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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Ophir', אוֹפַיר and אוֹפַר ), the name of a man and of a country. "There is apparently no sufficient reason to doubt that the word Ophir is Shemitic, although, as is the case with numerous proper names known to be of Hebrew origin, the precise word does not occur as a common name in the Bible. See the words from אפר and עפר in Gesenius's: Thesaurus, and compare Ἀφάρ, the metropolis of the Sabaans in the Periplus, attributed to Arrian. Gesenius suggests that it means a ‘ fruitful region,' if it is Shemitic. Baron von Wrede, who explored Hadhramaut, in Arabia; in 1843 (Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 14:110); made a small vocabulary of Himyaritic words in the vernacular tongue, and among these he gives ofir as signifying red. He says that the Mahra people call themselves the tribes of the red country (ofir), and call the Red Sea bahr ofir. If this were so, it might have somewhat of the same relation to aphar, ‘ dust' or ‘ dry ground' ( א and ע being interchangeable) that adorn, ‘ red,' has to adamah, ‘ the ground.' Still it is unsafe to accept the use of a word of this kind on the authority of any one traveler, however accurate."
1. (אוֹפֹר; Sept. Οὐφείρ ; Vulg. Ophir.) The eleventh named of the thirteen sons of Joktan, the son of Eber, a great-grandson of Shem (Genesis 10:26-29; 1 Chronicles 1:23). B.C. post 2450, Many Arabian countries. are believed to have been peopled by these persons, and to have been called after their respective names, as Sheba, etc., and among others Ophir (Bochart, Phaleg, 3:15). (See ARABIA).
2. (אוֹפַיר; Sept. Οὐφίρ Οὐφείρ , v. r. Σουφίρ; etc.; Vulg. Ophir). A region, famous for its gold, which the ships of Solomon and of the Phoenicians visited. It is difficult to ascertain its situation, the Scripture indications being few and indefinite. By comparing the passages in which it is mentioned (1 Kings 9:26; 1 Kings 9:28; 1 Kings 10:11; 1 Kings 22:49; so 2 Chronicles 8:18; 2 Chronicles 9:10), we learn that it was reached by fleets fitted out in Ezion-Geber (q.v.), on the Gulf of Akabah — the eastern arm of the Red Seain the territory of the Edomites; that the ships made the voyage once in three years (comp. 1 Kings 10:22), bringing large amounts of gold to Palestine, besides silver, precious stones, red sandal-wood, ivory, apes, and peacocks. We know further, from various allusions in the poetical and prophetical books, that Ophir produced the purest and most precious gold then known (Job 20:11; Job 20:24; Job 28:16; Psalms 45:9; Isaiah 13:12; Ecclesiastes 7:18; ton which may be added Jeremiah 10:9; Daniel 10:5, if, with many interpreters, we understand Uphaz, אוּפָז, to be simply a varied orthography of Ophir' אוֹפַר; but (See UPHAZ) ).
It is evident that any attempt to determine the precise region intended must be more or less uncertain; but the extreme latitude which conjecture has taken on this question seems hardly justifiable. Nearly every place where gold has ever been found is understood by some writer or another as Ophir. "Calmet (Diet. of the Bible, s.v.) regarded it as in Armenia; — Sir Walter Raleigh (Hist. of the World, bk. 1, ch. 8) thought it was one of the Molucca Islands; and Arias Montanus (Bochart, Phaleg, Pref. and ch. 9), led by the similarity of the word Parvaim, supposed to be identical with Ophir (2 Chronicles 3:6), found it in Pert. But these countries, as well as Iberia and Phrygia, cannot now be viewed as affording matter for serious discussion — on this point, and the three opinions which have found supporters in our Own time were formerly represented, among other writers, by Huet (Sur le Commerce et la Navigation des Anciens, — p. 59), by Bruce (Travels, bk. 2, ch. 4), and by the historian Robertson (Disquisition respecting Ancient India, sec. i), who placed Ophir in Afirica; by Vitringa (Geograph. Sacra, p. 114) and Reland (Dissertatio de Ophir), who placed it in Indic; and by Michaelis (Spicilegium, 2:184), Niebuhr, the traveler (Description de l'A rabie, p. 253), Gossellin (Recherches sur la Geographie des Anciens, 2:99), and Vincent (History of the Commerce and Navigation of the Ancients, 2:265-270), who