Ammon, Ammonites

views updated


AMMON, AMMONITES , ancient people. The Ammonites are one of the many tribes that emerged from the Syrio-Arabian desert during the second millennium b.c.e. and eventually established a national kingdom in Transjordan. In the Bible they are usually called "Benei ʿAmmon" ("Children of Ammon"), while Akkadian inscriptions have them as Bīt Am-ma-na-aia and their land as māt Ba-an-am-na-aya. As is now known from Ammonite inscriptions of the seventh century b.c.e. their self-appelation was bnʿmn written as one word, with no yod following the nun. According to Genesis 19:38, the Ammonites are named for their ancestor Ben-Ammi (ben ʿammi, "son of my kin"), who was so named by Lot's younger daughter because he was born of her incestuous relations with her father. Since Lot was a nephew of Abraham, the story attests the Israelites' belief that the Ammonites were related to them. However, Deuteronomy 23:4 forbids participation by Ammonite and Moabite aliens in the Israelite cultic community.

The Land

At the end of the 15th century b.c.e., the Ammonites settled along the upper and central Jabbok River and in the area of its tributaries. Their eastern border was the desert, with the central Jabbok constituting their northern boundary (e.g., Deut. 3:16; Josh. 12:2). It was supposed that their western and southern boundaries were marked by the so-called rujm malfūf (sing.). These were massive structures built of large, rough stones. Some of the structures are circular and up to 16 meters in diameter, while others are rectangular or square. Their massive construction and strategic location, within sight of one another, indicate that these buildings were used for guarding and defense purposes. But a recent excavation in rujm malfūf west of Rabbath-Ammon (Amman) showed it to be from the Roman period, as no earlier remains were found there. It is possible then to reconstruct the Ammonite borders approximately in light of biblical data and topographical conditions. The northern boundary ran from the central part of the Jabbok River (which flows east to west) to the point where Wadi al-Rumaymīn enters the Jabbok. The western border extended from the Jabbok Wadi at Rumaymīn confluence southward along the Wadi Umm al-Danānīr, which originates

in the Sahl al-Bugay'a Valley. The ridge of mountains divides the upper Jabbok tributaries from the upper beds of Wadi Shu'ayb, Wadi al-Sīr, Wadi Kafrayn, and Wadi Ḥisbān. Important settlements along the western boundary were at Jogbehah (al-Jubahyat), Jazer, and Nāʿūr. On the south, at Nāʿūr, the border turned eastward, passing north of the lsraelite settlements at Elealeh and Mephaath. The most important of the Ammonite settlements was *Rabbath-Ammon, whose location made it ideal as the royal city and the capital of the country. The city is situated alongside the source of the Jabbok (ii Sam. 12:27) and enjoys natural protection. It drew its wealth from the agricultural surroundings and from international trade conducted along the main north-south road of the Transjordanian highlands – the "King's Highway." As a border city, Rabbath-Ammon lay in the path of the caravan trade between Arabia and the major centers of the Fertile Crescent. But the country was equally open to incursions of nomads who lived by raising sheep, goats, and camels, and by raiding the settled population (as well as each other). An exploration headed by N. Glueck discovered a network of fortresses along the eastern border of the Transjordanian states. It has become clear that these communities were destroyed by invasions of desert nomads in the second quarter of the first millennium b.c.e.


The transition from the nomadic life to permanent settlement in the Jabbok region caused changes in the social order, economy, and government of the Ammonites. They adopted a way of life and form of government which was an amalgam of nomadism, in which they had been rooted for generations, and the customs of the urban and agricultural civilizations. The Ammonites were organized along the lines of a centralized national monarchy (i Sam. 12:26). It was dynastic (ii Sam. 10:1) and based upon a ramified administration (ii Sam. 10:3 = i Chron. 19:3; Jer. 49:3; Amos 1:15). Ammonite seals testify to the existence of high officials with the title ʿbd ("servant"), such as lʾDnnr ʿbd ʿMndb "belonging to Adoni-Nur, servant of Amminadab," and l ʾDnplt ʿbd ʿMndb "belonging to Adoni-Phelet, servant of Amminadab." The statuette of an important Ammonite bears the legend Yrḥʿzr rb rkshn "Yaraḥʿazar, Overseer of the Horses." Seals of Ammonite women indicate that they were also appointed to the administrative staff or owned property. It is fairly certain that the higher officialdom was selected from the Ammonite nobility. Luxurious stone-carved burial caves containing tools and expensive jewelry, undoubtedly reserved for noble families, have been found in Rabbath-Ammon and its environs.

