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Holman Bible Dictionary
Most of our information about the Ammonites comes from the Old Testament, although Ammonite kings are mentioned occasionally in the Assyrian records. We know from the latter, for example, that an Ammonite king named Ba'sha, along with Ahab of Israel and other kings of the region, defended Syria-Palestine against Shalmaneser III in 853 B.C. An Ammonite inscription, the so-called Siran Bottle Inscription and several seals/seal impressions have provided additional information about the Ammonites.
Archaeologists have excavated only a small portion of the site of ancient Rabbah (the so-called “Citadel” in the heart of the modern city of Amman). The surrounding area remains largely unexplored. In addition to the inscription and seals mentioned above, the bust of an Ammonite warrior (or god) and the remains of round stone towers thought to be Ammonite are significant archaeological discoveries shedding light on the Ammonites.
Conflict broke out between the Ammonites and Israelites as early as the time of the Judges. The Ammonites made war on the Israelites of Gilead, leading the Israelites to appeal to Jephthah, chief of a local band of renegade raiders, to organize and lead their resistance. Jephthah accepted the challenge, but only after extracting a promise from the elders of Gilead that, if he indeed succeeded in defeating the Ammonites, they would recognize him as ruler of Gilead. At the same time he vowed to Yahweh that “If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORD's, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 ). Jephthah was victorious, and the Gileadites submitted to his rule; but then his little daughter greeted him upon his return (Judges 10:6-11:40 ).
On another occasion when the Ammonites were attacking the city of Jabesh in Gilead and the Jabeshites attempted to negotiate terms for surrender, the Ammonites demanded nothing less than to put out the right eye of each man in the city. In desperation, the Jabeshites sent messengers to Saul at Gibeah for help. Saul organized an army, hurried to Jabesh, and lifted the siege. Consequently, the Jabeshites were strong supporters of Saul in later years (1 Samuel 11:1; 1 Samuel 31:11-13 ). The Ammonite king Saul defeated at Jabesh was Nahash. Presumably this was the same Nahash with whom David had good dealings but whose son, Hanun, renewed hostilities (2 Samuel 10-12 ). The ensuing wars between Israel and Ammon involved warfare between David's troops and those of Hadadezer of Zobah (2 Samuel 10:6-19 ) and provided the occasion of David's affair with Bathsheba. Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, was killed while storming the walls of Rabbah (2 Samuel 11-12 ).
No war with the Ammonites is reported during Solomon's reign. On the contrary, Solomon took one or more Ammonite wives and allowed the worship of Milcom, the Ammonite god, in Jerusalem (1 Kings 11:1-8 ). Presumably the worship of Milcom continued in Jerusalem until it was stamped out by Josiah many years later (2 Kings 23:13 ). We know little of relations between the Ammonites and either Israel or Judah during the first half century of the separate kingdoms, probably because neither of the Hebrew kingdoms attempted to exercise influence in the Transjordan. The coalition of Syro-Palestinian kings, which included Ba'sha of Ammon and Ahab of Israel, halted the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser's march in 853 B.C. But success was only temporary. Later Shalmaneser penetrated the very heart of Syria-Palestine, exacting tribute from the Israelites and, although it is not recorded, probably also from the Ammonites. Eventually, all the petty kingdoms of the region fell to the Assyrians and either were incorporated into the Assyrian province system or controlled as satellites. Ammonite kings paid tribute to Tiglath-pileser III, Sennacherib, and Esarhaddon.
The Israelites recognized the Ammonites as relatives, although somewhat more distant than the Edomites. This relationship was expressed genealogically. Specifically, the Ammonites were said to have descended from an ancestor named Ben Ammi, one of two sons which Lot bore to his two daughters. The Moabites were said to have descended from the other son (Genesis 19:30-38 ). The Ammonites also are mentioned from time to time in Israel's poetical literature. See for example Amos' oracle against the Ammonites in Amos 1:13-15 .
Rabbah apparently had dwindled to an insignificant settlement by the third century B.C. when Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246) rebuilt the city and renamed it “Philadelphia” after himself. Philadelphia came to be regarded as one of the Decapolis cities, a federation of ten Greek cities in Palestine (Matthew 4:25 ), and was annexed with the whole Decapolis region to the Roman empire in A.D. 90. The city reached its zenith during the second century A.D., benefiting from the active commerce which moved along the old trade route connecting Damascus and Bostra with the Gulf of Aqabah and western Arabia. The old route was refurbished at that time under the name Via Nova Triana (“Trajan's New Road”), and Philadelphia itself was expanded on a grand scale. Remains of this second century Roman phase of the city are still standing in the heart of the modern city of Amman including the Roman theater, the nymphaum, and temple ruins on the citadel.
Philadelphia, as all of the cities along the Via Nova, began to decline in the third century due to security problems along the Roman frontier and shifts in commercial patterns. Yet it continued as a relatively important city into the Byzantine period. It became the seat of a bishopric and sent representatives to the Council of Nicea (A.D. 325) and the Council of Chalcedon (A.D. 451). Decline continued during the Islamic period until eventually the site of ancient Rabbah/Philadelphia was represented only by a desolate ruin. This was the situation when the place was visited by western travelers at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The history of the modern city, called now Amman, began with resettlement of the site by Circassian refugees in 1878. See Transjordan; Decapolis .
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Ammonites'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/a/ammonites.html. 1991.