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15. Israel And Her Neighbors--Aram

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The Arameans are an ancient people. Aram appears in the table of nations as a son of Shem, and the same name is given to a grandson of Nahor, Abraham’s brother. Bethuel, the father of Laban, is called “the Aramean.” Deut. 26:5 seems to be a liturgical formula: “Arami obed abi,” “My father was a wandering Aramean.” Balaam gives Aram as his home (Num. 23:7). Abraham was principally, therefore, identified with the Aramean people from Haran. (He was not, of course, a descendant of Aram).1

The Aramaic language is likewise ancient. The Arameans adopted the Phoenician script and adapted it to the square letters now used by the Hebrews. Written Aramaic is found from the 10th century B.C. in the Phoenician script.2 Aramaic became so widespread it was used as a trade language by the major empires until Greek predominated. The language branched into east and west dialects, and West Aramaic was spoken by the common people of Palestine at the time of Christ. From New Testament times on, it had a Christian heritage and is called Syriac. A prolific literature extends to the 13th century A.D. It is still used as a liturgical language in the Mar Toma Church of India and by the Jacobite Churches of Syria and Iraq.

Semitic speaking people probably occupied the area called Syria as early as 3000 B.C.3 The Arameans, however, began to penetrate the settled countries of the Fertile Crescent en masse in the 11th century. The major powers were in decline (Egypt, Hittites, Assyria and Babylon). Israel, the Arameans and the Phoenicians were on the rise at the beginning of the first millennium B.C.

A federated kingdom called Aram-zobah is encountered early. Hadadezer ben Rehob is the king (2 Sam. 8:3; 10:16; 1 Chron. 19:10). The expansionist ideas of this king were frustrated by David who put governors in Aram-Damascus (2 Sam. 8:6).

Hittite Hamath was an adversary of Aram-zobah and formed an alliance with David (2 Sam. 8:9-11; 2 Chron. 18:9-11).

As Solomon’s government became weak, and Egypt began to assert herself, Aram-Damascus rebelled and becomes the most important Aramean state. The unified Arameans under the Ben Hadad’s (Hadadezer?) become a constant threat to the northern kingdom for 150 years until their defeat by Assyria.4

References to Syria in James D. Newsome, Jr., A Synoptic Harmony of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986.

  1. David and Syria (p. 41-42). See also Olmstead, History of Palestine and Syria for a description of Damascus.
  2. Solomon and Syria (p. 134).
  3. Asa-Baasha and Syria (p. 149-50).
  4. Beth-Omri. League with Sidon (p. 154, see also the Moabite stone).
  5. AhabBen Hadad (p. 231ff). In league with Jehoshaphat (pp. 162, 166).
  6. Elisha and Syria (Ben Hadad, pp. 178-191). Naaman the Leper (pp. 176-177). Besieging Samaria (p. 179-180). Death of Ben-Hadad (p. 181).
  7. Ahaziah and Jehoram (p. 184).
  8. Jehu submitted to Assyria in 841 B.C. (Black Obelisk, p. 281).
  9. Jehoahaz (p. 201) and in south (p. 198-99).
  10. Elisha’s final word about Syria (pp. 200-201).
  11. Jeroboam II (p. 200, cf. p. 206).

The Arameans and the Monuments.

Yehimilk (YHMLK).

This monument comes from the middle of the 10th century B.C. It was found in 1929. Its measurements are 35 by 70 by 45 cm. Now it is located in the Beirut national museum. It contains further the remains of an inscription in “Byblian hieroglyphics”5 (ANET, p. 653).

Azitawadda.

This inscription is Phoenician-Hittite, bilingual. It comes from about 720 B.C., and was found in 1946 in Keratepe. Uriku, according to Donner and Rollig was a king of Que, and hence Azitawadda was a vassal king. (ANET, p. 653.)

Kilamuwa (KLMW).

This inscription comes from about 825 B.C. It was found in 1902 in Zinjirli. It contains an interesting description of a small state hiring Assyria (cheaply) to protect itself. These people are apparently MSHKBM as opposed to the Danunites of Azitawadda above. (ANET, p. 654.)

Barrakab of Y’dy-Sam’al.

This monument is from 733/2-727. It was found in 1891 in Zinjirli. This king was established on his throne at the behest of Tiglath-Pileser. (See ANEP, #281; ANET, p. 655).6

Ben Hadad.

This inscription, dated about 860 B.C., was found in 1939. It confirms his mention in 1 Kings 15:18 (Asa bribes Ben Hadad against Baasha) (ANEP, # 499; ANET, p. 655).

Kilamuwa.

This inscription contains a reference to something gold. (ANET, p. 655.)

Zakir.

This Sefire inscription is very important.7 It was found in 1903 about 30 miles SW of Aleppo. It comes from the early 8th century B.C. and contains a good example of a coalition of kings against a small king. (ANET, p. 655-56.)

Yehimilk of Byblos.

This inscription is not pertinent to the Aramean states (4-5th centuries B.C.). The Zakir inscription shows a lasting independence and an outlook limited to local problems. This holds true of the entire Syrian area. Only the petty states of Phoenicia broaden their horizons and this is through overseas expansion.8 With the beginning of the eighth century, the Syrian political scene changes. Assyrian pressure intensified and finally takes the form of permanent annexation (see Bar Rakib). The petty Syrian states begin to succumb during the second half of the eighth century (see the map on page 144). (ANET, p. 656.)


1 For the Arameans farther east who eventually created the Neo-Babylonian Empire, see p. 63.

2 See ANEP, pp. 270-286 and p. 105 in this outline.

3 See Moscati, The Face of the Ancient Orient, p. 207 (because of the names of the mountains and rivers).

4 NB: Coele Syria (koila Syria or hollow of Syria) is probably a corruption of the title “kol Syria” (all Syria) found on the monuments.

5H. Donner and W. Rollig, Kanaanäische und Aramäische Inschriften, 2:6.

6Ibid., pp. 232-34.

7Ibid., pp. 204-11. See for other Sefîre texts and commentaries: J. A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefîre.

8Moscati, The Face of the Ancient Orient, p. 215.

Related Topics: Archaeology, History