Aram is a name of both places and persons. As a place name it refers usually to Aram‐Damascus (Map 1:Z2), a powerful Aramean state in southern Syria during the early first millennium BCE (See Damascus). Aram also designates other contemporary Aramean states along the northern border of Israel, including Aram‐zobah northeast of the Anti‐lebanon mountains (2 Sam. 8.3; Ps. 60.0) and Aram‐maachah in the upper Jordan valley (1 Chron. 19.6). Some English translations follow the Septuagint and put “Syria” or “Syrian” where the Hebrew text has “Aram” (place) or “Arami” (person of Aram, an Aramean). The Greek words, however, are not precise equivalents of the Hebrew (See Syria).
As a personal name, Aram is one of the five sons of Shem and the eponymous ancestor of the Arameans (Gen. 10.22–23). Genesis 22.20–21 identifies another Aram as son of Kemuel and grandson of Nahor, brother of the patriarch Abraham. Abraham's son Isaac married a granddaughter of Nahor who was sister to Laban “the Aramean” (Gen. 25.20). Abraham's grandson Jacob wed Rachel and Leah, both daughters of this same Laban (Gen. 28–31). These and other accounts in Genesis that associate the ancestors of Israel with people and places in the upper Euphrates region (Aram‐naharaim, translated “Mesopotamia,” Gen. 24.10; or Paddan‐aram, Gen. 28.2) suggest a close relationship between the Israelite ancestors and the Arameans (Deut. 26.5).
Outside the Bible, Aram is mentioned in a cuneiform inscription of Naram‐Sin of Akkad (ca. 2300 BCE) as a place along the upper Euphrates. Cuneiform texts from Drehem in southern Mesopotamia also name Aram as a city in the upper Euphrates region ca. 2000 BCE. Annals of the Assyrian king Tiglath‐pileser I speak of punitive campaigns in his fourth year of reign (1112 BCE) against nomadic Ahlamu‐Arameans who reached as far west as Tadmor (Palmyra in Syria) and the Lebanon mountains.
In the reign of David (tenth century BCE), Aram‐Zobah ruled southern Syria but was eventually defeated by the Israelite king (2 Sam. 8.3–12). Aram‐Damascus assumed control of southern Syria during the reign of Solomon (1 Kings 11.23–25) and was a recurrent opponent of Israel throughout ninth–eighth centuries BCE, although it was also sometimes Israel's ally against the Assyrians (1 Kings 22.1). Aram‐Damascus and the other Aramean cities of Syria were ultimately destroyed by the Assyrians in the late eighth century BCE (Amos 1.3–5; Isa. 17.1–3; Jer. 49.23–27).
In both biblical and extrabiblical sources, Aram denotes lands occupied by speakers of Aramaic, a Northwest Semitic language related to Hebrew and Phoenician that was widely spoken in Syria in the first millennium BCE. Aramaic language and script survived the destruction of the Aramean states in Syria. Aramaic became the lingua franca of Persian empire, and dialects of Aramaic continued to be widely spoken in Palestine and Syria into the Roman period (see Mark 5.41).
Joseph A. Greene