The name Ramah in the Bible
It's not clear how many different towns or locations named Ramah exist in the Bible, and it's therefore not always clear which one is meant in the text, or even whether the author actually meant to use a name. In many cases the form רמה (ramah, meaning height; see below) is preceded by the definite article ה (ha, meaning the), and the authors could simply be referring to general highlands (The Heights). But even if they didn't and meant to convey a name, our translations should read Haramah and not Ramah:
- A town in Benjamin, bordering Ephraim and about 5 miles north of Jerusalem (Joshua 18:25). Somewhere between Ramah and Bethel the judge Deborah held audience beneath her famous palm tree (Judges 4:5). This Ramah of Benjamin is also probably the same as:
- The Ramah which king Baasha of Israel fortified in order to thwart traffic destined for or coming from king Asa of Judah (1 Kings 15:17-22).
- The Ramah at which Jeremiah was incarcerated (Jeremiah 40:1).
- The Ramah from where came a large group of returning exiles (Ezra 2:26, Nehemiah 7:30).
- The Ramah from whence came Shimei the Ramathite (רמתי), who held charge over the vineyards of king David (1 Chronicles 27:27).
- The birthplace and later headquarters of Samuel, the last judge of Israel (1 Samuel 1:19, 1 Samuel 8:17). This Ramah may be the same as the previous one (as many commentators attest) but in 1 Samuel 1:1 we read that Elkanah, Samuel's father, was from Ramathaim-zophim (meaning The Heights Of The Watchmen) in the hill country of Ephraim. It could be that he was born in Ephraim but moved to Ramah in Benjamin, and it could be that the Ramah he ended up in applies to the region at large. But it might also be that Ramah is short for Ramathaim-zophim, and a different place all together (like New York's Washington Heights, popularly known as The Heights).
- The place where king Joram fought Aram (2 Kings 8:29), also known as Ramoth-gilead (2 Kings 8:28). This Ramoth-gilead (רמת גלעד) is certainly the same as the Ramoth in Gilead (ראמת בגלעד) of Deuteronomy 4:43, which was situated east of the Jordan and obviously not the same as the previous two Ramah's.
- A town close to Tyre,which marked the border of the territory of Asher (Joshua 19:29).
- A town in the territory of Naphtali (Joshua 19:36). But note that the territories of Asher and Naphtali were adjacent; it may very well be that the latter two Ramah's are the same.
Many modern translations (NAS, NIV, JSP, ASV, Darby) also place a Ramah in Simeon (Joshua 19:8), but the large majority of manuscripts read ראמת (Ramath). This Ramath is properly known as ראמת נגב (Ramath Negev), and is most probably the same as the place called רמות־נגב (Ramoth-negev) mentioned in 1 Samuel 30:27. And so the King James Version reads Ramath and the Young Translation reads Ramoth in Joshua 19:8.
Etymology and meaning of the name Ramah
It's not immediately clear where the name Ramah comes from, or what it is supposed to mean. One good bet is that it is related to the verb רום (rum), meaning to be high or lofty:
And thus, for a meaning of the name Ramah, Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names reads Lofty Place.
However, neither NOBSE Study Bible Name List nor BDB Theological Dictionary translate this name (although BDB confirms that it comes from rum). The reason for their trepidation is perhaps that the name Ramah is spelled strikingly similar to the root-group רמה (rama I, II and perhaps III):
Hence, the name Ramah also carries the meanings of Deceit, Established or Loose.