ha'-math (chamath; Hemath, Haimath; Swete also has Hemath): The word signifies a defense or citadel, and such designation was very suitable for this chief royal city of the Hittites, situated between their northern and southern capitals, Carchemish and Kadesh, on a gigantic mound beside the Orontes. In Amos 6:2 it is named Great Hamath, but not necessarily to distinguish it from other places of the same name.
1. Early History:
The Hamathite is mentioned in Genesis 10:18 among the sons of Canaan, but in historic times the population, as the personal names testify, seems to have been for the most part Semitic. The ideal boundary of Israel reached the territory, but not the city of Hamath (Numbers 34:8 Joshua 13:5 Ezekiel 47:13-21). David entered into friendly relations with Toi, its king (2 Samuel 8:9), and Solomon erected store cities in the land of Hamath (2 Chronicles 8:4). In the days of Ahab we meet with it on the cuneiform inscriptions, under the name mat hamatti, and its king Irhuleni was a party to the alliance of the Hittites with Ben-hadad of Damascus and Ahab of Israel against Shalmaneser II; but this was broken up by the battle of Qarqar in 854 B.C., and Hamath became subject to Assyria. Jeroboam II attacked, partially destroyed, and held it for a short time (2 Kings 14:28 Amos 6:2). In 730 B.C., its king Eniilu paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser, but he divided its lands among his generals, and transported 1,223 of its inhabitants to Sura on the Tigris. In 720, Sargon "rooted out the land of Hamath and dyed the skin of Ilubi'idi (or Jau-bi'idi) its king, like wool" and colonized the country with 4,300 Assyrians, among whom was Deioces the Mede. A few years later Sennacherib also claims to have taken it (2 Kings 18:34; 2 Kings 19:13). In Isaiah 11:11, mention is made of Israelites in captivity at Hamath, and Hamathites were among the colonists settled in Samaria (2 Kings 17:24) by Esarhaddon in 675 B.C. Their special object of worship was Ashima, which, notwithstanding various conjectures, has not been identified.
2. Later History:
The Hamathite country is mentioned in 1 Maccabees 12:25 in connection with the movements of Demetrius and Jonathan. The Seleucids renamed it Epiphaneia (Josephus, Ant, I, vi, 2), and by this name it was known to the Greeks and the Romans, even appearing as Paphunya in Midrash Ber Rab chapter 37. Locally, however, the ancient name never disappeared, and since the Moslem conquest it has been known as Hama. Saladin's family ruled it for a century and a half, but after the death of Abul-fida in 1331 it sank into decay.
3. Modern Condition:
The position of Hama in a fruitful plain to the East of the Nusairiyeh Mountains, on the most frequented highway between Mesopotamia and Egypt, and on the new railway, gives it again, as in ancient times, a singular significance, and it is once more rising in importance. The modern town is built in four quarters around the ancient citadel-mound, and it has a population of at least 80,000. It is now noted for its gigantic irrigating wheels. Here, too, the Hittite inscriptions were first found and designated Hamathite.
4. Entering in of Hamath:
In connection with the northern boundary of Israel, "the entering in of Hamath" is frequently mentioned (Numbers 13:21 1 Kings 8:65, etc., the American Standard Revised Version "entrance"). It has been sought in the Orontes valley, between Antioch and Seleucia, and also at Wady Nahr el-Barid, leading down from Homs to the Mediterranean to the North of Tripoli. But from the point of view of Palestine, it must mean some part of the great valley of Coele-Syria (Biqa'a). It seems that instead of translating, we should read here a place-name-"Libo of Hamath"-and the presence of the ancient site of Libo (modern Leboue) 14 miles North-Northeast of Baalbek, at the head-waters of the Orontes, commanding the strategical point where the plain broadens out to the North and to the South, confirms us in this conjecture.
W. M. Christie