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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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שנהבים ; from שן , a tooth, and הבים , elephants; ελεφαντινος , Revelation 18:12 . The first time that ivory is mentioned in Scripture is in the reign of Solomon. If the forty-fifth Psalm was written before the Canticles, and before Solomon had constructed his royal and magnificent throne, then that contains the first mention of this commodity. It is spoken of as used in decorating those boxes of perfume whose odours were employed to exhilarate the king's spirits. It is probable that Solomon, who traded to India, first brought thence elephants and ivory to Judea. "For the king had at sea a navy of Tharshish, with the navy of Hiram: once in three years came the navy of Tharshish, bringing gold, and silver, and ivory,"

1 Kings 10:22 ; 2 Chronicles 9:21 . It seems that Solomon had a throne decorated with ivory, and inlaid with gold; the beauty of these materials relieving the splendour, and heightening the lustre of each other, 1 Kings 10:18 . Cabinets and wardrobes were ornamented with ivory, by what is called marquetry, Psalms 45:8 .

Quale per artem

Inclusum buxo aut Oricia terebintho

Lucet ebur. VIRGIL.

"So shines a gem, illustrious to behold,

On some fair virgin's neck, enchased in gold: So the surrounding ebon's darker hue Improves the polish'd ivory to the view." PITT.

These were named "houses of ivory," probably because made in the form of a house, or palace; as the silver ναοι of Diana, mentioned Acts 19:24 , were in the form of her temple at Ephesus; and as we have now ivory models of the Chinese pagodas, or temples. In this sense we may understand what is said of the ivory house which Ahab made, 1 Kings 22:39 ; for the Hebrew word translated "house is used," as Dr. Taylor well observes, for "a place, or case wherein any thing lieth, is contained, or laid up." Ezekiel gives the name of house to chests of rich apparel, Ezekiel 27:24 . Dr. Durell, in his note on Psalms 45:8 , quotes places from Homer and Euripides, where the same appropriation is made. Hesiod makes the same. As to dwelling houses, the most, I think, we can suppose in regard to them, is, that they might have ornaments of ivory, as they sometimes have of gold, silver, or other precious materials, in such abundance as to derive an appellation from the article of their decoration; as the Emperor Nero's palace, mentioned by Suetonius, was named aurea, or "golden," because lita auro, "overlaid with gold." This method of ornamental buildings, or apartments, was very ancient among the Greeks. Homer mentions ivory as employed in the palace of Menelaus, at Lacedaemon:—

Χαλκου τε στεροπην , καδδωματα ηχηεντα

Χρυσου τ ', ηλεκτρου τε , και αργυρου , η δ ' ελεφαντος .

Odyss. v. 72.

"Above, beneath, around the palace, shines The sumless treasure of exhausted mines; The spoils of elephants the roof inlay,

And studded amber darts a golden ray."

Bacchylides, cited by Athenaeus, says, that, in the island of Ceos, one of the Cyclades, the houses of the great men "glister with gold and ivory."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Ivory'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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