Ammon or Ammonites also referred to in the Bible as the "children of Ammon," were a people (also known from Assyrian and other records) living east of the Jordan river whose origin the Old Testament traces to an illegitimate son of Lot, the nephew of the patriarch Abraham, as with the Moabites. The Ammonites were regarded by Hebrews as close relatives of the Israelites and Edomites.
From their original territory, the Ammonites are supposed to have been expelled by Sihon, king of the Amorites. Sihon was said to have been found by the Israelites, after their deliverance from Egypt, in possession of Gilead, that is, the whole country on the left bank of the Jordan, to the north of the Arnon. By this invasion, the Ammonites were driven out of Gilead across the upper waters of the Jabbok, where it flows from south to north, which continued to be their western boundary. The other limits of the Ammonites, or country of the Ammonites were not exactly defined. On the south, it probably adjoined the land of Moab; on the north, it may have met that of the king of Geshur; and on the east it may have melted away into the desert peopled by Kedarites and other nomadic tribes.
The chief city of the country was Rabbah or Rabbath Ammon (the modern city of Amman is now located at its site,), i.e. the metropolis of the Ammonites, called Rabbathammana by the later Greeks. Ptolemy Philadelphus changed its name to Philadelphia, and made it a large and strong city with an acropolis, situated on both sides of a branch of the Jabbok, today known as Nahr `Amman, the river of Ammon -- whence the designation "city of waters The city of Amman, Jordan is located on roughly the same site. The country to the south and east of Amman is distinguished by its fertility; and ruined towns are scattered thickly over it, attesting that it was once occupied by a population that, however fierce, was settled and industrious; a fact indicated also by the tribute of grain paid annually to Jotham.
Both the Ammonites and Moabites are sometimes spoken of under the common name of the children of Lot. Both tribes hired Balaam to curse Israel, which he instead blessed (Deut. 23:4). Also known as the Beni-ammi, the Ammonites and the Israelites, throughout the Old Testament and recorded history, were antagonists.
Sometimes a slight distinction only seems to be made between the Ammonites and their southern brothers, the Moabites. Deuteronomy 23:4, 5, for instance, states that the Ammonites and Moabites hired Balaam to curse the Israelites, while in Numbers 22:3ff Moab alone is mentioned. Some authorities overcome this discrepancy by the help of the emended text of Numbers 22:5, according to which Balaam came "from the land of the children of Ammon." This is the reading of most ancient versions; the Septuagint, however, has it like the present Hebrew text: "the children of his people" ("ammo").
Attacks by the Ammonites on Israelite communities east of the Jordan were the impetus behind the unification of the tribes under Saul, who defeated them.
From Samuel II 10:2, it may be concluded that Nahash assisted David out of hatred for Saul; but his son Hanun provoked David by ill-treating his ambassadors, and brought about the defeat of the Ammonites, despite assistance from their northern neighbors in Aram. Their capital Rabbah was captured, and numerous captives were taken from "all the cities of the children of Ammon."
In 2 Samuel 12:31, King David is described slaughtering Ammonites:
David's treatment of the captives was not necessarily barbarous; the description may be interpreted to mean that he employed them as laborers in various public works. Some scholars claim that these passages recount symbolic gestures of submission common to the times rather than actual reports of massacres. The Chronicler, however, takes it in the most cruel sense. The Ammonites, themselves, had a reputation for exceeding cruelty in warfare. The new ruler was possibly Shobi, possbily a brother of Hanun (both are called son of Nahash), evidently appointed by David, kept peace, his attitude being even friendly. There were Ammonite mercenaries in David's army and Solomon's chief wife, the mother of his heir, was Naamah, the Ammonitess (I Kings, xiv. 21; compare xi. 1), probably a daughter of Shobi. She became the mother of Rehoboam.
