the eponymous ancestor of the Arameans, is the fifth son of Shem in the genealogy known as the Table of Nations (Genesis 10:22), in a part of the Table usually attributed to the Priestly source. He is also listed in the genealogy of Shem in 1 Chronicles 1:17. A second individual bears this name: Aram, the son of Kemuel, grandson of Abraham's brother, Nahor (Gen 22:21). A third individual also bears the name: Aram, the son of Shemer, in the genealogy of Asher (1 Chronicles 7:34).

Some scholars suggest an etymology from the root rûm, “to be high, exalted,” and posit a meaning of “highland.” Another suggestion is that the form is a broken plural from the noun raym “wild bulls” (Lipiński 2000, 51–54). Both suggestions are speculative.

Usage as a Place Name.

The Aramean peoples formed tribal entities and states throughout the Fertile Crescent (ca. 1200–600B.C.E.). The term Aram is utilized in biblical and nonbiblical texts.

In the Bible, the word “Aram” is used three ways. First, it is most frequently a designation of the Aramean city-state of Damascus. From roughly 1050–732 B.C.E., Damascus was one of the most important Aramean states in the Levant, and from the biblical perspective, it was “the Aram.” This usage is mostly in the books of Kings, Chronicles, and Isaiah. It is erroneously translated in a number of English versions as “Syria.” This has created much confusion among modern readers because of the tendency to associate this with the modern political entity.

Second, the term “Aram” can be compounded with other toponyms where the Arameans were a major people group during the Iron Age: Aram Beth-rehob, Aram Damascus, Aram-maacah, Aram-naharaim, Aram-zobah, and Paddan-aram. Some of these are political entities, others are regions. This compounding of “Aram” with other toponyms is unique to the Bible. Aram is occasionally used alone to label Aram-naharaim (Numbers 23:7; Judges 3:10) and Aram-zobah (2 Samuel 10||1 Chronicles 19). However, these can occur without the “Aram” component. Naharaim is the Hebrew rendering of Naharin, a toponym occurring only in second-millennium sources, meaning “two rivers” (the Euphrates and the Tigris) and referring to the area called Mesopotamia and known today as the Jezirah. The “Aram” compound to it is likely a functional gloss.

Third, “Aram” is used to refer to all the Aramean kingdoms or tribes as a whole (1 Kings 10:29||2 Chronicles 1:17; Judges 10:6; Amos 9:7). In Jeremiah 35:11, the term is used to refer to the Aramean tribes of southern Mesopotamia that are in Nebuchadnezzar's army.

Outside of the Bible, the earliest attestation of “Aram” may be in an Egyptian toponym list from the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1391–1353B.C.E.), which placed Aram in north central Syria. The earliest attested use of “Arameans” occurs in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser I (1114–1076B.C.E.). In Aramaic texts, “Aram” is used to designate both the kingdoms of Damascus (Zakkur Inscription, The Context of Scripture [COS] 2:155) and Arpad (Sefire Inscription, COS 2:213). Scholars are divided concerning its occurrence in the Melqart Stela (COS 2:152–53): some understand this referring to Damascus, others to Arpad. The “land of Aram” occurs in Assyrian sources, designating an area west of the Euphrates River, but is also used in later Assyrian texts for a location in southern Mesopotamia. In Assyrian sources, “Aram” is never used to designate Damascus. Instead, this kingdom is designated: Ša-imērīšu (lit. “of his asses”), Damascus, or Bīt-Haza'ili (“House of Hazael”).

Aram-Damascus.

The sources for the history of Aram-Damascus are primarily textual (mostly Assyrian and biblical). Little archaeological work has been done in Damascus. These textual sources are naturally concerned with their own national interests, and provide only a partial record.

According to the account in 2 Samuel 8:3–6 (parallel, 1 Chronicles 18:3–6), in the early tenth century, Aram-Damascus joined forces with Hadadezer (Aramaic: Hadad-עidr), king of Aram-zobah, to fight against David, the king of Israel. David won this war and garrisoned troops in Damascus. There is no information on the internal political situation in Damascus before its defeat by David.

