The Bible and Trade
It is not surprising that the biblical writers have little to say directly about trade, since this was not something in which they were particularly interested and it was often incidental. For example, the reference to a caravan of Ishmaelite or Midianite traders ‘coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt’ (Gen. 37: 25 ) explains how Joseph was taken down to Egypt. It is possible that such marriages as that of Ahab to Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Sidon (1 Kgs. 16: 31 ), were undertaken for commercial reasons, but this is not stated explicitly.
It is not possible to reconstruct a precise picture of the ancient Israelites' trading relations, to distinguish clearly between times when trade flourished or was slack. So the accompanying map is not related to any specific period or any particular book of the Bible. It represents an attempt to show what trade routes may have been in use at approximately the time of the Hebrew monarchy, and the principal towns or peoples with which the Israelites or their neighbours may have had trade relations. Some of the names, especially in Arabia, appear as personal names in the Bible. Genesis 25: 1–6 purports to list the descendants of Abraham as a result of his taking Keturah as a wife. But when it is remembered that Keturah means ‘incense’, and that Arabian incense was an important source of wealth in ancient times, it becomes likely that that the names of Keturah's sons and grandsons represent not individual persons but well‐known peoples or places connected with the incense trade. Many of these places cannot be located with certainty on a map, but a few can be identified with peoples known from other sources. Figures such as Sheba (the Sabeans of Job 1: 15 ) and Nebaioth (the eldest son of Ishmael in Genesis 25: 13 and a pastoral tribe in Isaiah 60: 7 ) stand out. Indeed, Sheba and Nebaioth are linked with Midian, Ephah, and Kedar in Isaiah 60: 4–7 , a passage speaking of the wealth of nations being brought to Jerusalem. Other names on the map are supplied from Assyrian or Egyptian records; and some are of ancient sites recovered by archaeological excavations, with evidence of trading activity.