(Haʹmath) [fortress], Hamathite (Haʹmath·ite).
The city of Hamath was the capital of a small Canaanite kingdom in Syria during the early history of Israel. The rich agricultural region surrounding it also took the same name. During Greek and Roman times the classical name of the city was Epiphania, so named by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Today it is called Hama, a shortened form of its original name.
The city of Hamath was located on the Orontes River, along important trade routes, fifty miles (80.5 kilometers) inland from the Mediterranean, about 120 miles (193 kilometers) N of Damascus and seventy-five miles (c. 121 kilometers) S of Aleppo.
Though sometimes said to be of Hittite origin, Hamath was more likely founded by the Hamathites, relatives of the Hittites and one of the seventy post-Flood families. Heth and Hamath, the forefathers of these two family lines, were listed as the second and eleventh sons respectively of Canaan the son of Ham. (Gen. 10:6, 15-18; 1 Chron. 1:8, 13-16) The large number of “Hittite” inscriptions may indicate that even though originally settled by Hamathites, it was subject to strong “Hittite” influence.
“THE ENTERING IN OF HAMATH”
The oldest account we have of Hamath tells how the twelve Israelite spies in the sixteenth century B.C.E. came up from the S as far as “the entering in of Hamath,” an oft-repeated phrase thought to refer, not to the gates of the city itself, but, rather, to the southern boundary of the territory over which it ruled. (Num. 13:21) It was to this limit that Joshua’s conquest was pushed northward. (Josh. 13:2, 5; Judg. 3:1-3) Some scholars, however, suggest that the expression “as far as to the entering in of Hamath” (Josh. 13:5) should possibly read “as far as Lebi-hamath (Lion of Hamath),” hence a definite place.—See Vetus Testamentum, Vol. II, No. 2, April 1952, p. 114.
The exact location of this boundary (or place) is not certain. It was reckoned as the northern boundary of Israel’s territory (Num. 34:8; 1 Ki. 8:65; 2 Ki. 14:25; 2 Chron. 7:8), and as bordering on Damascus. (Jer. 49:23; Ezek. 47:15-17; 48:1; Zech. 9:1, 2) Some think it was the southern extremity of the Coele-Syria valley (also called the Biqaʽ) that runs between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges. Others say it was farther N up this valley, halfway between Baalbek and Riblah at the sources of the Litani and Orontes Rivers. Yet others suggest it was still farther N where the pass opens up between Homs and the sea.—Ezek. 47:20.
RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL
As an independent kingdom its King Toi (Tou) sent his son Joram (Hadoram) to congratulate King David for having defeated their common enemy Hadadezer. (2 Sam. 8:3, 9, 10; 1 Chron. 18:3, 9, 10) However, during Solomon’s reign the kingdom of Hamath seems to have been under Israel’s control, for Solomon built storage cities in that region. (2 Chron. 8:3, 4) After Solomon’s death Hamath gained its independence, except for a brief period in the ninth century B.C.E. when Jeroboam II temporarily brought it again under Israelite control. (2 Ki. 14:28) About this time it was described as “populous Hamath.”—Amos 6:2.
In the eighth century B.C.E. Hamath and her neighbors, including the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, were overrun by the Assyrian sweep to world domination. Assyria’s policy was to exchange and relocate her captives, and so people of Hamath were brought in to replace inhabitants of Samaria who, in turn, were moved to Hamath and other places. (2 Ki. 17:24; 19:12, 13; Isa. 10:9-11; 37:12, 13) The Hamathites then set up in the high places of Samaria images of their god Ashima, even though this worthless god had proved to be helpless against the Assyrians.—2 Ki. 17:29, 30; 18:33, 34; Isa. 36:18, 19.
According to an extant cuneiform inscription (British Museum catalog No. 21946), after the battle of Carchemish in 625 B.C.E. (Jer. 46:2), Nebuchadnezzar’s forces overtook and destroyed the fleeing Egyptians in the district of Hamath. (Chronicles of Chaldean Kings, D. J. Wiseman, 1961, p. 69) In this same area, a few years earlier, Pharaoh Nechoh had taken King Jehoahaz captive. (2 Ki. 23:31-33) Then in 607 B.C.E., with the fall of Jerusalem, Zedekiah and other captives were taken to Riblah in the region of Hamath, and there before his eyes Zedekiah’s sons were put to death along with others of the nobility. (2 Ki. 25:18-21; Jer. 39:5, 6; 52:9, 10, 24-27) Nevertheless, God promised that in due time he would restore a remnant of his captive people, including those in the land of Hamath.—Isa. 11:11, 12.
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