Mount Ephraim and Benjamin
In the Madaba Map two different Rama do occur: one situated north of Jerusalem, and one south of it, near the town of Betlehem (no. 73). Others places with the same name are known to have exixted, and to exist nowadays, in the center as well as in the north of the country, probably because of the common meaning of the word in Hebrew (Ramah, "height"). To these, must be added those placenames starting with Ramath ("height of...") and Arimatea (no. 54) (correspondig to Ramathaim, "the two heights"). The problem is that stories and traditions, originally related to one Rama, tend sometimes to wander to another one. Such is the case of the birth town of prophet Samuel (1 Sam 1:1) and of the resting place of Jacobs' wife, Rachel (Jer 40:1; Mt 2:18).
53. Rama - (al-Ram)
A town in Benjamin (Josh 18:25), usually identified with modern er-Ram (M.R. 172140), situated 7 km N of Jerusalem, though some plausibly suggest Ramallah (M.R. 170146), 12 km N of Jerusalem. Ramah figures prominently in Benjaminite stories relating to the period before the rise of the monarchy in Israel. The village sat on a low hill astride the Palestinian watershed highway extending N from Jerusalem into the hill country of Ephraim. The earliest notices concerning Ramah seem to relate to its position along this highway.
Judg 4:5 notes that the prophetess Deborah used to sit beneath a palm tree somewhere between Ramah and Bethel (Beitin), which lay in Ephraimite territory 8 km to the N. Later in the book of Judges, a Levite couple traveling N from Bethlehem considered stopping for the night at Ramah (19:13), but instead tragically chose another route leading to Gibeah and a subsequent rape-murder.
The narratives relating Samuel's role in establishing the Israelite monarchy locate the great prophet's birthplace, residence, and burial site at Ramah. Some confusion exists, however, as to whether a site separate from Ramah of Benjamin is implied in these stories.
The Hebrew text of 1Sam 1:1 identifies Samuel's father, Elkanah, as hailing from "Ramathaim-zophim" in the hill country of Ephraim. If the references to "Ramah" which follow in the Samuel stories (cf. 1 Sam 1:19) are short forms of the proper name Ramathaim ("two heights"), then Samuel's home may have existed somewhere in the tribal territory of Ephraim; indeed, a site in Samaria called Ramathaim is mentioned in 1 Macc 11:34. Eusebius' Onomasticon identifies the latter site with the Arimathea of NT times (Matt 27:57; John 19:38) and places the village at Remphis (M.R. 151159), 14 km NE of Lod (M. Noth. 1960. The History of Israel. 2d ed. Trans. S. Godman, rev. P. R. Ackroyd. London I, 378-80). Others have sought Ramathaim at Beit Rima (M.R. 159160), 21 km NE of Lod.
It is more likely, however, that Ramah of Benjamin (er-Ram) was Samuel's home. 1 Sam 1:1 should probably be emended to read that Elkanah was "from Ramah, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim." The territory of Zuph appears to have been adjacent to the land of Benjamin (1 Sam 9:4-5); Ramah, near the border with Ephraim, may therefore have been inhabited by Zuphi tribesmen. Moreover, Samuel's home at Ramah is closely associated with sites within a rather small area in Benjamin: Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah (1 Sam 7:16); Rachel's tomb at Zelzah (1 Sam 10:2), which is associated with Ramah in Jer 31:15; and Gibeah (1 Sam 10:10; 19:18; 20:1). The stories concerning the relationship between Samuel and Saul thus arise from a very limited geographical area within Benjamin. These two figures seem to have lived a rather short distance from each other at Ramah (er-Ram) and Gibeah (Jaba), respectively.
