This fifteenth-century French manuscript illustration from a history of Alexander’s career probably draws on accounts of a Crusader siege of Tyre in 1124 to fill in the details of the Greek conquest of the city nearly fifteen centuries earlier. It depicts a moment as the armies of Alexander the Great marched eastward. Very little slowed them down, but the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre—located on an island just a kilometre from the coast of present-day Lebanon—posed a problem.
The city had forty-six-metre walls towering over the sea, making any attack difficult. Tyre retreated behind its fortifications, but Alexander built a causeway from the mainland to the island, breached the walls, and took the city, killing many of its inhabitants and selling many more into slavery.
To this day, Tyre is an isthmus rather than an island, still connected to the mainland by Alexander’s ambition in the form of the causeway.
‘Tyre has built itself a rampart’, the prophet says in Zechariah 9:3, ‘and heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets’ (NRSV). Trade had made the city very wealthy. ‘But now’, Zechariah continues, ‘the Lord will strip it of its possessions, and hurl its wealth into the sea, and it shall be devoured by fire’ (vv.3–4). Just as the anticipated successful defence of Judah against the ‘sons of Greece’ would be attributed to the patronage of God and the strength of native sons a few verses later, the sack of Tyre was seen as the work of the Lord, who was patronizing Judea and using the Macedonians as a weapon against Tyre. The armies of Alexander were enemies when they approached Judea, but they were instruments of God’s wrath against Tyre. These verses about Tyre are a major reason many scholars see Zechariah as an oracle about the fourth century BCE, rather than the sixth or fifth century BCE post-exilic period.
Even after its fall to Alexander, the city remained important and resistant to subsequent attacks until an army of Franks and Venetians arrived in the twelfth century CE. The papal bull that would have authorized that siege and the broader ‘crusade’ of which it was a part is not extant, but it is not difficult to imagine that such a document would have made reference to Zechariah 9:3–4.
Chinnock, E. J. (trans.) 1884. Arrian: The Anabasis of Alexander, 2.16–24, pp. 117–34
Mixter, John R. 2005. ‘Alexander’s Triumph at Tyre’, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History: 34–43, 80–81
9 An Oracle
The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrach
and will rest upon Damascus.
For to the Lord belong the cities of Aram,
even as all the tribes of Israel;
2Hamath also, which borders thereon,
Tyre and Sidon, though they are very wise.
3Tyre has built herself a rampart,
and heaped up silver like dust,
and gold like the mud of the streets.
4But lo, the Lord will strip her of her possessions
and hurl her wealth into the sea,
and she shall be devoured by fire.
5Ashʹkelon shall see it, and be afraid;
Gaza too, and shall writhe in anguish;
Ekron also, because its hopes are confounded.
The king shall perish from Gaza;
Ashʹkelon shall be uninhabited;
6a mongrel people shall dwell in Ashdod;
and I will make an end of the pride of Philistia.
7I will take away its blood from its mouth,
and its abominations from between its teeth;
it too shall be a remnant for our God;
it shall be like a clan in Judah,
and Ekron shall be like the Jebʹusites.
8Then I will encamp at my house as a guard,
so that none shall march to and fro;
no oppressor shall again overrun them,
for now I see with my own eyes.
9Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.
10I will cut off the chariot from Eʹphraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your captives free from the waterless pit.
12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.
13For I have bent Judah as my bow;
I have made Eʹphraim its arrow.
I will brandish your sons, O Zion,
over your sons, O Greece,
and wield you like a warrior’s sword.
14Then the Lord will appear over them,
and his arrow go forth like lightning;
the Lord God will sound the trumpet,
and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.
15The Lord of hosts will protect them,
and they shall devour and tread down the slingers;
and they shall drink their blood like wine,
and be full like a bowl,
drenched like the corners of the altar.
16On that day the Lord their God will save them
for they are the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
they shall shine on his land.
17Yea, how good and how fair it shall be!
Grain shall make the young men flourish,
and new wine the maidens.