Most of the population supported itself by farming (grain crops and orchards) and grazing (Num. 32:1–4; Jer. 48:32; ii Chron. 27:5). There were extensive tracts of arable land and settlements were usually situated near wells and streams, which were used to irrigate the fields by means of man-made channels. In areas unsuited for agriculture, mainly in the east, the inhabitants lived as seminomads in temporary quarters, such as tents and huts. In times of danger they could find shelter in the fortresses that dotted the borders. The Ammonite material culture, as far as can be determined from finds (mostly from the eighth and seventh centuries), was influenced by several centers of culture. The local imitations were marked by design and workmanship inferior to those of Ammon's northern and western neighbors. Architectural style was simple and massive, and lacked any decorative elements. Ceramic artifacts, however, indicate that Ammonite potters achieved a high level of technical proficiency and adapted Assyrian, Phoenician, and Israelite styles. Stone sculpture reveals a mixture of Egyptian, Phoenician, Syrian, and Assyrian elements. The two most common forms of seals – the scarab-shaped and the cone-shaped – are represented. The engraving on seals tends to be crude and does not represent the work of consummate artists. The designs engraved on the seals are rich in art motifs taken from Phoenicia, Egypt, Aram, and Assyria. Most of the objets d'art that have been recovered came from well-planned and spacious rock-hewn family burial caves. Some of these caves have ledges upon which the corpses were placed. Many ceramic, metal, and glass objects were found near the bones in these tombs. The discovery of a tenth- or ninth-century cover of an anthropoid coffin from Sahab is worth note, as it appears to have been widespread in Egypt and Philistia; during the eighth and seventh centuries, the Ammonites buried their dead in Assyrian-type coffins (cf. the tomb of Adoni-Nur). (For Ammonite mourning customs, see Jer. 49:3.)

Comparatively little is known of the Ammonite religion. The national god was Milcom (e.g., i Kings 11:5), whose name appears on two seals from the neo-Babylonian and Persian periods. The custom of burning children for *Moloch is mentioned several times in the Bible, but it is not clear if the references are to the Ammonite cult and its god Milcom, and there is no positive evidence that the sacrifice of human beings to Milcom was practiced in Ammon. It is also unclear if the various theophoric elements appearing in private Ammonite names, such as Yaraḥʿazar, or the motifs engraved on seals, such as the crescent on the seal of Mannu-ki-Inurta, indicate religious syncretism. Like most of the tribes whose descent is traced to *Eber, the Ammonites were circumcised, as is apparent from Jeremiah 9:24–25.

Evidence about the Ammonite script and language is available from many names and a few epigraphic discoveries. The Ammonites used the Canaanite alphabet, which displayed the substantial influence of Aramean lapidary writing. The Ammonite language was no doubt a North-West *Semitic language, as may be seen from personal names (e.g., Nahash, Hanun, Shabel, Amminadab, Hananel, Menahem, Abihaz, Elisha) and words (e.g., bn, "son"; bt, "daughter"; ʿbd, "servant"; ʾmh, "maidservant"; naʿar, "young man"). However, Arabic elements can also be discerned in the Ammonite onomasticon. These South-Semitic elements must have entered the language at a later stage, when the Ammonites entered into trade with Arabia, which received its first impetus beginning in the tenth century and intensified during the Assyrian period.

Ammon and Israel

The Ammonites' finest hour came at the end of the period of the Judges. *Nahash, their king, conquered Israelite territories bordering Ammon and even succeeded in crossing the Jabbok to the north and besieging Jabesh-Gilead (i Sam. 11). His degrading demand upon the inhabitants of Jabesh-Gilead testifies to Ammonite power and self-confidence; it was a challenge to all the tribes of Israel, as was the seven-day period given to the population of the city to find a savior (i Sam. 11:3). The unexpected appearance of *Saul at the head of a unified Israelite army completely altered the balance of power between Ammon and Israel and brought about the Ammonite withdrawal from Israelite territory in Gilead. Saul did not enslave the Ammonites, as he was so occupied with ending internal feuds and wars with Israel's neighbors (i Sam. 14:47–48). Nahash the Ammonite remained on his throne and even passed the kingdom on to his son Hanun (ii Sam. 10:1; i Chron. 19:1). Hanun's provocation of King David's goodwill delegation (ii Sam. 10), which was probably instigated by the Arameans, led to war between Ammon and David (ii Sam. 10–12; i Chron. 19–20). Aramean military aid to Ammon was not sufficient to prevent David's conquest of the entire country. The intent of ii Samuel 12:30 (= i Chron. 20:2), regarding the crown that David removed from the head of the Ammonite king, is not clear: it may mean either that David crowned himself king of the Ammonites or that he only took the crown as spoil but left the kingdom in the hands of Shobi, the son of Nahash, who became his vassal (ii Sam. 17:27).