Elkanah and Hannah resided in Ramah (1 Sam 1:19) while young Samuel remained at Shiloh in Eli's service (2:11). After leading the Israelites to temporary victory over the Philistines, Samuel based himself in Ramah while traveling as a judge on a yearly circuit to Bethel, Gilgal, and Mizpah (7:16-17). It was to Ramah that the elders of Israel traveled to demand that Samuel appoint a king over them (8:4). Apparently in the same city, Samuel eventually anointed young Saul as prince over Israel, and sent the lad on a mysterious mission to nearby Gibeah (10:1-16). After Saul's brief successes against his enemies, an ill-fated attack on the Amelekites reportedly caused Samuel to reject the king and return in mourning to Ramah (15:34).
Shortly thereafter, Samuel's home at Ramah provided a temporary refuge for the newly anointed David as he fled the danger of Saul's court at nearby Gibeah (19:18-24). The mention in this narrative of an area of Ramah called the Naioth, where the pursuing Saul and his men inadvertently fell into prophetic frenzy, might indicate that there existed in the village a special compound or dwelling place for a band of prophetic disciples of the charismatic Samuel. David reportedly fled the Naioth in Ramah in order to rejoin Jonathan before beginning his temporary career as a renegade (20:1). Samuel's role in the remaining David stories then fades rapidly: two notices of his death and burial at Ramah (25:1; 28:3) bring his earthly mission to a conclusion.
Ramah was left inside Judah very near to the N border with Israel after the division of the kingdom. Shortly after 900 B.C., King Baasha of Israel invaded Judah and fortified Ramah, thereby threatening to cut off or control N access to Jerusalem (1 Kgs 15:17; 2 Chr 16:1). King Asa of Judah reportedly responded by bribing Ben-hadad of Damascus to attack Israel's N territory, forcing Baasha to abandon his occupation of Ramah. Asa then dismantled the Ramah outpost and used its stones and timbers to fortify Geba (Jaba) and Mizpah (Tell en-Nasbeh), sites along the two routes leading into the kingdom of Judah from Israel (1 Kgs 15:21-22; 2 Chr 16:5-6).
In the late 8th century B.C., invasion once again threatened Ramah. The Israelite prophet Hosea sounded a war alarm for the Benjaminite towns of Gibeah, Ramah, and Beth-aven (5:8). Probably shortly thereafter, the Judean prophet Isaiah described panic in Ramah and Gibeah as the invader advanced into the area through the nearby Geba Pass (10:29). Both prophetic oracles probably relate to the Syro-Ephraimite invasion of Judah (cf. 2 Kgs 16:5; 2 Chr 28:5-15; and Isa 7:5-7) around 734 B.C. (Arnold 1987:237-59).
Following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Ramah seems to have served as a staging point for Jewish groups leaving for exile into Babylon (Jer 40:1). The prophet Jeremiah, taken to Ramah in chains by the Babylonian captain Nebuzaradan, seems to have been freed there at the last minute. Perhaps the sadness of seeing his comrades' exilic departure from Ramah inspired the prophet's oracle in 31:15, which associates the exiles' lamentations with those of Rachel, whose tomb existed nearby at Zelzah (1 Sam 10:2; cf. Gen 35:16-20 and Matt 2:18).
After the Exile, Ramah is mentioned along with Geba in apparent Persian census lists (Ezra 2:26; Neh 7:30; 1 Esdr 5:20). The town also appears in a postexilic list of Benjaminite villages (Neh 11:33) and in a list of Benjaminite towns, now set in the context of the book of Joshua (18:25).
Bibliography: Alt, A. 1927. Die Reise. Palaestina-Jahrbuch 23: 46. Arnold, P. 1987. Gibeah in Israelite History and Tradition. Diss., Emory.
Patrick M. Arnol, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ad v. "Ramah" (extract)
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 49)
The On. 66, 11 identifies Gabaon with a village four miles from Bethel to the west (some versions have it: to the east) near Rama. According to On. 48,9 Beeroth near Gabaon was on the Nicopolis road (St. Jerome translates: Neapolis road) in accordance with Josephus (Antiq. VII, 283 and War II, 516) and the true Biblical tradition. On the other hand St. Jerome too has placed Gabaon on the Bethoron road in Peregr. Paulae VI. Owing to the lack of an exact scale we cannot tell whether the Madaba map placed Gabaon on the Neapolis or on the Nicopolis road, although the latter seems more likely. Rama corresponds in any case to the modern er-Ram; Gabaon seems therefore to be at el-Jib rather than at Ramallah.
