from Ophir

Ophir is a port or region mentioned in the Bible, famous for its wealth. King Solomon received a cargo from Ophir every three years, which consisted of gold, silver, sandalwood, pearls, ivory, apes, and peacocks.

Ophir in Genesis 10 (the Table of Nations) is said to be the name of one of the sons of Joktan. The Books of Kings and Chronicles tell of a joint expedition to Ophir by King Solomon and the Tyrian king Hiram I from Ezion-Geber, 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. The famous ‘gold of Ophir’ is referenced in several other books of the Hebrew Bible.

In Septuagint, other variants of the name are mentioned: ŌpheírSōphírSōpheír and Souphír.

The New Testament apocrypha book Cave of Treasures contains a passage: “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.”

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 The find confirms that Ophir was a place where gold was imported from.

A Dictionary of the Bible by Sir William Smith, published in 1863, notes the Hebrew word for parrot Thukki, derived from the Classical Tamil for peacock Thogkai and Cingalese “tokei”, 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. Locations on the coast of Kerala conjectured to be Ophir include Poovar and Beypore.

Earlier in the 19th century Max Müller and other scholars identified Ophir with Abhira, near the Indus River in modern-day state of Gujarat, India. According to Benjamin Walker Ophir is said to have been a town of the Abhira tribe.

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.

Another, more serious, possibility is the African shore of the Red Sea, with the name perhaps being derived from the Afar people living in the Danakil desert (Ethiopia, Eritrea) between Adulis and Djibouti.

Afri was a Latin name used to refer to the Carthaginians, who dwelt in North Africa, in modern-day Tunisia. This name, that later gave the rich Roman province of Africa and the subsequent medieval Ifriqiya, are from which the name of the continent Africa is ultimately derived, seems to have referred to a native Libyan tribe originally, however, see Terence 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.

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.

In 1568 Alvaro Mendaña became the first European to discover the Solomon Islands, and named them as such because he believed them to be Ophir.

In Jewish tradition, Ophir is often associated with a place in India, named for one of the sons of Joktan. The 10th-century lexicographer, David ben Abraham al-Fasi, identified Ophir with Serendip, the old Persian name for Sri Lanka (aka Ceylon).

In Tomo III (1519-1522), pages 112-138, of the book Colección general de documentos relativos a las Islas Filipinas existentes en el Archivo de Indias de Sevilla, found in the Archivos de Indias de Sevilla in Spain, Document No. 98 describes how to locate the land of Ophir. The travel guide started 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 which is said to be the Philippines. While all other probable locations of Ophir are based on expert opinion, this is the only probable location with documentary support.

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