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Ophir (//; Hebrew: אוֹפִיר, Modern Ofir Tiberian ʼÔp̄îr) is a port or region mentioned in the Bible, famous for its wealth. King Solomon received a cargo of gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, apes and peacocks from Ophir, every three years.
Ophir in Genesis 10 (the Table of Nations) is said to be the name of one of the sons of Joktan.[Note 1] The Books of Kings and Chronicles tell of a joint expedition to Ophir by King Solomon and the Tyrian king Hiram I from Eziongeber, a port on the Red Sea, that brought back large amounts of gold, precious stones and 'algum wood' and of a later failed expedition by king Jehoshaphat of Judah.[Note 2] The famous 'gold of Ophir' is referenced in several other books of the Hebrew Bible.[Note 3]
Details about the three of Joktan's sons, Sheba, Ophir and Havilah, were preserved in a tradition known in divergent forms from three early Christian (pre-Islamic) sources: the Arabic Kitab al-Magall (part of Clementine literature), the Syriac Cave of Treasures, and the Ethiopic Conflict of Adam and Eve with Satan.
The Kitab al-Magall states that in the days of Reu, a king of Saba (Sheba) named "Pharoah" annexed Ophir and Havilah to his kingdom, and "built Ophir with stones of gold, for the stones of its mountains are pure gold."
In the Cave of Treasures, this appears as: "And the children of Ophir, that is, Send, appointed to be their king Lophoron, who built Ophir with stones of gold; now, all the stones that are in Ophir are of gold."
The version in the Conflict of Adam and Eve says: "Phar’an reigned over the children of Saphir [Ophir], and built the city of Saphir with stones of gold; and that is the land of Sarania, and because of these stones of gold, they say that the mountains of that country and the stones thereof are all of gold."
In 1946 an inscribed pottery shard was found at Tell Qasile (in modern-day Tel Aviv) dating to the eighth century BC. It bears, in Paleo-Hebrew script the text "gold of Ophir to/for Beth-Horon [...] 30 shekels"[Note 4] The find confirms that Ophir was a place where gold was imported from, although its location remains unknown.
Biblical scholars, archaeologists and others have tried to determine the exact location of Ophir. Vasco da Gama's companion Tomé Lopes reasoned that Ophir would have been the ancient name for Great Zimbabwe in Zimbabwe, the main center of sub-African trade in gold in the Renaissance period — though the ruins at Great Zimbabwe are now dated to the medieval era, long after Solomon is said to have lived. The identification of Ophir with Sofala in Mozambique was mentioned by Milton in Paradise Lost (11:399-401), among many other works of literature and science.
Afri was a Latin name used to refer to the Carthaginians, who dwelt in North Africa, in modern-day Tunisia. This name, from which the name of the continent Africa is ultimately derived, seems to have referred to a native Libyan tribe originally, however, see Terence#Biography for discussion. The name is usually connected with Phoenician afar, "dust", but a 1981 hypothesis has asserted that it stems from the Berber word ifri (plural ifran) meaning "cave", in reference to cave dwellers. This is proposed to be the origin of Ophir as well.
On the other hand, the theologian Benito Arias Montano (1571) proposed finding Ophir in the name of Peru, reasoning that the native Peruvians were thus descendants of Ophir and Shem. He also claimed, that the province of Iucatan, had the same name that Ioktan father of Ophir.
In the 19th century Max Müller and other scholars identified Ophir with Abhira, at the mouth of the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan. According to Benjamin Walker Ophir is said to have been a town of the Abhira tribe. Most modern scholars still place Ophir either on the coast of either Pakistan or India, in what is now Poovar, or somewhere in southwest Arabia in the region of modern Yemen. This is also the assumed location of Sheba.
A more specific possibility is Southern India or Northern Sri Lanka, where the Dravidians were well known for their gold, ivory and peacocks. Sandalwood came almost exclusively from South India in ancient times. A dictionary of the Bible by Sir William Smith published in 1863, notes the Hebrew word for peacock Thukki, derived from the Classical Tamil for peacock Thogkai joins other Classical Tamil words for ivory, cotton-cloth and apes preserved in the Hebrew Bible. This theory of Ophir's location in Tamilakkam is further supported by other historians. Ophir, referring to the country of the port Tarshish may well refer to the nation of the Tamil Velir-Naga tribe Oviyar in ancient Jaffna, who lived around the famous port towns of Mantai and Kudiramalai, home to the historic Thiruketheeswaram temple.
Easton's Bible Dictionary (1897) adds a connection to "Sofir," the Coptic name for India. Josephus connected it with "Cophen, an Indian river, and in part of Asia adjoining to it," (Antiquities of the Jews I:6), sometimes associated with a part of Afghanistan.
In a book found in Spain entitled Colección General de Documentos Relativos a las Islas Filipinas (General Collection of Philippine Islands related Documents), the author has described how to locate Ophir. According to the section "Document No. 98", dated 1519-1522, Ophir can be found by travelling from the Cape of Good Hope in Africa, to India, to Burma, to Sumatra, to Moluccas, to Borneo, to Sulu, to China, then finally Ophir. Ophir was said to be "[...] in front of China towards the sea, of many islands where the Moluccans, Chinese, and Lequios met to trade..." Jes Tirol asserts that this group of islands could not be Japan because the Moluccans did not get there, nor Taiwan, since it is not composed of "many islands." Only the present-day Philippines, he says, could fit the description. Spanish records also mention the presence of Lequious (big, bearded white men, probably descendants of the Phoenicians, whose ships were always laden with gold and silver) in the Islands to gather gold and silver.
Other assumptions vary as widely as the theorized locations of Atlantis. Portuguese mythology locates it in Ofir, a place in Fão, Esposende. The Bavarian antiquarian Aventinus (c. 1530) implied it to be Epirus, on the Balkan Adriatic coast.
Author on topics in alternative history David Hatcher Childress goes so far as to suggest that Ophir was located in Australia; proposing that the cargoes of gold, silver and precious stones were obtained from mines in the continent's north-west, and that ivory, sandalwood and peacocks were obtained in South Asia on the voyage back to Canaan.
The Israeli settlement created in the 1970s at Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai was called Ofira (אופירה), Hebrew for "Towards Ophir" - since its location on the Red Sea was on the route supposedly traversed by King Solomon's ships en route to Ophir.
The settlement was evacuated in 1982, under the terms of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty, and the name fell out of use.
Several of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels happen in and around the lost city of Opar, deep in the African jungles — with Opar evidently being another name for Ophir. The city appears in The Return of Tarzan (1913), Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (1916), Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1923), and Tarzan the Invincible (1930).
Philip José Farmer took up the theme from the Tarzan books and wrote two books of his own, taking place in Opar at the height of its glory thousands of years ago: Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar.
Wilbur Smith's novel The Sunbird is set in ancient Ophir (called Opet) and its modern ruins.
Ophir is the name of the Nordic Utopia in M. M. Scherbatov's 1784 novel "Putishestvie v zemliu ofirskuiu" ("Voyage to Ophir").
Ophir is also referenced in Alexander Dumas's book The Count of Monte Cristo. "...but these two tears disappeared almost immediately, God doubtless having sent some angel to gather them as being more precious in His eyes than the richest pearls of Gujarat or Ophir."
John Masefield's poem "Cargoes" is about Solomon's trade with Ophir.
Ophir is the destination of the adventures in the movie "Legend of the Lost 1957".