The Aramaeans in Ancient Syria. Edited by Herbert Niehr. Handbuch der Orientalistik, vol. 106. Leiden: Brill, 2014. Pp. xxiv + 462, 25 pits. $189.
As the ongoing tragedy in modern-day Syria unfolds, and the human suffering of the peoples of this land reaches untold heights of horror, the terrible damage to Syria's rich cultural patrimony is slowly emerging. While the alleviation of the human suffering is clearly of paramount importance, anyone who cares about ancient cultures and their vestiges can only bemoan the terrible losses inflicted in the last few years. This is all that more apparent in light of the extensive archaeological prospection that has been carried out in Syria in the last two to three decades, which has opened up new vistas on significant aspects of Syria's past. This is particularly so when dealing with the Aramaeans of Iron Age Syria, concerning whom many new and exciting finds have been revealed in the last few years.
Thus, while this is hardly a happy time for anyone who cares about Syria--past, present, and future--the volume under review is of importance, since it is an excellent and up-to-date overview and summary of the most recent study of the Aramaeans of Iron Age Syria, including studies by some of the leading researchers in this field, among them some of the excavators themselves. Therefore, this volume serves to a large extent as a monument to the successes and accomplishments of contemporary research up until the beginning of the current troubles in Syria. And unfortunately, since it appears that it may be years before full-scale archaeological research is renewed in Syria, the volume also serves to document and highlight prior achievements. We can but hope that once political calm returns to Syria, the damage will not prove to be irreparable, and that we will once again be able to hear of important strides in studying its past.
This volume truly contains a rich and very comprehensive treatment of just about every major topic that one could wish to find in such a volume and even provides overviews of Aramaeans in other parts of the ancient Near East, as well as of the Aramaean heritage. By and large, if read together with other recent syntheses on the Aramaeans in general (e.g., P.-E. Dion, Les Arameens a l'Age du Fer: Histoire politique et structures sociales [Paris: Gabalda, 1997], E. Lipinski, The Aramaeans: Their Ancient History, Culture, Religion [Leuven: Peeters, 2000], C. Bonnet and H. Niehr...