P. O'Callaghan (Supplément au Dictionnaire de la Bible, ad v. "Madaba", col. 654)
Rama. Lettres blanches. C'est la ville que Baasa avait entrepris de fortifier (I Reg., XV, 17-22). Elle fut repeuplée par des Benjamites après l'exil (Esd., II,26; Neh., XI,33), et de fait elle se trouvait dans la tribu de Benjamin, d'après Jos., XVIII,25. Lorsque Eusèbe écrit (Onom., p. 144,14 sq.): Rama (Jos., XVIII:25) phyles Beniamin polis Saoul apo z' semeion(Ailias) eis borran, il suit sans doute la version des LXX de Is., x, 29, mais il confond la localité en question avec la ville de Saül, car on voit par Jud., XIX, 13-15 que Rama était au nord de Gibe'a. S. Jérôme, en commentant Os., v, 8, la flxe à 7 milles de Jérusalem. En hébreu Harama , en grec (LXX) Rama, c'est le petit village moderne d'er-Ram, à 9 km environ au nord de Jérusalem. Si sur la carte de Madaba elle se trouve plus au nord que Gofna, il faut se rappeler que le mosaïste ne disposait pas de beaucoup d'espace.
Khalid Nashef ("Tradition and Reality of Holy Tombs in the Madaba Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 234)
If one accepts its identification with the Ramatha, Arabic Rama(t), as Mujir al-Din (2:423) maintains, or Armathem (as by Arculf, Wilkinson 1977: 100), mentioned first by Theodosius (Wilkinson 1977: 65) as the burial place of the Prophet Samuel with en-Nabi Samwil, this could be another reference to a holy tomb of a Biblical character in the village bearing the same name. The mosque enshrining the cenotaph incorporates a church from the Crusader period. An old drawing depicts a tomb of Samuel as a typical maqam of a Muslim saint (SWP 3: 149-150). (See also the complete article)
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)
In 1907 a burial vault containing two ossuaries was discovered in the locality and described by Father Vincent (RB 16 , 411-412). One ossuary bore the names Mary and Yohanan in Hebrew characters. This shows that in the first century the village was Jewish, as might have been presumed since er-Ram corresponds to the ancient Rama of Benjamin.
A similar tomb had been opened in 1905; it contained four Byzantine oil lamps which enriched the Flagellation Museum's collection. One of these lamps has the usual inscription Phos Christou; another, a cross on the handle (Pl. 1,2); a third has intertwined cords, and the fourth, the 'channel'. The tomb apparently was used for several centuries and belonged to Christians. In this period the village had become Christian. According to a contemporary writer, St. Jerome (On. 98), the place was a 'parvus vicus', and such it has remained right up to our days.
The explorers of the British survey (SWP III, 155) were able to identify the remains of a church under the Makam es-Sheikh Hasein that replaced it. The Makam was located west of the village. They saw the remains of the northern nave, marked by four columns, a lintel with rosettes, and stones with disks in low relief, built in the walls of the Makam. West of the village, lower down the hill, they came upon a broken pillar, 'probably from the church.' It is worth noting that, according to a Syriac version of the Vitae Prophetarum (Pseudo-Epiphanius, in Prophatearum vitae fabulosae, ed. Th. Scherman, Leipzig 1907, 105), and to the sixth-century pilgrim Theodosius (De situ Terrae Sanctae, ch. 6, CCSL 175, 117), Samuel the prophet was buried at Rama and his tomb was visited by pilgrims. Other Christian traditions, however, located the memorial of Samuel at Masepha, Biblical Mizpah (perhaps Tell en-Nasbeh), or at Nebi Samwil.
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Rama", 211.
Map Section 5 Place Sources