In the last quarter of the second millennium B.C. a west-Semitic people, speaking various Aramaic dialects, spread out from the fringes of the Syro-Arabian desert (though it is sometimes held that they came from the north), fanning out over the Fertile Crescent, from the Persian Gulf to the Amanus mountains, the Lebanon, and Transjordan. This burgeoning forth – unparalleled in the ancient Near East - was held in check by the great powers of the day, till their decline let it loose over the civilized regions of Hither Asia. Originally nomadic or semi-nomadic, the Arameans rapidly became an important political and economic factor. Though their earliest historical appearance remains controversial, the Bible notes the kinship of these Arameans with the Hebrew Patriarchs, and records a vital, 300-year relationship, both friendly and hostile, between the two peoples in later times. In the course of time the Aramaic language became thoroughly entrenched in Hebrew culture; it was the language of parts of the Bible (in the books of Ezra and Daniel) and remained in everyday use among Jews for over a millennium.

(i) History

Aram is mentioned as a place-name as early as the twenty-third century B.C., in an inscription of Naram-Sin of Akkad, which refers to a region on the Upper Euphrates, and in c. 2000 B.C. in documents from Drehem, as a city on the Lower Tigris. It occurs as a personal name in the latter documents, in the Mari texts (eighteenth century B.C.), at Alalah (seventeenth century), and at Ugarit (fourteenth century). One of the Ugaritic texts mentions the ‘fields of Aram(aeans)`, though its ethnic character here is doubtful.[1] Aram is also mentioned in Egyptian sources, as a place-name (ps-irm) in Syria, in a recently discovered topographical list of Amenophis III (first half of the fourteenth century B.C.);[2] and again in an Egyptian frontier journal from the time of Merenptah, about 1220 B.C. (thus the name should

not be emended, as is often done, to Amurru). Yet these isolated references are inconclusive in establishing such an early appearance of the Arameans, especially since the name Aram is later frequent as an onomastic and toponymic element even in entirely un-Aramean contexts.

The earliest definite extra-biblical reference to the Arameans is from the time of Tiglath-pileser I of Assyria (1116-1076 B.C.) This king’s consistent reference to the compound name Ahlame-Ar(a)maya in his inscriptions has led to the consideration that the Ahlamu were actually Arameans, and that the latters first appearance thus stemmed back to the early attestation of the Ahlamu near the Persian Gulf at the beginning of the fourteenth century B.C.[3] This identification, however, is untenable, for the Aramaeans are mentioned quite separately from, and alongside, the Ahlamu (and the Sutu) in an inscription most likely attributable to Ashur-bel-kala (Tiglath-pileser I`s successor),[4] while the Assyrian kings Adad-nirari II and Ashur-nasir-apli II (tenth-ninth centuries

B.C.) refer to the Ahlame-Armaya alongside the Aramaeans per se.

The compound Ahlame-Armaya rather denotes an association of nomadic groups, in analogy with similar couplings of tribal names, such as the Old Babylonian references to Amnanu-Yahrurum, Hana-DUMU.MESH-Yamina, Amurru-Sutium.[5] One such component name may well have come semantically to denote the generic concept ‘nomad’ as probably happened with the names Ahlamu and Sutu. Moreover, the term Aram displays a particular tendency for coupling, as in the biblical Aram-Naharaim, Aram-Zobah, Aram-Damascus, Aram-Beth-Rehob, and Aram-Maacah.

At any rate, the close historical relationship of the Ahlamu and the Aramaeans led occasionally in late cuneiform sources to the Aramaic language and script being referred to as ‘Ahlamu’.[6] Tiglath-pileser I’s inscriptions deal with the Aramaeans in two separate contexts: in the Annals for his fourth year (1112 B.C.) he boasts that he 'went forth into the desert [here the west-Semitic term mudbara is employed], into the midst of the Ahlame-Armaya.

