That region bounded on the E by Mesopotamia, on the W by the Lebanon Mountains, on the N by the Taurus Mountains, on the S by Palestine and the Arabian Desert. The region is called Aram in the Hebrew Scriptures. These boundaries are only general, since Syrian influence and domination within this area were rather fluid and unstable most of the time.
In Patriarchal Times. Of patriarchal times our only Biblical records of the Syrians concern events around Haran involving the lives of Rebekah’s family, her father Bethuel and brother Laban both being described as Syrians, or literally, Aramaeans. (Ge 25:20; 28:5; 31:20, 24) Jacob was described as “a perishing Syrian” because he had resided 20 years in the area around Haran. There he married Laban’s two daughters and fathered sons and daughters; he also experienced affliction in Laban’s service. Additionally, Jacob’s mother was a Syrian.
Period of the Judges. During the period of the Judges when the Israelites fell away from Jehovah’s worship, the Syrian king Cushan-rishathaim subjugated them for a period of eight years. (Jg 3:7-10) On another occasion, Syria’s influence proved strong enough to cause Israel to worship her gods along with other pagan deities.
Period of Kings of Israel and of Judah. From and after the birth of Israel’s monarchy, Syria became aggressively active militarily, and throughout the entire history of the northern kingdom, hostilities between the two prevailed. Israel’s first king, Saul, went to war with the Syrian kings of Zobah. (1Sa 14:47) David, upon becoming king, inflicted heavy losses on the army of Syrian King Hadadezer. At the same time much gold, silver, and copper were taken and sanctified to Jehovah. David also set up garrisons in Damascus and compelled the Syrians to pay tribute. (2Sa 8:3-12; 1Ch 18:3-8) Later, more than 30,000 Syrian mercenaries who were hired by the Ammonites, instead of fighting, took flight before the Israelites. After Syrian reinforcements were brought up, however, a battle with Israel ensued and the Syrians suffered great losses, causing them to sue for peace.
Following this, a certain Syrian rebel named Rezon, who had fled from Hadadezer, made himself king at Damascus and became a resister of Israel all the days of Solomon. (1Ki 11:23-25) With these developments Damascus became the most prominent Syrian city and was long recognized as “the head of Syria,” toward which Jehovah’s pronouncements against that nation were directed.
After division of Israel’s kingdom. Bible history of the Syrians following the death of Solomon and the dividing of his kingdom tells, in the main, of their successes and reverses in their relations with the Israelites of both the northern and the southern kingdoms. Particular events are mentioned as occurring during the reigns of Asa (1Ki 15:18-20; 2Ch 16:2-4, 7), Ahab (1Ki 20:1-34; 22:3, 4, 29-35; 2Ch 18:10, 28-34), Jehoram of Israel (2Ki 6:24–7:16; 8:28, 29; 9:14b, 15; 2Ch 22:5, 6), Jehoash of Judah (2Ki 12:17, 18; 2Ch 24:23, 24), Jehoahaz (2Ki 13:3-7, 22), Jehoash of Israel (2Ki 13:14-19, 24, 25), Jotham (2Ki 15:37, 38), Ahaz (2Ki 16:5-9; 2Ch 28:5; Isa 7:1-8; 9:12), and Jehoiakim (2Ki 24:2). It was most unusual, worthy of special mention, when there were ‘three years without war between Syria and Israel.’
Jehovah’s prophet Elisha had certain contacts with the Syrians; for example, he cured the Syrian army chief Naaman of leprosy (2Ki 5:1-20), and he disclosed to Hazael that he would be king of Syria in place of his master Ben-hadad II. (2Ki 8:7-15) On another occasion when a detachment of Syrians surrounded Dothan to take Elisha captive, the prophet first asked God to strike them with a form of blindness, and then he led them to Samaria, where their vision was restored; then he had them fed and sent home. (2Ki 6:8-23) For further details on these experiences of the Syrians with the prophet, see the article ELISHA.
The Syrians were Semites, closely related to and associated with the Israelites. Yet in the eighth century B.C.E. there was sufficient difference between their languages that the common Jew did not understand Aramaic. (2Ki 18:26-28; Isa 36:11, 12; see ARAMAIC [The Language].) Also religiously, there were vast differences between the polytheistic Syrians and the Jews, and it was only when the latter apostatized that worship of the Syrian gods was allowed in the land of Israel.
In the First Century C.E. Syria of apostolic times meant the Roman province that Pompey annexed to the empire in 64 B.C.E. This province embraced much of the old territory of Syria. The governor of Syria also had supervision of the whole of Palestine. At the time of Jesus’ birth Syria was ruled over by Governor Quirinius, the legate of Emperor Augustus, whose residence was in the capital of the province and third-largest city of the Roman Empire, Antioch, on the Orontes River. (Lu 2:1, 2) Jesus restricted his ministry to Palestine proper, but reports of his wonderful miracles reached out “into all Syria.”
When the Christians in Jerusalem were scattered because of the persecution following the stoning of Stephen, some of them carried the good news to Syria’s capital, Antioch. First the Jews there heard the message, and later those of other national groups did. Barnabas and Paul were both instrumental in building up the congregation of Antioch. It was first in this Syrian city that “the disciples were by divine providence called Christians.”
About the year 46 C.E., when a great famine occurred during the reign of Emperor Claudius, the Christians in and around Antioch sent a relief ministration by Barnabas and Paul to their brothers in Jerusalem. (Ac 11:27-30) The letter regarding circumcision sent out by the apostles and older men in Jerusalem was addressed particularly to the congregations in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia (a neighboring region). (Ac 15:23) During the years when Paul traveled extensively as a missionary, he used Antioch of Syria as his home base.