placed it in Arabia. Of other distinguished geographical writers, Bochart (Phaleg, 2:27) admitted two Ophirs, one in Arabia and one in India, i.e. at Ceylon; while D'Anville (Dissertation sur le Pays d'Ophir, Memoires de la Litterature, 30:83), equally admitting two, placed one in Arabia and one in Africa. In our own days the discussion has been continued by Gesenius, who in articles on Ophir in his Thesaurus (p. 1141), and in Ersch and Gruber's Encyklopadie (s.v.), stated that the question lay between India and Arabia, assigning the reasons to be urged in favor of each of these countries, but declared the arguments for each to be so equally balanced that he refrained from expressing any opinion of his own on the subject. M. Quatremere, however, in a paper on Ophir which was printed in 1842 in the Memoires de l'institut, again insisted on the claims of Africa (Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, t. 15, 2:362); and in his valuable work on Ceylon (pt. vii, ch. i) Sir J. Emerson Tennant adopts the opinion, sanctioned by Josephus, that Malacca was Ophir. Otherwise the two countries which have divided the opinions of the learned have been India and Arabia — Lassen. Ritter, Bertheau (Exeget. Handbuch, 2 Chronicles 8:18), Thenius (Exeget. Handbuch, 1 Kings 10:22), and Ewald (Geschichte, 3:347, 2d ed.) being in favor of India, while Winer (Realw.s.v.), First (Hebr. und Chald. Handw. s.v.), Knobel (Vletcafel der Genesis, p. 190), Forster (Geogr. of Arabia, 1:161-167), Crawfurd (Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands, s.v.), and Kalisch (Commentary on Genesis, chap. ‘ The Genealogy of Nations') are in favor of Arabia. The fullest treatise on the question is that of Ritter, who in his Erdkunde (vol. 19, published in 1848) devoted eighty octavo pages to the discussion (p. 351-431), and adopted the opinion of Lassen (Inud. Alt. 1:529) that Ophir was situated at the mouth of the Indus." Melind'dh, on the coast of Africa, Angola, Carthage, San Domningo Mexico, New Guinea, Uiphe, an island in the Red Sea, Ormuz, in the Persian Gulf, and especially Peru, have had their several advocates; but the opinions likely to be embraced at this day may be enumerated very briefly:
1. Some suppose Ophir to be a general name for lands abounding in gold, used with the vagueness of Thule in the classics, or El Dorado in the Middle Ages. In support of this view, it has been observed that, in Arabic, the word Ophir means simply rich country, or perhaps dust, i.e. gold-dust, and may therefore have easily passed into a generic name for the sources of valuable articles of commerce; especially in an age when the geographical views, even of the best informed, were very vague. But the definiteness of the allusions' in the Scripture history to Ophir as a well-known trading place are quite sufficient to refute this view.
2. Some seek it on the eastern coast of Africa, opposite the island of Madagascar. This supposition has found many and able supporters (see Quatremere, Mim. de l'Acad. des Inscrip. XV, ii [1845, 349-402; Heeren, Researches, 2:73, 74' [Eng. ed.]; Huetius, De Navig. Salom. ch. ii, in Ugolini, Thes. vol. vii; Bruce, p. 479 sq.; Ritter, Erdk, 1:118 sq.; Weston, in the Classic. Jour. 1821, No. 47), having been first advanced by one friar John don Sanctos, who was a resident of Sofala, in Monomotopa, and found in that vicinity a mountain with ancient ruins on its summit. According to friar John, this mountain still contains "much fine gold," and is called Fura, which he thinks to be evidently a corruption of Ophir. (See this view confuted by Tychsen, Anmerk. zu Bruce R. V. p. 327 sq.; and esp. Salt, Voyage to Abyssinia [Lond. 1814], p. 99 sq.) But Huetius (as cited above) has argued the question on more general grounds, deriving the name Africa itself from Ophir, and making no doubt that the inscriptions said to have been found at Sofala, but never read, were a record or kind of log-book of the fleets of Solomon. The name Sofala, again, has been urged in favor of this view, as akin with Ophir; but Sofala in the Shemitic languages means the low country, the coast-land (Heb. Shephelah, שְׁפֵלָה; similarly the Chaldee and Arabic), ‘ and has nothing to do with Ophir (אוֹפַר ).
