Biblical Elam

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Elam (עֵילָם) in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10:22, Ezra 4:9;) is said to be the oldest son of Shem, the son of Noah. It is also used (as in Akkadian), for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem. This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews, although their language was not Semitic, but is considered a linguistic isolate. This modern categorization does not conflict with the Hebrew Bible, since it holds that the diversity of human languages originated at the Tower of Babel.

The Bible says that Elam's younger brother Arphaxad was born two years after the flood, implying that Elam himself may have been born on the ark.

Elam (the nation) is also mentioned in Genesis 14, describing an ancient war in the time of Abraham, involving a king of Elam it calls Chedorlaomer.

The prophecies of Isaiah (11:11, 21:2, 22:6) and Jeremiah (25:25) also mention Elam, and the last part of Jeremiah 49 is an apocalyptic oracle against Elam, self-dated to the first year of Zedekiah (597 BC).

The Book of Jubilees may reflect ancient tradition when it mentions a son (or daughter, in some versions) of 'Elam named "Susan", whose daughter Rasuaya married Arpachshad, progenitor of another branch of Shemites. Shushan (or Susa) was the ancient capital of the Elamite Empire. (Dan. 8:2)

Elam as a personal name also refers to eight other figures appearing in the Hebrew Bible:

  • Elam is a son of Shashak of the tribe of Benjamin in 1 Chronicles 8:24 .
  • Elam is the son of Meshelemiah, a Levite of the family of Kohath in 1 Chronicles 26:3.
  • Elam is the ancestor of a family that returned with Zerubbabel in Ezra 2:1-2,7.
  • Elam is the ancestor of a family that returned from the Captivity in Ezra 2:31. This is possibly the same man and family as in Ezra 2:1-2,7.
  • Elam is the ancestor of a family that returned with Ezra in Ezra 8:7 .
  • Elam is the grandfather of Shechaniah in Ezra 10:3.
  • Elam is one of the men who joins Nehemiah in sealing the new covenant in Nehemiah 10:14.
  • Elam is a priest who helps in the rededication of the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 12:42.

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