I am debating the issue of whether or not the Tanakh contains errors with a friend, who insists that Ezekiel 26 contains a false prophecy with regards to siege of Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar.
Specifically, it says:

11 With the hoofs of his horses shall he tread down all thy streets; he shall slay thy people with the sword, and the pillars of thy strength shall go down to the ground.

12 And they shall make a spoil of thy riches, and make a prey of thy merchandise; and they shall break down thy walls, and destroy the houses of thy delight; and thy stones and thy timber and thy dust shall they lay in the midst of the waters.

For more background, see this article about the history of Tyre

I have checked my favorite commentary (ArtScroll Commentary by Eisemann) and the issue is not addressed, although there were helpful notes regarding the breaks in the passage.

There are several proposed solutions:

  1. Ezekiel was simply wrong (especially about Nebuchadnezzar plundering the riches of Tyre). He tries to correct this in chapter 29.

  2. Ezekiel was referring to both Nebuchadnezzar and Alexander the Great (as suggested by some Christian apologists). This is because the pronoun in verse 12 switches from "he", referring to Nebuchadnezzar, to "they" referring to the nations in verse 3. This seems unlikely because verses 7- 14 form a unit within the text. I am not a scholar in this regard but am open to the possibility of the Hebrew grammar allowing for this.

  3. This verse was fulfilled with the siege of Nebuchadnezzar because the related passage in ch. 29 mentions only the plunder not equaling the effort. The old city of Tyre on the mainland was indeed destroyed in the siege, although verse 8 could refer to this with the phrase "daughters in the field". It also seems unlikely that Tyre, which is referred to as being on an island in the sea multiple times, is not in view here. However, this Christian website suggests that it might be the case.

Which one of these would be the most appropriate response in light of the accusation that the account is erroneous? (i.e. that Nebuchadnezzar did not conquer the island portion of Tyre and destroy it in the manner described?)

Per the historical and archaeological records mentioned in the first article, the mainland portion of the city was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, although the island portion was not. The verses above suggest that the island part of Tyre would be utterly destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. This did not happen until the time of Alexander the Great, well after Nebuchadnezzar's death. How can we reconcile this apparent discrepency with what what we know to be true from reliable historians like Josephus?

Thank you for any help!


The ancient city-state of Tyre was comprised of the erstwhile island proper (no longer extant) in addition to a cluster of sister cities on the mainland (Ezek 26:6). According to the prophecy of Ezekiel, the city-state would become a place for spreading of fishing nets.

Ezekiel 26:5 (NASB)
She will be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea, for I have spoken,’ declares the Lord God, ‘and she will become spoil for the nations.

Ezekiel 26:14 (NASB)
I will make you a bare rock; you will be a place for the spreading of nets. You will be built no more, for I the Lord have spoken,” declares the Lord God.

The word for Tyre in Hebrew is צֹר (tsōre), which means rock. Ezekiel indicated that Tyre would be stripped of its glory as the center of international trade and commerce, so that what would be left would be a "bare rock" -- that is, a bare "Tyre" where fishing nets would be spread. In other words, the prophecy was not that the city-state would be uninhabited, but that its glory and fame would never be rebuilt. What the reader must infer is that when fishing nets are spread out, someone necessarily (in this case fishermen) are spreading the fishing nets, since inanimate fishing nets cannot and do not spread themselves out by themselves. So there is no prophecy that the city-state would never be inhabited again, but that the city-state would never be rebuilt (to its former days of glory). Ezekiel prophesied that the Lord would debase the once glorious city-state, whose glory and arrogance were then compared to an erstwhile anointed but arrogant cherub in heaven (Ezek 28:11-19). It is this glory and fame that would never be rebuilt. The glorious rock of Tyre has become a "bare rock" of fisheries, which is the state of the current area and municipality of "Tyre" today.

Now one might ask whether the passage here also speaks of the destruction of the city-state by Nebuchadnezzar, when in fact various secular historical sources indicate that it was Alexander the Great, who several centuries later was the one who leveled the city-state. That is, secular history indicates that Nebuchadnezzar never leveled the island city-state proper.

The plain and normal reading of the this passage in Ezekiel does not indicate that Nebuchadnezzar was to level the island city-state, but the daughters of Tyre, who were "on the mainland."

Ezekiel 26:8 (NASB)
8 He will slay your daughters on the mainland with the sword; and he will make siege walls against you, cast up a ramp against you and raise up a large shield against you.

The phrase "on the mainland" is בַּשָּׂדֶ֖ה (bsä·deh') in Hebrew, which literally means "in the field." According to Ezekiel, the direct attack was not against the city-state proper in the water, but against the cluster of sister cities of Tyre "on the mainland." The parsing of this verse (through cantillation) makes this logic very evident in a visual sense. Please click on the image to enlarge.

This image depicts the visual parsing of Ezekiel 26:8 through Hebrew cantillation.

One of the most powerful benefits of cantillation is to understand the logical parsing of the verse. That is, cantillation has as much abstract value (musical accompaniment) as logical value (parsing structure of the verse) for understanding Hebrew prose and poetry. In other words, all the words and phrases in the blue box modify all the words and phrases in the red box. (There are also three "sub" arrangements of modifying phrases in the blue box.) The second half of the verse is not referring to the island city-state, but the destruction of the sister cities "on the mainland."

So what we can conclude is that the sister mainland cities affiliated with Tyre were to be razed by Nebuchadnezzar. Since these sister cities on the mainland were affiliated with Tyre, Ezekiel refers to them all collectively as "you" (singular pronoun), which causes confusion when we translate these verses into English. That is, while Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx (among others) are separate and distinct boroughs, we may refer to them all as one entity by use of the name of the same city to which they all belong in the singular sense.

  • Do you think it reasonable to claim that Alexander the Great was part of this process? Or is the language of "he [Nebuchadnezzar] shall tread down all thy streets" (verses 11 - 12) more metaphorical in this passage in light of the fact that Nebuchadnezzar never plundered the island portion of the city? – Don Shrinkle Apr 22 '17 at 1:14
  • @DonShrinkle - I just edited the post to clarify my answer in response to your questions and concerns. – Joseph Apr 22 '17 at 16:39

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