. . . The country from Suhu [on the Middle Euphrates--biblical

Shuah, Gen. 25: 2] to the city of Carchemish I raided in one day’

(A.R.A.B. i, § 230). Crossing the Euphrates, he sacked six Aramaean I

villages in the Mount Bishri district--Mentioned in documents as much as a millennium earlier as a perennial breeding ground for nomadic tribes. This is taken as a clear indication that the Aramaeans had already become settled in the area south-east of the great bend of the river, whence they subsequently spread. The other reference to the Aramaeans underlines their stead- fast resistance to the Assyrians: Tiglath-pileser I relates that, in the course of repeated campaigns to subdue the Aramaeans in the west, he had to cross the Euphrates no less than twenty-eight times. ‘From the foot of the Lebanon mountains,[7] from the town of Tadmar [biblical Tadmor, later Palmyra] of the country of Amurru, [towards] Anat of the country of Suhu, as far as the town of Rapiqu of the country of Karduniash [Babylonia], I defeated them` (cf. A.R.A.B. i,  § 287). Here the Aramaean tribes are already associated with Mount Lebanon--three or four generations prior to their entanglement there with Saul and David. An Assyrian chronicle clearly testifies to the extreme danger posed by the Aramaeans towards the end of Tiglath-pileser’s reign, when they penetrated even into Assyria proper, seizing cities and disrupting communications.[8] Tiglath-pileser’s son, Ashur-bel-kala (1073--1056 B.C.), mentions the Aramaeans (unassociated with the Ahlamu) in his Annals and related documents, referring specifically (in c. 1070 B.C.) to the ‘land of Aram` (mat Arime, a genitival form of the nominative Arumu, Aramu, affected by vowel harmony), the exact location of which it is difficult to fix. lf the so-called ‘Broken Obelisk’ from Nineveh is actually to be attributed to Ashur-bel-kala, as seem  reasonable then the Aramaeans (who figure most prominently in it) were spread over the vicinity of the Kashiari mountains (modern Tur-'Abdin) towards the Tigris, in the north, and along the Habur valley, to the south. In this period, an Aramaean usurper (a ˜son of a nobody') bearing the Babylonian name Adad-apla-iddin even managed to seize the throne of Babylon."[10] The Aramaeans thus came to achieve historical significance at the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the first millennium B.C., at which time a cluster of independent Aramaean states arose.[11] Those in Syria (to which we shall return below) are known from the combined evidence of Assyrian, Aramaean, and biblical sources; those in Mesopotamia almost entirely from Assyrian documents, beginning in the late tenth century B.C.

The most important among the latter were Bit-Adini (biblica Beth Eden; Amos 1:5) above the great bend of the Euphrates, on both banks (capital: Til-Barsip); Bit-Bahyan (capital: Gozan; cf. 2 Kings 17: 6) on the Upper Habur, and Bit-Halupe on the Lower Habur; Laqe, Hindan, and Suhu on the Middle Euphrates; Bit-Zamani in the Kashiari mountains to the north (capital: Amedi, modern Diarbekir); and Bit-Amukkani, Bit-Dakuri, and Bit-Yakin, near the Persian Gulf. Only a cursory outline of the later fortunes of the Aramaeans is possible here, though two of their major states, which rose in the west and became fatefully entangled with the Israelites, will occupy us later. The climax of the Aramaean threat to Assyria came during the century spanning the turn of the millennium, when Assyria reached a nadir under Ashur-rabi II (1012-972 12.C.) and Tiglath-pileser II (966-935 Bc). Aramaean power in the west now became severely curtailed, however, on account of the rising kingdom of Israel (see below), which relieved Assyria somewhat on its western flank. Indeed, towards the end of the tenth century B.C. Ashur-dan II (934-912 B.C.) was able to repel the Aramaean states on the Upper Habur, and Adad-nirari II (911-891 1:.C.) had success there and also on the Middle Euphrates. Ashur-nasir-apli II (883-859 B.C.) and, in particular, Shalmaneser III (858-824 B.C.) dealt the Aramaeans further blows. Apart from their renewed campaigns in northern Mesopotamia, the Assyrians overran the Aramaean states between the Habur and the Euphrates, and after successive attempts even the stubborn kingdom of Bit-Adini fell (in 855 BC), thus removing the last major stumbling-block towards the west into Syria. This brought Shalmaneser III, and later Adad-nirari III (810-783 B.C.), into a direct confrontation with the powerful kingdom of Aram-Damascus, resulting in its subjugation (see below). Yet the final blow came from Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 nc.), who reduced the Aramaean states in Syria to mere Assyrian provinces, such as Sama’al, Arpad, and Hadrach (cf. Zech. 9: 1) in the north, and Aram-Damascus in the south.