From the Assyrian inscriptions, we learn that the Ammonite king Ba'sa (Baasha) son of Ruhubi, with 1000 men, joined Ahab and the Syrian allies against Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 BC. They may at this time have been vassals of Bar-Hadad II, the Aramaean king of Damascus. In 734 their king Sanipu was a vassal of Tiglath-Pileser III and his successor, Pudu-ilu, held the same position under Sennacherib and Esarhaddon. An Assyrian tribute-list from this period, showing that Ammon paid one-fifth of Judah's tribute, gives evidence of the scanty extent and resources of the country.
Somewhat later, their king Amminadab I was among the tributaries who suffered in the course of the great Arabian campaign of Assurbanipal. Other kings attested to in contemporary sources are Barakel (attested to in several contemporary seals and Hissalel who reigned about 620 BCE (and who is mentioned on an inscription on a bottle found at Tel Siran, Jordan along with his son, King Amminadab II, who reigned around 600 BCE.)
With the neighbouring tribes, the Ammonites under King Baalis helped the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadrezzar against Jehoiakim; and if they joined Zedekiah's conspiracy,, and were threatened by the Babylonian army, they do not appear to have suffered greatly.
In the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the Ammonites seem to have been fickle in their political attitude. They assisted the Babylonian army against the Jews; encroached upon the territory of the Gad; and occupied Heshbon and Jazer; but the prophetic threatenings in Jeremiah 9:26, 25:21, 27:3, and Ezra, 21:20, point to rebellion by them against Babylonian supremacy. They received Jews fleeing before the Babylonians (Jeremiah 40:11), and their king, Baalis, instigated the murder of Gedaliah, the Babylonians' Jewish governor of Jerusalem and its environs.
At the time of the rebuilding of Jerusalem by Ezra and Nehemiah, they were hostile to the Jews, and Tobiah, an Ammonite (possibly the governor of Ammon), incited them to hinder the work (Neh. iii. 35). But inter-marriages between Jews and Ammonites were frequent.
Little mention is made of the Ammonites through the Persian and early Hellenistic periods. Their name appears, however, during the time of the Maccabees. The Ammonites, with some of the neighbouring tribes, did their utmost to resist and check the revival of the Jewish power under Judas Maccabaeus.
It is stated that the Ammonites under Timotheus were defeated by Judas; but it is possible that, after the exile, the term Ammonite denoted all peoples living in the former country of Ammon and Gad. Ezekiel 25:4-5 seems to mark the beginning of an immigration of tribes from the Arabian desert.
The last notice of the Ammonites themselves is in Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho (§ 119), where it is affirmed that they were still a numerous people.
The few Ammonite names that have been preserved (Nahash, Hanun, and those mentioned above; Zelek in 2 Samuel 23:37 is textually uncertain) testify, in harmony with other considerations, that their language was Semitic, closely related to the Hebrew language and the Moabite language. Ammonite may have incorporated certain Aramaic influences including the use of ‘bd instead of commoner Biblical Hebrew ‘śh for "work". The only other notable difference with Biblical Hebrew is the sporadic retention of feminine singular -t (eg ’šħt "cistern", but ‘lyh "high (fem.)".)
From the names of their kings, it seems logical that the cult of the Baalim probably coexisted in Ammon, as, possibly, that of El. The name Tobiah suggests that YHWH may have been worshipped in Ammon as well; possibly this was an import from the era of Israelite domination. Other inscriptions and names suggest the possibility that such gods as the Edomite deity Kaus had Ammonite cults.
Later it was held that the prohibition no longer applies in practice, as Sennacherib had so mixed up the races by his practice of deportation that the current residents of Ammon and Moab could not be identified with the Biblical peoples of those names.
The fact that Rehoboam, the son of King Solomon, was born of an Ammonite woman also made it difficult to maintain the messianic claims of the house of David; but it was adduced as an illustration of divine Providence which selected the "two doves," Ruth, the Moabite, and Naamah, the Ammonite, for honorable distinction.