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Aram, Arameans


ARAM, ARAMEANS . The Arameans are a group of western Semitic, Aramaic-speaking tribes who spread over the Fertile Crescent during the last quarter of the second millennium b.c.e. Eleventh and tenth century royal inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia indicate Aramean movements through the north of the Middle Euphrates and northern Mesopotamia. In other words, the Arameans might be viewed as the successors of the *Amorites of the late third millennium (Dion in Bibliography). These nomads or semi-nomads spread from the Persian Gulf in the south to the Amanus Mountains in the north, and the anti-Lebanon and northern Transjordan in the west.


Of the various biblical traditions concerning their place of origin, an obscure reference in Amos 9:7 places it in Kir, whose location is uncertain, but may refer to a locale apparently not far from Emar (modern Tel Meskene), although some locate Kir on the border of *Elam in Iran. The fact that the Table of Nations (Gen. 10:22–23) has the eponymous ancestor Aram (together with Elam and Asshur) only one generation removed from Shem reflects the importance of the Arameans in the Near East during the first third of the first millennium b.c.e. To this Aram the Table assigns four sons, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash (i Chron. 1:17; lxxMeshech; Samaritan Pent. Massa), but the identity and location of the ethnic groups they stand for are uncertain. The Qumran War Scroll (1qm 2:10) places them "Beyond the Euphrates." The modest standing of the Arameans prior to their rise is reflected in the genealogical table of the Nahorites, where Aram is a mere grandson of Nahor and a nephew, instead of the father, of Uz (Gen. 22:21). The patriarchal narratives make the Hebrew Patriarchs close kinsmen of the Arameans. Not only is Abraham a brother of the aforementioned Nahor, but Isaac marries a granddaughter of Nahor who is "daughter of Bethuel the Aramean and sister of Laban the Aramean" (Gen. 25:20), and Jacob marries daughters of the same "Laban the Aramean" (cf. Gen. 31:47, where Laban coins an Aramaic equivalent for Gilead (Galed)). On one occasion Jacob himself is described as "a wandering-destitute-Aramean" (Deut. 26:5). This tradition conforms to the later Hebrew names for the ancestral home of the Patriarchs in the Haran district: "Paddan-Aram" (Gen. 25:20; 28:2); the "country of Aram" (Hos. 12:13); and "Aram-Naharaim" (i.e., the Jezirah, the region of the Habor and Euphrates rivers; Gen. 24:10).

The existence of the Arameans in the "patriarchal period," however, is not attested by extra-biblical sources – in any case, not as an element important enough to warrant naming the entire Jezirah area after it. Indeed, in the Egyptian and Akkadian sources of the 15th–12th centuries b.c.e. the area is referred to simply as Naharaim (in many different spellings), but never as Aram-Naharaim. Thus, the latter name and the alleged Aramean affiliations of the "Patriarchs" are anachronisms that came into being at the end of the second millennium as a result of the thorough entrenchment of the Aramean tribes in the Jezirah region at that time. The arguments, particularly the linguistic ones, that the "Patriarchs" were "Proto-Arameans" are without substance. The mention of Aram or Aram-Naharaim as the country of origin of Balaam (Num. 23:7; Deut. 23:5) is, perhaps, also an anachronism.

The isolated references to Aram as a place name or personal name between the end of the third and late second millennium b.c.e. are insufficient to establish such an early appearance of the Arameans, especially since, later, the name Aram occurred frequently as an onomastic and toponymic element in entirely non-"Aramean" contexts.

The first, definite extra-biblical mention of the Arameans is found in the annals of Tiglath-Pileser i, king of Assyria (1116–1076 b.c.e.), in the compound name "Aḫlamē Aramāi̯a." However, the identification of the Aḫlamē of the Assyrian sources of the 14th century with the Arameans is untenable; the first appearance of the Arameans should not be traced back to the early documentation of the name Aḫlamē used, like the name Sūtu, for nomad tribes. Moreover, tenth-ninth century royal Assyrian inscriptions mention Aḫlamē Aramāi̯a alongside the Arameans. The close association of the two led to occasional late cuneiform references to the Aramaic language as "Aḫlamē." Tiglath-Pileser i mentions that in his fourth year (1113 b.c.e.) he routed the Aḫlamē Aramāi̯a in the Euphrates region, from the land of Suḫu in the south to Carchemish in the north. At that time the Arameans had already settled in the Mount Bishri district, southeast of the Euphrates bend, where Tiglath-Pileser devastated six of their villages. They are further mentioned as far west as the Tadmor (Palmyra) oasis and even in the foothills of Mount Lebanon. Tiglath-Pileser's son, Ashur-bel-kala (1073–1056 b.c.e.), refers specifically to the land of Aram (māt Arime) without connecting it with Ahlamē. By the time of Tiglath-Pileser i, the Arameans had once penetrated into Assyria proper, and during his son's reign an Aramean usurper, Adad-apal-iddina, managed to seize the throne of Babylonia.

