Were There Arameans at Abel Beth Maacah?

Archaeology and ethnicity at Abel Beth Maacah


Abel Beth Maacah codirectors Nava Panitz-Cohen and Robert Mullins.

Because of its border location and the Biblical references that associate Arameans with Maacah, Robert Mullins and Nava Panitz-Cohen are digging for Arameans at the site of Abel Beth Maacah in northern Israel. But who were the Arameans and why would anyone look for their remains? The simplest answer is that they were a Northwest Semitic people who dwelt in what is now Syria. But that hardly suffices.

The Arameans spoke West Semitic Old Aramaic (not to be confused with Imperial Aramaic, the dialect that became the lingua franca of the ancient world). The earliest certain mention of Arameans is c. 1100 B.C.E. in the inscriptions of Tiglath-pileser I, one of the most influential kings of Assyria during the Middle Period. Originally under the control of the Assyrian Empire, the Arameans were able to gain independence toward the end of the 11th century B.C.E.

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.


An Aramean king commemorates his military prowess on the Tel Dan Stele, which is the first archaeological evidence found for a historical King David. Outlined in chalk is the reference to Israel as “the House of David.” Photo: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem/Israel Antiquities Authority (photograph by Meidad Suchowolski).

Most of Israel was under the control of the Arameans for eight years during the reign of Chushan-Rishathaim, King of Aram-Naharaim, but Othniel, one of the judges of Israel, managed to defeat them and regain control of the land, according to the book of Judges. Furthermore, the Arameans were combatants to all the kings of the United Monarchy (Saul, David and Solomon).

An important archaeological find is also associated with the Arameans: the Tel Dan Stele. This stele made headlines because it mentions the historical King David; prior to its discovery, there was no archaeological evidence for the historical David. An unknown Aramean king describes his military successes on the stele, where Israel is referred to as the House of David.

Because of the history between the Israelites and the Arameans, Mullins and Panitz-Cohen wonder if there is any evidence of the Arameans at Abel Beth Maacah. However, ethnicity and nationality are very difficult to determine from excavated remains—imagine the challenge of trying to determine if someone was American or Canadian from their possessions alone—so Mullins and Panitz-Cohen’s task is a challenging one.

For more on Arameans at Abel Beth Maacah, read the full Archaeological Views column “Looking for Arameans at Tel Abel Beth Maacah” by Robert Mullins and Nava Panitz-Cohen in the January/February 2015 issue of BAR.

BAS Library Members: Read the full Archaeological Views column “Looking for Arameans at Tel Abel Beth Maacah” by Robert Mullins and Nava Panitz-Cohen in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Abel Beth Maacah in the Bible

Gender in Archaeology at Abel Beth Maacah

Silver Hoard from Abel Beth Maacah Illuminates Biblical Border Town

Abel Beth Maacah Excavations Uncover Silver Hoard at an Ancient Crossroads

The Tel Dan Inscription: The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible


Related reading in the BAS Library:

Bill T. Arnold, “Nebuchadnezzar & Solomon,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2007.

Moshe Kochavi, Timothy Renner, Ira Spar and Esther Yadin, “Rediscovered! The Land of Geshur,” Biblical Archaeology Review July/August 1992.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


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  • DALLAS says

    The “wandering Aramean” is much older, referring to the Patriarchal era, middle or early second millennium BCE — old history by the first millennium BCE and the Israelite monarchy. It does show that Aram was a culturally distinct place early on and remained so for a long time after.

  • Kurt says

    The last son listed of Shem’s five sons. Aram and his four sons, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash, constituted 5 of the 70 post-Flood families, and their descendants were the Aramaeans and Syrians.—Ge 10:22, 23; 1Ch 1:17.
    See also on the above link.language.”Glossary of Bible Terms”
    Aramaic. A Semitic language closely related to Hebrew, using the same alphabet. It was originally spoken by the Aramaeans but later became the international language of trade and communication in the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. It was also the official administrative language of the Persian Empire. (Ezr 4:7) Parts of the books of Ezra, Jeremiah, and Daniel were written in Aramaic.—Ezr 4:8–6:18; 7:12-26; Jer 10:11; Da 2:4b–7:28.

  • Steve says

    Would they be from the Northern or Southern Fertile Crescent? The Armenians are suppose to be Northern Fertile Cresent people. They would be of the J2 Haplo group. The Southern Fertile Cresent people are of the J1 Haplo group. The descendants of Abraham are of the J1e Haplo group.

  • Helen says

    Doesn’t “a wandering Aramean was my father” also fit here? Understanding them means we better understand the world that Abram/Abraham left behind and the world fm which Jacob chose his wives.

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