In spite of occasional revolts (see below), the Assyrians held tightly on to Syria, thus terminating independent Aramaean history in the west: around the second half of the eighth century BC. the focus of Aramaean history shifts to Babylonia. Since the eleventh century B.C, various Aramaean and closely related tribes (such as the Suteans and the ethnically mixed Chaldeans) had infiltrated in increasing numbers into Babylonia, rising to play a prominent role in the days of Tiglath-pileser III.[12]  His inscriptions attest to heavy Aramaean settlement around the Persian Gulf, and specify some thirty-five different tribes ”among whom are the Puqudu  (the Pekod of Jer. 50: 21 and Ezek. 23: 23). These tribes, whose chieftains were frequently designated by the term nasiku (cf. the Hebrew cognate nasik, applied to the Midianite tribal leaders), were a bane to Tiglath-pileser lll and the succeeding Sargonid dynasty. They were subjugated only after repeated attempts, and then exiled in large numbers (e.g. 208,000 by Sennacherib in 703 B.C.). Even so, the Aramaeans ultimately came to the fore as a dominant factor within the neo-Babylonian empire.

(ii) Origins and Affinities in Biblical Tradition

An obscure tradition preserved in Amos 9:7 traces the origin of the Aramaeans to a place called Kir, possibly near Elam (cf. Isa.22: 6), though Amos 1: 5 and 2 Kings 16: 9 give this as the place to which the Aramaeans of Damascus were destined to be exiled. The passages in Amos imply that, after almost half a millennium of Aramaean settlement in Syria, there still circulated a national account of the Aramaean migration, much like the chronicle of the Israelitc exodus from Egypt or that of the Philistines from Caphtor.[13] They further point to the historical consequences of Aramaean `misbehaviour’, leading to their return to their ancestral homeland--reminiscent of the threat to a disobedient Israel of being sent back to Egypt (cf. Deut. 28: 68; Hos. 8: 13).

In the Table of Nations (Gen. 10: 22-23), the eponymous ancestor Aram, on a par with Elam and Ashur, is descended directly from Shem, reflecting the Aramaeans’ rise to importance in the Near East in the first third of the first millennium B.C.

Four ‘sons’ (‘brothers’ in the parallel version in 1 Chr. 1 : 17) are assigned to Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash (LXX and Chronicles: Meshech; Samaritan Pent. Massa), whose identity and location are uncertain. The Qumran War Scroll (Il. 10, rendering Massa, and Togar instead of Gether) places these ‘beyond the Euphrates’. The previously modest standing of the Aramaeans is reflected in the genealogical table of the Nahorites (Gen. 22: 20-24), where Aram is made a grandson of Nahor and son of Kemuel (whose significance eludes us) through the lineage of Nahors wife and not his concubine, thus placing them in Mesopotamia, not southern Syria.[14] Here, too, Aram is merely a ‘nephew’, rather than the ‘father’ of Uz. The Bible closely links the Hebrew Patriarchs with the Aramaeans: not only is Abraham a brother of Nahor, but Isaac and Jacob marry daughters of their cousins Bethuel ˜the Aramaean and Laban ‘the Aramaean`, respectively (Gen. 25: 20; 31: 20). It is thus that the narrator attributes to Laban the Aramaic equivalent for the Hebrew word gal'ed: yegar sahaduta ˜the stone-heap of witness” (Gen. 31: 47), an etiology for the place name Gilead. [15] In one instance a Patriarch himself (apparently Jacob) is designated as Arammi ‘obed ˜a roving Aramaean` (Deut. 26; 5; for a similar expression in Assyrian inscriptions see p. 140 and n. 40).[16] This tradition conforms with the later Hebrew names for the ancestral habitat of the Patriarchs, the district of Harran: ˜Paddan-Aram' (Gen. 25: 20, etc.; Akkadian paddan, denoting a ‘road’), the field of Aram (sede Aram; Hos. 12: 12) or 'Aram-Naharaim’, i.e.mainly the Jezireh`, the Habur, and both banks of the Euphrates, further west.