Ammon was subjugated to Israel during the reigns of David and Solomon. Although David subjected the Ammonites to a corvée (ii Sam. 12:31), he also appointed some of them to important positions in the kingdom (ii Sam. 23:37; = i Chron. 11:39). *Solomon had Ammonite wives, some of whom brought the worship of their god, Milcom, to Jerusalem (i Kings 11:5–8; ii Kings 23:13). Moreover, Solomon's son *Rehoboam, the heir apparent, was born of an Ammonite mother (i Kings 14:21). This fact might have been reason for some affinity between Ammon and Jerusalem, but it did not prove sufficient to create a firm alliance with either Judah or Israel after the division of the kingdom. The split in Solomon's kingdom, the wars between Rehoboam and Jeroboam, *Shishak's campaign into Ereẓ Israel, and the rise in strength of *Aram-Damascus all encouraged the Ammonites to cast off the Israelite yoke and become independent. The kings of Aram-Damascus, who sought hegemony over Palestine, encouraged the Transjordanian states to act against the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

Ammon's fate was largely dependent upon the relative military strengths of Aram, Israel, and Judah and the political ability of its own rulers to exploit developments in Syria and Palestine for their own ends. It seems that the Ammonites did not participate in the 12-party pact of the kings of Syria, Phoenicia, and Palestine against Assyria. It is most probable that Baasha son of Rehob of Aman who is mentioned among the allies who fought against Shalmaneser iii at Karkar in 853 (Pritchard, Texts, 279), was from Mount Amana in Syria, and not from the land of Ammon. ii Chronicles 20 contains a description of an invasion of Judah by Moab and Ammon during *Jehoshaphat's time, but the geography of the account is difficult. It is almost certain that the Ammonites exploited the strong Aramean pressures on Israel to extend their borders in Gilead at Israel's expense (Amos 1:13). During the reigns of *Jeroboam son of Joash, *Uzziah, and *Jotham, there was a change in the balance of power in Palestine and Syria. Jeroboam is credited with ruling over Damascus and Hamath (ii Kings 14:28), while Uzziah subjugated the Ammonites, who paid a tax and tribute to him and his son Jotham (ii Chron. 26:8; 27:5). Some believe that during the period families moved from Judah to Transjordan and established large estates in Gilead, and that among them was the family of Tabeel (Isa. 7:6), which is later called the family of Tobijah. If ii Chronicles 27:5 is to be understood literally that the king of the Ammonites paid a tax to Jotham in the second and third years of his reign, it is possible to assume that he rebelled against Jotham and ceased to pay his levy in the fourth year. This cessation of the tax may be explained against the background of ii Kings 15:37, where the hostile activities of *Rezin and *Pekah against Judah during Jotham's reign are mentioned. Even though Ammon liberated itself from Judah's domination during this period, Tiglath-Pileser iii does not list the king of Ammon among Assyria's enemies. As far as can be seen, the Ammonites did not join the anti-Assyrian alliance of Rezin and Pekah.

Under Assyrian and Babylonian Rule and the End of the Kingdom

The campaign of Tiglath-Pileser iii into Palestine in 734–732 b.c.e. drew all the states of the area, including Ammon, into the Assyrian orbit. Subjection to Assyria took the form of periodic payment of taxes, occasional tributes, a corvée, and military aid to the Assyrian king. The tax records of Tiglath-Pileser iii mention Sanipu of Ammon (Pritchard, Texts, 282). An Assyrian letter from the last third of the eighth century discovered at Nimrud (Calah) mentions a delegation from the land of the Ammonites (māt Ba-an-am-ma-na-aia) that came to Calah together with delegations from other countries bearing tributes to the Assyrian king. Buduilu (Puduil), king of Ammon, did not join *Hezekiah's rebellion against Assyria in 701, but declared his allegiance to the Assyrian monarch by rendering a tribute to him (Pritchard, Texts, 287). In 676, Buduilu is mentioned along with "the kings of Ḫatti, the seashore, and the islands," who were obliged to supply cedar and pine beams from the Lebanon and Sirion mountain ranges for the construction of Esarhaddon's palace at Nineveh (Pritchard, Texts, 291). Amminadab (Amminadbi), the Ammonite king who was contemporary with Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal, is mentioned together with "22 kings of provinces of the shore, the islands, and the mainland" who paid heavy tributes to the two Assyrian kings and sent their armies to the Assyrian war against Egypt in 667 (Pritchard, Texts, 294). Two Assyrian documents that mention a tax paid by the Ammonites and other nations to Assyria probably come from this period.

