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Ophir

OPHIR

OPHIR (Heb. אוֹפִר, אוֹפִיר), a country in the biblical period, well known for its gold. Trade between Palestine and Ophir was possible by sea from the port of Ezion-Geber, but only in the time of Solomon was an attempt made to reach Ophir and take gold, precious stones, and sandalwood from there (i Kings 9:28; 10:11; ii Chron. 8:18; 9:10). An attempt made during the reign of Jehoshaphat to reach Ophir did not succeed, as the ships prepared for this undertaking in Ezion-Geber broke on the rocks (i Kings 22:49). Sailing to Ophir apparently required much preparation, and could not be accomplished without outside help. In the days of Solomon the voyage was undertaken with the assistance of Tyrian sailors. Even in the days of Jehoshaphat, lengthy negotiations had been carried on between Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah king of Israel for the purpose of preparing the journey to Ophir, and still it did not succeed. The author of ii Chronicles (20:35–37) mistakenly indicates Tarshish as the goal of Jehoshaphat's voyage. However, the evidence recorded in the book is indeed correct, namely, that the negotiations between Jehoshaphat and Ahaziah aroused bitter opposition in Judah, no doubt because of the rights Jehoshaphat granted Ahaziah – as payment for his help in preparing the trip to Ophir – in the region of Ezion-Geber, which was located within the area of Judah's sovereignty. These negotiations also testify not only that the region of Ophir was distant from Palestine and that the voyage involved much preparation and special technical, professional training in navigation, but also that the mining of gold entailed many difficulties that the Kingdom of Judah could not overcome itself. According to information preserved in the Bible, Solomon's fleet sailed to Ophir only once. The plentiful information concerning the value of the gold of Ophir which was found in Palestine corroborates the assumption that this gold reached Palestine by way of gold markets which existed throughout the world at that time. The fact that the port of Ezion-Geber served as a point of departure for ships sailing to Ophir indicates that it was also possible to reach Ophir from the coastal regions of the Red Sea; and consequently, it is reasonable to suppose that Palestine served as a channel for the transportation of gold from Ophir to Syria, Babylonia, and Asia Minor. The use of the gold of Ophir in Palestine is attested to in the inscription: ז] הב אפר לבית חרן] ("Gold of Ophir for Beth-Horon") which was found on an earthern vessel discovered in the excavations at Tell Qasile.

There are many assumptions concerning the location of Ophir. Eupolemus was of the opinion that Ophir is an island in the Red Sea (in Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica, 9:30, 7). Josephus (Ant., 1:147; 8:164; cf. Eusebius, Onom. 176:13) locates Ophir in India – in the regions between one of the tributaries of the Indus River and China. It has also been suggested that Ophir should be located along the coast of the Arabian Peninsula, since the location of Ophir the son of Joktan the son of Eber was between Sheba and Havilah (Gen. 10:28–29), which were also famous in the biblical period for their gold (Gen. 2:11; Isa. 60:6; Ezek. 27:22; Ps. 72:15). The most likely location of Ophir to have been suggested so far is the region of Somalia on the East African coast, possibly extending to the neighboring coast of South Arabia. The products of Ophir are characteristically African and are similar to those of Punt, which suggests that Ophir and Punt were located in the same region. It is certain that Punt was in the area of Somalia, and it is thus likely that Ophir was situated there as well.

bibliography:

K. Peters, Ofir nach den neuen Entdeckungen (1908); Pauly-Wissowa, s.v. Saba; B. Moritz, Arabien (1923), 63ff.; J.A. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (1934), 38ff.; J. Eitan, in: huca, 12–13 (1937–38), 61; G.W. Van Beck, in: jaos, 78 (1958), 141–52; R.D. Barnett, A Catalogue of the Nimrud Ivories (1957), 59ff., 168.

[Joshua Gutmann]

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