1. Terms

2. Position of Palestine

3. Trade Products of Palestine

4. Palestinian Traders


1. To David

2. Solomon

3. Maritime Trade

4. To the Exile

5. The Exile and After


I. General. 1. Terms:

For a full list of the commercial terms used in the Old Testament, reference must be made to EB, IV, cols. 5193-99. Only the more important can be given here.

For "merchant" the Hebrew uses almost always one of the two participial forms cocher, or rokhel, both of which mean simply "one who travels." There is no difference in their meaning, but when the two are used together (Eze 27:13 ) the Revised Version (British and American) distinguishes by using "trafficker" for rokhel. The verb cachar, from which cocher is derived, is translated "to trade" in Ge 34:10,21 and "to traffic" in Ge 49:34, with numerous noun formations from the same stem. The verb rakhal from which rokhel is derived does not occur, but the noun formation rekhullah in Eze 26:12 (the Revised Version (British and American) "merchandise"); 28:5,16,18 (the Revised Version (British and American) "traffic") may be noted. In Eze 27:24 the Revised Version (British and American) has "merchandise" for markoleth, but the word means "place of merchandise," "market." The participle tarim, from tur, "seek out," in combination with 'aneshe, "men," in 1Ki 10:15, is translated "merchant men" by the King James Version, "chapmen" by the English Revised Version and "traders" by the American Standard Revised Version; in 2Ch 9:14, the King James Version and the English Revised Version have "chapmen" and the American Standard Revised Version "traders." The text of these verses is suspected. In Eze 27 (only) "merchandise" represents ma`arabh, from `arabh, "to exchange," translated "to deal," margin "exchange," in 27:9 the American Standard Revised Version, with "dealers," margin "exchangers," in 27:27 (the King James Version and the English Revised Version have "occupy," "occupiers"). kena`an, and kena`ani "Canaanite," are sometimes used in the sense of "merchant," but it is often difficult to determine whether the literal or the transferred force is intended. Hence, all the confusion in English Versions of the Bible; in the Revised Version (British and American) note "merchant," Job 41:6; "merchant," margin "Canaanite," Pr 31:24; "trafficker," Isa 23:8; "trafficker," margin "Canaanite," Ho 12:7; "Canaan," margin "merchant people," Isa 23:11; Ze 1:11, and compare "land of traffic," margin "land of Canaan," Eze 17:4.


In Apocrypha and New Testament "merchant" is for emporos (Sirach 26:29, etc.; Mt 13:45; Re 18:3,11,15,23). So "merchandise" is emporion, in Joh 2:16 and emporia, in Mt 22:5, while emporeuomai, is translated "make merchandise of" in 2Pe 2:3 and "trade" in Jas 4:13 (the King James Version "buy and sell"). But "to trade" in Mt 25:16 is for ergazomai (compare Re 18:17), and Lu 19:13 for pragmateuomai, the King James Version "occupy"; while "merchandise" in Re 18:11,12 is for gomos, "cargo" (so the Revised Version margin; compare Ac 21:3). Worthy of note, moreover, is metabolia, "exchange" (Sirach 37:11).

2. Position of Palestine:

Any road map of the ancient world shows that Palestine, despite its lack of harbors, occupied an extremely important position as regards the trade-routes. There was no exit to the West from the great caravan center Damascus, there was virtually no exit landward from the great maritime centers Tyre and Sidon, and there was no exit to the North and Northeast from Egypt without crossing Palestine. In particular, the only good road connecting Tyre (and Sidon) with Damascus lay directly across Northern Palestine, skirting the Sea of Galilee. In consequence, foreign merchants must at all tames have been familiar figures in Palestine (Ge 37:25,28; 1Ki 10:15; Ne 13:16; Isa 2:6; Ze 1:11, etc.). As a corollary, tolls laid on these merchants would always have been a fruitful source of income (1Ki 10:15; Eze 26:2; Ezr 4:20), and naturally Palestine enjoyed particular advantages for the distribution of her own products through the presence of these traders.