Thus, the historical significance of the Arameans began only at the end of the second and beginning of the first millennia b.c.e. At this time independent Aramean states arose in Syria: the biblical Aram-Zobah, Aram Beth-Rehob, Aram-Maacah (ii Sam. 10:6), and (slightly later) *Aram-Damascus; and in Mesopotamia: e.g., Bīt-Adini (biblical *Beth-Eden; Amos 1:5) above the Euphrates bend, Bīt-Baḫiāni (capital: *Gozan; cf. ii Kings 17:6) and Bīt-Ḫalupē in the Habor region, Ḫindān and Suḫu (biblical Shuah; Gen. 25:2) on the Middle Euphrates, Bīt-Zamāni on the Upper Tigris, and Bīt-Dakuri and Bīt-Iakin near the Persian Gulf. Various Arameans, or closely related tribes, are known to have played an important role in Babylonia; such were the *Chaldeans (though some dispute the extent of their closeness to the Arameans) and the Pekod of the Bible (Jer. 50:21; Ezek. 23:23; Akkadian Puqudu).

For the century spanning the turn of the millennium, the Arameans challenged the very existence of the Assyrian kingdom, which reached its nadir under Ashur-Rabi ii and Tiglath-Pileser ii. However, at the same time the Aramean expansion itself was being checked in the west by David, who dealt a powerful blow, thrice defeating Hadadezer, king of Aram-Zobah, and his allies, bringing them into vassalage. A few generations later, Ashur-Dan ii (934–912 b.c.e.) and Adad-Nirari ii (911–891 b.c.e.) were able to relieve the Aramean pressure on Assyria, especially on its western flank. In the next half century, during the reigns of Ashurnaṣirpal ii (883–859 b.c.e.) and, particularly, *Shalmaneser iii (858–824 b.c.e.), the Assyrians succeeded in subjugating the Aramean states in Syria, on the one hand, and Babylonia, on the other.

The combined evidence of Aramaic documents from the ninth-eighth centuries b.c.e. and Assyrian sources illuminates the structure and political constellation of the various Aramean and neo-Hittite states in Syria – their rivalries and alliances. The outstanding kingdom in southern Syria was Aram-Damascus, while in the north such Aramean states as Hadrach (cf. Zech. 9:1) and, particularly, Arpad (ii Kings 18:34; 19:13) rose to power. In the ninth-eighth centuries b.c.e., even in such states of neo-Hittite foundation as Ya'di-Samʾal (capital: modern Zenjirli) in the north and *Hamath in Middle Syria, an Aramaizing process evolved, resulting in the gradual acceptance of Aramaic personal names and script equally with the neo-Hittite. In the second half of the 8th century, *Tiglath-Pileseriii (745–727 b.c.e.) reduced the independent Aramean kingdoms to mere vassal states or Assyrian provinces. Still, in 720 b.c.e. revolts in former Aramean lands, such as Damascus, Arpad, and perhaps even Ya'di-Samʾal (with the participation of Samaria), broke out against the rule of Sargon ii. In southern Mesopotamia in the later part of the eighth century, various Aramean tribes waged war against Assyria, only to suffer defeat and exile in large numbers.


The Aramean expansion did not lead to a political or cultural pan-Aramean unity. In Syria, however, political confederations periodically arose, often of considerable extent but of changing leadership: e.g., that of Aram-Zobah, about 1000 b.c.e., whose greatness is known only from the Bible (ii Sam. 8:3 ff.; 10:16–17); that of Aram-Damascus, mid-ninth century on; and that of Arpad, mid-eighth century. The stature of Arpad is attested in the Aramaic treaty inscriptions from Sefire (south of Aleppo), which contain such indicative terms as "all Aram" and "Upper and Lower Aram." Such confederations were pliant and internally loose, and easily dissolved under pressure from without.

