Ivory (שֶׁנהִבַּים, shenhabbim', elephant's tooth; see A. Benary, in the Besrliner Lit. Jahrb Ucher, 1831, No. 96; 1Ki 10:22; 2Ch 9:21; and so explained by the Targum, שֵׁן דּפַיל, and Sept. ὀδόντες ἐλεφάντινοις) also simply שֵׁן, a tooth, Ps 45:8; Eze 27:15; Am 6:4; N.T. ἐλεφάντινος, of ivory, Re 18:12). It is remarkable that no word in Biblical Hebrew denotes an elephant, unless the latter portion of the compound shem-habbim be supposed to have this meaning. Gesenius derives it from the Sanscrit ibhas, "an elephant;" Keil (on 1Ki 10:22) from the Coptic eboy; while Sir Henry Rawlinson mentions a word habba, which he met with in the Assyrian inscriptions, and which he understands to mean "the large animal," the term being applied both to the elephant and the camel (Journ. (of As. Soc. 12:463). It is suggested in Gesenius's Thesaurus (s.v.) that the original reading may have been שֵׁן הָבנַים, "ivory, ebony" (compare Eze 27:15). By some of the ancient nations these tusks were imagined to be horns (Eze 27:15; Pliny, 8:4; 18:1), though Diodorus Siculus (1, 55) correctly calls them teeth. As they were first acquainted with elephants through their ivory which was an important article of commerce, the shape of the tusks, in all probability, led them into this error. They are genuine teeth, combining in themselves, and occupying, in the upper jaw, the whole mass of secretions which hi other animals form the upper incisor and laniary teeth. They are useful for defense and offence, and for holding down green branches, or rooting up water-plants; but still they are not absolutely necessary, since there is a variety of elephant in the Indian forests entirely destitute of tusks, and the females in most of the races are either without them, or have them very small; not turned downwards, as Bochart states, but rather straight, as correctly described by Pliny. Only two species of elephants are recognized — the African and the Indian easily distinguished from each other by the size of the ear, which in the former is much larger than in the latter. The tusks of the African elephant attain sometimes a length of 8 or even 10 feet, and a weight of 100 to 120 pounds; but those of the Indian elephant are much shorter and lighter, while in the females they often scarcely project beyond the lips. "Elephant's tooth," or simply "elephant," is a common name for ivory, not only in the Oriental languages and in Greek, but also in the Western tongues, although in all of them teeth of other species may be included. There can be no doubt, for example, that the harder and more accessible ivory obtained from the hippopotamus wars known in Egypt at least as early as that obtained from the elephant. This kind of ivory does not split, and therefore was anciently most useful for military instruments. SEE ELEPHANT.
The Egyptians at a very early period made use of this material in decoration. The cover of a small ivory box in the Egyptian collection at the Louvre is "inscribed with the praenomen Nefer-ka-re, or Neper-cheres, adopted by a dynasty found in the upper line of the tablet of Abydos, and attributed by M. Bunsen to the fifth…. In the time of Thothmes III ivory was imported in considerable quantities into Egypt, either 'in boats laden with ivory and ebony' from Ethiopia, or else in tusks and cups from the Ruten-nu…. The celebrated car at Florence has its linchpins tipped with ivory" (Birch, in Trans. of Roy. Soc. of Lit. 3, 2nd series). The specimens of Egyptian ivory work, which are found in the principal museums of Europe, are, most of them, in the opinion of Mr. Birch, of a date anterior to the Persian invasion, and some even as old as the 18th dynasty. The practice of inlaying or covering the walls with ivory and other valuable substances was in very extensive use among the Egyptians, who used it likewise for ornamenting articles of furniture, as may be seen in the British Museum. Amongst the articles of household furniture there is a seat with four turned legs inlaid with ivory, brought from Thebes; also a high-backed chair on lion-footed legs; the back solid, inlaid with panels of darker wood, with lotus towers of ivory. The ivory used by the Egyptians was principally brought from Ethiopia (Herod. 3:114), though their elephants were originally from Asia. The Ethiopians, according to Diodorus Siculus (i, 55), brought to Sesostris "ebony and gold, and the teeth of elephants." Among the tribute paid by them to the Persian kings were "twenty large tusks of ivory" (Herod. 3:97). The processions of human figures bearing presents, etc., still extant on the walls of palaces and tombs, attest, by the black, crisp-haired bearers of huge teeth, that some of these came from Ethiopia or Central Africa; and by white men similarly laden, who also bring an Asiatic elephant and a white bear, that others came from the East. In the Periplus of the Red Sea (c. 4), attributed to Arrian, Coloe (Calai) is said to be "the chief mart for ivory." It was thence carried down to Adouli (Zulla, or Thulla), a port on the Red Sea, about three days' journey from Coloe, together with the hides of hippopotami, tortoise-shell, apes, and slaves (Pliny, 6:34). The elephants and rhinoceroses from which it was obtained were killed further up the country, and few were taken near the sea, or in the neighborhood of Adouli. At Ptolemais Theron was found a little ivory like that of Adouli (Periplus, c. 3). Ptolemy Philadelphus made this port the depot of the elephant trade (Pliny, 6:34). According to Pliny (8, 10), ivory was so plentiful on the borders of Ethiopia that the natives made doorposts of it, and even fences and stalls for their cattle. The author of the Periplus (c. 16) mentions Rhapta as another station of the ivory trade, but the ivory brought down to this port is said to have been of an inferior quality, and "for the most part found in the woods, damaged by rain, or collected from animals drowned by the overflow of the rivers at the equinoxes" (Smith, Dict. of Class. Geography, s.v. Rhapta). The Egyptian merchants traded for ivory and onyx stones to Barygraza the port to which was carried down the commerce of Western India from Ozene (Periplzas, c. 49).
