(’aram; Suroi; Assyrian Aramu, Arumu, Arimu):
1. Division of Aram
2. A Semitic Race
3. Syria and Israel
4. Under Nabateans and Palmyrenes
5. A Mixed Race, Semitic Type
The terms "Syria" and "Syrians" are used in two senses in the Bible. In the Old Testament they are uniformly "Aram," "Aramaean," while in the New Testament they are used in a wider and more indefinite sense (Mt 4:24; Ac 15:23; 18:18; Ga 1:21), and include all the dwellers of the land whether Arameans or not.
1. Division of Aram:
Aram was divided into several districts, comprising, in general, the region to the East of the Jordan, but extending in the North over most of Northern Syria, or from the Orontes eastward, and Northern Mesopotamia. This latter division was called Aram-naharaim--Aram of the two rivers, i.e. Tigris and Euphrates--and is the Nahrina of the Egyptian inscriptions. It is also called Paddan-aram in the Old Testament (Ge 25:20) or field of Aram (Ho 12:12). The most important of the divisions of Aram in Old Testament times was Aram-dammesek, the Syria of Damascus, which sometimes dominated all of the other divisions lying to the South, such as Rehob, Tob, Zobah, and Mancab (2Sa 10:8). Geshur was in this region and should be reckoned as an Aramean dis-trict (2Sa 15:8).
2. A Semitic Race:
The Arameans were of Semitic stock and closely akin to the Hebrews. Aram is called a son of Shem (Ge 10:22), which means a descendant, for we find him afterward called a grandson of Nahor, the brother of Abraham (Ge 22:21). The Israelites were taught to say "A Syrian (Ara-maean) ready to perish was my father" (De 26:5), and the kinship of the Hebrews and Arameans was further cemented by the marriage of Isaac with Rebekah, the sister of Laban the Syrian, and of Jacob with his daughters (Ge 24; 29). The period when the Arameans first appeared in Syria is uncertain, but was probably later than 2000 BC. When Abraham came from Haran, Damascus was already occupied (Ge 15:2), and this may have been the oldest settlement of the Arameans in Syria proper, although it is not mentioned on the monuments until long after, in the time of Thothmes III of Egypt, about 1479 BC. The Syrians were generally hostile to the Hebrews and had wars with them from the time of David onward. David subdued them, although they were aided by the tribes from beyond the Euphrates (2Sa 10), but after the division of the kingdom they often proved too strong for the northern Israelites.
3. Syria and Israel:
In the days of Omri the Syrians of Damascus brought them into subjection, but Ahab recovered all the lost territory and Damascus seems to have been subordinate for a time (1Ki 20:34). The king of Damascus afterward regained the supremacy, as appears from the Assyrian records, for in the war of Shalmaneser II with the peoples of Syria we find them led by Ben-hadad of Damascus and, among his subject allies, Ahab, who furnished 2,000 chariots and 10,000 men. Ben-hadad succeeded in uniting most of the petty kingdoms of Syria together in opposition to Assyria, but could not hold them, and they fell, one after another, as well as Damascus itself, into the hands of the great world-power. Jeroboam II recovered the districts that had been taken from Israel by the Syrians (2Ki 14:25), but this was only a temporary success, for Rezin extended his authority over all the East-Jordanic region as far as Elath on the Red Sea (2Ki 16:6), and he and Pekah joined in an attack upon Judah, but failed on account of the Assyrian advance (2Ki 16:5-9). Damascus fell into the hands of Tiglath-pileser in 732 BC, and the power of the Syrians was completely broken.
4. Under Nabatheans and Palmyrenes:
The Aramaic peoples became prominent again under the Nabateans and Palmyrenes, both of whom were of this stock, as their language is clearly Aramaic. The former established a kingdom extending from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, their capital being Petra, and Damascus was under their control in the reign of their king Aretas (el-Harith) (2Co 11:32). This kingdom was absorbed by Rome in the reign of Trajan. The Palmyrenes did not come into prominence until the 3rd century AD, but became, for a short time, the leading power in Western Asia. In the weakness of Rome, under Gallienus, Odenathus and his still more distinguished wife, Zenobia, dominated all Syria, and the latter dared to dispute with Aurelian the empire of the East. With her fall in 272 AD the power of the Arameans was extinguished and never revived.
5. A Mixed Race, Semitic Type:
The Syrians in the broader sense have always been a mixed people, though of a prevailing Semitic type. The earliest layer of Semitic population was the Amorite which was found in Syria when the first Babylonian empire extended its authority over the land. Later appear the Canaanites, Phoenicians, Jebusites, Hivites and other tribes, all of which are classed together as descendants of Canaan in Ge 10, but their Semitic character in historic times is undoubted. The Hyksos who were driven from Egypt to Palestine and Syria were of the same race, as would appear from the Egyptian records. The Arameans formed the next wave of Semitic stock, but there were others, like the Hittites, who were not Semitic, and the Philistines, whose race affinity is doubtful. The Egyptians occupied the country for a long period, but did not contribute much to the population. Some of the tribes brought in by the Assyrians may have been non-Semitic, but most of them were evidently of cognate race (2Ki 17:24), and the racial characteristics of the Syrians were not changed. When Alexander and his successors brought in the Greek and Macedoninn elements there was a decided change in the city population, but little in the country districts, and although the Greeks had a powerful influence upon the civilization of the country the Semitic type overcame the admixture of Greek blood and prevailed in the country as a whole. The Romans ruled the country for centuries and established a number of military colonies, but they did not affect the population even as much as the Greeks. When, in the 7th century AD, the Mohammedan conquest swept over Syria, it brought in another great wave of pure Semitic stock with the numerous Arab settlers, who tended to obliterate any non-Semitic elements that might have existed. The effects of the influx of Europeans in the time of the Crusades were not sufficient to produce any marked change, and the same may be said of all later invasions of Turks and Kurds.
The Syrians, while thus a mixed people to a large extent, have maintained the Semitic type, but they have never, in all their history, been able to unite politically, and have always been divided, when independent. They have been, during the greater part of their history, under foreign domination, as they still are, under Turkish rule.
The religion of the Syrians in ancient times was undoubtedly similar to that of the Babylonians, as is shown by the names of their gods. The Arameans worshipped Hadad and Rimmon (2Ki 5:18), sometimes joined as Hadadrimmon (Zec 12:11). Baal, or Bel, Ashtoreth, or Ishtar, were almost universally worshipped, and Nebu, Agli-bol, Melakh-bol, Ati and other deities are found in the Palmyrene inscriptions, showing the Babylonian influence in their cult. This was to be expected from the known prevalence of Babylonian culture throughout Western Asia for centuries.