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The Arameans or Aramaeans (also called Syriacs) were a Semitic, nomadic people who dwelt in Aram-Naharaim or "Aram of the two rivers," also known as Mesopotamia a region including modern Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and parts of Iran that is mentioned six times in the Hebrew Bible. The specific "two rivers" are variously identified by various scholars, though one of the rivers is generally the Euphrates. The compilers of the Jewish Encyclopedia , in 1901/8 did not find the name in Babylonian or Assyrian inscriptions, but identified it with Nahrima in three tablets of the Amarna letters.
"Aramean" was a term used by the Israelites to distinguish these closely related Arpachshadite so-called "Children of Eber" tribes from their more distant cousins to the east known as Aram. However, Arameans are not a unified people, rather they are defined as speaking the Aramaic language, which was written with the Phoenician alphabet. Originally Hurrian speakers, they soon adopted a form of Akkadian from which descended the Aramaic language (which replaced Hebrew as the Jewish vernacular tongue in the early centuries of the common era) as well as the modern Chaldean.
Arameans entered Syria in the 14th century BC, where they were organized by family houses, or "Bet," such as Bet Adini: The house of Adin (now Tell Ahmar) or Bet Agusi (north of Aleppo). There were also small Aramean kingdoms, such as Aram Damascus (now just "Damascus") and Hamath, however the Arameans never became a true unified empire. These kingdoms were subjugated by Adad-nirari II, Ashurnasirpal II, and his son Shalmaneser III, which destroyed many of the small tribes and gave control of Syria and local trade and natural resources to the Assyrians. Some Assyrian kings even took Aramean wives. Araemeans were also present in Babylonia and Mesopotamia, where they were assimilated into the local societies.
Modern Arameans, also known as Syriacs, are mostly Christians. To adopt the genealogical terms of antiquity one could consider them descendants of Abraham's brother Nahor through his son Kemuel , the father of Aram, who gave them their name.
Modern Arameans/Syriacs are the original Syrians, but because of the large present Arab population, the term Syriacs is used to refer to the Aramaic-speaking people. These people are also called Assyrians or Chaldeans. The original word for Syriac in Syriac Aramaic is Suryoye/Suryaye/Suroye/Suraye.
- Jewish Encyclopedia: Aram-Naharaim
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