3. Trade Products of Palestine:

Of these products the three great staples were grain, oil and wine (Ho 2:8; De 7:13, etc.). The wine of Palestine, however, gained little reputation in the ancient world, and its export is mentioned only in 2Ch 2:10,15; Ezr 3:7, while Eze 27:18 says expressly that for good wine Tyre sent to Damascus. Grain would not be needed by Egypt, but it found a ready market in Phoenicia, both for consumption in the great cities of Tyre and Sidon and for export (1Ki 5:11; Ezr 3:7; Eze 27:17, etc.). A reverse dependence of Palestine on Tyre for food (Isa 23:18; compare Ge 41:57) could have occurred only under exceptional circumstances. Oil was needed by Egypt as well as by Phoenicia (Ho 12:1; Isa 57:9), but from Northern Israel was probably shipped into Egypt by way of Phoenicia. Ho 2:5,9 mentions wool and flax as products of Israel, but neither could have been important. Flax was a specialty of Egypt (Isa 19:9) and is hardly mentioned in the Old Testament, while for wool Israel had to depend largely on Moab (2Ki 3:4; Isa 16:1). Minor products that were exported were "balm .... honey, spicery and myrrh, pistachio-nuts and almonds" (Ge 43:11 margin; see the separate articles, and compare "pannag and .... balm" in Eze 27:17). These were products of Gilead (Ge 37:25). "Oaks of Bashan" had commercial value, but only for use for oars (Eze 27:5), and so in small logs. Palestine had to import all heavy timbers (1Ki 5:6, etc.). Despite De 8:9, Palestine is deficient in mineral wealth. The value of Pal's manufactured products would depend on the skill of the inhabitants, but for the arts the Hebrews seem to have had no particular aptitude (1Ki 5:6; compare 1Sa 13:19 ff).

4. Palestinian Traders:

In comparison with the great volume of international trade that was constantly passing across Palestine, the above products could have had no very great value and the great merchants would normally have been foreigners. A wide activity as "middlemen" and agents was, however, open to the inhabitants of Palestine, if they cared to use it. Such a profession would demand close contact with the surrounding nations and freedom from religious scruples. The Canaanites evidently excelled in commercial pursuits of this time, so much so that "Canaanite" and "merchant" were convertible terms.

II. History.

1. To David:

The Israelites entered Canaan as a nomadic people who had even agriculture yet to learn, and with a religious self-consciousness that restrained them from too close relations with their neighbors. Hence, they were debarred from much participation in trade. The legislation of the Pentateuch (in sharp distinction from that of Code of Hammurabi) shows this non-commercial spirit very clearly, as there are no provisions that relate to merchants beyond such elementary matters as the prohibition of false weights, etc. (De 25:13; Le 19:36; Covenant Code has not even these rules). In particular, the prohibition of interest (Ex 22:25; De 23:19, etc.) shows that no native commercial life was contemplated, for, without a credit-system, trade on any extensive scale was impossible. All this was to be left to foreigners (De 23:20; compare 15:6; 28:12,44). The Jewish ideal, indeed, was that each household should form a self-sufficient producing unit (Pr 31:10-27), with local or national exchange of those commodities (such as tools and salt) that could not be produced at home. And this ideal seems to have been maintained tolerably well. The most northerly tribes, through their proximity to the Phoenicians, were those first affected by the commercial spirit, and in particular the isolated half-tribe of Dan. In Jud 5:17 we find them "remaining in ships" at the time of Barak's victory. As their territory had no seacoast, this must mean that they were gaining funds by serving in the ships of Tyre and Sidon. Zebulun and Issachar, likewise, appear in De 33:19 as the merchants of Israel, apparently selling their wares chiefly at the time of the great religious assemblages. But the disorders at the time of the Judges were an effectual bar against much commerce. Saul at length succeeded in producing some kind of order, and we hear that he had brought in a prosperity that showed itself in richer garments and golden ornaments for the women (2Sa 1:24; see MONEY). David's own establishment of an official shekel (2Sa 14:26) is proof that trade was becoming a matter of importance.

