By: Joseph Jacobs
These animals are mentioned in I Kings, x. 22, and the parallel passage in II Chron. ix. 21, as having been brought, with gold, silver, ivory, and peacocks, by ships of Tarshish from Ophir (compare II Chron. viii. 18). The Hebrew name ḳof is a loan-word from the Tamil kapi, from which indeed the Teutonic ape is also a loan with the loss of the guttural, so that the Hebrew and the English words are identical. In Egyptian the form gôfë occurs. The Indian origin of the name has been used to identify Ophir with Abhira at the mouth of the Indus (see Vinson, "Revue de Philologie," iii.). The Assyrians, however, were acquainted with Apes, which were brought to them as tribute. Apes are not now and almost certainly never were either indigenous to Palestine or acclimatized there.—In Rabbinical Literature:
The rabbis appear to have had some acquaintance with Apes. They knew that they were like man, and for that reason the blessing on Him "who varieth his creatures" was to be said at sight of an ape (Ber. 58b). They compared man in old age to an ape (Eccl. R. i. 2; Tan., Peḳude, 3). To see an ape in a dream is unlucky, because of his ugliness (Ber.57b). Apes were regarded as a luxury (Eccl.R.vi.11), and were trained to perform as servants, to clear out vessels (Yoma, 29b), or to pour water on the hands (Yad. i. 5). On the other hand, it was erroneously thought that it took them three years to bring forth (Bek. 8a), and they were included in the class of beasts, with the dog, wild ass, and elephant (Kil. viii. 6). Toharness any of these would not be reckoned an infringement of Deut. xxii. 10. There was a legend to the effect that of the three classes of men that built the Tower of Babel, one was turned into Apes (Sanh. 109a; compare Yalḳ., Gen. 62). Apes were used as a method of disadvantageous comparison; thus, Sarah was to Eve as an ape to man; Eve to Adam; and Adam to God (B. B. 58a).
In the days of Enosh the human race degenerated and began to look like Apes (Gen. R. xxiii.). The Mohammedans have a legend, referred to in the Koran (suras ii. 61, 62; vii. 163), to the effect that certain Jews dwelling at Elath on the Red sea in the days of David, who yielded to the temptation to fish on the Sabbath, were turned into Apes as a punishment for Sabbath-breaking (Lane, "Thousand and One Nights," iii. 550).
There is another animal mentioned in the Talmud which would appear to be of the same category as the ape; since its resemblance to man was so great that its dead body, like that of a man, would render a tent unclean (Kil. viii. 5). Its name has been interpreted variously as a chimpanzee or orangutan; while some regard the animal as altogether fabulous and identical with , "stones of the field" (Sammter, Mishnayot [translation], i. 77; Job, v. 23).
- Lewisohn, Die Zoologie des Talmuds, pp. 64-67, 356;
- Bochart, Hierozoicon, lib. III. cap. xxxi.;
- Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb.;
- Jastrow, Dict.;
- Kohut, Aruch, s.v.