingʼs mind due to his confusion of Tyre with the mainland settlement. The ancient Hebrews often expressed a single thought as a couplet, which usually took the form of two, consecutive verses saying the same thing in different (sometimes contrasting) ways. Here, we have the destruction of Tyre (the island), which will be made a bare rock. Then, we are invited to view the aftermath—a bare rock only used for the spreading of fishing nets. Both verses refer to the destruction of the island city of Tyre. How do you make a “rock” out of flat, sandy land? The island, essentially a rock with a thin layer of soil, can be made into a bare rock—not so a city on the beach. Thus, we have every reason to believe that verses 4 and 5 fall in line with the rest of the mass of evidence, showing that Tyre can only be the island city.

By now, it should be clear even to a dead man that Tyre proper could only have been the fortified, island city.

Ezekielʼs Main Prophecy About Tyre

Ezekiel 26:3-

“therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Tyre, and will bring up many nations against you, as the sea brings up its waves. 4) They shall destroy the walls of Tyre, and break down her towers; and I will scrape her soil from her, and make her a bare rock. 5) She shall be in the midst of the sea a place for the spreading of nets; for I have spoken, says the Lord God; and she shall become a spoil to the nations; 6) and her daughters on the mainland shall be slain by the sword. …”

Notice that the Bible calls the mainland towns the “daughters” of Tyre—NOT “Tyre,” itself. Clearly, they are secondary and subservient to Tyre—as if we needed further confirmation! The “many nations” passage, a favorite of Bible-believers, seems to be nothing but hyperbole, its image of “Waves” fitting in nicely with Tyreʼs island status. Compare the third verse with 2 Kings 24:2, where Nebuchadrezzarʼs destruction of Judah is described as follows: “And the Lord sent against him bands of the Chaldeans, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the Ammonites, and sent them against Judah…” That is, Nebuchadrezzarʼs attack is viewed in terms of many nations attacking Judah! Clearly, that is a hyperbolic way of dramatizing the power of Nebuchadrezzarʼs onslaught. Such use of the hyperbole here is not totally wide of the mark, given that Nebuchadrezzarʼs army probably contained important contingents from many subservient nations. We would be grossly in error if we tried to make that out as a succession of independent kingdoms attacking Judah over time.

It pays to look at several translations so as not to get hung up on hallucinations about the meaning of words. It is easy to get stuck on details that may divide professional translators or even be considered unimportant. The Revised English Bible puts this matter into a wholly different light:

Ezekiel 26:3 “The Lord God says: I am against you, Tyre! As the sea raises up its waves, so shall I raise up many nations against you.” (The Revised English Bible)

Even as a storm can soon stir up numerous waves on a calm sea, God can just as easily raise up nations (under Nebuchadrezzar) against Tyre. We are dealing with a multitude of onrushing waves (one, mighty fist) and not waves strung out over a couple of centuries. Hence, we have at least one team of distinguished translators who donʼt buy the many-nations-over-time interpretation. Ezekiel 26:3, then, is almost certainly hyperbole that is more credible in terms of “One, Big Fist” rather than an attack by a succession of nations over a couple of centuries. Offending Tyre is to be crushed soon, not centuries later. Ezekielʼs concept of a strong god mitigates against the idea that God could only punish Tyreʼs descendents many centuries later, which would make God a laughingstock. Therefore, to rely heavily on the many-nations-over-time hypothesis as a justification for inserting Alexander into the picture just wonʼt do!

In Ezekielʼs time, the unstoppable power of Babylon (under Nebuchadnezzar) would have been the obvious pick as Godʼs agent and, not surprisingly, the scene soon shifts to Nebuchadrezzar himself. This view is further confirmed by Jeremiah 27:3-6, who plainly states that Nebuchadnezzar will take Tyre and the other kingdoms of the area. Jeremiah 27 says nothing about Alexander the Great or waves of nations!

