The Hebrew word for ivory, i.e., "shen" (= "tooth"), shows that the Israelites knew what ivory was. The other term used to denote ivory, "shenhabbim" (I Kings x. 22; II Chron. ix. 21), is usually explained as a compound of "shen" and the Egyptian "ab," "ebu" (elephant). Other suggested derivations, from the Indian or Assyrian, are improbable, though the question can not be decided with certainty. In ancient times ivory was always a very costly article. In the East it was commonly used for inlaid work. It is related of Ahab (I Kings xxii. 39) that he built for himself an "ivory house," or palace, the halls and chambers of which were enriched with inlaid ivory. With this should be compared Homer's description of Menelaus' palace ("Odyssey," iv. 63). The Assyrians had similar palaces. Ps. xlv. 9 (A. V. 8) and Amos iii. 15 also speak of palaces, or houses, of ivory. As the latter passage indicates, the luxury of the court was still imitated by the great of the land at the time of Amos. Whether or not it may be concluded, from the "ivory tower" in Cant. vii. 4, that the exterior of such palaces, or the exterior of one special tower, was inlaid with ivory is doubtful.
Ezek. xxvii. 6 mentions the rich ivory ornamentation (of the deck ?) of Phenician ships. Inlaid work was popular also for furniture. Amos (vi. 4) condemns the newly introduced luxury of couches inlaid with ivory. Ivory couches and chairs are included in the enumeration of Hezekiah's tribute to Sennacherib. Solomon's ivory throne (I Kings x. 18 et seq.) seems to have been of another kind—most probably of carved ivory. The statement that Solomon's ships brought ivory from Ophir (I Kings x. 22) is the only indication as to the source of his supply. It is usually supposed that it came from India, but it is more likely that it was brought mostly from the east coast of Africa. Ethiopia supplied the Egyptians with most of their ivory, and the Phenician markets were undoubtedly partially supplied from Egypt.