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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.


The ancient kingdom of Ammon was located in northwestern Arabia east of Gilead and the Dead Sea. The borders of the Ammonite territory are not uniformly defined in the Old Testament. In Judges 11:13, the claim of the king of Ammon, who demands of the Israelites the restoration of the land "from Arnon even unto Jabbok and unto Jordan" is mentioned only as an unjust claim,, since the Israelite part of this tract had been conquered from the Amorite king Sihon, who had, in turn, displaced the Moabites; in Judges 11:22 it is stated that the Israelites had possession "from the wilderness even unto Jordan", and that they laid claim to territory beyond this, so as to leave no room for Ammon. The Book of Numbers 21:24 describes the Hebrew conquest as having reached "even unto the children of Ammon, for the border of the children of Ammon was Jazer. Joshua 13:25, defines the frontier of the tribe of Gad as being "Jazer ... and half the land of the children of Ammon." The latter statement can be reconciled with Num. 21:24 and Deuteronomy 2:19, 37 by assuming that the northern part of Sihon's Amorite kingdom had formerly been Ammonite. This explains, in part, the claim mentioned above (Judges, 11:13). According to Deuteronomy 2:37, the region along the river Jabbok and the cities of the hill country formed the border of Israel. On the authority of Deuteronomy 2:20, their territory had formerly been in the possession of a mysterious nation, the Zamzummim (also called Zuzim), and the war of Chedorlaomer (Gen. 14:5) with this nation may be connected with the history of Ammon. When the Israelites invaded Canaan, they passed by the frontier of the Ammonites.

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.

In the Torah, Joshua and Judges

Origins and Descent

According to the biblical account, Book of Genesis 19:37-38, both Ammon and Moab were born to Lot and his two daughters in the aftermath of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, as they erroneously thought all humanity had been wiped out and it was up to them to re-populate the world. Thus, despite their questionable pedigree, the Ammonites were closely related to the Israelites and still more closely to their neighbors in the south, the Moabites. This relationship is supported by the fact that all names of Ammonitish persons show a pure Canaanite character. But the above passage indicates also the contempt and hatred for the Ammonites felt by the Hebrews. The fact the Torah excludes the progeny of Ammonites from the assembly of the Lord seems to reflect this attitude, but is also attributed to the general prohibition for an Israelite to take an illegitimate spouse (i.e. the product of an incestuous or adulterous union).

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.

Role in the Israelite Exodus

When the Israelites of the Exodus paused before their territory, the Ammonites prohibited them from passing through their lands. For this act, they were denied entry into "the congregation of the Lord" .

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").

In the time of the Judges

In Judges, 3:13, the Ammonites appear as furnishing assistance to King Eglon of Moab against Israel; but in Judges, 10:7-9, in which not only Gilead is oppressed but a victorious war is waged also west of the Jordan, Ammon alone is mentioned. The speech of Jephthah which follows, however, is clearly addressed to the Moabites as well, for he speaks of their god Chemosh. Some scholars find that these varying statements conflict; others conclude that the brother-nations still formed a unit. The small nation of Ammon could face Israel only in alliance with other non-Israelites. The attack of King Nahash upon the frontier city Jabesh Gilead was easily repulsed by Saul.

During the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

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:

And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon.

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.

After this, hostilities again broke out, under Jehoshaphat, Jeroboam II, and under Jotham, who subjected the Ammonites.

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.

Subsequent history

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.)".)


Of the customs, religion, and social structure of the Ammonites, little is known. The frequent assumption that, living on the borders of the desert, they remained more pastoral than the Moabites and Israelites, is unfounded. The environs of Rabbah, at least, were fertile and were tilled. In regard to other cities than Rabbah, see Judges, xi. 33; II Sam. xii. 31. Of their gods the name of only the chief deity, Milcom. In Jer. 49:1, 49:3, "Malcam" is to be translated by "Milcom" (the god) and not as in the Authorized Version, "their king." In the Bible Milcom is described as having been worshipped with human sacrifice.

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.


Like its sister-kingdom of Moab, Ammon was the source of numerous natural resources, including sandstone and limestone. It had a productive agricultural sector and occupied a vital place along the King's Highway, the ancient trade route connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia. As with the Edomites and Moabites, trade along this route gave them considerable revenue.

In Jewish law

The Ammonites, still numerous in the south of Palestine in the second Christian century according to Justin Martyr ("Dialogus cum Tryphone," chapter 119), presented a serious problem to the Pharisees because many marriages with Ammonite and Moabite wives had taken place in the days of Nehemiah. Still later, it is not improbable that when Judas Maccabeus had inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Ammonites, Jewish warriors took Ammonite women as wives, and their sons, sword in hand, claimed recognition as Jews notwithstanding the law that "an Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord." Such a condition or a similar incident is reflected in the story told in the Talmud that in the days of King Saul the legitimacy of David's claim to royalty was disputed on account of his descent from Ruth, the Moabite; whereupon Ithra, the Israelite girt with his sword, strode like an Ishmaelite into the schoolhouse of Jesse, declaring upon the authority of Samuel, the prophet, and his bet din (court of justice), that the law excluding the Ammonite and Moabite from the Jewish congregation referred only to the men—who alone had sinned in not meeting Israel with bread and water—and not to the women. The story reflects actual conditions in pre-Talmudic times, conditions that led to the fixed rule stated in the Mishnah: "Ammonite and Moabite men are excluded from the Jewish community for all time; their women are admissible."

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.

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