ELEPHANT

ELEPHANT
Archaeological finds of ivory objects made from elephant tusks have been found in Israel dating back to prehistoric and Chalcolithic times. It is assumed that wild elephants were still present in Syria during the second and first millennia B.C.E. until they were hunted to extinction. Alternatively, they may have been imported there from India (Elephas maximus) for the purposes of royal hunting, but this seems less likely. Thutmoses III is recorded as having hunted elephants during his campaign in Syria in the 15th century B.C.E.: "He (Thutmoses III) hunted 120 elephants at their mud hole. Then the biggest elephant began to fight before his Majesty. I (Amenen-heb) was the one who cut off his hand while he was still alive, in the presence of his Majesty, while I was standing in the water between two rocks. Then my Lord rewarded me…." The lower jaws of elephants have been discovered in mid-second millennium deposits during archaeological excavations at the site of Atchana-Alalakh in Syria. While the elephant itself is not mentioned in the Bible, its ivory tusks (Shenhabbim) were brought from Ophir for Solomon (I Kings 10:22; II Chron. 9:21). The word "shenhav" means the tooth (shen) of the elephant (ev in Egyptian, hence the name of the island Yev (Jab) – elephantine ). The word shen also signifies ivory, from which Solomon made his throne, overlaying it with   gold (I Kings 10:18). The Bible also mentions "horns of ivory," "houses of ivory," "beds of ivory," and "ivory palaces" (Ezek. 27:15; Amos 3:15; 6:4; Ps. 45:9). Reference is likewise made to "the ivory house" which Ahab built (I Kings 22:39), the reference being to a house containing ivory vessels and ornaments. An examination of the ivory vessels, ornaments, and images uncovered at Megiddo and in Samaria shows that they were made from the African elephant Loxodonta africana (= Elephas africanus). Elephants were employed by Darius in his battle against Alexander the Great. At a later date, elephants were introduced into Ereẓ Israel being used for military purposes in the Syrian-Greek army (I Macc. 8:6; II Macc. 13:15). It was under one of these elephants that Eleazar the Hasmonean was crushed to death (I Macc. 6:43–46). A painting of an elephant appears on the walls of a Sidonian tomb found at Marissa (Maresha). In mishnaic times, elephants were kept in some rich homes and the baraita deals with tasks carried out for its master by an elephant (Er. 31b). It is stated that the elephant feeds on branches and is rarely to be seen (TJ, Shab. 18:1, 16c). On seeing an elephant one recites the blessing, "Blessed is He who makes strange creatures" (Ber. 58b). The elephant's period of gestation was said to be three years (Bek. 8a); it is now known, however, to be 18–22 months only. -BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.B. Tristram, The Natural History of the Bible (1883), 81–83; F.S. Bodenheimer, Animal Life in Biblical Lands: From the Stone Age to the Nineteenth Century, vol. 2 (1956), 375–77; J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 48. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: F.E. Zeuner, A History of Domesticated Animals (1963), 275–98; A. Houghton Brodrick, Animals in Archaeology (1972); R.D. Barnett, Ancient Ivories in the Middle East, in: Qedem, 14 (1982); O. Borowski, Every Living Thing: Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel (1998), 193–95. (Jehuda Feliks / Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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