Second Chronicles 8:3–4 suggests that Solomon maintained enough control over southern and central Syria to fortify Tadmor, a key town on the trade route from southern Syria to Mesopotamia, and to build some store cities in Hamath. However, a servant of Hadadezer, Rezon, the son of Eliada, broke away from him, and became the leader of a band of raiders (1 Kings 11:23–25). Going to Damascus, he seized it and became king (ca. 950–925B.C.E.). With his rule, Damascus began its rise to domination as the “Aram” in the region.

Scholars debate the historicity of the biblical texts about David and Solomon. Even the types of sources utilized in the composition of the biblical texts pose difficulties. Nonetheless, some of this information about (Aram)-zobah and Damascus is accepted by many historians.

Around the beginning of the ninth century, Asa of Judah (ca. 908–867) hired “Ben-hadad, son of Tabrimmon, the son of Hezion, king of Aram, who was ruling in Damascus” against Baasha of Israel (ca. 906–883), who had fortified Ramah on the border between Israel and Judah (1 Kings 15:16–22||2 Chronicles 16:1–6). From this information, a few of the early kings of Damascus are known: Hezion I (Aramaic: Hadyān) who ruled in the fourth quarter of the tenth century, Tabrimmon at the end of the tenth century, and Ben-hadad I (Aramaic: Bar-Hadad, meaning “son of Hadad”) during the early decades of the ninth century. Ben-hadad I attacked and destroyed a number of Israelite cities north of the Sea of Galilee, resulting in the withdrawn of Baasha from Ramah and favorable peace terms for Damascus.

By the mid-ninth century, Aram-Damascus had become an important Levantine power. In 853, Shalmaneser III of Assyria invaded Hamath and a coalition was formed to oppose him. Shalmaneser's Kurkh Monolith describes this coalition, listing as the first of the conventional “twelve” participants, Adad-idri (Hadadezer) of Damascus (COS 2:263–264). Listed third is Ahab, the Israelite. Although Shalmaneser III claimed victory against the coalition in the battle of Qarqar, most scholars believe that this battle resulted in an Assyrian defeat, since he returned in 849, 848, and 845 to fight this same coalition without any real success (Younger 2007). Adad-idri of Damascus is always listed as the head of this coalition in Shalmaneser's inscriptions, indicating Damascus's leading role in the coalition.

However, while the Monolith lists Adad-idri (Hadadezer) and Ahab as contemporaries and allies, the Hebrew Bible mentions only a king by the name of Ben-hadad (Bar-Hadad) as king of Damascus during Ahab's reign. Two different reconstructions of the history have been proposed. One option is to equate Adad-idri (Hadadezer) with Ben-hadad of 1 Kings 20 and 22, although there is no reason to equate these names. (Since an earlier Ben-hadad I is mentioned in 1 Kings 15:18–20, this Ben-hadad of 1 Kings 20 and 22 is often designated Ben-hadad II by those following this option). Although the name, Ben-hadad (Bar-Hadad), may have been a dynastic title, there is no clear evidence of this.

The second option understands 1 Kings 20 and 22 as misplaced, reflecting a later political situation in the days of Jehoahaz or Jehoash. Adad-idri (Hadadezer) of the Monolith should not be equated with Ben-hadad of 1 Kings 20 and 22, but instead should be identified with Ben-hadad (Bar-Hadad), the son of Hazael, who ruled over Damascus in the early eighth century (see below). Thus in the stories of 1 Kings 20 and 22, the name of Ahab has been erroneously inserted by a biblical writer; these narratives really belong to Jehoahaz (2 Kgs 13:10–25). The arguments for the two options are complex, and the issue cannot be considered settled.

Hazael and Empire.

Between 845 and 842, a usurper named Hazael became king of Aram-Damascus. An account is given in 2 Kings 8:7–15, though the name of the king murdered by Hazael is Ben-hadad, not Hadadezer (Adad-idri). Again, scholars are divided in dealing with this problem. Some doubt the historicity of the passage, seeing it as prophetic propaganda. Others accept the general veracity of the account but speculate that the incorporation of the Ben-hadad stories into the account of the period of Ahab has led to the use of his name in this story as well, and that the correct name of the king assassinated by Hazael was actually Hadadezer (Adad-idri). Pitard (1987) suggests that Hadadezer (Adad-idri) died sometime between 845 and 842 and was succeeded by a Ben-hadad (Bar-Hadad), who was assassinated by Hazael. Another group of scholars, those who equate Adad-idri (Hadadezer) of the Monolith with the Ben-hadad of 1 Kings 20 and 22, understand the passage as a description of the actual usurpation of Hazael.