The Ammonite kings submitted to Assyrian domination because they saw in it a guarantee of their security against desert marauders and a position within the Assyrian imperial framework was beneficial to commercial activities and economic growth (Jer. 49:4). This considerable economic activity is attested to by the large number of seals and other finds from the period of Assyrian rule. Archaeological evidence also testifies to the growth of local Ammonite production, alongside substantial import of jewelry and other luxury items. The war conducted by Kamashaltu, king of Moab, against the king of Kedar (Pritchard, Texts, 298) and Ezekiel's prophecy regarding Ammon (Ezek. 25:4–5) indicate the serious dangers that the wandering bands posed to the peoples of Transjordan. Only with the aid of Assyria, which held substantial interests in international trade and waged numerous wars against the desert tribes, were the Transjordanian states able to fortify their desert borders and repulse the nomadic marauders. The Assyrians for their part had an interest in strengthening the border states and tying them into the empire's defense system. It is even possible that Ammon was able to extend its borders in Gilead under Assyrian auspices (Zeph. 2:8).

There is no evidence that the transition from Assyrian to Babylonian rule at the end of the seventh century brought about any immediate changes in Ammon's political or economic situation. When Nebuchadnezzar fought Ashkelon in 604–603 b.c.e., "all the kings of the land of Heth" paid a tribute to the Babylonian king, and it appears that the king of Ammon was counted among this group. Ammonite troops served with the Chaldeans in suppressing *Jehoiakim's rebellion (ii Kings 24:1–2), and perhaps in return for this service the Ammonites were given a free hand in Gilead (Jer. 49:1) and their territory was extended westward to the Jordan, as was also the case with the later Babylonian and Persian province of Ammon. A few years later, however, Ammon was disaffected against Babylonia. An Ammonite king is mentioned among the rulers who sent messengers to *Zedekiah in 594–593, in connection with the organization of a general rebellion against Babylonia (Jer. 27:3), but there is no detailed evidence about the fate of the rebellion or about Ammon's participation. There are, however, several suggestions of Ammonite participation in the 589–586 rebellion, namely the representation of Nebuchadnezzar as stopping to decide whether to advance on Rabbath-Ammon or on Jerusalem in Ezekiel 21:23–27, Zedekiah's evident attempt to flee to Transjordan (i Kings 25:4–5), the refugees from Judah who found asylum in Ammon (Jer. 40:11), and the involvement of Baalis', king of Ammon, perhaps the initiator of the anti-Babylonian policy, in the plot to murder *Gedaliah son of Ahikam, the Babylonian deputy in Judah. A Babylonian punitive expedition against Ammon followed several years later. Josephus (Ant., 10:181–2) relates that five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, during the 23rd year of his reign (in 582 b.c.e.), Nebuchadnezzar conducted a military campaign against Syria and Transjordan. As there is no clear and irrefutable indication about the existence of an independent or semi-independent Ammonite nation after the end of the neo-Babylonian period it may be assumed that it was in the course of Nebuchadnezzar's above-mentioned campaign, or shortly thereafter, that Ammon was reorganized as the province, reaching down to the Jordan, which was known in the Hellenistic times as Ammonitis.

The disintegration of the Assyrian Empire toward the end of the seventh century and the political upheavals in Palestine during the neo-Babylonian period led to the collapse of the defense system along Ammon's desert border. Transjordania was invaded by Arabian tribes which destroyed the community. N. Glueck's archaeological survey of Transjordan reveals that sedentary occupation of Transjordan was terminated in the middle of the sixth century; cultivated lands became the territory of desert nomads (cf. Ezek. 25:4–10). Later mention of Ammon or Ammonites does not refer to the country or people as such, but to the province of Ammon and its population. About "Tobiah the Ammonite servant" (e.g., Neh. 2:10; 3:35) there are divergent opinions. According to one view he was not a true Ammonite but a Jew from the family of Tobijah who served in an important role in the Persian administration. He was called an Ammonite by reason of his residence in that territory. But others maintain that just as Sanballat was a Horonite (of Horonaim in Moab?) but a Samarian by residence, so Tobijah was an Ammonite by descent but a Samarian by residence, and like the other Samarians a Yahwist by religion. During the Hellenistic period, the area of Ammon was reduced to its eastern section and its urban center, Philadelphia (Rabbath-Ammon). The western part, which had a large Jewish population, was known as Perea (Peraea) and was annexed by the Hasmonean kingdom under Jonathan.

