ELAM (ee' lam) A personal name and a place name 1. Elam was a son of Shem, one of the sons of Noah (Genesis 10:22; 1 Chronicles 1:17). He may have given his name to the region known as Elam. 2. The region of Elam is on the western edge of ancient Persia, modern Iran. The Zagros Mountains lie east and north while the Persian Gulf is to the south and the Tigris River is on the west. The ancient capital of the area is Susa. The region has been inhabited since before 3000 B.C., but only a few of the periods are of importance for biblical history.
Elam appeared in history when Sargon of Akkad subdued it about 2300 B.C. Soon, though, Elamites reversed the role, sacked Ur, and set up an Elamite king in Eshnunna. The Elamite presence continued in Babylon until the time of Hammurabi about 1700 B.C.
After Hammurabi, Kassites invaded Elam. Their rule lasted until about 1200 B.C. The next century was the high point of Elam's power. All of western Iran was theirs. Again the Babylonians brought Elamite power to an end. The Assyrian Ashurbanipal brought an end to the periods of strength and weakness. He swept through the region in a series of campaigns and captured Susa in 641 B.C. He may have moved some Elamites to Samaria at that time (Ezra 4:9). Earlier, Elam had incorporated Anshan, later home of Cyrus the Great, into the kingdom. As Assyria weakened, Elam and Anshan became part of the kingdom of the Medes. Thus, they participated, with the Babylonians, in the defeat of the Assyrian empire. Elam had little subsequent independent history, but it continued to be part of the Medes' and the Persians' empires. In Scripture Elam's importance may have been due to its role as a vassal of the great empires, supplying troops for them.
Elam is mentioned in Scripture in narratives and oracles. Abraham fought Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, to secure the return of Lot and others (Genesis 14:1). Although this king cannot be identified from other records, the events may have occurred during Elam's time of strength prior to Hammurabi. Prophets mentioned Elam in oracles. Isaiah's word of hope included the promise God would recover His people from Elam (Isaiah 11:11). In Isaiah 21:2; Isaiah 22:6 the prophet referred to Elam's military power. He called Elam to attack Babylon in Isaiah 21:1. The second mention seems to refer to Elam as part of God's judgment on Judah. Jeremiah 25:25 includes Elam as a kingdom which must drink the cup of God's wrath. Later this same prophet (Jeremiah 49:34-39), in the days of Zedekiah, pronounced judgment on Elam. No explanation for the judgment is given; but Elam, as a vassal of Babylon, may have participated in the attack on Jerusalem. Still, there is a word of hope in the end (Jeremiah 49:39). Ezekiel pictured Elam in the pit (Sheol) where it experienced shame and punishment for its destructive ways (Ezekiel 32:24).
Other biblical references mention Elam as a personal name or homeland. Perhaps most interesting is the presence of men from Elam on the day of Pentecost. These may have been Jews from the region of Elam or converts to Judaism (Acts 2:9). God was still gathering His people from there. See Persia; Cyrus; Assyria.
3. A clan head of tribe of Benjamin living in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 8:24). 4. A priestly gatekeeper under David (1 Chronicles 26:3). 5. Two clan leaders among the exiles who returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel in 537 B.C. (Ezra 2:7,Ezra 2:31). Compare Ezra 8:7; Ezra 10:2, Ezra 10:26. 6. A post-exilic leader who signed Nehemiah's covenant to obey God (Nehemiah 10:14). 7. A priest who helped Nehemiah lead the people in celebrating the completion of the Jerusalem wall (Nehemiah 12:42).
Albert F. Bean
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.