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Ammon, Ammonites

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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AMMON, AMMONITES . A people inhabiting the territory between the tribe of Gad and the Arabian desert, from the Israelitish conquest of Palestine to the 4th cent. b.c., and perhaps till the 1st cent. a.d.

In Genesis 19:38 the Ammonites are said to have descended from a certain Ben-Ammi, but in the Assyrian inscriptions Shalmaneser II., Tiglath-pileser III., and Sennacherib call them Beth-Ammon, placing the determinative for ‘man’ before Ammon. Except in Psalms 83:7 , which is late, the people are never called ‘Ammon’ in the Hebrew OT, but the ‘children of Ammon,’ or ‘Ammonites.’

The really important feature of the story of Genesis 19:1-38 is that it reveals a consciousness that the Israelites regarded the Ammonites as their kindred. The proper names of individual Ammonites, so far as they are known to us, confirm this view. Probably, therefore, the Ammonites formed a part of that wave of Aramæan migration which brought the Hebrews into Palestine. Perhaps, like the Hebrews, they adopted the language of the people in whose land they settled, thus later speaking a Canaanite dialect. The genealogy which traces their descent from Lot probably signifies that they settled in the land of Lot, or Lotan, called by the Egyptians Ruten, which lay to the east of the Dead Sea and the Jordan.

In Deuteronomy 2:20 the Ammonites are said to have displaced the Zamzummim, a semi-mythical people, of whom we know nothing. Judges 11:12-29 represents Ammon as having conquered all the land between the Jabbok and the Arnon, and a king of Ammon is said to have reproved Israel for taking it from them. The statement is late, and of doubtful authority. Israel found the Amorites in this territory at the time of the conquest, and we have no good reason to suppose that the Ammonites ever possessed it. Their habitat was in the north-eastern portion of this region, around the sources of the Jabbok. Rabbah (modern ‘Amman ) was its capital and centre.

At the time of the conquest the Gadite Israelites did not disturb the Ammonites (Numbers 21:24 , Deuteronomy 2:37 ), or attempt to conquer their territory. During the period of the Judges the Ammonites assisted Eglon of Moab in his invasion of Israel ( Judges 3:13 ), and attempted to conquer Gilead, but were driven back by Jephthah the judge ( Judges 11:4-9; Judges 11:30-36 , Judges 12:1-3 ). Later, Nahash, their king, oppressed the town of Jabesh in Gilead, and it was the victory which delivered this city from the Ammonites that made Saul Israel’s king ( 1 Samuel 11:1-15 ). Saul and Nahash thus became enemies. Consequently, later, Nahash befriended David, apparently to weaken the growing power of Israel. When David succeeded Saul in power, Hanun, the son of Nahash, provoked him to war, with the result that Rabbah, the Ammonite capital, was stormed and taken, the Ammonites were reduced to vassalage, and terrible vengeance was wreaked upon them ( 2 Samuel 10:1-19; 2 Samuel 11:1-27; 2 Samuel 12:1-31 ). Afterwards, during Absalom’s rebellion, a son of Nahash rendered David assistance at Mahanaim ( 2 Samuel 17:27 ). Zelek, an Ammonite, was among David’s heroes ( 2 Samuel 23:37 ). These friendly relations continued through the reign of Solomon, who took as one of his wives the Ammonite princess Naamah, who became the mother of Rehoboam, the next king ( 1 Kings 11:1; 1 Kings 14:21; 1 Kings 14:31 ). After the reign of Solomon the Ammonites appear to have gained their independence.

In the reign of Ahab, Ba’sa, son of Rehob, the Ammonite, was a member of the confederacy which opposed the progress of Shalmaneser into the West (cf. KAT [Note: Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament.] 3 42). According to 2 Chronicles 20:1 , the Ammonites joined with Moab and Edom in invading Judah in the reign of Jehoshaphat. Before the reign of Jeroboam II. the Ammonites had made another attempt to get possession of Gilead, and their barbarities in warfare excited the indignation of the prophet Amos ( Amos 1:13-15 ), Chronicles represents them as beaten a little later by Jotham of Judah, and as paying tribute to Uzziah ( 2 Chronicles 26:8; 2 Chronicles 27:5 ). When next we hear of the Ammonites, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is employing them to harass the refractory Judæan king Jehoiakim ( 2 Kings 24:2 ). Perhaps it was at this period that the Ammonites occupied the territory of Gad ( Jeremiah 49:1 ff.). Later, the domination of the Babylonian compelled Ammon and Israel to become friends, for Ammon conspired with King Zedekiah against Nebuchadnezzar ( Jeremiah 27:3 ), and during the sieges of Jerusalem many Judæans had migrated to Ammon ( Jeremiah 40:11 ). The Babylonian king regarded both Ammon and Judah as rebels, for Ezekiel represents him as casting lots to see whether he should first attack Rabbah or Jerusalem ( Ezekiel 21:20 ff., cf. Zephaniah 2:8-9 ).

Perhaps there was a settlement of Ammonites in Israelitish territory, for Deuteronomy 23:3 ff. recognizes the danger of mixture with Ammonites, while Joshua 18:24 seems to indicate that there was in post-exilic times a village in Benjamin called ‘the village of the Ammonites.’

After the destruction of Jerusalem, Baalis, king of Ammon, sent a man to assassinate Gedaliah, whom Nebuchadnezzar had made governor of Judah (Jeremiah 40:14 ). Again, 140 years later, the Ammonites did everything in their power to prevent the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah ( Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:3; Nehemiah 4:7 ). Nehemiah and Ezra fomented this enmity by making illegal the marriages of Ammonitish women with Israelitish peasantry who had remained in Judah ( Nehemiah 13:23 ).

Between the time of Nehemiah and Alexander the Great the country east of the Jordan was overrun by the Nabatæans. Perhaps the Ammonites lost their identity at this time: for, though their name appears later, many scholars think it is used of these Arabs. Thus in 1Ma 5:6 ff. Judas Maccabæus is said to have defeated the Ammonites; Psalms 83:7 reckons them among Israel’s enemies; while Justin Martyr ( Dial. Tryph . 19) says the Ammonites were numerous in his day. As Josephus ( Ant . I. xi. 5) uses the same language of the Moabites and Ammonites, though elsewhere (XIV. i. 4) he seems to call them Arabians, it is possible that the Ammonites had lost their identity at the time of the Nabatæan invasion. Their capital, Rabbah, was rebuilt in the Greek style by Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt in the 3rd cent. b.c. and named Philadelphia. Its ruins amid the modern town of ‘Amman are impressive. The god of the Ammonites is called in the OT Milcom , a variation of Melek , ‘king.’ When the Jews, just before the Exile, to avert national disaster, performed child-sacrifice to Jawheh as Melek or ‘king,’ the prophets stamped this ritual as of foreign or Ammonite origin on account of the similarity of the name, though perhaps it was introduced from PhÅ“nicia (cf. G. F. Judgesin Encyc. Bibl . iii. 3188 ff.). The Ammonites appear to have been a ruthless, semi-savage people. Such a rite may have been practised by them too; if so, it is all that we know of their civilization.

George A. Barton.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ammon, Ammonites'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​a/ammon-ammonites.html. 1909.
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