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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Hamath

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(Heb. Chamath', חֲמָת , fortress; Sept. Ε᾿μάθ, Αἰμάθ, and ῾Ημάθ ), a large and important city, capital of one of the smaller kingdoms of Syria, of the same name, on the Orontes, at the northern boundary of the Holy Land. Thus it is said (Numbers 13:21) that the spies "went up and searched the land, from the wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath." Gesenius is probably right in deriving the word from the Arabic root Chamaz, "to defend;" with this agrees the modern name of the city Hamnah. The city was at the foot of Hermon (Joshua 13:5; Judges 3:3), towards Damascus (Zechariah 9:2; Jeremiah 49:20; Ezekiel 47:16). The kingdom of Hamath, or, at least, the southern or central parts of it, appear to have nearly corresponded with what was afterwards denominated Caele-Syria (q.v.). It is more fully called Hamath the Great in Amos 6:2, or HAMATH-ZOBAH in 2 Chronicles 8:3. The country or district around is called "the land of Hamath" (2 Kings 23:33; 2 Kings 25:21).

Hamath is one of the oldest cities in the world. We read in Genesis 10:18 that the youngest or last son of Canaan was the "Hamathite" (q.v.) apparently so called because he and his family founded and colonized Hamath. It was a place of note, and the capital of a principality, when the Israelites conquered Palestine; and its name is mentioned in almost every passage in which the northern border of Canaan is defined (Numbers 13:22; Numbers 34:8; 1 Kings 8:65; 2 Kings 14:25, etc.). Toi was king of Hamath at the time when David conquered the Syrians of Zobah, and it appears that he had reason to rejoice in the humiliation of a dangerous neighbor, as he sent his own son Joram to congratulate the victor (2 Samuel 8:9-10), and (apparently) to put Hamath under his protection. Hamath was conquered by Solomon (2 Chronicles 8:3), and its whole territory appears to have remained subject to the Israelites during his prosperous reign (2 Chronicles 8:4-6). The "store-cities" which Solomon "built in Hamath" (2 Chronicles 8:4) were perhaps for staples of trade, the importance of the Orontes valley as a line of traffic always being great. On the death of Solomon and the separation of the two kingdoms, Hamath seems to have regained its independence. In the Assyrian inscriptions of the time of Ahab (B.C. 900) it appears as a separate power, in alliance with the Syrians of Damascus, the Hittites, and the Phoenicians. About three quarters of a century later Jeroboam the second "recovered Hamath" (2 Kings 14:28); he seems to have dismantled the place, whence the prophet Amos, who wrote in his reign (Amos 1:1), couples "Hamath the Great" with Gath, as an instance of desolation (Amos 6:2). At this period the kingdom of Hamath included the valley of the Orontes, from the source of that river to near Antioch (2 Kings 23:33; 2 Kings 25:21). It bordered Damascus on the south, Zobab. on the east and north, and Phoenicia on the west (1 Chronicles 18:3; Ezekiel 47:17; Ezekiel 48:1; Zechariah 9:2). In the time of Hezekiah, the town, along with its territory, was conquered by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17:24; 2 Kings 18:34; 2 Kings 19:13; Isaiah 10:9; Isaiah 11:11), and afterwards by the Chaldaeans (Jeremiah 39:2; Jeremiah 39:5). It is mentioned on the cuneiform inscriptions (q.v.). It must have been then a large and influential kingdom, for Amos speaks emphatically of "Hamath the Great" (6, 2); and when Rabshakeh, the Assyrian general, endeavored to terrify king Hezekiah into unconditional surrender, he said, "Have the gods of the nations delivered them which my fathers have destroyed, as Gozan, and Haran, and Rezeph? Where is the king of Hamath, and the king of Arphad, and the king of the city of Sepharvaim, Hena, and Ivah?" (Isaiah 37:12-14; 2 Kings 18:34 sq.). (See ASHIMA). The frequent use of the phrase, "the entering in of Hamath," also shows that this kingdom was the most important in Northern Syria (Judges 3:3). Hamath remained under the Assyrian rule till the time of Alexander the Great, when it fell into the hands of the Greeks. The Greeks introduced their noble language as well as their government into Syria, and they even gave Greek names to some of the old cities; among these was Hamath, which was called Epiphania (Ε᾿πιφάνεια), in honor of Antiochus Epiphanes (Cyril, Comment. ad Amos).

This change of name gave rise to considerable doubts and difficulties among geographers regarding the identity of Hamath. Jerome affirms that there were two cities of that name-Great Hamath, identical with Antioch, and another Hamath called Epiphania (Comment. ad Amos, 6). The Targums in Numbers 13:22 render Hamath Anztukia (Reland, Palcest. p. 120). Eusebius calls it "a city of Damascus," and affirms that it is not the same as Epiphania; but Jerome states, after a careful investigation, "reperi AEmath urbem Coeles Syrie appellari, quae nunc Graeco sermone Epiphania dicitur" (Onomast. s.v. AEmath and Emath). Theodoret says that Great Hanath was Emesa, and the other Hamath Epiphania (Comment. ad Jeremiah 4). Josephus is more accurate when he tells us that Hamath "was still called in his day by the inhabitants Ἀμάθη, although the Macedonians called it Epiphania" (Ant. 1, 6, 2). There is reason to believe that the ancient name Hamath was always retained and used by the Aramaic-speaking population; and, therefore, when Greek power declined, and the Greek language was-forgotten, the ancient name in its Arabic form Hamâ h became universal (so הֲמָה in Ezekiel 47:16, first occurrence). There is no ground whatever for Reland's theory (Palaest. p. 121) that the Hamath spoken of in connection with the northern border of Palestine was not Epiphania, but some other city much further south. The identification of Riblah and Zedad places the true site of Hamath beyond the possibility of doubt (Porter, Damascus, 2, 355, 354).

Epiphania remained a flourishing city during the Roman rule in Syria (Ptolemy, 5, 15; Pliny, Hist. Nat, 5, 19). It early became, and still continues, the seat of a bishop of the Eastern Church (Caroli a san. Paulo, Geogr. Sac. p. 288). It was taken by the Mohammedans soon after Damascus. On the death of the great Saladin, Hamath was ruled for a long period by his descendants, the Eiyubites. Abulfeda, the celebrated Arab historian and geographer of the 14th century, was a member of this family and ruler of Hamâ h (Bohadin, Vita Saladini; Schulten's Index Geographicus, s.v. Hamata). He correctly states (Tab. Syriae, p. 108) that this city is mentioned in the books of the Israelites. He adds: "It is reckoned one of the most pleasant towns of Syria. The Orontes flows round the greater part of the city on the east and north. It boasts a lofty and well-built citadel. Within the town are many dams aid water-machines, by means of which the water is led off by canals to irrigate the gardens and supply private houses. It is remarked of this city and of Schiazar that they abound more in water-machines than any other cities in Syria."

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Hamath'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/h/hamath.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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