As noted above, the appearance of the Aramaeans in the Patriarchal period is not confirmed in extra-biblical sources, at least not as an element important enough to warrant naming the entire Jezireh after them. Indeed, epigraphic sources of the fifteenth-twelfth centuries B.C. refer simply to Naharaim (Egyptian Naharin(a); Akkadian Nahrima/Narima), but never to Aram-Naharaim.[17] Thus the latter appellation, as well as the alleged Aramaean affinity of the Patriarchs, appear to be anachronistic concepts, introduced under the influence of the later entrenchment of the Aramaean tribes in the Jezireh region (end of the second millennium B.C.).[18] The various arguments, particularly the linguistic ones, put forward to prove that the Patriarchs were ‘proto-Aramaeans’ have justly been rejected."[19] That Aram or Aram-Naharaim was the country of origin of Cushan-Rishathaim, the first oppressor of Israel in the period of the Judges (Jud. 3: 8, 11; to be dated c. 1200 B.C.), or of the still earlier Balaam (Num. 23: 7; Deut. 23: 4), seems also to be anachronistic. As for Balaam, whose ancestral home was Pethor (some 20 km. south of Carchemish, on the western bank of the Euphrates), the anachronism here may well have come about in the tenth or first half of the ninth century B.C., when this city was an actual Aramaean possession. This is evident from Shalmaneser III’s Annals for his third year (857 BC.):

The city of Ana-Ashur-uter-asbat, which the people of Hatti [i.e. the Syrians] called Pitru [Pethor], which is on the Sagur river, on the other side of the Euphrates, and the city of Mutkinu, on this side of the Euphrates, which Tiglath-pileser my ancestor . . . had settled-which in the reign of Ashur-rabi, king of Assyria, the king of the land of Arumu had seized by force--those cities I restored to their (former) estate.

(A.R.A.B. i, § 603; for the date of this conquest see p. 142.)

(iii) Aram-Zobah and the Struggle with David [20]

By about 1100 B.C.. the Aramaean tribes had not only expanded in Syria, but certainly also had penetrated, like the Israelites, into underpopulated northern Transjordan. Only with the rise of kingship in Israel, however --late in the eleventh century, when the Aramaeans were already consolidated into various states—did unavoidable conflict break out between the two growing neighboring nations. The kingdom of Zobah now rose to lead the Aramaeans in southern Syria, and indeed Saul lists it among his enemies (1 Sam. 14: 47; the M.T. refers merely to ‘kings of Zobah’, while the LXX has ‘king', in the singular, mentioning in addition Beth-Rehob).

Early in Davids reign Aram-Zobah had reached the peak of its power under the vigorous Hadezer the son of Rehob (2 Sam. 8: 3), i.e. a native of Aram-Beth Rehob, who apparently amalgamated this kingdom with Zobah into a Personalunion. While Aram-Beth-Rehob was apparently located in the southern Lebanon valley, Aram-Zobah lay in the north, extending north-east of the Anti-Lebanon into the Syrian desert, towards Tadmor. In his heyday Hadadezer ruled over vast territories, founding an of complex political structure, comprising even Aram-Damascus and other vassals and satellites, such as the kingdom of (Aram-) Maacah, in upper Gaulan, and the land of Tob, somewhere in northern Transjordan (2 Sam. 10: 6, and cf. v. 19; 1 Chr. 19: 6-7).

In the south his sphere of influence reached as far as Ammon, while in the north-west he was checked by the kingdom of Hamath (2 Sam. 8: 9-10). Hadadezer’s expansion in the north-east, up to the Euphrates and even ‘beyond the river’ (2 Sam. 8: 3; 10: 16; 1 Chr. 19: 16), might well be reflected in the above cited inscription of Shalmaneser III (p. 141), according to which a ‘King of Aram’ conquered areas on both sides of the Euphrates below Carehemish in the days of Ashur-rabi, the Assyrian contemporary of Hadadezer. In a similar retrospective statement, in the Annals of Ashur-dan II, the places conquered by the Aramaeans are in a different area, though most likely also north of the Upper Euphrates bend.[21] If the Aramaean king in both these Annals was indeed Hadadezer, his conquests along the Euphrates must be dated between the accession of Ashur-rabi (1012 B.C.) and Hadadezer's wars against David, in the first two decades of the tenth century B.C.