The problem is complicated by the Tel Dan Stela. Unfortunately, the text is fragmentary with the identity of the author missing. Nevertheless, a general consensus has emerged that the inscription belongs to Hazael (ca. 844–803B.C.E.). This is likely, since the restoration of “[Jo]ram, son of [Ahab] king of Israel” in lines 7–8 of the stela seems virtually certain. However, the author of the stela uses the term “my father” three times (though without an identification). If Hazael is the author, to whom does the “my father” refer? An Assyrian inscription of Shalmaneser III (COS 2:270) declares: “Hadadezer (Adad-idri) passed away. Hazael, son of a nobody, took the throne.” The phrase “son of a nobody” (mār lā mammāna) is a technical term referring to a usurper. Thus there can be little doubt that Hazael usurped the throne, though the details are far from certain. Lemaire (1998, 6) has noted that it is not surprising that Hazael would call Hadadezer “my father,” since this was a traditional way to present oneself as a legitimate successor.

In 842, war broke out between Aram and Israel at Ramoth-gilead (2 Kings 8:28–29; 9:14–15a). Joram, king of Israel, was wounded and retired to Jezreel. It was in this context that Jehu assassinated Joram and Ahaziah, the king of Judah, on the same day (2 Kings 9). In the Tel Dan Stela (lines 8–9), Hazael declares “And [I] killed [Ahaziah], the son of [Joram, and overthr]ew House of David (Judah)” (COS 2:161–62). Some scholars have taken this ill-preserved claim as a contradiction to 2 Kings 9 (Jehu's usurpation). However, based on ancient Near Eastern texts, other scholars have demonstrated that Hazael is simply claiming a role in the removal of the Israelite king that brought Jehu to the throne (Lemaire).

With these usurpations in Damascus and Israel, the coalition that had blocked the Assyrian advances in 853, 849, 848 and 845 collapsed, and Shalmaneser III invaded Aram-Damascus. In 841, he defeated Hazael's army at Mount Senir (the Anti-Lebanon range) and confined Hazael within Damascus. He plundered the Hauran area (modern Jebel ed-Druz) and extracted tribute from Jehu. Shalmaneser also campaigned against Aram-Damascus again in 838 and 837, though his Annals conflate the two years into one account. He captured some of Hazael's fortified cities (for example, Danabu and Malaḫa). A piece of booty from these campaigns (found in Ashur) was a cylinder “from the temple of the moon-god Sahr in the city of Malaḫa, a royal city of Hazael of Damascus” (COS 2:271).

After these campaigns, Shalmaneser was occupied with other concerns, and Hazael rebounded with his own conquests, creating an empire. Expanding southward, he took advantage of a weakened Israel and annexed its Transjordanian territories (2 Kings 10:32–33). He forced Jehoahaz, Jehu's son, into vassalage (2 Kings 13:22). He captured Philistine Gath (Tell eṣ-Ṣafi) (2 Kings 12:18), to which recent archaeological evidence, particularly a siege trench, attests (Maeir and Ehrlich 2001). When he threatened Jerusalem, Joash paid him off with much gold from the treasuries of the Temple of the LORD (2 Kings 12:18–19).

Hazael also expanded his empire northward. This is evidenced in his inscribed bronze horse frontlet and bronze blinker, the so-called Hazael Booty Inscription (the inscription on each item is the same) (Younger 2005). The label reads: “That which Hadad gave our lord Hazael from Umq in the year that our lord crossed the river.” Thus the booty was marked as a gift from the god Hadad to Hazael following his incursion across the Orontes River into the land of Umq/Patina in north Syria. In addition, a fragmentary piece of a stela from Tell Afis seems to mention Hazael, in which case it would be further evidence of his control over the Hamath and Luash regions (Amadasi Guzzo 2005). While Hazael's reign began with a fight for survival, it became the period of Aram-Damascus's greatest power.

Decline.

