1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Ophir

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OPHIR, a region celebrated in antiquity for its gold, which was proverbially fine (Job xxii. 24, xxviii. 16; Psalms xlv. 9; Isa. xiii. 12). Thence Solomon's Phoenician sailors brought gold for their master (1 Kings ix. 28, x. 11; 2 Chron. viii. 18, ix. 10); Ophir gold was stored up among the materials for the Temple (1 Chron. xxix. 4). Jehoshaphat , attempting to follow his ancestors' example, was foiled by the shipwreck of his navy (1 Kings xxii. 48). The situation of the place has been the subject of much controversy.

The only indications whereby it can be identified are its connexion, in the geographical table (Gen. x. 29), with Sheba and Havilah, the latter also an auriferous country (Gen. ii. 11), and the fact that ships sailing thither started from Ezion-Geber at the head of the Red Sea. It must, therefore, have been somewhere south or east of Suez; and must be known to be a gold-bearing region. The suggested identification with the Egyptian Punt is in itself disputable, and it would be more helpful if we knew exactly where Punt was (see Egypt).

(1) East Africa. — This has, perhaps, been the favourite theory in recent years, and it has been widely popularized by the sensational works of Theodore Bent and others, to say nothing of one of Rider Haggard's novels. The centre of speculation is a group of extensive ruins at Zimbabwe, in Mashonaland, about 200 m. inland from Sofala. Many and wild words have been written on these imposing remains. But the results of the saner researches of Randall MacIver, announced first at the South Africa meeting of the British Association (1905) and later communicated to the Royal Geographical Society, have robbed these structures of much of their glamour; from being the centres of Phoenician and Hebrew industry they have sunk to be mere magnified kraals, not more than three or four hundred years old.

(2) The Far East. — Various writers, following Josephus and the Greek version, have placed Ophir in different parts of the Far East. A chief argument in favour of this view is the length of the voyages of Solomon's vessels (three years were occupied in the double voyage, going and returning, 1 Kings x. 22) and the nature of the other imports that they brought — “almug-trees” (i.e. probably sandal-wood), ivory, apes and peacocks. This, however, proves nothing. It is nowhere said that these various imports all came from one place; and the voyages must have been somewhat analogous to those of modern " coasting tramps," which would necessarily consume a considerable time over comparatively short journeys. It has been sought at Abhira, at the mouth of the Indus (where, however, there is no gold); at Supara, in Goa; and at a certain Mount Ophir in Johore.

(3) Arabia. — On the whole the most satisfactory theory is that Ophir was in some part of Arabia — whether south or east is disputed, and (with the indications at our disposal) probably cannot be settled. Arabia was known as a gold-producing country to the Phoenicians (Ezek. xxvii. 22); Sheba certainly, and Havilah probably, are regions of Arabia, and these are coupled with Ophir in Genesis x.; and the account of the arrival of the navy in 1 Kings x. 11, is strangely interpolated into the story of the visit of the queen of Sheba, perhaps because there is a closer connexion between the two events than appears at first sight.

Historians have been at a loss to know what Solomon could give in exchange for the gold of Ophir and the costly gifts of the queen of Sheba. Mr K. T. Frost (Expos. Times, Jan. 1905) shows that by his command of the trade routes Solomon was able to balance Phoenicians and Sabaeans against each other, and that his Ophir gold would be paid for by trade facilities and protection of caravans. (R. A. S. M.)