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An Examination of Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Tyre: Part 2

In the previous post, I argued that this prophecy simply fails at face value. Ezekiel predicted that Tyre would be completely destroyed and never rebuilt, yet that didn’t happen. Tyre experienced a long history of both prosperity and calamity, and today, it’s the 4th largest city in Lebanon. In this post, we’ll examine that history in more detail so we’ll have a good foundation as we study the prophecy.

It’s surprisingly hard to find thorough histories that just focus on Tyre. If you stick to the internet, you typically run across links that have a religious slant, arguing for or against Ezekiel’s prophecy. However, I did find two that were helpful and seemed to not have a heavy bias. This site is primarily a Middle East travel site, but it provides interesting historical facts about many of the major tourist spots in the Mid East, and Tyre is no exception. Another online resource that was very helpful is this page at Livius is a non-profit site dedicated to ancient history, run by Dutch historian Jona Lendering. The best thing about this site is that it provides references to ancient sources for its major points.

Finally, the other source that was especially helpful to me is The History of Tyre, by Wallace Fleming. Like Livius, it’s chock full of references to ancient historical sources, and it seems to be about as thorough a treatment of the subject as one could hope to find.

A Brief History of Tyre

map of TyreTyre is quite ancient. Its name means “rock,” which is a fitting name as it’s a rocky island that sat just off the Phoenician coast. Today, it often goes by the name “Sur” or “Sour,” which may seem strange initially, but it’s actually the same exact name that it’s always had. “Sur” is the way Tyre is spelled in Arabic, and in Hebrew it’s “Tzur.” In fact, you can see that spelling by checking an interlinear Bible for the Hebrew translation of this passage.

Herodotus records that the city was founded somewhere around 2800 BCE. There’s been some disagreement over which came first, the island city, or the mainland settlements. This confusion has mostly come from the Greeks calling the mainland settlement “Paleotyrus,” which means “old Tyre.” But more ancient texts refer to this site as “Ushu” or “Sazu.” For instance, “the Tyre of the Amarna letters and of the early Egyptian travelers was clearly the island city. The mainland town was then called Sazu” (Fleming, ch 1). The Amarna letters date to sometime in the 14th century BCE, which is about 800 years before Ezekiel’s prophecy. If Tyre was already known to be the island that far back, then it really leaves no question as to whether his prophecy referred to the island or the mainland. As another scholar put it, “Palaetyrus is now generally admitted to have been merely an outpost of Tyre, and is conjecturally placed by most scholars as near Ras al-Ain” (Maspero, Struggles of the Nations, p. 186). So even if the mainland section is older, there’s no precedent for it going by the name Tyre.

By the time of the Amarna letters, Tyre was already considered quite formidable, not just prosperous (Fleming, ch 1). The Phoenicians were masters of the sea, and Tyre was its most prominent city. Its ships sailed throughout the Mediterranean and even the Atlantic, going as far as the western coast of Africa and even the British Isles. Tyre founded a number of other prominent cities like Citium and Carthage. King Hiram I reigned from 980 to 947 BCE. He undertook a number of projects that enlarged Tyre like filling in the eastern side of the island and connecting the main island of Tyre to the smaller one to the south that was the site of the temple of Melkart.

Tyre continued to grow in prosperity as the centuries unfolded. When the Assyrian Empire came to power in the region, they were unable to take Tyre, but would periodically put pressure on the city to receive submission and tribute.

Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came against Tyre, but was unable to take the city after a 13 year siege. Finally, in 584 BCE, Babylon and Tyre worked out a peace: Tyre gave some hostages and accepted a Babylonian official at court. Following Nebuchadnezzar’s siege, Tyre suffered economic and political turmoil for a while. The long siege had affected its trade, and the city didn’t completely recover until shortly after the Persians took over Babylon in 539 BCE.

The Tyrian navy served Persia in its wars with Greece. Once Alexander defeated the Persian king in 333 BCE, the Phoenician cities submitted to him, including Tyre (Livius). An embassy from the city met him at the coast with a gold crown and various other gifts, proclaiming their submission. Alexander was pleased, but he told the group that the city should make ready for his arrival, for he wished to sacrifice in the temple of Melkart. This put the people of Tyre on guard. They worried that he was looking to occupy the city, and they were used to having a high degree of autonomy under the empires they were subject to.

After deliberation, Tyre sent word to Alexander that they would submit to any request but this one — they would not allow either Persians (their former masters) or Greeks into the city, but that he was welcome to sacrifice to Melkart at the temple in Ushu (Paleotyre), which they said was older (though it probably wasn’t). Alexander was furious. He said if they wouldn’t open their gates to him, he would break them down. But the Tyrians had been besieged before, so they weren’t overly concerned by his threats. Tyre’s walls facing the mainland were 150 feet high and couldn’t be worn down without attack engines. But since it sat half a mile from the coast, there was no firm ground on which to base such siege weapons.