Consider more carefully the historical setting of the prophecy, an important piece of evidence that Bible-believers rarely discuss. According to God, as recounted by Ezekiel, Tyre was to be punished for its haughty attitude towards the misfortune of Jerusalem, which had been sacked by Nebuchadrezzar only four years earlier (597 BC). (The “eleventh year” of Ezekiel 26:1 applies to Nebuchadrezzarʼs reign; Ezekiel, a captive of the first deportation, used Babylonian chronology.) Apparently, the people of Tyre had cheered Jerusalemʼs misfortune (Ezekiel 26:2). This seems to have been the final straw in a long list of injuries. Early on, Tyre may have broken an old covenant (Amos 1:9). Another sore point seems to be that, in the days of the Philistines, Tyre had bought and sold Israelites as slaves (Amos 1:9-10, Joel 3:2-6, Ezekiel 27:13). That rich, proud, Phoenician city, whose fleet of ships traded throughout the known world, whose name was great among the sea princes, was going to be humbled! It was going to be humbled shortly—not 250 years later! Meaningful punishment must be timely and fall accordingly, and the awesome army of Nebuchadrezzar may have already been in the vicinity (as a result of a general rebellion by Tyre, Judah and other vassal states) if Ezekiel had backdated his “eleventh year” to make the prophecy more convincing.

Placing the prophecy of Tyreʼs destruction in the time of Alexander (250 years later) or, worse, in 1291 AD (!) when Tyre was completely destroyed by the Egyptian Mamluks (McDowell) makes a raving joke out of the whole thing! God comes across as a weak and silly nincompoop! His prophet fumes mightily against the Tyre of his day—and a people 21 to 94 generations later get the business! Does that sound reasonable to you? Consider, also, that Nebuchadrezzar is billed as Godʼs top gun—the king of kings—whose army is positively awesome. Obviously, this was the guy who was going to get the job done! To pretend, at the last minute, that the Bible had some other, nameless person in mind, makes a joke of this elaborate buildup!

The Scene Now Shifts To Nebuchadrezzar

Ezekiel 26:7 “‘For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will bring upon Tyre from the north Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, king of kings, with horses and chariots, and with horsemen and a host of many soldiers. 8) He will slay with the sword your daughters on the mainland;”

The “daughters” of Tyre—not Tyre—are on the mainland. They are the first to fall, hence are mentioned first. The specific agent is obviously Nebuchadrezzar, and the earlier “waves of nations” passage is just introductory hyperbole that cannot be taken as a succession of nations for reasons already noted.

Ezekiel 26:8 “he will set up a siege wall against you, and throw up a mound against you, and raise a roof of shields against you.”

Like the “waves of nations” passage, this verse seems to be just more hyperbole—the dreaded image of a classic siege. A siege wall on the beach could hardly hope to isolate an island fortress with a good navy! A siege mound would be equally silly without a causeway, which was not built until the time of Alexander the Great. These are just poetic devices to dramatize the presumed helplessness of Tyre at Nebuchadrezzarʼs hands.

Ezekiel 26:9 “He will direct the shock of his battering rams against your walls, and with his axes he will break down your towers. 10) His horses will be so many that their dust will cover you; your walls will shake at the noise of the horsemen and wagons and chariots, when he enters you gates as one enters a city which has been breached.”

More hyperbole? The image is more befitting a classic siege on flat land rather than an island, whose high walls sit almost at the edge of the sea. Since the island was about a half mile offshore, it is rather unlikely that dust from Nebuchadrezzarʼs horses bothered them much. Needless to say, his horses and chariots never entered Tyre.

Ezekiel 26:11 “With the hoofs of his horses he will trample all your streets; he will slay your people with the sword; and your mighty pillars will fall to the ground. 12) They will make a spoil of your riches and a prey of your merchandise; they will break down your walls and destroy your pleasant houses; your stones and timber and soil they will cast into the midst of the waters. 13) And I will stop the music of your songs, and the sound of your lyres shall be heard no more. 14) I will make you a bare rock; you shall be a place for the spreading of nets; you shall never be rebuilt; for I the Lord have spoken, says the Lord God.”

Do you hear laughter from serious historians? After 13 years of siege, Nebuchadrezzar had to settle for a negotiated settlement. His horses did not enter Tyre, did not trample the streets of Tyre, and he did not slay the inhabitants thereof. A few Phoenicians surely died in the fighting, but that scarcely fulfills the prophecy. Neither were the stones and timber of Tyre (as a whole) thrown into the water. As noted, Tyre lies beneath the modern city, beneath the rubble of later occupation levels—NOT beneath the sea.

