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IVORY (Heb. shēn, Gr. elephantinos). The word shen means a “tooth,” but it is also often used in the sense of “ivory.” The context always makes clear how it should be translated. Ivory was brought to Palestine by both ship and caravan and came from India. Solomon’s throne was made of ivory (1Kgs.10.18), and he imported large quantities of it. Amos denounced Israel for its luxuries, among them the use of ivory (Amos.3.15; Amos.6.4). Palaces were inlaid and decorated with ivory (1Kgs.22.39; Ps.45.8)

IVORY (שֵׁן, H9094, tooth, possibly from the tooth of an elephant; Gr., ἐλεφάντινος, G1804, ivory). Material which forms the tusks of elephants.

Ivory was a form of wealth in ancient times. Ivory tusks were brought to Tyre, a trading nation, for her abundant goods (Ezek 27:15). In Revelation 18:12, 13, “articles of ivory” is an item listed with other numerous products of great value in trade and commerce. The material was secured from a breed of Indian elephants in the upper Euphrates, where there were large herds in the second millennium b.c. There are Assyrian accounts of elephant hunts with many slain in that period. They became extinct there about the 8th cent. b.c. Ivory was also obtained from India by ocean-going ships; and from Africa-Rhodes or Dedan (KJV) doubtless referring to that traffic passing through (Ezek 27:15). In Solomon’s time his “ships of Tarshish” brought in ivory with gold and silver (1 Kings 10:22). The fact that they came every three years shows how far ranging they were, prob. reaching India. Excavations at Alalakh in Syria turned up large ivory tusks. Egyptian and Assyrian art shows tusks as trophies of war.


J. W. and G. M. Crowfoot, Early Ivories from Samaria (1938); G. Loud, The Meqiddo Ivories (1939); R. D. Barnett, “Phoenicia and the Ivory Trade,” Archaeology, IX (1956), 87-97.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(2) shenhabbim; Septuagint odontes elephdntinoi, "elephants’ teeth" (1Ki 10:22; 2Ch 9:21);

(3) elephantinos, "of ivory" (Re 18:12)):

Shen occurs often, meaning "tooth" of man or beast. In the passages cited it is translated in English Versions of the Bible "ivory" (of "crag," 1Sa 14:4,5; "cliff," Job 39:28 twice; "flesh-hook of three teeth," 1Sa 2:13). Shenhabbim is thought to be a contracted form of shen ha-’ibbim, i.e. ha, the article, and ’ibbim, plural of ’ibbah or ’ibba’; compare Egyptian ab, ebu, "elephant," and compare Latin ebur, "ivory" (see Liddell and Scott, under the word elephas). On the other hand, it may be a question whether -bim is not a singular form connected with the Arabic fil, "elephant." If the word for "elephant" is not contained in shenhabbim, it occurs nowhere in the Hebrew Bible.

We do not learn of the use of elephants in war until a few centuries before the Christian era. In 1 Macc 8:6, there is a reference to the defeat of Antiochus the Great, "having an hundred and twenty elephants," by Scipio Africanus in 190 BC. 1 Macc 1:17 speaks of the invasion of Egypt by Antiochus Epiphanes with an army in which there were elephants. 1 Macc 6:28-47 has a detailed account of a battle between Antiochus Eupator and Judas Maccabeus at Bethsura (Beth-zur). There were 32 elephants. Upon the "beasts" theria) there were "strong towers of wood"; "There were also upon every one two and thirty strong men, that fought upon them, beside the Indian that ruled him."

In Job 40:15, the King James Version margin has for "behemoth," "the elephant, as some think."