The eleventh century BCE was a time of political upheaval in the Ancient Near East. The Hittite Empire had collapsed and the Egyptians, Assyrians and Babylonians were all on the defensive as large scale migrations reshaped the geo-political landscape. In the area of Northern Mesopotamia and Central Syria a group of people known as the Aramaeans formed a number of small kingdoms.
The cities of Damascus and Hamath became the centers of two of the most powerful Aramaean Kingdoms. From here the Aramaean influence continued to spread northward in the Levant and eventually around 900 BCE another kingdom known as Bit Adini was established along the curve of the Euphrates. Bit Adini had for its capital Tel Barsib, know known as Tel Ahmar, which is located a short distance south of Carchemish.
House Of Eden
The name Bit Adini is translated in the King James Bible as the “House of Eden.” This is a typical construct for an Aramaic tribal name which usually begins with Bit/house followed by the name of an ancestor. In this case the tribal name is expressed with the exact Hebrew word used for the more widely known Garden of “Eden.” The Biblical text offers no insight into any possible connection. In fact the Biblical reference was likely written after Bit Adini had already been destroyed as the passage in Amos is indicative of the reflective prophetic style used throughout the Old Testament.
I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from the house of Eden: and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith the LORD. (Amos 1:5)
The Wrath Of God
In this case it would be the Assyrians that would meet out the Lord’s justice on the Aramaean kingdoms due to their “transgressions.” The writer of Amos, as well as his audience in the Kingdom of Judah, would have been familiar with the relocated inhabitants of the city of Kir which lay to the east of the Jordan River. This prophecy was not intended to foretell events but rather to establish God’s power as the regions political arbiter.
The practice of taking defeated peoples into captivity and relocating them was common practice in the Ancient Near East. Centuries earlier, the Hittite Empire had relied on captive transplants to populate its frontiers and now, in the 8th ad 9th centuries BCE, the Assyrians were in the process of taking the practice to a new level. Eventually the Kingdom of Judah would conspire with Assyria against its neighbor Israel and the result would be the deportation of thousands of Israelites. Some centuries later the Neo-Babylonian Empire would impose the same fate of the elite of Judah.
Resistance To Assyria
The people of Bit Adini had stood in the way of Assyrian westward expansion for over a decade before they surrendered and where taken into captivity. Ahuni, the King of Bit Adini, had tried desperately during his last four years on the throne, between 859 and 855 BCE, to rally the resistance against the Assyrians. By the mid 9th century BCE the Aramaean kingdoms of Syria had already been forced to pay repeated tribute to the Assyrian Kings. During this time the Assyrians committed a number of atrocities designed to terrorize their enemies into submission. Decapitated heads where piled into enormous mounds and conquered cities where burned to the ground. Yet, even with a well motivated resistance the Aramaeans were unable to stem the Assyrian tide.
The Prophet Amos
The Prophet Amos is usually credited for having written about the fall of the House of Eden during the first half of the 8th century BCE, almost a century after Bit Adini had been conquered by Assyria. Around this time there was still resistance against Assyria from Damascus and the Kingdom of Aram but the people of Bit Adini had already been captives for several generations.
However, Amos was not writing for the purpose of telling the regions history. It had become important for the people of the Kingdom of Judah to begin to view the Assyrians as an instrument of God. This was necessary since God was all powerful and could not actively be supporting those who continued to loose against Assyria. The logical conclusion for writers like Amos was that God had condemned the Aramaean kingdoms to be destroyed because they were faithless and had governed themselves unjustly. Assyria, despite being a perpetrator of horrible atrocities, had to be rationalized as being an agent for God since none could stand against it.
The identification of the enemies of Assyria as being transgressors against God made the future much more politically palatable for Judah. The small kingdom would not only become a willing vassal to Assyria but it would come to be complicit in some of its worst travesties.
The Aramaean kings, as well as their counterparts in Israel and Judah, would typically offer tribute anxiously every time an Assyrian army crossed the Euphrates. Then every few years the Assyrians where forced to deal with far flung revolts, or as in the case of the end of Shalmaneser III’s reign an actual rebellion by a crown prince, and this would offer a chance for the kings of Syria to do as they liked.
Ahaz and Tiglath-Pilesar III
It was after one of these periods of Assyrian weakness that a vigorous new king, Tiglath-Pilesar III (745–727 BCE) seized the Assyrian throne. After stabilizing his frontiers, Tiglath-Pilesar looked for opportunities to reassert Assyrian dominion in the west.
Several years later Tiglath-Pilesar found his chance. At this time King Ahaz of Judah, (736 -716 BCE) was being threatened by an alliance between the kingdoms of Israel, Damascus and Aram. Ahaz prevailed upon the Assyrians to accept a large tribute from Judah in turn for Assyrian support against his enemies. Tiglath-Pilesar made good on his agreement and sacked Damascus, annexed Aram and took thousands of people from Israel away into captivity.
- Roux, George, Ancient Iraq, (Penguin Books, London, 1966.)