Holding, engaging in wild speculation, suggests that a severe earthquake sank the western part of the island and, for that reason, nobody has been able to find the temple of Melqart. Perhaps, Mr. Holding will kindly cite the scientific literature to demonstrate that the western coast of the modern island coincides with a geologic fault showing major, historic slippage. If no such fault exists, then his earthquake would almost certainly have affected the harbors, the causeway, and parts of the coastline as well. Being under a few meters of water actually makes it easier to find a temple; its ruins would not be buried under the debris of later settlements or easily carted off for other projects! Perhaps, Melqart remains lost (if that is the case) because few excavations go further than the Roman level of occupation. Only a small part of Old Tyre has been reached by exploratory, archeological digs. Finally, the prophecy refers to Tyre as a whole—not to some edge of it!

Tyreʼs negotiated settlement certainly did not give away the store; Baal, the son of Tyreʼs king, Ithobaal, succeeded him in a normal fashion. Tyre appears to have retained its independence, more or less. Nebuchadrezzar probably received a nominal, face-saving, submission on behalf of the city, including the surrender of some nobles. They would have been taken to Babylon and treated well. Plunder and great riches was not in the cards.

Verse 10 envisions Nebuchadrezzarʼs army pouring through the main gate; verse 11 has the army trampling through the streets. People are now being cut down and great pillars overturned. Verse 12 is a logical continuation of this conquest scenario; riches are plundered and houses are destroyed, and the cityʼs wall is toppled. Finally, even the rubble is vanquished, being tossed into the sea! Verse 13 dramatizes the completeness of this devastation. The lively music of the city is heard no more. Verse 14 completes the picture by giving us the dismal aftermath of this impending disaster; Tyre will henceforth be a bare rock, no more than a place for the spreading of fishing nets. That is to say, it is to be destroyed forever.
If we count hyperbolic usage, we have a continuous, chronological narrative from verse 7, a narrative that describes the whole operation from A to Z. We have the vision of Nebuchadrezzarʼs arrival, his destruction of the mainland towns, his siege of Tyre proper, his rushing through its breached gates, his trampling of its streets, his killing of its citizens, the destruction of property, the seizing of treasure, the flattening of the cityʼs walls, and, finally, even the debris and soil is scrapped up and tossed into the sea. A final note invites us to hear the ensuing silence, and, as we gaze further into the future, we see only a bare rock, which is used only for the spreading of fishing nets. Tyre will never be rebuilt.

All the pieces are in their proper, chronological order, and they form one, seamless, complete account. The attempt to fracture this account by abruptly jumping 250 years into the future, by dragging in Alexander the Great out of the blue, all of this being based on the odd usage of “they” in verse 12, is nothing more than a ludicrous, bald-faced attempt to rewrite the Bible! The clear intent of such nonsense is to nullify, at all costs, the obvious failure of the prophecy, a prophecy that plainly features Nebuchadrezzar throughout. If thatʼs what it takes to make the Bible “inerrant,” then that battle is already lost.

Apologists tell us, on the basis of their analysis of the ancient Hebrew, that we must break the obvious unity of this account, jump hundreds of years into the future, and drag in a person of their choosing! Does so much really hang on that one word, or are they chasing ghosts? Let us look at a modern, English translation. (Holding may belittle the critic for relying on an English translation instead of the original Hebrew, but I suspect that the team of professional translators behind any decent, modern translation of the Bible know their Hebrew at least as well as he does!) Here is how The Revised English Bible handles this key passage:

Ezekiel 26:12 “Your wealth will become spoil, your merchandise will be plundered. Your walls will be leveled, and …” (The Revised English Bible)

Notice that the word “they” has been tossed out; there is no break, no leap into the future, no conceivable appeal to Alexander the Great or any other future conqueror. The narrative continues as it should, a smooth transition from Nebuchadrezzarʼs impending arrival to the final aftermath. A quick check shows that The Jerusalem Bible gives a similar rendering. Some translations may be less decisive in their wording, but I have yet to see a reputable translation that clearly treats verse 12 as a break in the continuity of the narrative. Itʼs Nebuchadrezzar all the way!

The incongruous shift in grammar, therefore, does not grant us a license to fracture the unity of the text, much less to inject distant people and events of our own choosing. We are not at liberty to ignore the obvious flow of the passage, especially since it is backed up by additional evidence. We are not at liberty to begin with the assumption of biblical inerrancy—or of errancy for that matter. To do so is to violate the basic principles of sound, objective interpretation.
As for the riches of Tyre, even Ezekiel later admitted that Nebuchadrezzar got nothing for his troubles. To make matters worse, the valuables on the mainland would have been transferred to Tyre, the island city, as Nebuchadrezzar approached. Apparently, Ezekiel could not ignore the obvious failure of his earlier prophecy. That would certainly be a strong motivation to get back to the subject. How else would one explain an otherwise pointless diversion by Ezekiel, one that puts God in a bad light? Thus, without blaming God, Ezekiel later admits that Nebuchadrezzar (supposedly Godʼs instrument) failed. Then, he adds a new prophecy; Nebuchadrezzar will get his reward by conquering Egypt. Alas! Nebuchadrezzar (and Ezekiel) struck out there as well.

