The Hebrew word signifies a height or a high place. (Eze 16:24) It was used as a proper name for a number of locations in Israel.
1. A city in the territory of Benjamin. In Joshua 18:25 it is listed between Gibeon and Beeroth. Apparently it was near Bethel, which city was in the S of Ephraim’s territory. (Jg 4:5) A Levite traveling N past Jerusalem came to Gibeah, with Ramah evidently just beyond. (Jg 19:11-15; Ho 5:8) And it was in the neighborhood of Geba. (Isa 10:29) These references combine with testimony of Eusebius in identifying Ramah in Benjamin with the locality of modern er-Ram, which is about 8 km (5 mi) N of Jerusalem, 3 km (2 mi) N of Gibeah, 5 km (3 mi) E of Gibeon, and 3 km (2 mi) W of Geba. The city is on an elevation, as the name implies.
During the divided kingdom, Ramah came in for considerable attention, located, as it was, near the border between Israel and Judah and the N-S road of the hill country. King Baasha of Israel began to expand or fortify Ramah in Benjamin while warring against Asa. (1Ki 15:16, 17; 2Ch 16:1) But when the king of Syria attacked Israel from the N, Baasha’s attention was diverted and Asa took Ramah as well as the building materials Baasha had been using there, using these to build up neighboring Geba and Mizpah. (1Ki 15:20-22; 2Ch 16:4-6) It appears that, when Jerusalem was destroyed in 607 B.C.E., the Jews taken captive were assembled in Ramah before being moved to Babylon. (Jer 40:1) After the exile Ramah was repopulated.—Ezr 2:1, 26; Ne 7:30; 11:33.
Some scholars have concluded that such an assembling of Jews at Ramah before taking them into exile (perhaps accompanied by the slaughtering of some there) was referred to with the words: “In Ramah a voice is being heard, lamentation and bitter weeping; Rachel weeping over her sons. She has refused to be comforted over her sons, because they are no more.” (Jer 31:15) Jacob’s wife Rachel had so desired children as to consider herself “dead” without them. (Ge 30:1) So now Rachel might be spoken of figuratively as weeping over the loss of the Jews in death or captivity. Or, since Rachel was the mother of Benjamin, Jeremiah’s words may represent her as weeping particularly over the Benjamite inhabitants of Ramah. Jeremiah went on to explain that hope existed, for the exiles would return. (Jer 31:16) At Matthew 2:18, the prophetic words in Jeremiah 31:15 are quoted as applying also to the time when Herod had young children of Bethlehem slaughtered.—See RACHEL.
2. An enclave city of the tribe of Simeon in the Negeb. (Jos 19:1, 8) It was the same as Baalath-beer and was known as “Ramah of the south.” It is tentatively identified with Khirbet Ghazzah (Horvat ʽUza), about 30 km (19 mi) E of Beer-sheba.—See BAALATH-BEER.
3. An unidentified city in the territory of Asher listed only in Joshua 19:24, 29. It is difficult from the text to determine exactly where in Asher’s inheritance the city was located, though it seems to have been N toward Tyre.
4. A fortified city in Naphtali’s territory. (Jos 19:32, 36) It is tentatively identified with Khirbet Zeitun er-Rameh (also known as Khirbet Jul) just E of er-Rameh (Rama) and about 30 km (19 mi) E of the seaport city of ʽAkko (Acco). But the single reference to it in Joshua does not allow for positive identification of its location.
5. The hometown of the prophet Samuel and his parents. In 1 Samuel 1:1, Samuel’s father Elkanah is described as a “man of Ramathaim-zophim of the mountainous region of Ephraim.” Throughout the rest of the account the shortened form “Ramah” is used. (1Sa 1:19) Perhaps the longer name is first used to distinguish this Ramah from other places of the same name, such as Ramah in Benjamin. An American Translation reads: “man of Ramah, a Zuphite.” This rendering of the Masoretic text would indicate that Elkanah was either a descendant of Zuph (Zophai) or from the district of Zuph.—1Ch 6:27, 28, 34, 35; 1Sa 9:5.
An ancient tradition presented by Eusebius identifies Ramah with the location of modern Rentis (Rantis), in the hills of Ephraim about 35 km (22 mi) NW of Jerusalem. This would be the same place as the Arimathea (Gr. form of Heb. Ra·mahʹ) mentioned in the Christian Greek Scriptures.—Lu 23:50-53.
Elkanah made his home in Ramah, where Samuel evidently was born, but each year he traveled to Shiloh to sacrifice. (1Sa 1:3, 19; 2:11) Though Samuel lived with Eli the priest at Shiloh for some time, eventually he took up residence at Ramah and used it as a base from which he traveled in a circuit judging Israel. (1Sa 3:19-21; 7:15-17; 8:4; 15:24-35; 16:4, 13; 19:18-24) When Samuel died he was buried at his house in Ramah, “his own city.”—1Sa 25:1; 28:3.