3. A much more probable view-is that which refers Ophir to Arabia. This has been advanced in a variety of forms, but usually placing the port visited by Solomon's ships near the western extremity of the southern coast, bordering on the Erythrsean-Sea. In Genesis 10:29, Ophir is mentioned among the sons of Joktan, who peopled various Arabian countries. (See Ophir, 1, above.) Yet Gesenius supposes that it is here the name of an Arabian tribe who colonized some foreign land. Again, though gold is not now found in Arabia (Niebuhr, Description de l'Arabie [Copenhagen, 1773], p. 124), yet the ancients ascribe it to the inhabitants in great plenty (Judges 8:24; Judges 8:26; 2 Chronicles 1; 1 Kings 10:1-2; Psalms 72:15). This gold, Dr. Lee thinks, was no other than the gold of Havilah (Genesis 2:11), which he supposes to have been situated somewhere in Arabia and refers to Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:29; Genesis 25:18; 1 Samuel 15:7; 1 Chronicles 1:9 (Translation of the Book of Job, etc. [Lond. 1837], p. 55). But Diodorus Siculus ascribes gold-mines to Arabia (2:50). He also testifies to the abundance of "precious stones" in Arabia (2:54), especially among the inhabitants of Sabas (3:46; comp. Genesis 2:12; 2 Chronicles 9:1; 1 Kings 10:1-2). Pliny also speaks of the wealth of Sabea in gold (Hist. Nat. 6:32). Others suppose that, though Ophir was situated somewhere on the coast of Arabia, it was rather an emporium. (see Beke, Source of the Nile, p. 64), at which the Hebrews and Tyrians obtained gold, silver, ivory, apes, almugtrees, etc., brought thither from India and Africa by the Arabian merchaits, and even from Ethiopia, to which Herodotus (3:114) ascribes gold in great quantities, elephants' teeth, and trees and shrubs of every kind. Apes, properly speaking, are likewise ascribed to it by Pliny (8:19), who speaks also of the confluence of merchandise in Arabia (ut sup.; comp. Strabo, xvi; 2 Chronicles 9; Ezekiel 27:21-22; Diod. Sic. 2:54). It has further been insisted that the classical name of the Arabian port Aphar varies much as the Septuagint translation of Ophir. Thus it is called by Arrian Aphar, by Pliny Saphar, by Ptolemy Sapphera, and by Stephanus Saphirini. (Comp. the Sept. ut sup.) It is a serious objection to this view, however, that land carriage, by caravans, would have been easier and safer if Ophir were in Arabia (comp. Encyclop. Londin. s.v.), while the etymological arguments, so often and earnestly pressed as conclusive, could at best only serve to create a presumption, in the absence of all direct evidence. The considerations above mentioned, however, in connection with the strong reasons for placing Ophir in India, weighed so strongly with Bochart (Phaleg, 2:27) and Michaelis (Spicil. 2:185) that they suppose two countries of that name, one in Arabia and one in India. This conjecture, however, is unsupported and unnecessary (Gesen. Thes. p. 141).
4. On the whole, then, India must be adopted as the most probable region of the Ophir of Solomon. The Sept. translators also appear to have understood it to be India, from rendering the word Σωφίρ, Σουφίρ, Σωφιρά , which is the Egyptian name for that country. Champollion says that in the Coptic vocabularies India bears the name Sophir (L'Egypte sous les Pharaons [Paris, 1814], 1:98; Jablonskii Opuscula [Lug. Bat. 1804], 1:336, etc.). Josephus also gives to the sons of Joktan the locality from Cophen, an Indian river, and in part of Aria adjoining it (Ant. 1:6, 4). He also expressly and unhesitatingly affirms that the land to which Solomon sent for gold was "anciently called Ophir, but now the Aurea Chersonesus, which belongs to India" (Ant. 8:6, 4). The Vulgate renders the words "the gold of Ophir" (Job 28:16) by "tiictis Indiae coloribus." Hesychius defines Sophir (Eovaeip) "a place in India where gems and gold are found." So Suidas (s.v.; comp. Eusebius, Onomast. p. 146, ed. Clerici). But the controlling argument for this view is that all the productions referred to Ophir ‘ may be procured in India, and in India alone. Gold, silver, jewels, sandal-wood, ivory, apes, and peacocks are there all articles of commerce, and are found side by side in no other part of the world; while the last is believed to be an exclusively Indian bird, and the very name by which it is denoted in the Hebrew text (tukiyim, תּוּכַיַּים [see Gesen. Thes. s.v.]) is an Indian, not a Hebrew word. (See PEACOCK). Yet the exact locality must ever remain conjectural. There are several places comprised in that region which was actually known as India to the ancients, any of which would have supplied the cargo of Solomon's fleet: for instance, the coast of Malabar, where the name togoei is still applied to the peacock; and Malacca, which is known to have been "the golden Chersonesus" of the classic writers, and where gold-mines are still called ophirs. (See P. Poivre, Voyage d'un Philosophe, OEuvres Completes, 1797, p. 123.)
See further, Humboldt, Cosmos, 2:132 sq.; C. Varrer, in Crit. Sacr. 6:459; A. G. Wahner, De regione Ophir (Helmst. 1714); Tychsen, De commerc. — Hebr. in the Comment. Gott. 16:164 sq.; Gesenius, in the Hall. Encycl. vol. iii, sect. iv, p. 201 sq., and Thesaur. 1:141 sq.; Rosenmü ller, Alterth. 3:177 sq.; Ritter, Erdk. 2:201 sq.; Keil, in the Ddrpt. Beitrig. 2:233 sq.; Tuch, in the Hall. Lif. — Zeit. 1835, No. 80 sq.; Lassen, Ind. Alterthumsk. 1:538 sq.; Kitto, Daily Bible Illust. Solomon, p. 103 sq.; Htillman, Staatsverf. d. Israel. p. 220; Hardt, Diss. Regionem Ophir esse Phrygiam (1746). (See TARSHISH).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ophir'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/o/ophir.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.