Ezekiel 29:17 “In the twenty-seventh year, in the first month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: 18) ʼson of man, Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon made his army labor hard against Tyre; every head was made bald and every shoulder was rubbed bare; yet neither he nor his army got anything from Tyre to pay for the labor that he had performed against it. 19) Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will give the land of Egypt to Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon; and he shall carry off its wealth and despoil it and plunder it; and it shall be the wages for his army.”

This last prophecy (verse 19) never happened, as noted, making God a liar. Nebuchadrezzar never did conquer Egypt (Boadt, 1992).

Tyre Will Be Destroyed Forever

Ezekiel 26:19 “‘For thus says the Lord God: When I make you a city laid waste, like the cities that are not inhabited, when I bring up the deep over you, and the great waters cover you, then I will thrust you down with those who descend into the Pit, to the people of old, and I will make you to dwell in the nether world, among primeval ruins, with those who go down to the Pit, so that you will not be inhabited or have a place in the land of the living. I will bring you to a dreadful end, and you shall be no more; though you be sought for, you will never be found again, says the Lord God.’”

Laughable! The ruins of old Tyre lie under the ruble of succeeding centuries of inhabitation—not at the bottom of the sea! Some serious digging will bring the archaeologist to the old levels of Tyre. Lost indeed! But Bible-believers will quibble endlessly over such points. Holding does so at great length, his core point being:

“Finding the RUINS of Tyre (or any city) is NOT the same as finding Tyre (or any city) ITSELF.” (Holding, p.12)

Ezekiel makes it plain that Tyre will never be rebuilt. What else is added by saying that Tyre will never be found? If Ezekiel meant that the living city (or some meaningful continuation of it) will never be found, then he is simply being redundant. That much may be deduced from his statement that Tyre will be destroyed forever. Holding would be better off arguing for a Hebrew couplet here, an argument not without some merit. For those who prefer to take these prophecies literally, either Ezekiel has stupidly repeated himself or he meant something more. If Ezekiel meant something more, having already stated that Tyre will be sunk below the ocean, then it must be that even the ruins of Tyre will never be found again. Tyre will have vanished altogether, which it most assuredly has not.

Ezekiel 26:14 “I will make you a bare rock; you shall be a place for the spreading of nets; you shall never be rebuilt; for I the Lord have spoken, says the Lord God.”

Never happened! The island, essentially one big rock, was never scrapped clean, and thatʼs where Tyre was (and partly is) located. Indeed, centuries of occupation have added a thick layer of rubble, leaving the rock less bare than ever.

Ezekiel 27:35-36 “All the inhabitants of the coastlands are appalled at you; and their kings are horribly afraid, their faces are convulsed. The merchants among the peoples hiss at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more for ever.’”

Ezekiel 27:35-36 “‘Everyone who lives along the coast is shocked at your fate. Even their kings are terrified, and fear is written on their faces. You are gone, gone forever, and merchants all over the world are terrified, afraid that they will share your fate.’”
(Todayʼs English Version)

Ezekiel 28:19 “All who know you among the peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more for ever.’”

Ezekiel 28:18-19 “…So I set fire to the city and burned it to the ground. All who look at you now see you reduced to ashes. 19) You are gone, gone forever, and all the nations that had come to know you are terrified, afraid that they will share your fate.” (Todayʼs English Version)

Pure garbage! Even the horrible defeat by Alexander the Great cannot save these verses. “In The History of Tyre, Wallace B. Fleming said this of the cityʼs defeat by Alexander: Alexander then left the city which was half burnt, ruined, and almost depopulated. … The city did not lie in ruins long. Colonists were imported and citizens who had escaped returned. The energy of these with the advantage of the site, in a few years raised the city to wealth and leadership again, (Columbia University Press: New York, 1915, p.64).”