Hazael's son, Ben-hadad (Bar-Hadad), ruled over Aram-Damascus (ca. 803–775). He is mentioned in 2 Kings 13:3, 24–25 and the Zakkur Inscription. (Depending on the Adad-idri identification and the Ben-hadad references in connection with Ahab, he is either Ben-hadad II or III.) The Assyrian inscriptions of Adad-nirari III tell of his attack on Damascus and his confinement of “Mari” within the city, probably in 796BCE (COS 2:275–76). Mari (lit. “my lord”), which may be a title or a hypocoristic of the king's own name, is likely to be identified with this Ben-hadad. During his reign, Aram's power began to wane.

In 773, according to an inscription of the Assyrian king Shalmaneser IV (COS 2:283–284), his commander-in-chief, Shamshi-ilu, campaigned against Hadyān II (Ḫadiānu) of Damascus (ca. 775–750). This ruler is not mentioned in any biblical text, but his name is the same as the earlier monarch of Damascus, Hezion (the grandfather of Ben-hadad I). Around this time (perhaps connected with or the result of the action of Shamshi-ilu), Israel experienced its last major political and economic revival under Jeroboam II (ca. 793–753). Jeroboam was able to dominate Aram-Damascus during part of his reign (2 Kings 14:25, 28).

The last king of Damascus, Rezin (Aramaic: Radyān), came to power sometime before 738, since in that year his name is included among vassals who brought tribute to Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria. During the next few years, Rezin put together a new coalition of Levantine states, including Tyre and Israel, in order to rebel against Assyria.

Attempting to force Judah into the coalition, Rezin and Pekah of Israel attacked Judah, besieging Jerusalem (2 Kings 15:37; 16:5–9). (Modern scholars call this the Syro-Ephraimite war.) They planned to replace Ahaz of Judah with an anti-Assyrian puppet ruler, Tabeel (Isaiah 7:6). Although Isaiah advised against it, Ahaz sent a large gift to Tiglath-pileser III, asking for help against this coalition. In 734, Tiglath-pileser campaigned along the Levantine coast, forcing the capitulation of Tyre along with numerous Philistine cities. In 733–732, Tiglath-pileser campaigned against Aram and Israel. He destroyed 591 towns throughout Aram. He also captured towns in Israelite territory in the Galilee and Transjordan, deporting their inhabitants. In 732, Damascus was captured and Rezin put to death (recorded in 2 Kings 16:9; missing in Tiglath-pileser's inscriptions). The Assyrians annexed Aram-Damascus and divided it up into provinces, ending the existence of the independent state of Aram.

Bibliography

  • Amadasi Guzzo, M. G. “Area 1: Il frammento di stele in basalto con iscrizione.” In Tell Afis (Siria) 2002–2004, edited by S.Mazzoni, et al., pp. 21–23. Pisa: Università di Pisa, 2005.
  • Hallo, W. W., and K. L.Younger, Jr., eds. The Context of Scripture [COS]. 3 Vols. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1997–2002.
  • Lemaire, A. “The Tel Dan Stela as a Piece of Royal Historiography.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament81 (1998): 3–14.
  • Lipiński, E.The Aramaeans. Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 100. Leuven: Peeters, 2000.
  • Maier, A. M. and C. S.Ehrlich. “Excavating Philistine Gath: Have We Found Goliath's Hometown?” Biblical Archaeology Review27/6 (2001): 22–31.
  • Pitard, W. T.Ancient Damascus: A Historical Study of the Syrian City-State from Earliest Times Until its Fall to the Assyrians in 732 B.C.E. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1987.
  • Younger, K. L., Jr. “‘Hazaאel, Son of a Nobody’: Some Reflections in Light of Recent Study.” In Writing and Ancient Near Eastern Society. Papers in Honour of Alan R. Millard, edited by P.Bienkowski, C.Mee, and E.Slater, pp. 245–270. Library of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament Studies 426. New York and London: T & T Clark, 2005.
  • Younger, K. L., Jr. “Neo-Assyrian and Israelite History in the Ninth Century: the Role of Shalmaneser III.” In Understanding the History of Israel, edited by H. G. M.Williamson, pp. 237–271. Proceedings of the British Academy 143. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

K.Lawson Younger, Jr.