The Ape Cargo


"For the king's ships went to Tarshish with the servants of Huram: every three years once came the ships of Tarshish bringing gold, and silver, ivory, and apes, and peacocks." (2 Chronicles 9:21)

This is a fascinating verse intended to help the reader sense something of the almost incredible wealth of King Solomon. Among other indications of his riches, he had been able to develop an Israelite navy that could sail to distant lands, returning with exotic and valuable cargoes. One wonders whether some of the items of gold and silver and ivory, and perhaps even the peacocks, would be diverted to please his 700 wives and 300 concubines.

But what about the apes? This is the only reference in the Bible to apes (except for a parallel passage in 1 Kings 10:22), and scholars are uncertain whether the "apes" were true apes, or perhaps monkeys or baboons. But why would Solomon go to such expense to import apes instead of more useful animals (he had a great number of fine horses, for example)? Did he maintain a zoo? He imported ivory, so why not elephants?

Could it possibly be that the king, or some of his scholars, were interested in studying possible ape-human relationships? We don't have any evidence of such investigations or speculations, of course, but the Bible does indicate the wide-ranging extent of Solomon's scientific and religious interests. He studied, perhaps wrote, and "spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes" (1 Kings 4:33). And with so many wives and concubines practicing numerous pantheistic religions, he must have heard of such evolutionary beliefs in other lands.

In any case, among his last words were the following: "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth . . ." (Ecclesiastes 12:1). HMM