I. Old Testament Times.
1. Early Overland Commerce:
There were forces in early Hebrew life not favorable to the development of commerce. Intercourse with foreigners was not encouraged by Israels social and religious customs. From the days of the appearance of the Hebrews in Canaan, however, some commercial contact with the peoples around was inevitable. There were ancient trade routes between the East and the West, as well as between Egypt and the Mesopotamian valley. Israel lay as a bridge between these objective points. There were doubtless traveling merchants from very remote times, interchanging commodities of other lands for those of Israel Some of the Hebrew words for "trading" and "merchant" indicate this (compare cachar, "to travel," rakhal, "to go about"). In the nomadic period, the people were necessarily dependent upon overland commerce for at least a part of their food supply, such as grain, and doubtless for articles of clothing, too. Frequent local famines would stimulate such trade. Companies or caravans carrying on this overland commerce are seen in Gen 37:25,28, "Ishmaelites" and "Midianites, merchantmen," on their way to Egypt, with spices, balm and myrrh. Jacob caused his sons to take certain products to Egypt as a present with money to Joseph in return for grain: balsam, spices, honey, myrrh, nuts, almonds (Gen 43:11 f). The presence of a "Bab mantle" among the spoils of Ai (Josh 7:21) indicates commerce between Canaan and the East.
2. Sea Traffic:
While there are slight indications of a possible sea trade as early as the days of the Judges (Jdg 5:17; compare Gen 49:13), we must wait till the days of the monarchy of David and especially Solomon for the commerce of ships. Land traffic was of course continued and expanded (1 Ki 10:15,28,29; 2 Ch 1:16). Sea trade at this time made large strides forward. The Philistines were earlier in possession of the coast. Friendship with Hiram king of Tyre gave Solomon additional advantages seaward (1 Ki 5; 9:26; 10:19-29; 2 Ch 8:17; 9:14), since the Phonicians were pre-eminently the Miditerranean traders among all the people of Israel Later, commerce declined, but Jehoshaphat attempted to revive it (1 Ki 22:48; 2 Ch 20:36), but without success. Tyre and Sidon as great commercial centers, however, long impressed the life of Israel (Isa 23; Ezek 26 through 27). Later, in the Maccabean period, Simon acquired Joppa as a Jewish port (1 Macc 14:5), and so extended Mediterranean commerce.
3. Land Traffic in the Time of the Kings:
During the peaceful reign of Solomon, there came, with internal improvements and foreign friendships, a stimulus to traffic with Egypt and the Far East over the ancient trade routes as well as with Phoenicia on the northwest. He greatly added to his wealth through tariffs levied upon merchantmen (1 Ki 10:15). Trade with Syria in the days of Omri and Ahab is indicated by the permission Benhadad gave to Israelites to open streets, or trading quarters, in Damascus, as Syrians had in Samaria (1 Ki 20:34). The prophets disclose repeatedly the results of foreign commerce upon the people in the days of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, and of Jeroboam II, under whom great material prosperity was attained, followed by simple luxury (Isa 2:6,7,16; Hos 12:1,7,8; Am 6:3-6). The people in their greed of gain could not observe Sabbaths and feast days (Am 8:5); compare Sabbath trading and its punishment in the days of the restoration (Neh 13:15-22). "Canaanite" became the nickname for traffickers (Zec 14:21; compare Isa 23:8).
II. New Testament Times.
After the conquests of Alexander 333 BC, trade between East and West was greatly stimulated. Colonies of Jews for trade purposes had been established in Egypt and elsewhere. The dispersion of the Jews throughout the Greek and Roman world added to their interest in commerce. The Mediterranean Sea, as a great Roman lake, under Roman protection, became alive with commercial fleets. The Sea of Galilee with its enormous fish industry became the center of a large trading interest to all parts. The toll collected in Galilee must have been considerable. Matthew was called from his collectorship to discipleship (Mt 9:9); Zaccheus and other publicans became rich collecting taxes from large commercial interests like that of balsam. Jesus frequently used the commerce of the day as illustration (Mt 13:45; 25:14-30). Along the Palestinian coast there were several ports where ships touched: Lydda, Joppa, Caesarea; and further north Ptolemais, Tyre, Sidon and Antioch (port Seleucia).
The apostle Paul made use of ships touching at points on the coast of Asia Minor, and the islands along the coast, and also doing coast trade with Greece, Italy and Spain, to carry on his missionary emterprises (Acts 13:4-13; 16:11 f; 18:18; 20:13-16; 21:1-8; 27:1-44; 28:1-14). The rapidity with which the gospel spread throughout the Roman world in the 1st century was due no little to the use of the great Roman highways, built partly as trade routes; as well as to the constant going to and fro of tradesmen of all sorts; some of whom like Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:2,18,26), Lydia, (16:14,40) and Paul himself (who was a traveling tent-maker) were active in disseminating the new faith among the Gentiles. In Jas 4:13 we have a good representation of the life of a large number of Jews of this period, who would "go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain" (the King James Version).
See also TRADE.
Edward Bagby Pollard