David’s threefold victory over Hadadezer and his allies sealed the fate of this first Aramaean empire in Syria and brought its territories under Israelite control. The chronological chain of events may be reconstructed as follows; (a) Israel’s initial war against the allied Ammonite and Aramaean forces, who had reached even the plain of Moab (2 Sam. 10: 6 ff.; 1 Chr. 19:6 ff.); (b) the battle of Helam (somewhere in northern Transjordan), where the Aramaeans employed auxiliaries from beyond the Euphrates  (2 Sam. 10:15 ff.; 1 Chr. 19:16 ff.); the final, deep penetration which took David into central Syria, utilizing Hadadezer’s absence in the Euphrates region, when the auxiliary forces from Aram-Damascus were defeated. David took as booty especially quantities of copper (paralleled later by the Assyrians in their successes against Aram-Damascus) from three of Hadadezer`s cities in Coele-Syria: Tebah (Tibhath-Tubihi), Cun, and Berothai (2 Sam. 8: 3 ff.; 1 Chr. 18:3 ff.; and cf. Ps. 60:2).

The kingdom of Aram-Zobah thus disappears from the historical scene, being replaced by Aram-Damascus. The name Zobah, however, occurs later, on bricks found at Hamath, inscribed in Aramaic and apparently referring to a district within the kingdom of Hamath (cf. Hamath-Zobah in 2 Chr, 8: 3); it especially occurs as the name of an Assyrian province (Subatu/Subutu/Subiti) in the late eighth and seventh centuries B.C., after the final fall of Aram-Damascus and Hamath.

(iv) The Rise of Aram-Damascus

The kingdom of Aram-Damascus, which became the foremost Aramaean state in Syria during the ninth-eighth centuries B.C. was founded in the latter days of Solomon by Rezon the son of Eliadah, who removed Damascus from under Israelite control, making it his capital (1 Kings 11: 23 ff.), This state was also referred to simply as ‘Damascus’ or as ‘Aram’ par exellance-- the Bible, in Assyrian sources, and in Aramaic inscriptions (the votive stele of Bar-Hadad and the Zakir inscription both mention the ‘King of Aram’). Neo-Assyrian documents refer to this kingdom by the enigmatic appellation sha-imeri-shu (sometimes even spelt syllabically), literally ‘(the land) of (his) donkey(s)’ [22] though used interchangeably with the name Damascus, it most probably refers only to the country as such.

The rise of Aram-Damascus was greatly facilitated by the division of the united kingdom of Israel, and fully exploited the continual disputes between Judah and Israel. The biblical source well illustrates this in 1 Kings 15: 18-19, referring to the war between Baasha of Israel and Asa of Judah (in the period 890-880 B.C.), when the latter induced ‘Ben-Hadad the son of Tab-Rimmon, the son of Hezion’ to change sides. The biblical passage first informs us of the dynastic line at Damascus (the Hezion there may possibly be the above mentioned Rezon, founder of the kingdom),[23]  and then of the changes in allies--the first alliance is between Tab-Rimmon and Asa’s father, Abijah of Judah; the next between Ben-Hadad and Baasha of Israel; and finally there is the proposed military pact between Ben-Hadad and Judah, which was followed by an Aramaean campaign wresting eastern Galilee from Israel (v. 20).[24] 

Aramaean pressure on northern Israel increased even to the point of threatening its very existence. The Upper Transjordan region, to Ramoth-Gilead in the south, a buffer-zone with a mixed Israelite-Aramaean population (cf. 1 Chr. 2: 23; 7: 14), changed hands every so often, as is evident during the Omride dynasty in Israel. Ben-Hadad (II, apparently), in attempting to attack the Israelite capital at Samaria with the auxiliary forces of thirty-two vassal kings, was repulsed by King Ahab; shortly afterwards he was again defeated at Aphek in southern Gaulan (1 Kings 20). The subsequent treaty returned those towns in Transjordan conquered by Ben-Hadad I, and granted Israelite merchants preferential rights in Damascus, like those enjoyed previously by the Aramaeans at Samaria

(1 Kings 20: 34). Ben-Hadad II, forced to reconstitute his army and his kingdom, also in reaction to a new Assyrian threat, reduced his vassal states to mere provinces

(cf. 1 Kings 20: 24-25), and thereby consolidated his empire.[25]

To meet the menace posed by Shalmaneser Ill of Assyria, a league of twelve western kings, including Irhuleni, King of Hamath, and Ahab of Israel, was initiated and led apparently by Ben-Hadad II (probably the Adad-idri of the Assyrian sources).

The first clash occurred in 853 B.C. at Qarqar in the land of Hamath.

