Edward Lipínski, The Aramaeans: Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion
(Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta, 100; Leuven: Peeters, 2000), 694 pp.; ISBN 90-429-0859-9; Euro 95.
Reviewed by Scott B. Noegel
University of Washington

This magisterial work makes accessible an enormous wealth of information on the Aramaean peoples of early and late antiquity. It is exhaustive, detailed, copious in its use of footnotes, and extremely well-organized. It promises to be a frequently consulted reference work and invaluable resource for years to come.

One of the most impressive aspects of this tome is its comprehensive use of literary and archaeological sources. To elucidate the world of the Aramaeans LipíĹ„ski continually draws upon a vast array of Aramaic, Assyrian, Babylonian, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and also Arabic textual materials that range in time from early antiquity to the Middle Ages (in some case even to the present day). Where the sources differ on important issues, he is careful to note it, and he always registers notes of methodological caution when the evidence (or lack thereof) necessitates it.

The book opens by discussing the (sometimes conflicting portraits of the) pre-history and proto-history of the Arameans as suggested by the earliest textual references to the term Aram, Aramaean tribal names, and the land of Qir. After supplying this background, Lipínski investigates the etymology for the name Aram. Surveying a number of proposals, he suggests that we consider the name a Semitic broken plural for “wild bull” (i.e., ‘aramu). This etymological connection, he opines, may derive from the use of the wild bull as a totem. Such an association, he further suggests, explains the numerous Syro-Hittite images of the storm god Hadad striding atop a wild bull.

an appellation of a people or a tribe implies a totemic social and religious structure, an essential peculiarity of which is the association of groups of persons or clans with groups of animals belonging to the same species and constituting the totem species (p. 52).

The interested reader unfamiliar with the terrain of Semitic linguistics should be warned that such etymological diversions are extremely frequent in the book, and often bear heavily upon the reader, who in many instances would be better served by placing such information in footnotes.1

From here Lipínski moves to a discussion of ancient Israelite knowledge of the Aramaeans as evidenced in the Hebrew Bible. For the most part, this section focuses on various toponyms and onomastica connected with the Aramaeans, especially those found in the patriarchal narratives and genealogical materials. Notable here is Lipínski’s attempt to identify the Aramaean cities lying along the caravan routes of the Israelite patriarchs and kings and his effort to establish approximate distances between them based on the speed of camel caravans (e.g., pp. 65–68).

Having established the broader linguistic, literary, and historical framework for the Aramaeans, Lipínski then launches into highly detailed studies of more than a dozen Aramaean tribes, each of which he subdivides into “territory” and “history.” The former section provides the topographical and geographical data available for locating the tribe in question; the latter offers an in-depth reconstructed history for that tribe based on the numerous resources mentioned above. These studies constitute separate chapters in the book and include the following entries: Laqe, Nisibis and the Temanites, Gozan or Bet-Bagyan and Balih, Bet-Zammani, Bet-`Adini, Arpad or Bet-Gush, Kittik or Sullul, Sam’al or Yu’addi, Hamath and Lugath, Soba or Bet-Rehob, and Aram Damascus. The chapter on Hamath and Lugath also includes detailed discussions of a number of inscriptions that bear on the topic (e.g., those of Shalmaneser III, Ashurnasirpal II, Adad-ninari III, Tiglath Pileser III, and some hieroglyphic Luwian inscriptions).

Lipínski’s next chapter survey’s the evidence for Aramaean tribes in Babylonia, by first treating the 11th–9th centuries bce separately. Afterwards, he offers equally exhaustive treatments on the following tribes: Chaldaeans, Tu’manu or Hatallu, Puqudu, ‘Utu or ‘Itu, Rupu’ and Labdudu, Hamaranu and Luhu’atu, Rabbi-’Il, Nasir, Gulus, Nabatu or Nabayatu, Rahiqu, Kapiri, Rummulutu, `Adiliye, Gibriye, `Ubudu, Gurumu, Hindaru, Dunanu, Nilqu, Radiye, ‘Ubulu, Karma’, Amlatu and Damunu, Ru`a’ and Qabi`, Li’itta’u, Marusu, `Ammatu, Haggaranu, Naqri and Taniye, Gambulu, Hallatu, Ya’ash-’Il, Yadaqqu, Malahu, Gurasimmu, Udda, Gurru, `Ubayanat, Dahha, and the Yakimanu. This same chapter includes brief discussions on the relationship between Aramaeans and the peoples of North-Arabia, and on the tribal list of Tiglath Pileser III.

The last third of the book provides a chapter-by-chapter survey of a number of Aramaean cultural topics. Here one can find brief, but well-documented discussions on Nomadism, Royalty, and Dignitaries (Chapter 15); Society and Economy (e.g., agriculture and animal husbandry, forest resources, urban society, luxury goods, metalwork, textiles, trade, labor, and women, Chapter 16); legal traditions and international treaties (Chapter 17); and Aramaean Religion (Chapter 18). The latter chapter includes in-depth discussions on the cult of betyls, ancestral cults, burial practices, and focused treatments on the deities `Attar, ‘Il, Resheph, Rutsa, and Hadad,2 as well as the gods of the sun and moon, whose names cannot be established with absolute certainty.

Lipínski’s exhaustive work provides the most complete portrait of the Aramaeans to date. Despite its frequent tangential preoccupation with etymology, it conveys well the historical longevity, cultural complexity, and often over-looked diversity that defined the Aramaean peoples. It also establishes with greater precision the geographical boundaries of numerous Aramaean tribes, thus providing historians in a number of related fields, with invaluable data for future research. Moreover, the book is handsomely produced with a number of very useful full-color maps and photos, and contains indices that facilitate its use as a reference work. Recommended highly for all students of the ancient Near East.


[1] I also note that the utility of using etymologies as historical and linguistic tools of hermeneutics has rightly been called into question in recent years.

[2] For a more comprehensive treatment of the evidence for the worship of Hadad among the Aramaeans see now Daniel Schwemer, Wettergottgestalten. Die Wettergottgestalten Mesopotamiens und Nordsyriens im Zeitalter der Keilschriftkulturen: Materialien und Studien nach den schriftlichen Quellen (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2001). This work obviously appeared too late to be incorporated into Lipínski’s book.