(הָבנַי, hobni', stony, q.d. stone-wood [comp. the Germ. Steinholz, "fossil- wood"], only in the plum. הָבנַים, hobnim' [text הָוֹבנַים for הוֹבֶנַרם, hobenim'], Sept. [by some confusion or misinterpretation, see Rosenmuller, Schol. in loc.] τοῖς εἰσαγομένοις, Symma chus ἐβένους, Vulg. Edentes] hebeninos) occurs only in one passage of Scripture, where the prophet Ezekiel (Eze 10:1-17:15), referring to the commerce of Tyre, says, "The men of Dedan were thy merchants; many isles were the merchandise of thine hand: they brought thee for. a present horns of ivory and ebony." SEE DEDAN. The Hebrew word is translated "'ebony" in all the European versions; but, as Bochart states (Hieroz. 1:20, part 2), the Chaldee version, followed by B. Selomo and other Jews, as well as the Greek and Arabic versions, render it by pea-fowl (pavonses). Some of the Hebrew critics, however, as Kimchi, also acknowledge that Arabian ebony is meant. Of the correctness of this opinion there can now be no doubt. In the first place, we may allude to Dedan being considered one of the ports of Arabia on the Persian Gulf, or at least to the south of the Red Sea; and, secondly, as observed by Bochart, the terms hobnim and ebony are very similar, the latter word being variously written by ancient authors, as ἐβένη, ἔβενος, ἔβενον, ebenus and hebenus. The last form is used by Jerome in his Latin, and ἔβενος by Symmachus in his Greek version. The Arabs have abnus, which they apply to ebony, and by that name it is known in Northern India at the' present day. Forskal mentions abnus as one of, the kinds of wood imported in his time from India into Arabia. Whether the Arabic name be a corruption of the Greek, or the Greek a modification, as is most likely, of some Eastern name, we require some other evidence besides the occurrence of the word in Arabic works on materia medica to determine, since in these Greek words are sometimes employed as the principal terms for substances with which they are not well acquainted. Bardust is, however, given by some as the Arabic name, abnus as the Persian. Naturalists have found the latter applied to ebony in north-west India, as did Forskil on the Red Sea.
Ebony wood was highly esteemed by the ancients, and employed by them for a variety of purposes (Theophr. Hist. Pl. 4:5; Plin. H.N. 6:30, § 35; 12:4, § 8, 9; Strabo, 15:703; Pausan. 1:42, 5; 8:17, 2; Ovid, Met. 11:610; compare Barhebr. Chron. page 181). It is very appropriately placed in juxtaposition with ivory, on account of the beautiful contrast in color. Ivory and ebony are probably, however, also mentioned together because both were obtained from the same countries, Ethiopia and India; and, among the comparatively few articles of ancient commerce, must from this cause, always have been associated together, while their contrast of color and joint employment in inlaid work would contribute as additional reasons for their being adduced as articles characteristic of a distinct commerce. But it is not in Ezekiel only that ebony and ivory are mentioned together, for Diodorus, as quoted by Bochart, tells us that an ancient king of Egypt imposed on the Ethiopians the payment of a tribute of ebony, gold, and elephants' teeth. So Herodotus (3, 97), as translated by Bochart, says, "Athiopes Persis pro triennali tributo vehunt duos choenices auri apyri (id est, ignem nondum experti), et ducentas ebeni phalangas, et magnos elephanti dentes viginti." Pliny, referring to this passage, remarks, "But Herodotus assigneth it rather to Ethiopia, and saith that every three years the Ethiopians were wont to pay, by way of tribute, unto the kings of Persia, 100 billets of the timber of that tree (that is, ebene), together with gold and ivorie;" and again, "From Syene (which confineth and boundeth the lands of our empire and dominion) as farre as to the island Meroe, for the space of 996 miles, there is little ebene found: and that in all those parts betweene there be few other trees to be found but date-trees; which peradventure may be a cause that ebene was counted a rich tribute, and deserved the third place, after gold and ivorie" (Holland's Pliny, 12:4). It is sometimes stated that the ancients supposed ebony to come only from India. This arose probably from the passage of Virgil (Georg. 2:117): "Sola India nigrum fert ebenum." But the term "India" had often a very wide signification, and included even Ethiopia. Several of the ancients, however, mention both Indian and Ethiopian ebony, as Dioscorides and Pliny; while some mention the Indian, and others the Ethiopian only, as Lucan (Phars. 10:304): "Nigris Meroe fecunda colonis, laeta comis ebeni." The only objection to the above conclusion of any weight is, that hobnim is in the plural form. To this Bochart and others have replied, that there were two kinds of ebony, as mentioned by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, etc., one Ethiopian, the other Indian. Fuller and others maintain that the plural form is employed because the ebony was in pieces: "Refert ad ebeni palangas, quoe ex India et Ethiopia magno numero afferebantur. Φάλαγγας vocant Herodotus et Arrianus in Periplo. Plinius palangas, aut phalangas, variante scripturae, id est, fustes teretes, et qui navibus supponuntur, ant quibus idem onus plures bajulant" (Bochart, 1. c.). But the names of other valued foreign woods, as Shittim and Almuggim, are also used in the plural form. Besides abnus, Arab authors, as stated by Bochart (l. c.), mention other words as similar to and substituted for ebony: one of these is called shiz, shizi; also sasem and semsem, in the plural form semasim, described as "nigrum lignum ad patinas conficiendas.'" Hence, in the Koran, those who are tormented in Gehenna, it is said, will issue from the fire after a certain period of confinement in it: "They will go forth, I say, like the wood semasin;" that is, black, from being burnt in the fire. That such a wood was known we have the testimony of Dioscorides: " Some sell sesamine or acanthine wood for ebony, as they are very similar." Some critics, and even Sprengel, in his late edition of Dioscorides, read συκάμινα instead of σησάμινα, for no other reason apparently but because συκάμινα denotes a tree with which European scholars are acquainted, while sesamina is only known to those who consult Oriental writers, or who are acquainted with the products of the East. Bochart rightly reprehends this alteration as being unnecessary, in view of the existence of the words sesamina, sasinz, or semsem among the modern Arabs, and cites a notice of Arrian to the same effect (Bochart, l.c.). 'The above word is by Dr. Vincent translated sesamum; but this is an herbaceous oil-plant.