2. Solomon:

Under Solomon, however, Israel's real trade began. The writer of Ki lays special stress on his imports. From Tyre came timber (1Ki 5:6, etc.) and gold (1Ki 9:11). From Sheba came gold and spices (1Ki 10:10, "gave" here, like "presents" elsewhere, is a euphemism). From Ophir and elsewhere came gold, silver, precious stones, almug trees, ivory, apes and peacocks (1Ki 10:11,22,25). According to Massoretic Text 1Ki 10:28 f, horses and chariots were brought from Egypt and re-sold to the North.

But the text here is suspected. Egypt had no reputation as a horse-mart in comparison with Northern Syria and Western Armenia (see TOGARMAH). So many scholars prefer to read "Musri" (in Northwestern Arabia) for "Egypt" (mtsr for mtsrym--see the comms., especially EB, III, cols. 3162-63). Yet the change does not clear up all the difficulties, and Egypt was certainly famous for her chariots. And compare De 17:16.

In exchange Solomon exported to Tyre wheat and oil (1Ki 5:11; 2Ch 2:10,15 adds "barley .... and wine"). What he sent to the other countries is not specified, and, in particular, there is no mention of what he exchanged for gold. 1Ki 5:11; 9:11, however, indicate that Hiram was the intermediary for most of this gold traffic, so that at the final settlement of accounts Solomon must have been heavily in Hiram's debt. 1Ki 9:11 proves this. Solomon had undertaken a larger task than the resources of Palestine could meet, and in payment was obliged to cede Northern Galilee to Hiram. (The writer of 1 Kings explains that `the cities were worthless,' while Chronicles passes over the unedifying incident altogether, if 2Ch 8:2 is not a reversal of the case.)

3. Maritime Trade:

Among Solomon's other activities sea-commerce was not forgotten. David's victory over Edom gave access to the Red Sea at Eziongeber, and this port was utilized by Hiram and Solomon in partnership (1Ki 9:26 ), Hiram, apparently, supplying the ships and the sailors (1Ki 10:11). After Solomon's death, Edom revolted and the way to the sea was closed (1Ki 11:14). It was not recovered until the time of Jehoshaphat, and he could do nothing with it, "for the ships were broken at Eziongeber" (1Ki 22:48), i.e. in the home harbor. Either they were badly built or incompetently manned. The Hebrews had no skill as sailors.


4. To the Exile:

After the time of Solomon the commerce established by him of course continued, with fluctuations. Samaria became so important a city from the trade standpoint that Ben-hadad I forced Baasha to assign a street there to the merchants of Damascus, while Ahab succeeded in extracting the reverse privilege from Ben-hadad II (1Ki 20:34). The long and prosperous contemporary reigns of Jeroboam II and Uzziah evidently had great importance for the growth of commerce, and it was the growing luxury of the land under these reigns that called forth the denunciations of Amos, Hosea and Isaiah. Amos complains of the importation of expensive foreign luxuries by the rich (compare Isa 3:18-23), who wasted the natural products of Palestine (Isa 6:3-6; 3:12,15). Grain, the chief article of value, was extorted from the poor (Isa 5:11), and the grain-dealers were notoriously dishonest (Isa 8:4-6); Isa 8:6c in English Versions of the Bible suggests the sale of adulterated grain. The meaning of the Hebrew, however, is obscure, but of course adulteration must have existed, and it is doubtless not without significance that the labels on the recently discovered Samaritan jar-fragments emphasize the purity of the contents (Harvard Theological Review, 1911, 138-39). The extent of commercialism so overwhelms Hosea that he exclaims `Ephraim is become a Canaanite!' (12:7 margin). The most unscrupulous dealing is justified by the plea, "Surely I am become rich" (12:8). Isaiah is shocked at the intimate contracts made with foreigners, which prove so profitable to the makers, but which bring in idolatry (2:6-8). It was in the time of Isaiah that Assyrian influence began to make itself felt in Judah, and the setting up in the Temple of a pattern of an Assyrian altar (2Ki 16:10 f) must have been accompanied with an influx of Assyrian commodities of all descriptions. (Similarly, the religious reaction under Hezekiah would have been accompanied by a boycott on Assyrian goods.) Data for the following pre-exilic period are scanty, but Eze 26:2 shows that Jerusalem retained a position of some commercial importance up to the time of her fall. Of especial interest are Isa 23 and Eze 26; 27 with their descriptions of the commerce of Tyre. Ezekiel indeed confines himself to description, but Isaiah characterizes the income of all this trade as "the hire of a harlot" (23:17,18), a phrase that reappears in Re 18:3,9--a chapter couched in the genuine old prophetic tone and based almost exclusively on Isaiah and Ezekiel. But it is important to note that Isaiah realizes (23:18) that all this enterprise is capable of consecration to Yahweh and is therefore not wrong in itself.