The allies had under Adad-idri 1,200 chariots, 1,200 riding horses, and 20,000 infantry; under Irhuleni 700 chariots, 700 riding horses, and 10,000 infantry; and under Ahab 2,000(!) chariots and 10,000 infantry. The enormous force under Ahab may have included auxiliaries from Jehoshaphat of Judah (cf. 1 Kings 22: 4, and also 2 Kings 3: 7), and from vassals such as Ammon and Moab. The only other independent Aramaean king participating in this battle was Baasha, ‘son of Rehob’, from the land or mountain of Amana (KUR A-ma-na-a-a--- cannot be Ammon, written in Assyrian sources always as Bit-, but once Ba-an- Am-ma-na-a-a, with geminated m, as in the Bible), probably referring to the Anti-Lebanon, biblical Mount Amana (Song. 1:4)  As this Baasha may have combined under his rule two separate entities, Aram-Beth-Rehob (see p. 141, on Hadadezer son of Rehob) and the mountainous region to the east, only a single contingent of infantry is ascribed to him (analogous to the combined forces of Beth-Rehob and Zobah in the war against David, mentioned in 2 Sam. 10: 6).[26]

A war between Ahab and Ben-Hadad at Ramoth-Gilead (as in 1 Kings 22) is unlikely so short a time after the battle of Qarqar, for this western alliance of kings seems to have remained intact, meeting Shalmaneser III again in 840, 848, and 845 B,C. [27] Only

Hazael, who overthrew the Ben-Hadad dynasty, reversed Aramaean policy towards Israel, clashing with Ahab’s son Joram in 842 B.C. at Ramoth-Gilead (2 Kings 8: 28 f.; the alleged encounter here in the days of Ahab probably reflects this later event). This disintegration of the western alliance finally enabled Shalmaneser to defeat

Aram-Damascus in 841 and 838 B.C., in the first instance destroying the plantations and orchards surrounding Damascus, and then proceeding through the Hauran and Galilee to Mount Ba’al-rasi (‘Ba'al of the Summit, possibly Mount Carmel).

Hazael, however, was able to consolidate his realm after the Assyrian pressure ebbed, bringing Aram-Damascus to the peak of its power, and later giving his name to the synonymous appellation Beth-Hazael, after the dynastic founder (Amos 1: 4; and in Tiglath-pileser III’s inscriptions, for which see below). In the south Hazael first seized Transjordan down to the Arnon brook (2 Kings 10; 32 f.), then raided into western Israel, bringing it to its knees (2 Kings 13: 7, 22), and finally reached the borders of Judah, which was forced to pay a heavy tribute (2 Kings 12: 17 f.).

These developments are well reflected in the Elisha cycle (which assigns the prophet a part in the overthrow of the Ben-Hadad dynasty; 2 Kings 5-7; 8: 7-15; and cf. also the condemnation of Aramaean atrocities against Israelite Gilead, in Amos 1: 3-5). The

Aramaeans were able to retain their position into the reign of Hazael’s son, Ben-Hadad III (2 Kings 13; 3; and cf. 2 Chr. 24: 23 f.), who formed an extensive coalition, encompassing even southern Anatolia, against Zakir, King of Hamath and La'ash.

The tide turned, however, when Adad-nirari III renewed campaigns against the Aramaeans in Syria in 805-802 B.C. primarily against Damascus and its king, ‘Mari' (the Aramaic word for ‘Lord', probably referring to Ben-Hadad III). On a stele recently found at Tell el-Rimah, Adad-nirari III records the heavy tribute extracted from Aram-Damascus (silver, copper, iron, and fine garments), in connection with an expedition to the Mediterranean in 802 B.C., or one against the district of Mansuate (in the Lebanon valley) in 796 B.C. (both campaigns are listed in the Assyrian Eponym Chronicle). Among the tributaries here is, for the first time in an Assyrian source, 'Iu’asu the Samaritan, i.e. King Joash of Israel; [28] his appellation as ‘the Samaritan’ may imply

