Biblical Tale of the Aramean Origins of Israel and Judah

H. Abdul Al-Dahir

Arameans travelled from the Levant (Syria) to Mesopotamia in the 11th Century BCE. The areas under Aramean control included Aram Naharain (Syria), the Neo Hittite states of Hamath and Yaudi as well as Israel (briefly) and Babylonia. According to Wikipedia: “The Middle Assyrian Empire (1365–1050 BC), which had dominated the Near East and Asia Minor since the first half of the 14th century BC, began to shrink rapidly after the death of Ashur-bel-kala, its last great ruler in 1056 BC, and the Assyrian withdrawal allowed the Arameans and others to gain independence and take firm control of what was then Eber-Nari (and is today Syria) during the late 11th century BC. It is from this point that the region was called Aramea.

Some of the major Aramean speaking kingdoms included: Aram-Damascus, Hamath, Bit Adini, Bit Bahiani, Bit Hadipe, Aram-Bet Rehob, Aram-Zobah, Bit-Zamani, Bit-Halupe and Aram-Ma’akah, as well as the Aramean tribal polities of the Gambulu, Litau and Puqudu.[5]

Later Biblical sources tell us that Saul, David and Solomon (late 11th to 10th centuries) fought against the small Aramean kingdoms ranged across the northern frontier of Israel: Aram-Sôvah in the Beqaa, Aram-Bêt-Rehob (Rehov) and Aram-Ma’akah around Mount Hermon, Geshur in the Hauran, and Aram-Damascus. An Aramean king’s account dating at least two centuries later, the Tel Dan Stele, was discovered in northern Israel, and is famous for being perhaps the earliest non-Israelite extra-biblical historical reference to the Israelite royal dynasty, the House of David. In the early 11th century BC, much of Israel came under Aramean rule for eight years according to the Biblical Book of Judges, until Othniel defeated the forces led by Chushan-Rishathaim, the King of Aram-Naharaim.[6]

Further north, the Arameans gained possession of Neo-Hittite Hamath on the Orontes and were soon to become strong enough to dissociate with the Indo-European speaking Neo-Hittite states.

During the 11th and the 10th centuries BC, the Arameans conquered Sam’al (modern Zenjirli), also known as Yaudi, the region from Arpad to Aleppo, which they renamed Bît-Agushi, and Til Barsip, which became the chief town of Bît-Adini, also known as Beth Eden. North of Sam’al was the Aramean state of Bit-Gabbari, which was sandwiched between the Syro-Hittite states of Carchemish, Gurgum, Khattina, Unqi and the Georgian state of Tabal.

At the same time, Arameans moved to the east of the Euphrates, where they settled in such numbers that, for a time, the whole region became known as Aram-Naharaim or “Aram of the two rivers”. Eastern Aramaean tribes spread into Babylonia and an Aramaean usurper was crowned king of Babylon under the name of Adad-apal-iddin.[7] One of their earliest semi-independent kingdoms in southern Mesopotamia was Bît-Bahiâni (Tell Halaf).”

Yaudi has been identified as ‘belonging to Judah’ In 2 Kings 14:28:

28 As for the other events of Jeroboam’s reign, all he did, and his military achievements, including how he recovered for Israel both Damascus and Hamath, which had belonged to Judah, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Israel?

Here is a map showing the location of Yaudi or Zincirli which the Arameans conquered:

So, Judah was an Aramean clan/tribe of the Arameans which briefly conquered Israel in the 11th or 10th Centuries BCE and then settled in the south to form an alliance with the Kingdom of Edom. This Edomite tribal confederation included Midianites, Edomites and the Aramean tribe of Judah anciently known as Ya’udi after the Aramean conquered Neo Hittite state Sam’al which they renamed Ya’udi. (This confederation is allegorized in the Genesis tale of the two sons of Isaac, Esau the Edomite and Jacob the Aramean.).This alliance obviously caused a rift between Judah and Judah’s fellow Arameans as this tribal confederation led by Saul Ben Qysh or Qws (Qws was the chief god of Edom) and then by David and ‘Solomon’ (aka Jedidiah) fought against the small Aramean kingdoms that ranged across the northern frontier of Israel: Aram-Sôvah in the Beqaa, Aram-Bêt-Rehob (Rehov) and Aram-Ma’akah around Mount Hermon, Geshur in the Hauran, and Aram-Damascus. (Saul is listed as a member of the tribe of Benjamin or Son of the South aka Edom).

The Aramean tribe of Judah/Yaudi under the leadership of David broke from the Edomite tribal confederation when David was invited as a harpist into the Edomite King Saul’s private chambers where he undermined the relationship between King Saul and his son Jonathan which caused Jonathan to join David in a rebellion against his own father. (Harp or pilaggu in Akkadian is a word that came to mean concubine (pileygesh) in Hebrew. David, the Aramean/Ya’udi/Judahite became the king of Judah after Saul and son were killed in battle and he conquered Jerusalem. Assyria conquered the Canaanite state of Israel and the Israelites fled south to the Aramean controlled kingdom of Judah. At this point, the Aramean tribal heroes, Abram and Jacob, became the patriarchs of a ‘united kingdom’, which ‘occurred’ when the defeated Israelites became citizens of the Aramean led kingdom of Judah.

So, the Judeans acknowledged in the Book of Genesis their origins as Arameans, specifically as Arameans who conquered the Neo Hittite state of Samal/Ya’udi in the 11th Century. Other Aramean tribes briefly conquered Babylonia in 1026 but were forced to flee into Canaan when the Kaldu (Chaldeans) gained control of that area (Ur of the Chaldees in Abram’s story). The tale continued with Jacob, who married into his own Aramean clan, but who became the father of Edom too (the Edomite tribal confederation). Jacob’s name morphed into Israel after the Assyrian conquest of Israel and the Aramaic Judeans were forced to accommodate their former rivals. The Aramaic tribe of Judah became disassociated from the fellow Arameans when they joined the Edomite tribe confederation, so they wrote themselves as the most important member of the Israelite tribal confederation. It was these Judeans of Aramaic origin who eventually controlled the biblical narrative in which they portrayed themselves as the origin of both the Judean and Israelite kingdoms. And that is why the Bible attributes an Aramean origin to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

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