5. The Exile and After:

The deportation into Babylon brought the Jews directly into the midst of a highly developed commercial civilization, and, although we are ignorant of the details, they must have entered into this life to a very considerable extent. Indeed, it is more than probable that it was here that the famed commercial genius of the Jews made its appearance. Certain it is that exiles acquired great wealth and rose to high position (Zec 6:10; Ne 1:11; 5:17, etc.), and that when an opportunity to return to Palestine was opened, most of the exiles preferred to stay where they were (see EXILE). As a matter of fact, the Palestinian community was beggarly poor for years (Zec 8:10; Hag 1:6; Ne 1:3; Mal 3:10-12, etc.) and could not even prevent the sale of its children into slavery (Joe 3:6). Such trade as existed was chiefly in the hands of foreigners (Joe 3:17; Zec 14:21), but the repeated crop-failures must have forced many Jews into commerce to keep from starving. The history of the 4th century is very obscure, but for the later commercial history of the Jews the foundation of Alexandria (332 BC) was a fact of fundamental importance. For Alexandria rapidly became the commercial center of the world and into it the Jews, attracted by the invitations of the Ptolemies, poured in streams. Alexandria's policy was closely copied by Antioch (on the period see Ant, XII, i, iii; compare ALEXANDRIA; ANTIOCH), and Ant, XII, iv, shows that the ability of the Jews was duly recognized by the Gentiles. But this development was outside Palestine. Sirach does not count commerce among the list of trades in 38:24-30 (note, however, the increased importance of artisans) and his references to commerce throughout are not especially characteristic (5:8; 8:13, etc.; but see 42:7). But even the trade of Palestine must have been increasing steadily. Under the Maccabees Joppa was captured, and the opening of its port for Greek commerce is numbered among Simon's "glories" (1 Macc 14:5). The unification of the trade-world under Rome, of course, gave Palestine a share in the benefits. Herod was able to work commercial miracles (Ant., XV, vi, 7; viii, 1; ix, 2; xi, 1; XVI, v, 3, etc.), and the Palestine of the New Testament is a commercial rather than an agricultural nation. Christ's parables touch almost every side of commercial life and present even the pearl merchant as a not unfamiliar figure (Mt 13:45). Into the ethics of commerce, however, He entered little. Sharp dealings were everywhere (Mr 12:40; Lu 16:1-12, etc.), and the service of Mammon, which had pushed its way even into the temple (Mr 11:15-17 and parallel's), was utterly incompatible with the service of God (Mt 6:19-34, etc.). In themselves, however the things of Caesar and the things of God (Mr 12:17 and parallel's) belong to different spheres, and with financial questions pure and simple He refused to interfere (Lu 12:13 f). For further details and for the (not very elaborate) teaching of the apostles see ETHICS.


The appropriate sections in the HA's and Biblical diets., especially G. A. Smith's indispensable article "Trade" in EB, IV, cols. 5145-99 (1903); for the later period, GJV4, II, 67-82 (1907), III, 97-102 (1909). Compare also Herzfeld, Handelsgeschichte der Juderi des Alterthums2 (1894).

Burton Scott Easton

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