(as with the later Menahem `the Samaritan’) that his kingdom was

initially limited through earlier Aramaean conquests to the district of Samaria alone. Because of Damascus’ weak position Joash was able to deal Ben-Hadad a threefold blow and recover many cities lost to the Aramaeans by his father Jehoahaz (2 Kings 13: 19, 25). Jeroboam II pursued his father Joash’s aggressive policy towards the Aramaeans, who were further weakened by Shalmaneser IV during his campaign to Damascus in 773 B.C. Jeroboam succeeded not only in freeing all Transjordan but even in imposing Israelite domination over Damascus (2 Kings 14: 25, 28). Aram-Damascus had one final flicker of glory under its last king, Rezin, who is mentioned as a vassal of Tiglath-pileser III in about 738 B.C. He rebelled and invaded Transjordan, annexing it as far south as Ramoth-Gilead, and even raided Elath (2 Kings 16; 6). Forcing Pekah of Israel to join him, he pressed upon Jotham, King of Judah, and his son Ahaz, who appealed to Assyria for deliverance (2 Kings 15: 37; 16: 5, 7 ff.; Isa. 7: 1 ff).

Tiglath-pileser lll crushed Aram-Damascus once and for all in his campaigns of 733 and 732 B.C., boasting that he destroyed 591 cities in sixteen districts and exiled numerous inhabitants (cf. 2 Kings 16; 9), where Rezin’s execution is noted). ‘The widespread land of Beth-Hazael in its entirety from Mount Lebanon as far as the town of Ramoth-Gilead, which is on the borderland of the land of Beth-Omri I restored to the territory of Assyria. I appointed over them officials of mine as governors.’[29]

Aram-Damascus was then broken up into Assyrian provinces: Damascus in the centre; Hauran, Qarnini (biblical Karnaim), and Gilead in the south; Mansuate in the west; and Subatu in the north (see p. 143). An unsuccessful rebellion broke out in Damascus in 720 B.C., in conjunction with similar events in Samaria, Arpad, and perhaps also Sam’al, which were all quelled by Sargon. The destruction of the erstwhile flourishing kingdom of Damascus left a deep mark in the oracles of doom uttered by Amos (1: 3-5), Isaiah (17; 1-3), and Jeremiah (49: 23-27).[30]

(v) The Legacy

a. Political organization

The combined evidence of the Aramaic, Assyrian, and biblical sources provides an insight into the structure and political

groupings of the various Aramaean states, at least in Syria. We can thus follow the continual rivalries and constantly changing alliances among them, as well as the Aramaization evolving in the tenth-eighth centuries B.C. in the neo-Hittite states, such as Ya’dy-Sam’al (capital: modern Zinjirli), Til Barsip (later capital of Bit-Adini) in the north, and Hamath in middle Syria.[31] Though the vast Aramaean expansion in Hither Asia failed to lead to pan-Aramaean political or cultural unity, confederations of considerable

extent, but of changing leadership, did periodically rise in Syria:

Aram-Zobah--- ca. 1000 B.C.; Aram-Damascus---ninth century B.C.; Arpad (mentioned in 2 Kings 18: 34; 19: 13, et al.; capital; modern Tell Refad, some 30 km. north of Aleppo)---mid-eighth century B.C. The stature of Arpad about this time is attested in the Aramaic treaty inscriptions from Sefire (south of Aleppo),[32] which contain such indicative terms as ‘all Aram’ and 'Upper and Lower Aram’.

Such pliant and internally loose confederations, however, readily disintegrated under outside pressure.


b. Language

Of the few traces of Aramaean culture left among the peoples with whom the Aramaeans intermingled, Aramaic and its script are the outstanding ones. There appear Aramaic inscriptions, chiefly in Syria (and interestingly also in the Jordan valley), as early as the ninth-eighth centuries B.C;.[33] Though adopting the Phoenician alphabet, Aramaic developed its own specific form, and occasionally was even written in other scripts (in cuneiform on a tablet from Uruk, and in demotic on Egyptian papyri). ‘Imperial’

Aramaic became the lingua franca of the Persian period, and (eventually spread over an area from Asia Minor and the Caucasus to India, Afghanistan, northern Arabia, and Egypt.

