A far-away country mentioned in the Bible as a vast source of gold
and other wealth
. There is no clear indication where it was, and it is disputed to this day. Suggestions have ranged from Peru to Britain, Spain to the Philippines, but generally it is supposed to be somewhere accessible to sailors in the Indian Ocean
: perhaps Zimbabwe
, South Arabia
, or Sri Lanka
. The problem with identifying the place from the riches it produced is that it is not clear whether it was the primary producer
or itself a trading entrepôt
getting its goods from even further away.
The main mentions are in 1 Kings 9 and 1 Kings 10, when King Solomon is at the height of his power, furnishing his magnificent new temple and dealing with neighbouring powers such as King Hiram of Tyre, now in Lebanon, and the far-famed Queen of Sheba. In 1 Kings 9 the allies Solomon and Hiram outfit an expedition to Ophir:
26 And king Solomon made a navy of ships in Eziongeber, which is beside Eloth, on the shore of the Red sea, in the land of Edom.
27 And Hiram sent in the navy his servants, shipmen that had knowledge of the sea, with the servants of Solomon.
28 And they came to Ophir, and fetched from thence gold, four hundred and twenty talents, and brought it to king Solomon.
was a Phoenician
city, and the Phoenicians were the great sailors and explorers of the age; it is even possible that they circumnavigated Africa*. They could well have known of the rich gold deposits of what is now Zimbabwe
. In http://phoenicia.org/zimbabwe.html you will find a detailed and interesting discussion of this possibility. Unfortunately it derives from a 1904 book, and the big problem in 1904 was that Great Zimbabwe
and other such places were magnificent ancient ruined palaces and cities in an area inhabited only by Black people in modern times, so there was the problem of who could have built them. The idea that the zimbabwes were of Semitic Himyaritic
origin is presumably not as appealing to modern scholars.
The chapter 1 Kings 10 begins with the arrival of the Queen of Sheba, and the various flatteries and state banquets and politicking between her and Solomon, before returning to mention of vast stores of gold and other riches, much of it from Ophir:
10 And she gave the king an hundred and twenty talents of gold, and of spices very great store, and precious stones: there came no more such abundance of spices as these which the queen of Sheba gave to king Solomon.
11 And the navy also of Hiram, that brought gold from Ophir, brought in from Ophir great plenty of almug trees, and precious stones.
12 And the king made of the almug trees pillars for the house of the LORD, and for the king's house, harps also and psalteries for singers: there came no such almug trees, nor were seen unto this day.
13 And king Solomon gave unto the queen of Sheba all her desire, whatsoever she asked, beside that which Solomon gave her of his royal bounty. So she turned and went to her own country, she and her servants.
14 Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred threescore and six talents of gold,
15 Beside that he had of the merchantmen, and of the traffick of the spice merchants, and of all the kings of Arabia, and of the governors of the country.
21 And all king Solomon's drinking vessels were of gold, and all the vessels of the house of the forest of Lebanon were of pure gold; none were of silver: it was nothing accounted of in the days of Solomon.
22 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, ivory, and apes, and peacocks.
(I wonder what they did with the silver?) This last verse is rendered rather charmingly in poet laureate John Masefield
's poem Cargoes
Quinquireme of Nineveh from distant Ophir,
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.
Of course these are all English translations: we don't know exactly what the wood was, almug
, and we don't know whether those birds were really peacocks as we understand them. In http://ktrcom.tripod.com/ktrajasingham/id11.html there is an argument that the Hebrew
words are related to Tamil
ones and the land of Ophir was Sri Lanka
, but I'm not convinced.
There is another mention of Ophir, in Genesis 10, among a host of begats. This appears to locate it perhaps in southern Arabia, near Sheba, if it's the same name:
26 And Joktan begat Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah,
* The Britain, Spain, and Peru theories require getting around Africa at a bare minimum - since the fleet left down the Red Sea, not out through the Mediterranean. Best not to push these too hard.
27 And Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah,
28 And Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba,
29 And Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were the sons of Joktan.
30 And their dwelling was from Mesha, as thou goest unto Sephar a mount of the east.