If we look to the modern history of ebony, we shall find that it is still derived from more than one source. Thus Mr. Holtzappfel, in his recent work on Turning, describes three kinds of ebony.
1. One from the Mauritius, in round sticks like scaffold poles, seldom exceeding fourteen inches in diameter, the blackest and finest in the grain, the hardest and most beautiful.
2. The East Indian, which is grown in Ceylon and the Peninsula of India, and exported from Madras and Bombay in logs from six to twenty, and sometimes even twenty-eight inches in diameter, and also in planks. This is less wasteful, but of an inferior grain and color to the above.
3. The African, shipped from the Cape of Good Hope in billets, the general size of which is from three to six feet long, three to six inches broad, and two to four inches thick. This is the least wasteful, as all the refuse is left behind; but it is the most porous, and the worst in point of color. No Abyssinian ebony is at present imported: this, however, is more likely to be owing to the different routes which commerce has taken, although it is again returning to its ancient channels, than to the want of ebony in the ancient Ethiopia. From the nature of the climate, and the existence of forests ins which the elephant abounds, there can be no doubt of its being well suited to the group of plants which have been found to yield the ebony of Mauritius, Ceyoon, and India, the genus Diospyrus of botanists. Of this several species yield varieties of ebony as their heartwood, as D. ebenum in the Mauritius, and also in Ceylon, where it is called kaluwara. It is described by Retz "folis ovato-lanceolatis, acuminatis, gemmia hirtis;" and he quotes as identical D. glaberrima (Fr. Rottb. Nov. Act. Havn. 2:540, tab. 5). D. ebenaster yields the bastard ebony of Ceylon, and D. hirsuta the Calamander wood of the same island, described by Mr. Holtzappfel as of a chocolate-brown color, with black stripes and marks, and stated by him to be considered a variety of ebony. D. melanoxylon of Dr. Roxburgh is the ebony-tree of Coromandel, and is figured among Coromandel plants (1, No. 46); it grows to be a large tree in the mountainous parts of Ceylon, and in the Peninsula of India — in Malabar, Coromandel, and Orissa. The black part of the wood of this tree alone forms ebony, and is found only in the center of large trees, and varies in quantity according to the size and age of the tree. The outside wood is white and soft, and is soon destroyed by time and insects, leaving the black untouched (Roxb. Fl. Ind. 2:530). Besides these, there is in the Peninsula of India a wood called: blackwood by the English, and sit-sal by the natives: it grows to an immense size, is heavy, close-grained, of a greenish-black color, with lighter-colored veins running in various directions. It is yielded by the Dalberyia latifolia. To the same genus belongs the Sissu, one of the most valued woods of India, and of which the tree has been called Dalberyia sissu. Theo wood is remarkably strong, of a light grayish hue, with darker-colored veins. It is called sissu and shishum by the natives of India. This is the name which we believe is referred to by Arab authors, and which also appears to have been the original of the sesamina of Dioscorides and of the Periplus. The name may be applied to other nearly allied woods, and therefore, perhaps, to that of the above D. latafolia. It is a curious confirmation of this that Forskill mentions that in his time shishum, with teak and ebony, was among the woods imported from India and Arabia. It is satisfactory to have apparently suck, competent confirmation of the general accuracy of ancient authors, when we fully understand the subjects and the products of the countries to which they allude (Kitto, s.v.). According to Sir E. Tennent. (Ceylon, 1:116) the following trees yield ebony: Diospyros ebenum, D. reticulata, D. ebenaster, and D. hirsuta. The wood of the first-named tree, which is abundant throughout all the flat country to the west of Trincomali, "excels all others in the evenness and intensity of its color. The center of the trunk is the only portion which furnishes the extremely black part which is the ebony of commerce; but the trees are of such magnitude that reduced logs of two feet in diameter, and varying from ten to twelve feet in length, can readily be procured from the forests at Trincomali" (Ceylon, l.c.) It bears a berry that is eaten by the natives when ripe. The leaves are elliptical, having numerous veins. The corolla or colored part is shaped like an antique vase, and bears eight stamans (Kitto, Pict. Bible, in loc. Ezekiel). There is every reason for believing that the ebony afforded by the Diospyros ebenum was imported from India or Ceylon by Phoenician traders, though it is equally probable that the Tyrian merchants were supplied with ebony from trees which grew in Ethiopia (Smith, s.v.). SEE TYRE. (See Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Ebenus; Penny Cyclop. s.v. Ebony; Geiger, Pharmaceut. Botanik, 1:697). SEE BOTANY.