Aramaic clearly played an important role in the realm of administration and diplomacy already in the Babylonian, and even the Assyrian, empire. There are several indications of this (apart from the Aramaic inscriptions and many loan-words from Mesopotamia), such as the mention of an ‘Aramaic letter’ (egirtu armitu, employing an Aramaic loan-word) by an Assyrian official in the second half of the ninth century B.C.; of ‘Aramaic documents’ (nibzi armaya, using the Aramaic term nbz) in the late eighth century B.C., frequent references to `Aramaean scribes’

alongside Assyrian; and depictions of them in pairs on reliefs and in wall-paintings from the time of Tiglath-pileser III onwards (the one writing on a tablet in cuneiform, and the other on papyrus or leather---certainly in Aramaic).[34] The Bible notes the diplomatic use of Aramaic in Palestine as well (cf. 2 Kings 18: 26 ff. --- c. 700 B.C.), as is confirmed by a letter found at Saqqara in Egypt (600 B.C.; most likely sent from Philistia).

The spread of Aramaic, facilitated by its simple script, was furthered by large scale population movements: mass deportations of Aramaeans, and their resettlement within the Assyrian empire;[35] their service within the Assyrian army and administration; and their widespread mercantile activities. The latter, along the international trade routes, and Aramaean settlements at the major caravan stations, coupled with their inherent wanderlust, place them to the fore of Middle Eastern commerce from the ninth

century B.C. onwards.

 c. Religion

Aramaean religious influence on other peoples is obscure, for the Aramaeans themselves were readily influenced by their adopted surroundings. Thus many foreign deities (e.g. the Canaanite Ba’al-Shemayin, Reshef, and Melqart; and the Mesopotamian Shamash, Marduk, Nergal, and Sin) appear in Aramaean inscriptions. The principal Aramaean deity in Syria was the ancient west-Semitic storm-god Hadad, worshipped, e.g., at Damascus (cf. the dynastic name Bar/Ben-Hadad). At Sam’al, the Aramaeans worshipped Hadad alongside the dynastic gods Rakib-El, Ba’al Hamman, and Ba’al Semed, as well as Ba`al Harran, whose cultic centre was at Harran. Other deities venerated among the Aramaeans are revealed by the theophoric elements in personal names, especially at Elephantine and other colonies in Egypt; these include such gods as Nabu, Bethel, and the female deities Malkat-Shemayin and Banit, who also had shrines in the Aramaean colony at Syene.[36] Traces of Aramaean religion in the Hellenistic period appear at such places as Baalbek and Hierapolis, the main cult centre of Atargatis, the female deity whose name combines 'atar (as in Aramaic names, e.g. at Seflre (Atarsamak) and Elephantine) and 'atta (Anat). Among the Israelites the influence of Aramaean worship is evident in Ahaz’s introduction of the Damascus cult at Jerusalem,

 as reflected in the Damascus-style altar (2 Kings 16: 10-13; and  cf. 2 Chr. 28: 23). The ‘sacrifice’ of Ahaz’s son (2 Kings 16: 3; and cf. 2 Chr. 28: 3) may be further evidence for such influence, since this was a cult practice among the Aramaeans exiled to 

Samaria from Sepharvaim; the Adrammelech of this cult (2 Kings 17; 31) was almost certainly the god Adad-melek, who, at the Aramaean centre of Gozan, was also the subject of such rites. [37]

Note also the worship of Hadad-Rimmon, the local deity of Damascus, in the Megiddo plain (Zech. 12: 11; cf. 2 Kings 5: 18). On the other hand, Aramaean susceptibility to lsraelite religious influence is evident in the episode of Naaman, army commander of the King of Aram-Damascus (2 Kings 5: 15-17). ln a later period Aramaean religion made itself felt among the Jewish colonists at Elephantine, and, in turn, Jewish influence is seen in such names as Shabbetai in the Aramaean community at nearby Syene.

  d. culture

Excavations at such centers as Tell Halaf (Gozan, in the ninth century B.C., during the reign of King Kapara),[38] Arslan Tash

(Hadatha) and Tell Ahmar (Til Barsip), Zinjirli (Sam’al), Tell Refad (Arpad), Hamath, have revealed the Aramaean cultural achievement, especially in architecture, sculpture, and other arts.[39] The Aramaeans were always strongly influenced by the specific local environment, in Mesopotamia by the remnants of the Mitanni culture and by the Assyrians, and in Syria by the neo-Hittites and Phoenicians. Though such evidence is difficult to interpret, the zenith of Aramaean material culture seems to have been reached in the tenth-eighth centuries B.C.

 The Aramaeans though seen by their enemies as fugitives, treacherous, a roving people`[40] and in spite of their lack of an original, creative culture---certainly hold their special place in history as a major catalyst of civilization in the ancient Near East.