About 15,000 Tyrians were rescued by the Sidonians (Katzenstein and Edwards, 1992). Alexanderʼs conquest did not, by any means, exterminate the Phoenician population at Tyre. Indeed, the Phoenician language was spoken there into Roman times.
“Tyre is wholly an island, being built up nearly in the same way as Aradus; and it is connected with the mainland by a mole, which was constructed by Alexander… The city was also unfortunate when it was taken by siege by Alexander; but it overcame such misfortunes and restored itself both by means of the seamanship of its people, in which the Phoenicians in general have been superior to all peoples of all times, and by means of their dye houses for purple …” (Jidejian, p.88; based on Strabo 16.2.23)

Tyre was renown for its royal, purple dye, which was obtained mainly from the murex snail. Murex brandanis and Murex trunculus are often cited, as is Purpura haemastoma. The murex snail, whose shells are no larger than about 3 inches, still live in the waters off Tyre.

According to Diodorus (17.47.1-6), Alexander allowed a man of Tyre, of royal descent, to become its new king. A mere 17 years later Tyre was sufficiently recovered to resist—for 15 months—a siege by Antigonus, one of Alexanderʼs generals, who sought to make himself master of Asia upon Alexanderʼs death. Upon capturing Tyre, Antigonus established his own garrison there, showing that the city remained intact. (Jidejian, p.80) The sounds of the lyre and other music were surely heard again in Old Tyre!

Under the control of the Seleucid kings (after 198 BC), we have this concerning Tyre: “At first Tyre had not suffered greatly from competition with Alexandria. Any lost trade opportunities were more than compensated for by new commercial advantages resulting from Seleucid control in the east and the security which was essential for trade expansion.” (Jidejian, p.81)

“During the Punic wars Tyre quite naturally sympathized with Carthage [its old colony]. Hannibal was defeated by the Romans and had to flee for his life. He escaped by ship to Tyre where he was received with every mark of honor.” (Jidejian, p.82; based on Livy 35.48.6 and 37.30.1-10) Same old city, same old people! The Phoenicians are still in control.

Tyre recovered under Seleucid rule, which allowed a degree of independence, and reestablished itself during the Roman period as a major commercial and trade center. (Jidejian, p.81-82, 89, Emphasis added.)

“Rome confirmed Tyre as autonomous and in 93/94 C.E. Tyrian currency depicts Tyre as a metropolis.” (Chéhab 1962; p.24, 31: from Katzenstein and Edwards, 1992)

“Tyre was a beautiful city during the Byzantine period. The excavations have yielded wide streets lined with shops, vast necropolis and extensive residential quarters.” (Jidejian, p.118)

“During the fourth century A.D. Tyre was flourishing as witnessed by Jerome who found difficulty in reconciling Ezekielʼs prophecy of the destruction of Tyre with the beauty of the city in his time. The city was once more the center of commercial activity in the eastern Mediterranean and many ships of foreign lands sailed into its port.” (Jidejian, p.120)

Tyre enjoyed some independence under the dynasty of the Banuʼ Aqil, vassals of the Egyptian Fatimides (after 969 AD). This was a time when Tyre was adorn with fountains and its bazaars were full of all kinds of merchandise, including carpets and jewelry of gold and silver.

Today, the enlarged “causeway” is packed almost “wall to wall” with a dense cluster of tall buildings that remind me of a portion of downtown Los Angeles in its early years. About a third of the old island, on the southern side, is an archeological park. Excavation generally does not go below the Roman level, it being the policy to preserve Roman monuments and structures. The rest of the old island is pretty much covered with residential buildings, with a sprinkling of buildings having several stories. The old, southern harbor eventually became silted up; parts of the old jetty can still be seen in the form of small, offshore “islands.” The northern harbor is still functional, a busy fishermanʼs port; at times even a large freighter may anchor just outside of it! This is no forgotten, sleepy fishing village as portrayed by many Bible apologists!

Sounds to me like Tyre was anything but destroyed and never heard of again! Tyre, a Phoenician city under Phoenician care, was alive and kicking for centuries. Alexanderʼs conquest did NOT put an end to the real Tyre in any meaningful sense. Perhaps, for that reason, McDowell (Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Vol. I) reaches all the way to 1291 AD for the “final” destruction of Tyre! But, by then, the prophecy itself has become a joke—and it still does not escape its other failures. Whatʼs more, it would be silly to claim, nearly 1,800 years later, that the surrounding nations knew the Tyre of Ezekielʼs time in any meaningful sense. And, if Ezekiel was not addressing the Tyre of his time, but rather some distant generation, then why was he addressing concerns and using words that would only be understood as applying to his time? What would be the purpose of such a bizarre prophecy. Was he trying to fool his generation, not to mention later generations? Again, the whole thing becomes a huge joke at Godʼs expense.