[Bustanay Oded]

In the Aggadah

Ammonites are linked with Moabites throughout the aggadah and halakhah. The aggadah explains the especially severe decree against Ammonites and Moabites: "They shall not enter the congregation of the Lord" (Deut. 23:4). It says that these tribes did not show gratitude to the Israelites, whose ancestor, Abraham, had saved Lot, the father of Ammon and Moab. Instead, they committed four hostile acts against Israel. They sought to destroy lsrael by hiring Balaam. They waged open war against them at the time of Jephthah and of Jehoshaphat. Finally they gave full rein to their hatred against Israel at the destruction of the First Temple. As a result, God appointed four prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah – to proclaim their punishment (Lam. R. 1:10, ed. Buber (1899), 74). When they heard Jeremiah foretell the destruction of Jerusalem, the Ammonites and Moabites hastened to report it to Nebuchadnezzar and persuaded him to attack the capital (Sanh. 96b). At the capture of the city, instead of seeking booty, they seized the Scroll of the Law in the Temple in order to erase the decree against them (Lam. R. 1:10; Yev. 16b). According to another view, they seized the two cherubim from above the Ark of the Covenant and displayed them in order to prove that Israel, too, was worshipping idols (Lam. R. Proem 9, ed. Buber (1899), 8). The original attitude toward the Ammonites and Moabites was certainly positive as can be seen from the biblical prohibition against attacking them: "Be not at enmity with Moab, neither contend with them in battle; for I will not give thee of his land for a possession" (Deut. 2:9) and "when thou comest nigh over against the children of Ammon, harass them not, nor contend with them, for I will not give thee of the land of the children of Ammon for a possession; because I have given it unto the children of Lot for a possession" (Deut. 2:19). The latter legends stem from deep disappointment; the Ammonites and Moabites could have been expected to be the natural allies of Israel because of their close relationship through Lot, instead of which they became their enemies.

In the Halakhah

The rabbis made two significant and far-reaching reservations to the injunction "an Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever." The first was the halakhic ruling contained in the Mishnah (Yev. 8:3) restricting the prohibition to males. There was scriptural justification for this since not only did Boaz marry Ruth the Moabitess, but Rehoboam the son of Solomon was the son of an Ammonite woman (i Kings 14:21, 31). The aggadah (Yev. 76b–77a; cf. Ruth R. 4:6) tells in great detail the dramatic story of the dispute concerning David's claim to the throne on account of his descent from Ruth. The dispute was solved by Ithra the Israelite (ii Sam. 17:25) "who girt himself with a sword like an Ishmaelite" (since he is called Jether the Ishmaelite in i Chron. 2:17), and threatened to put to death anyone who disputed the halakhah which he had received from the bet din of Samuel that the law applied only to males.

Equally dramatic were the circumstances which led to the second ruling, the complete abolition of the restriction. On the day when R. Gamaliel was deposed and R. Eliezer b. Azariah appointed nasi, "Judah, an Ammonite proselyte," came to the bet midrash and asked whether the prohibition applied to him. Joshua b. Hananiah declared himself in favor of his being accepted since the inhabitants of these countries at that time were not descended from the Ammonites and Moabites of the Bible, as "Sennacherib had long ago mixed up all nations." His view was accepted as the halakhah (Ber. 28a; cf. Maim., Yad, Issurei Bi'ah 12:25)

[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]


G. Landes, in: idb, 1 (1962), 108–14 (incl. bibl.); idem, in: ba, 24 (1961), 66–88; B. Oded, in: em, vol. 6, pp. 254–271 (incl. bibl.); N. Glueck, The Other Side of the Jordan (1940); idem, in: D. Winton-Thomas (ed.), Archaeology and Old Testament Study (1967), 429–53 (incl. bibl.); H.L. Ginsberg, in: A. Marx Jubilee Volume (Eng., 1950), 347–68; Noth, in: zdpv, 68 (1949), 36–45; W.F. Albright, in: Miscellanea Biblica… B. Ubach (1954), 131–6 (Eng.); H. Gese, in: zdpv, 74 (1958), 55–64; H.G. Reventlow, ibid., 79 (1963), 127–37; N. Avigad, in: iej, 11 (1952), 163–4; 15 (1965), 222–8. add. bibliography: W. Aufrecht, Corpus of Ammonite Inscriptions (1989); S. Ahituv, Handbook of Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions (1992), 219–46; B. Macdonald and R. Younker (eds.), Ancient Ammon (1999). in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. in the halakhah: L. Loew, Gesammelte Schriften, 3 (1893), 118–20; Freund, in: Festschrift…Schwarz (1917), 180–1.