The siege began in January of 332 BCE. Alexander decided to build a causeway across the channel by using the buildings and ruins of Ushu. But the work was difficult, and they were constantly harried by Tyre’s defenders, who would fire arrows and other missiles from the walls and pull pieces of the causeway apart with their ships. After almost 6 months, little progress had been made.

Alexander finally realized that the Tyrian fleet needed to be neutralized if he was to have any hope of success. So he enlisted the other Phoenician navies as well as some ships from Cyprus, and this kept the Tyrian fleet from being able to leave their harbor. Alexander’s troops finally finished the causeway once they were no longer being impeded by Tyre’s fleet, though the siege was by no means a simple feat after this. I won’t go into all the details here, but reading about the ingenious tactics used by both sides is quite amazing. It’s impressive how well the Tyrians were able to hold out.

Alexander's siege
Image credit:

But finally, the city fell in July of 332 BCE.

The city was in the hands of her enemies; her people defeated but not conquered. Some, having barricaded their houses, and gone to the roofs, threw down stones and other missiles upon the heads of the Macedonian soldiers. Many shut themselves up in their homes and died at their own hands. Many died in the streets. Others barricaded themselves within the sacred building called the Agenorium, and made desperate resistance to Alexander and his soldiers until they were overpowered and killed almost to the last man. There was general slaughter in the streets and squares. The Macdeonians were enraged by the stubborn resistance of the city… A large part of the city was burned. Eight thousand were slain in the conflict. The young men of the city to the number of two thousand were crucified on the seashore by order of Alexander, as a reprisal for the death of the Macedonian prisoners. Thirty thousand were sold into slavery. The Sidonians on board of their vessels gave shelter to many refugees. The king, Azemilcus, and the chief magistrates, with the Carthaginian embassy, took refuge in the temple of Heracles (Melkart) and their lives were spared.
— Fleming, ch 7

Greek Rule and Beyond
“The city did not lie in ruins long. Colonists were imported and citizens who had escaped returned. The energy of these with the advantages of the site, in a few years raised the city to wealth and leadership again” (Fleming, ch 7).

The city flourished under Greek rule, as well as Roman, and beyond. Though it changed hands occasionally as various kingdoms came into power, it remained an important trade and political hub for many centuries. We have many references to Tyre, and it continues to be referred to in terms of beauty, wealth, and power. Throughout this time, Alexander’s causeway grew progressively larger from sediment buildup, until the island became a peninsula.

The city finally hit its lowest point in 1291 AD, over 1500 years after Alexander’s attack, when Sultan Al-Ashraf Khalil defeated Acre and then sent troops to take Tyre. The governor of Tyre, as well as the knights and wealthy people, abandoned the city leaving only those who had no means of escape. The remaining citizens were too frightened to offer resistance, so they opened the gates to the enemy, thinking that would earn mercy. Instead, they were slaughtered, and the buildings of Tyre were destroyed and burned.

traffic in TyreThe city lay in ruins for centuries after this devastation. There were periods where the population would grow a bit, and even one period where 10,000 soldiers were stationed there, but some other attack or natural disaster would bring it low again. In the 19th century, there were some travelers who passed through and wrote descriptions about its sorry state that were obviously borrowing phrases from Ezekiel’s prophecy. In 1915, there were only about 6500 people living in Tyre, and there were various schools and churches for the residents there (Fleming, ch 11). But throughout the 20th century, the city continued to grow, despite some setbacks caused by conflicts in the area. Today, it is the 4th largest city in Lebanon with over 100,000 inhabitants, it has one of Lebanon’s most vital ports, and it’s become a major tourist attraction (wiki).

In the next post, we’ll look at how Ezekiel’s prophecy matches up against Tyre’s history.

Tyre today
Tyre today

23 thoughts on “An Examination of Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Tyre: Part 2”

  1. you know, in all fairness, if we were to look at all the attacks on tyre and then look at Ezekiel saying that many nations will come in waves (paraphrasing), then I could almost see how many believe this to be fulfilled.

    The thing is though, there are still parts that were not fulfilled, and guessing or foretelling that a city would be sacked at all or even more than once, during that time(s) in world history, is not an “out there” assumption, but would actually be a rather safe bet.

    Empire after empire going on the conquest paths time after time… Again, it’s like saying that Baghdad will be attacked…

    and tyre was a major trade city… why wouldn’t a growing, war machine, empirical nation take interest in it?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You’re right William. At the same time, one could also argue that the “waves of the sea” thing didn’t actually happen since Tyre wasn’t taken by force many times at all. Usually, like other major cities in the region, they simply paid homage to whatever nation had come to power.