After 1291 AD, McDowell claims that Tyre was no longer the same city. Perhaps, but how many major cities can you think of that have never been destroyed, never lost their original culture, over a period of nearly 2,000 years? Uncanny prophecy, huh? By then, of course, the point is wholly irrelevant. But, there is more if you wish to flog a dead horse.

The year 1291 AD was a time when the last traces of Christian control were being swept from Palestine. Acre, their last major stronghold, had fallen on May 5 of that year—just two weeks before the Mamluks of Egypt took Tyre, itself. Most of the coastal or surrounding “nations” would hardly have been terrified (Ezekiel 27:35-36, 28:19) at the fall of Tyre, one of the last Christian outposts of the region. The fall of Tyre was no threat to them (they were already under Muslim control) and the news would hardly have come as a great surprise. Even the die-hard Christians could probably see the writing on the wall. The year 1291 simply does not fit Ezekielʼs prophecy. Ezekiel is clearly talking about the great sea power of his day, an island fortress that had resisted conquest by even the deadly Assyrians, whose sudden and shocking demise would strike terror into the surrounding nations. Some of those nations in Ezekielʼs day had rebelled against Nebuchadrezzar; others may have still been under the umbrella of Egypt. It is those nations that might reasonably be shocked and terrified at Tyreʼs sudden collapse—not the surrounding “nations” of 1291 AD. Thus, even McDowellʼs far-fetched effort to salvage a sinking prophecy comes to naught on several counts.

Another strategy by believers is to simply deny that Ezekiel ever predicted a permanent destruction, a view that Holding seems to take, at least with respect to Ezekiel 26:19.

“Now v. 19, we should note that God will MAKE the city desolate, like one that is uninhabited. It does NOT say that He will KEEP IT THAT WAY! … The prophecy does not say that the area will be forever uninhabited.” (Holding, p.8)

I find it difficult to reconcile such quibbling with what the Bible actually says. Ezekiel tells us that Tyre will come to a dreadful end, that it will be no more forever, never to be rebuilt. Tyre will be sunk into the primeval ocean, never to be found again. I donʼt know how you read these words, but to me they have “permanent” written all over them. Even Bradshaw, who seems inclined to defend the prophecy, is forced to consider hyperbolic usage. “The same [the possible use of prophetic hyperbole] might be said about Ezekielʼs prophecy that the city would never be rebuilt …” (Bradshaw, p.11)

Holding continues his defense with:

“‘Building again’ implies that something is left to build UPON and used in the building process - a wall, a foundation, even the memory of a specific design. … But there was nothing left of Tyre to build upon, or nothing that was left was used to build the new settlements, either mainland or island, after their respective destructions and attacks upon them by the tides of time; and the design of the old city … was not in any sense incorporated into the new Tyres. So Tyre has not been ‘built again’ in the new city or in the fishing village. … In short, the cities share nothing but a name.” (Holding, p.9,10)

Such thinking is based on the myth that Tyre proper is the coastal city, which was (at least in some sense) scrapped clean by Alexander. However, we have seen the refutation of that myth. I have shown that, even after Alexanderʼs conquest, Tyre was rebuilt in every meaningful sense. McDowell seems to understand that fact, which apparently prompted him to reach for a later time (1291 AD) for the permanent destruction of Tyre, a date that allows his argument against the rebuilding of Old Tyre to rest on somewhat firmer ground. However, as I have shown, such a date cannot be reconciled with Ezekielʼs prophecy. Indeed, that date is already far removed from the theater of Ezekielʼs prophecy, which obviously applied to his own time. To advance even later dates would be even more absurd. In what meaningful sense can the Tyre of Ezekielʼs discourse even be said to exist at such late dates? The best conclusion, the only objective conclusion, is that Ezekielʼs prophecy has utterly failed on several counts.


  • (ANET): Pritchard, James B. 1955. Ancient Near Eastern Text Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

  • Arrian. 1976. History of Alexander and Indica (2.15.6-7; 2.16.7)
    Translated by P. A. Brunt, “Arrian with an English translation,” Loeb Classical Library, Vol. 1. London: William Heinemann, Ltd.
    (This source was cited by R. I. Bradshaw.)