Except for the Aramaic language and script, the Arameans left no manifest traces of their culture among other peoples. The wide spread of the Aramaic language, facilitated by its convenient script, was accelerated by extensive shifts in populations, mass exiles of Arameans and their employ within the Assyrian and Babylonian administration as well as their mercantile activities. The Arameans' widespread settlement along the trade routes, coupled with their inherent wanderlust, brought them to the fore of Middle Eastern commerce from the ninth century on (see also Ancient *Aramaic).

In the sphere of religion, the Arameans were of little influence on others, but instead accepted the local cults of the areas in which they settled. Their principal deity in Syria was the ancient west-Semitic storm god Hadad, the dynastic god of, among others, the Aramean kings of Damascus (cf. the names Bar-Hadad, corresponding to the biblical Ben-Hadad). Evident also from Aramaic inscriptions is their worship of various Canaanite and Mesopotamian deities. In Sam'al the dynastic gods Rakib-el, Baal Ḥamman, and Baal Semed were apparently worshiped by the Arameans, as well as Baal-Haran, whose cultic center was at Haran, home of the ancient moon-god Sin. The worship of female deities is indicated by the pairing on a stela of Rakib-El of Sam'al with the goddess Kubaba of Carchemish, and by the depiction of Astarte as the woman at the window in Aramean ivory plaques found in Assyria at Nimrud (Dion).

Traces of Aramean religion are found in the Hellenistic period at Baalbek and Hieropolis; the latter was the main center for the cult of the female deity Atargatis, whose name combines the Aramaic ʿatar (Ashtart) and ʿata (Anat). Among the Israelites of the First Temple period, the influence of the Aramean religion was reflected in Ahaz's introduction of a Damascus-style altar at Jerusalem (ii Kings 16:10–13; ii Chron. 28:22–23), which many believe was accompanied by the introduction of a Damascus cult, and the worship of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo (Zech. 12:11; cf. ii Kings 5:18), and, later, in certain practices of the Jewish colonists at *Elephantine. Conversely, Israelite religious influence on the Arameans is evident in the episode of Naaman, army commander of the king of Aram-Damascus (ii Kings 5:15–17), as well as in the names of two kings of (neo-Hittite) Hammath, which contain the theophoric element yahu: Joram (ii Sam. 8:10), whose name also appears in the form Hadoram (i Chron. 18:10), and Iaʿubidi.

The Aramean material culture, like the religion, was essentially eclectic, being strongly influenced by the specific local environment, e.g., in Syria by the neo-Hittites and the Phoenicians. Though it is difficult to define as Aramean per se particular material remains, it is apparent that the ninth-eighth centuries b.c.e. represent the cultural zenith of the Arameans. Aramean centers during this period included Tell Halaf (Gozan); Arslan Tash (Ḫadatha) and Tell Aḥmar (Til Barsip) in northern Mesopotamia; and Zenjirli (Samʾal), Hamath, and Damascus in Syria. With the continued ascendance of the Assyrian Empire, however, the political and cultural prospects of the Aramean states were extinguished.


E.G.H. Kraeling, Aram and Israel (1918); Forrer, in: E. Ebeling and B. Meissner (ed.), Reallexikon der Assyriologie, 1 (1932), s.v.Aramu; F. Rosenthal, Die aramaeistische Forschung (1939); B. Landsberger, Sam'al, 1 (Ger., 1948); R.T. O'Callaghan, Aram Naharaim (1948); Bowman, in: jnes, 7 (1948), 65–90; A. Dupont-Sommer, Les araméens (1949); idem, in: vt Supplement, 1 (1953), 40–49; A. Malamat, Ha-Aramim be-Aram Naharaim ve-Hithavvut Medinoteihem (1953); S. Moscati, Ancient Semitic Civilizations (1957), 167 ff.; H. Donner and W. Roellig, Kanaanaeische und aramaeische Inschriften, 1–3 (19642–1967); J.A. Fitzmyer, The Aramaic Inscriptions of Sefire (1967); Albright, in: cah2, 2 (19662), ch. 33, 46–53; J.A. Brinkman, A Political History of Post-Kassite Babylonia (1968), 267 ff.; J. Hoftijzer, Religio Aramaica (Dutch, 1968); M. Dietrich, Die Aramaeer Suedbabyloniens in der Sargonidenzeit (1970). add. bibliography: P.-E. Dion, cane, 2, 1281–94; idem, Les Araméens à l'âge du fer: histoire politique et structures sociale (1997); R. Hess, abd, 1 886–87; E. Lipiński, The Arameans: Their History, Culture, Religion; V. Matthews, ibid., 345–51; W. Pitard, ibid., 338–41.

[Abraham Malamat]

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