    It’s an interesting history. I really enjoyed reading about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Really well done, feel like I’m in history class. I mentioned this in another comment that for me the many different groups that took over Tyre at least half fulfills the prophecy. As (I think) William mentioned 50% doesn’t cut it for a lot of folks, so not sure where that leaves us.


  4. I hear what you’re saying, Matt, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with it. It’s true that Tyre fell under many different political powers over its long history. I don’t really have a problem with that part of the prophecy. Over the next couple of posts we’ll see how some of the details pan out.

    And thanks for the compliment. 🙂


  5. I’m not a bible scholar (though I have read the bible at least twice, I never read it very carefully), but the geography/history lesson is great. What an interesting city. As far as the prophecy goes…well, look at a thing in the right way and you can say just about anything to be true. I hope the prophecy had some dates or years in it, then we can at least know that everyone who does believe it are deluding themselves.


  6. Tyre experienced a long history of both prosperity and calamity” – Fascinating history lesson. The “prosperity and calamity” thing could be said of nearly every major city in the Middle East, in an era in which the strong took what they wanted. For a prophet to say that a major city would be destroyed, was a reasonably sure bet, but to say it would never rise again, was a bit risky.


  7. It’s no surprise that I agree with you, arch. That’s why this prophecy was so pivotal to me early in my struggle with Christianity. I realized that the “never be rebuilt” thing meant this was one of the few prophecies that could really be verified today. There’s no way to test Mary’s virginity (not that that was even a prophecy), or know if Jesus really prophesied the destruction of the temple, etc. But this statement that Tyre would be destroyed and never rebuilt means it’s pretty easy to falsify.


  8. And I suppose I can come on board under the guise of “Captain Obvious” and note that a lot of the resistance from those who felt this prophecy was true have argued that “it was the Tyre on the MAINLAND that Ezekiel was talking about”. If Tyre-on-the-Mainland didn’t really exist (b/c it was known by another name), or even if it was just the outlying suburbs of the main city, then the prophecy still fails…


  9. @ Eric

    Does scripture say ‘mainland Tyre’? No. Why then is it so construed? To resist acknowledging the obvious. Scripture means what they need it to mean to keep their faith. Maintaining the faith, winning the argument, is the imperative, rather than seeking what is true – hey, Hell is at stake, right?

    @ Nate

    Marvelous investigation and exposition. Thanks for doing this. I have followed all of this, but not engaged. The futility and frustration of trying to reason with unreasonable people and being called biased by biased people is too much unpleasantness for me to subject myself to anymore – and the atheists here generally present their case better than I could anyway. But though I mostly lurk, I just wanted to jump in and say that I greatly admire and appreciate your efforts. And the efforts of others who, in the face of discouragement, persecution, and closed minds continue to work towards increasing reason and decreasing superstition in its many guises. It does get through to some of the people some of the time, obdurate apologists notwithstanding.


  10. The futility and frustration of trying to reason with unreasonable people and being called biased by biased people is too much unpleasantness for me to subject myself to anymore.

    “If you could reason with religious people, there would BE no religious people.”
    ~~ Dr. Gregory House ~~


  11. @exrelayman

    Welcome back! I always appreciate your comments, and I’m glad you’re still hanging around. Thanks very much for the kind compliment. 🙂

    And for what it’s worth, I’ve always thought your points are excellent, so don’t feel like you need to hang back!


  12. Very much enjoyed the history recap. Interesting stuff. I think about this issue from time to time. One thing I’m curious about: the city is mentioned numerous times in the New Testament and has maintained a Christian community continually since. I wonder what all those guys think of the prophecy? Would be an interesting discussion anyway.


  13. Hey Ben!

    It’s an interesting question. I can’t speak for most of them, but it has been recorded that Jerome was especially troubled by it. Not enough to lose his faith over, of course. Probably wouldn’t have been enough for me either, if this had been the only issue.


  14. I went to read about your problem with mainland versus island Tyre, and this thread opens with your ‘never be rebuilt’ straw-man again. Someone who hardly accepts that Hebrew poetry is a thing, who didn’t know about chiastic structure or parallelism, is qualified to say that this prophecy ‘fails’ because it didn’t meet *his own* limited understanding of the text?

    OK, for the last time: do islands go down to the deep, down to the grave, down to Sheol? Who is this “YOU” that God says will never be rebuilt?


  15. I would ask that you just get through the series first. I still think it’s extremely clear that this prophecy concerns the island, not the mainland (except for the portions that say “daughters on the mainland”), and I think it’s just as clear that Ezekiel thought Nebuchadnezzar would take the island. Finish out the series, and then we can talk specifics… cool?

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hey Nan,

    I had never run across that article before. Thanks for sharing it! He covers a lot of the same ground that I do in this series of posts, but he makes a few observations I hadn’t thought of. And more importantly, he lists some sources in his bibliography that I was unaware of. I’m going to try to track some of them down.

    Thanks again!


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