  • Boadt, Lawrence. 1992. “Ezekiel, Book of,” The Anchor Bible Dictionary
    David Noel Freedman, editor-in-chief, 6 volumes
    New York: Doubleday

  • Bradshaw, Robert I. 1999 (accessed April 24, 2002). Tyre
    Internet: http://www.robibrad.demon.co.uk/tyre.htm
    (Although Bradshaw—who essentially supports Ezekielʼs prophecy about Tyre—tends to gloss over the serious difficulties, he has nevertheless produced an excellent secondary source, one that is not given over to the usual, wholesale distortions and absurd rationalizations employed by many apologists.)

  • Holding, J. P. (accessed April 22, 2002). TEKTON: Building Blocks for the Christian Faith: The Old Testament, “Steel-Belted Tyre: On the Tyre Prophecy of Ezekiel”
    Internet: http://www.tektonics.org/tekton_05_05_03.htm
    (Holding seems bent on preserving biblical inerrancy at any cost, often presenting lengthy rationalizations based on wishful thinking or dubious sources. However, he has obviously spent some time considering the arguments.)

  • Jidejian, Nina. 1969. Tyre Through the Ages
    Beirut, Lebanon: Dar El-Mashreq Publishers
    (With a foreword by Emir Maurice Chehab, Director General of Antiquities of Lebanon, this is one of the major works on the subject. A more recent work (a later version if I judge correctly) is given by R. I. Bradshaw, being published in 1992 by Kendall-Hunt of Dubeque, Iowa: USA)

  • Katzenstein, H. J. and Douglas R. Edwards. 1992. “Tyre” The Anchor Bible Dictionary David Noel Freedman, editor-in-chief, 6 volumes
    New York: Doubleday

  • Kjeilen, Tore. (accessed April 24, 2002). Encyclopaedia of the Orient, “Tyre”
    Internet: http://I-cias.com/e.o/tyre.htm

  • Liverani, M. 1988. “Tyre,” G. W. Bromiley, gen. ed. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised, Vol. 4. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 932-935
    (This source was cited by R. I. Bradshaw.)

  • Rufus, Quintus Curtius. 1984. The History of Alexander (4.2.2)
    Translated by John Yardley
    Harmondsworth: Penguin (This source was cited by R. I. Bradshaw.)

  • The New English Bible (Standard Edition). 1970
    Oxford University Press; Cambridge University Press
    (The New English Bible, which is notorious for “telling it like it is,” broke with the ancient word structures in order to render their true meaning into modern, parallel, English usage.)

  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocrypha (Revised Standard Version)
    New York: Oxford University Press, 1962
    (This is my default Bible, which stays fairly close to the ancient word structure.)

  • The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. 1989
    Oxford University Press; Cambridge University Press
    (The Revised English Bible is the successor of The New English Bible, and has been toned down to make it more suitable for use in the pulpit. Yet, it retains much of the bold, fresh rendering of the NEB.)

  • Todayʼs English Version. 1979
    Nashville, USA: Catholic Bible Press, a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers
    (TEV is another modern, English translation that attempts to get at the meaning rather than preserving ancient word structure, a work that is generally given high marks. Modern, Catholic translations are no longer the propaganda works of old. But, as is true of any translation, one must always take into consideration potential prejudices.)

Epistemological Note

Holding faults “Snakepiper” (in an Internet discussion) for not getting into the original Hebrew. Perhaps it has never occurred to Holding that teams of Bible translators know their Hebrew at least as well as Holding and company—and it is precisely their conclusions that comprise any good, English translation. When several good translations agree, you may rest assured that yet another appeal to the original Hebrew, especially by those with theological axes to grind, will not likely overthrow the essential meaning of such translations. Getting into the original Hebrew may provide additional insights, especially where ancient expressions have been given modern equivalents, but itʼs not going to overthrow the obvious, core meaning of numerous English translations. Holding is playing the old Hebrew-and-Greek game. If you donʼt like what the Bible says, claim that the original Hebrew or Greek really meant something else—and that all those translators had missed what is obvious to yourself! Itʼs usually a case of self-delusion (characterized by some knowledge of the ancient languages and a lot of wishful thinking) rather than an overt attempt at duplicity.

Dave E. Matson, The Oak Hill Free Press
P.O. Box 61274
Pasadena, CA 91116

May 3, 2002
Lightly revised: December 31, 2005

Comment using Google

Comment using Disqus

Comment using Facebook