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Ophir (/ˈfər/;[1] 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, pearls, ivory, apes and peacocks from Ophir, every three years.

Biblical references

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]

Early Christian traditions

Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. 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.[2][3] It bears, in Paleo-Hebrew script the text "gold of Ophir to/for Beth-Horon [...] 30 shekels"[Note 4][4] The find confirms that Ophir was a place where gold was imported from,[5] although its location remains unknown.

Theorized or conjectural locations


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 possibility is the African shore of the Red Sea, with the name perhaps being derived from the Afar people of Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Djibouti.

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[6] has asserted that it stems from the Berber word ifri (plural ifran) meaning "cave", in reference to cave dwellers.[7] This is proposed[7] to be the origin of Ophir as well.[8]


A specific possibility is Southern India or Northern Sri Lanka, where the Dravidians were well known for their gold and precious stones, 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,[9] notes the Hebrew word for peacock Thukki, derived from the Classical Tamil for peacock Thogkai and Cingalese "tokei",[10] 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.[11][12][13] 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. Some of these scholars place Ophir on the coast of Southern India in what is now Poovar.

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.[14][15]

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.[16]

The discovery of the lost city Ubar in the southern Arabian peninsula is another possibility.[citation needed]

Former Israeli settlement

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.


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 Yucatan had the same name as Ioktan, father of Ophir.

Proponents of pre-Columbian connections between Eurasia and the Americas have suggested even more distant locations such as modern-day Peru or Brazil.

Other assumptions

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.

In 1568 Alvaro Mendaña discovered the Solomon Islands, and named them as such because he believed them to be Ophir.[17]

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.[18]

In fiction and liturgy

Johann Sebastian Bach, Cantata Sie werden aus Saba alle kommen, BWV 65 Aria Gold aus Ophir ist zu schlecht.

Ophir is the subject of H. Rider Haggard's novel King Solomon's Mines, which places the lost city in South Africa.

H P Lovecraft mentions Ophir in his short story 'The Cats of Ulthar', in the pulp magazine 'The Tryout' November 1920.

Charles Beadle published a three-part serial, The Land of Ophir, in the pulp magazine Adventure, issues of March 10, 20, & 30, 1922.

Ophir is also a kingdom in Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian series of stories; see Hyborian Age for more information.

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, located in modern Botswana.

Ophir is the name of the Nordic Utopia in M. M. Scherbatov's 1784 novel "Putishestvie v zemliu ofirskuiu" ("Voyage to Ophir").

Clive Cussler's The Navigator places the mines of Ophir on the eastern seaboard of the United States, postulating a pre-Columbian voyage by the Phoenicians.

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" refers to Solomon's trade with Ophir.'Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir'

Ophir is the destination of the adventures in the movies The Mistress of the World (1919) and Legend of the Lost (1957).

Ophir is the name of a board game created by Jason D. Kingsley and Charles Wright in early 2015. It is published by Terra Nova Games.

See also

  • Tarshish, another Biblical location providing Solomon with riches.
  • Ophur, Chicago, IL based rock band circa 1997 - 2004
  • Karl Mauch, an explorer who inadvertently discovered Great Zimbabwe when searching for Ophir.


  1. This is also stated in 1 Chronicles 1:22
  2. The first expedition is described in 1 Kings 9:28; 10:11; 1 Chronicles 29:4; 2 Chronicles 8:18; 9:10, the failed expedition of Jehoshaphat in 1 Kings 22:48
  3. Book of Job 22:24; 28:16; Psalms 45:9; Isaiah 13:12
  4. Beth-Horon probably refers to the ancient city 35 km south of Tell Qasile; another interpretation is that Beth-Horon means 'the temple of Horon', (a Canaanite deity also known as Hauron), see Lipiński, p. 197 [1]


  1. "Ophir". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. Maisler, B., Two Hebrew Ostraca from Tell Qasîle, Journal of Near Eastern Studies, Vol. 10, No. 4 (Oct., 1951), p. 265 [2]
  3. Boardman, John, The Prehistory of the Balkans: The Middle East and the Aegean World, Tenth to Eighth Centuries B.C., Part 1, Cambridge University Press, 1982, p. 480 [3]
  4. Kitchen, Kenneth A.; Handy, Lowell K. (ed.), The Age of Solomon: Scholarship at the Turn of the Millennium, BRILL 1997, p. 144 [4]
  5. Lipiński, p. 144
  6. Names of countries, Decret and Fantar, 1981
  7. 7.0 7.1 The Berbers, by Geo. Babington Michell, p 161, 1903, Journal of Royal African people book on ligne
  8. Lipiński, p. 200
  9. Smith, William, A dictionary of the Bible, Hurd and Houghton, 1863 (1870), pp.1441
  10. Smith's Bible Dictionary
  11. Ramaswami, Sastri, The Tamils and their culture, Annamalai University, 1967, pp.16
  12. Gregory, James, Tamil lexicography, M. Niemeyer, 1991, pp.10
  13. Fernandes, Edna, The last Jews of Kerala, Portobello, 2008, pp.98
  14. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.
  15. The Hindu world: an encyclopedic survey of Hinduism, Volume 2-page-515
  16. Tirol, Jes.Bo-ol (Bohol) was a Land of Ophir: A Theory. The Bohol Chronicle Vol.LIII No.062 December 21, 2008.
  17. HOGBIN, H. In, Experiments in Civilization: The Effects of European Culture on a Native Community of the Solomon Islands, New Yprk: Schocken Books, 1970 (1939), pp.7-8
  18. Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found.

Further reading

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External links