Monday, April 12, 2010


I was reading 1 Kings 9 and 10 this morning. These include some interesting geographic, botanical and zoological references.

I wondered where Ezion-geber "near Eloth on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom" was.

Not hard to find.

Best I can tell, it's about where modern Eilat [Elat], Israel, is, at the northern tip of the eastern "rabbit ear" extension of the Red Sea--the portion of the Red Sea that is known today as the Gulf of Aqaba.

But then I wondered where Ophir is (or was):
King Solomon built a fleet of ships at Ezion-geber. . . . And Hiram [of Tyre; cf. 7:13 (and 5:1?)] sent with the fleet his servants, seamen who were familiar with the sea, together with the servants of Solomon. And they went to Ophir and brought from there gold, 420 talents, and they brought it to King Solomon.
--Oh. Before we get to Ophir, let's do the math on the gold.

A "talent", a footnote in my Bible says, was "about 75 pounds."

So 420 talents was over 15 tons--which, according to an article titled How Much Gold is there in the World?, is very nearly one ten-thousandth of the total of all gold ever mined in all of world history to the present . . . and not quite enough gold to fill a cube that is one yard per side.

As for value: 420 talents of gold x 75 lbs/talent x 16 ozs/lb x ~$1,000/oz = ~$504 million in gold in today's money.

Not shabby.

Okay. On to Ophir.

Wikipedia suggests a number of specific locations--from "the African shore of the Red Sea, with the name perhaps being derived from the Afar people of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti," to "Abhira, at the mouth of the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan," to really wild locations--like the equivalent of modern-day Philippines, Australia, Brazil or Peru!

"Most modern scholars . . . 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."

Here's a map that could give you some general sense of place and distance.

View Larger Map

For a few additional clues: The Abhira Kingdom is visible in this large map available from Wikimedia. Interesting: If, indeed, Ophir was ancient Abhira; and if it was located on the Sarasvati River, then Ophir was in the midst of what is now called the Indus Valley Civilization, also known as the Harappan Civilization--in the border region between modern Pakistan and India. One problem with thinking Ophir was in the midst of the Harappan Civilization: modern scholars date that civilization from approximately 3000 BC to approximately 1300 BC--which, if the dates are accurate, also makes it some 300 years or more too early for King Solomon. . . . or, possibly, quite a ways further south in what is now known as Poovar, Kerala State, India (west coast of the far southern portion of India). "Poovar was a trading center of timber, sandalwood, ivory and spices," says the Wikipedia article on Poovar.

Having done all the work I've just shown you, it suddenly struck me that I ought to look at a decent biblical commentary to see what it might have to say about Ophir. Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, I thought, provide perhaps the most satisfying answer: "Ophir," they say, was "a general name, like the East or West Indies with us, for all the southern regions lying on the African, Arabian, or Indian seas, in so far as at that time known."


There was one last item I wanted to know about. 1 Kings 10:11 and 12 says,
[T]he fleet of Hiram, which brought gold from Ophir, brought from Ophir a very great amount of almug wood and precious stones. And the king made of the almug wood supports for the house of [YHWH] and for the king's house, also lyres and harps for the singers.
I wondered: "What is almug wood? How can it be good both for structural support and for musical instruments?"

Well . . . It appears that "almug wood" is also known as algum wood . . . or sandalwood!


I love sandalwood! So fragrant!

And having just been reading about how Solomon used cedar and cypress wood throughout the temple, and then (now) added sandalwood . . . ! Whoa! What a pleasure that would have been to enter the fragrance of that place!


One last item. About sandalwood.

Neat story about how some college freshmen may have just discovered a way to reduce the cost of sandalwood oil in the future: Of Dollars and Scents.
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