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ELEPHANT. It is not mentioned by name in OT or NT, but is the producer of ivory (שֵׁן, H9094, or שֶׁנְהַבִּים, H9105; ἐλεφάντινος, G1804). Extinct forms of elephant roamed Pal. during the Pleistocene period, but the nearest natural occurrence of the Asiatic elephant was in the upper reaches of the Euphrates, where it was exterminated by hunters late in the 1st millennium b.c. Although other teeth, esp. of hippopotamuses, are sometimes used, true ivory comes only from elephant tusks, which are a pair of highly modified upper incisors. Ivory has been highly prized since the dawn of civilization and put to a wide range of ornamental uses, and these articles provide valuable archeological material today. (See Ivory, p. 590 NBD.) Most of the ivory used in Pal. and Syria came from the western race of the Asiatic elephant, now extinct, but supplies also came from India by sea to Babylon, via the Persian Gulf, or to Eilat, via the Gulf of Aqaba. The African elephant provided even heavier tusks, usually taken to Pal. overland via Dedan in Arabia, but routes were also developed across the Sahara which carried ivory, skins and even live animals of various kinds, through the Rom. era. The elephant was used against the Jews by Antiochus—“elephants two and twenty, and 300 chariots armed with hooks” (2 Macc 13:2 KJV).


F. S. Bodenheimer, Animals and Man in Bible Lands (1960).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


See Behemoth; Ivory.

See also

  • Animals