1. A descendant of Shem through Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, and Joktan; the 11th of Joktan’s 13 sons. (Ge 10:22-29; 1Ch 1:17-23) Ophir was probably born about 200 years before Abraham, who was a descendant of his paternal uncle Peleg. (Ge 10:25; 11:18-26) As in the case of his brothers, it appears that Ophir also headed one of the Semite tribes that were numbered among the descendants of Noah “according to their families, according to their tongues, in their lands, according to their nations.” (Ge 10:31, 32) See No. 2 for possible locations of the land of Ophir in which this tribe eventually settled.
2. A place renowned as a source of much gold of the finest quality. Thus already in Job’s time (c. 1600 B.C.E.) “precious ore in the dust” and “pure gold” were spoken of in parallel with the “gold of Ophir.” (Job 22:24; 28:15, 16) Psalm 45:9 describes the queenly consort arrayed in precious gold of Ophir, and at Isaiah 13:11, 12, in the pronouncement against Babylon, the relative rarity of Ophir gold is used to symbolize the scarcity of tyrannical men in Babylon after its fall.
David donated 3,000 talents of gold from Ophir for construction of the temple, gold valued at $1,156,050,000. (1Ch 29:1, 2, 4) Later, the trading fleet of David’s son Solomon regularly brought back from Ophir 420 talents of gold. (1Ki 9:26-28) The parallel account at 2 Chronicles 8:18 reads 450 talents. Some scholars have suggested that this difference came about when letters of the alphabet served as figures—that an ancient copyist could have mistaken the Hebrew numeral letter nun (נ), representing 50, for the letter kaph (כ), standing for 20, or vice versa. However, the evidence is that all numbers in the Hebrew Scriptures were spelled out, rather than represented by letters. A more probable explanation, therefore, is that both figures are correct and that the gross amount brought was 450 talents, of which 420 were clear gain.
In 1946, as confirmation of these Biblical accounts about imports of gold from Ophir, a potsherd was unearthed NE of Tel Aviv-Yafo. Thereon was an inscription saying “Ophir gold to bet horon, thirty shekels.”—Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 1951, Vol. X, pp. 265, 266.
In addition to being a source of a vast quantity of gold, the land of Ophir was also a source of the “algum” trees and precious stones imported by Solomon. (1Ki 10:11; 2Ch 9:10) However, when King Jehoshaphat, a hundred years later, attempted an expedition to that land, it ended in disaster, his “Tarshish ships” being wrecked at Ezion-geber at the head of the Gulf of ʽAqaba.—1Ki 22:48; see TARSHISH No. 4.
Location. The precise location of Ophir cannot be determined today with certainty. Of the several suggestions in this regard, three are particularly favored: India, Arabia, and NE Africa—all being within reach of a fleet operating out of Ezion-geber at the head of the eastern arm of the Red Sea. In regard to India, all the goods brought back in the ships of Solomon and Hiram were available there. Josephus, Jerome, and the Septuagint could also be marshaled to give some support to Ophir’s being in India. On the other hand, those maintaining that Ophir was in the region of NE Africa in the vicinity of Somalia, at the lower extremity of the Red Sea, point out that it would have been a much closer source of supply for all the imported items than India.
However, the weight of opinion appears to support the conclusion that Ophir was a region in SW Arabia in the vicinity of Yemen. Evidence offered for this view is based on the premise that the descendants of Joktan’s son Ophir settled in the Arabian Peninsula along with such brother tribes as the descendants of Sheba and Havilah. (Ge 10:28, 29) The account of the visit of the queen of Sheba (likely from southern Arabia) is sandwiched in between two references to Solomon’s trade with Ophir.—1Ki 9:26–10:11.