Phoenician Mariners & Rough Water Seamanship


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1.  The ship that Jonah boards at Joppa was most likely a Phoenician merchant vessel

  • In 760BC, around when the events of Jonah would have taken place, the dominant seafaring people were the Phoenicians

2.  Phoenicia was a narrow strip of land of the Syrian coast about 160 miles long by 20 miles wide

  • Their territory today would involve parts of Lebanon and Syria
  • Due to the small size of their land, they turned to the sea for their living
  • They were the most skilled ship builders of the ancient world, bringing about much technological advancement for their day

3.  Their nautical and merchant accomplishments were noteworthy. This included:

  • Working the silver mines of Spain
  • Passing through the Strait of Gibraltar
  • Founding the city of Cadiz on the southern coast of Spain.
  • Sailing to and mining the British Isles for tin
  • Sailing around the tip of Southern Africa
  • Founding many colonies, including Carthage 1

4.  “Perhaps the most significant contribution of the Phoenicians was syllabic writing, developed in about 1000 BC at Byblos. From this city’s name come the Greek word biblia (books) and the English word Bible. This form of writing was spread by the Phoenicians in their travels and influenced the Aramaic and Greek alphabets.” 2

5.  The most prominent cities of Phoenicia were:

  • Tyre, which was the center of purple dye ad fabric trade
  • Sidon, which was the center of the glass industry

6.  The Phoenicians (with the lead city often serving as Tyre) were generally amicable to the dominant powers of each era

  • King Hiram of Tyre helped Solomon build the Temple
  • The Phoenicians provided Darius and then Xerxes and the Persian Navy with the fleet necessary to lay siege of Greece
  • The Phoenicians did not submit to Alexander the Great and paid a terrible price with the siege of Tyre in 332 BC
  • The Romans took Phoenicia in 64 BC 3

Note: The Phoenicians worshipped Baal, Ashtoreth, and Molech (not the crescent moon atop the merchant ship) 4


“Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And theythrew the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.”                                                                                                                             – Jonah 1: 4, 5

“The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, “What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?” “Pick me up and throw me into the sea,” he replied, “and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.” – Jonah 1: 11 – 13

7.  The nautical techniques employed by the Phoenician crew are exactly the ones you would take for a ship that is in danger of foundering

  • You would lighten the load so as to cause the boat to ride higher in the water
  • The hope is that this would lessen the effect of water getting in the cargo hold

8.  Additionally, if the boat was carrying wheat, then you need to get rid of the wheat in the cargo bay

  • The fear is that the wheat/grain (see verse 38) in the cargo hold expands once water gets inside – this could break the hull of the vessel from within 5


  5. Archeological Study Bible – see note on Acts 27: 16 and on Acts 27: 17                                                                      I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, Norman Geisler and Frank Turek (page 259)