The Assyrians appear to have carried on a great traffic in ivory. Their early conquests in India had made them familiar with it, and (according to one rendering of the passage) their artists supplied the luxurious Tyrians with carvings in ivory from the isles of Chittim (Eze 27:6). On the obelisk in the British Museum the captives or tribute-bearers are represented as carrying tusks. Among the merchandise of Babylon enumerated in Re 18:12 are included "all manner vessels of ivory." Mr. Layard discovered several ornaments made from ivory in the Assyrian mounds (Nineveh, 2, 15), but they are of uncertain date, and exhibit marks of Egyptian workmanship (ib. p. 163, 168). Many specimens of Assyrian carving in ivory have been found in the excavations at Nimrod, and among the rest some tablets "richly inlaid with blue and opaque glass, lapislazuli, etc." (Bonomi, Nineveh and its Palaces, p. 334; comp. Song 5:14). Part of an ivory staff, apparently a scepter, and several entire elephants' tusks, were discovered by Mr. Layard in the last stage of decay, and it was with extreme difficulty that these interesting relics could be restored (Nini. and Bab. p. 195).
In the early ages of Greece ivory was frequently employed for purposes of ornament. The trappings of horses were studded with it (Homer, II. 5, 584): it was used for the handles of keys (Odyssey, 21, 7) and for the bosses of shields (Hes. Sc. Herc. 141, 142). The "ivory house" of Ahab (1Ki 22:39) was probably a palace; the walls of which were paneled with ivory, like the palace of Menelaus described by Homer (Odys. 4, 73; compare Eurip. Aph. Aul. 583, ἐλεφαντοδέτοι δόμοι. Comp. also Am 3:15, and Ps 45:8, unless the "ivory palaces" in the latter passage were perfume-boxes made of that material, as been conjectured). It is difficult to determine whether the "tower of ivory" of Song 7:4 is merely a figure of speech, or whether it had its original among the things that were. Beds inlaid or veneered with ivory were in use among the Hebrews (Am 6; Am 4; compare Homer, Od. 23, 200), as also among the Egyptians (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 3, 169). The practice of inlaying and veneering wood with ivory and tortoise-shell is described by Pliny (16, 84). By the luxurious Phoenicians ivory was employed to ornament the boxwood rowing-benches (or "'hatches" according to some) of their galleys (Eze 27:6). The skilled workmen of Hiram, king of Tyre, fashioned the great ivory throne of Solomon, and overlaid it with pure gold (1Ki 10:18; 2Ch 9:17). The ivory thus employed was supplied by the caravans of Dedan (Isa 21:13; Eze 27:15), or was brought from the East Indies, with apes and peacocks, by the navy of Tarshish (1Ki 10:22). As an instance of the superabundant possession and barbarian use of elephants' teeth may be mentioned the octagonal ivory hunting tower built by Akbar, about twenty-four miles west of Agra: it is still standing, and bristles with 128 enormous tusks disposed in ascending lines, sixteen on each face. Mr. Roberts, remarking on the words of Amos (6, 4), they "that lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon couches," refers the last word, in conformity with the Tamuld version, to swinging cots, often mentioned in the early tales of India, and still plentifully used by the wealthy. But it does not appear that they were known in Western Asia, or that figures of them occur on Egyptian bas-reliefs. It is more likely that palkies (those luxurious traveling litters) are meant, which were borne on men's shoulders, while the person within was stretched at ease. They were in common use even among the Romans, for Cicero fell into his assassin's hands while he was attempting to escape in one of them towards Naples. Among the Romnans, inlaying with ivory seems to have become, at length, rather a common method of ornamenting the interiors (of the mansions of the wealthy; for Horace mentions it as an evidence of his humble way of life that "no walls inlaid with ivory adorned his house."