Ammonites of Jordan

Ammonites were a people inhabiting east of the Jordan river. As per the Old Testament they were descendants of Ben-Ammi, son of Lot (the nephew of the patriarch Abraham). Being kin of Abraham, the Ammonites were not listed among the peoples to be driven out of Canaan by the Israelites. The Bible specifies that they were given their land by God, who aided them in defeating its giant-like earlier inhabitants. Nevertheless, disputes over territory led to frequent warfare between the Ammonites and Israelites.

The Ammonites and Israelites engaged in many battles in the time of the judges. The Ammonites were branded by the biblical writers as one of God’s tools to punish Israel for its sins. After suffering military reverses in the time of Saul and David, the Ammonites became vassals of Judah and Israel. During the time of Solomon, an Ammonite princess (Naamah) was the Israelite king’s chief wife and mother of his heir. Solomon created an altar to Molech (the Ammonite god) to honor her.

The Ammonites intermittently rebelled against their Hebrew overlords, usually to their disadvantage. They later aided the Babylonians defeat Judah and were later on rejected by the Jews and prohibited to intermarry with them, even though this may not have been strictly enforced. Even though they left few historical records, the Ammonites survived at least till the second century C.E. Their capital city (Rabbah) was positioned close to todays’ Amman, Jordan. Though rarely cited in Christian tradition, Jesus’ lineage was partly Ammonite.

Territory

Location of the kingdom of Ammon was in north-western Arabia east of Gilead in what is present day Jordan and Syria. Nonetheless, the Ammonites also laid claim on territories east of the Jordan that were occupied by the Israelites. The limits of the Ammonite territory are not uniformly defined in the Old Testament and without doubt fluctuated due to warfare over the centuries. The western border of Ammon was subject of dispute between Ammon and Israel. Clarity about other limits of Ammonite territory is even lesser.

History

The main source of information about the Ammonites comes from their enemies, the Israelites, and must be presumed as written from a hostile point of view. Records from other Middle Eastern sources are limited. The Ammonites themselves left negligible records that shed light on their history.

As per the pedigree given in Book of Genesis 19:37-38, the Ammonites were close relatives of the Israelites and still more closely related to the Moabites (their neighbours to the south). Nonetheless, the story also demonstrates the contempt which the Hebrews felt toward the Ammonites, as it depicts them as the descendants of Ben-Ammi (“Son of my People”), the son of Lot via incest with his own daughter. The Moabites purportedly descended from Ben-Ammi’s brother, Moab. Whether these were historical figures or legendary ones is subject of argument among critical scholars.

The Ammonites are therefore portrayed in the Bible as the Israelites’ cousins, who developed into a nation after the Israelites quit Canaan to live in Egypt in the time of Jacob. As they expanded, the Ammonites are believed to have overpowered the Rephaites, also called Zamzummites, a race of giant-like warriors who were expelled out of the land by the Ammonites with the aid of Yahweh (Deuteronomy 2:21). Though, the Bible condemns the Ammonites for not assisting the Israelites of the Exodus on their way to Canaan.

Ammon vs. the Israelites

After departing from Egypt, the Israelites allegedly discovered the Amorite king Sihon in control of Gilead, the nation on the east bank of the Jordan, to the north of the Arnon river. After overcoming Sihon, the Israelites claimed the land as theirs. The Ammonites, nonetheless, did not accept either Sihon’s or Israel’s right to this land. In the ensuing warfare, the Israelites drove the Ammonites across the upper waters of the Jabbok river, where it flows from south to north. In Judges, 3:13, the Ammonites provided assistance to King Eglon of Moab against Israel.

Ammon vs. Saul and David

During the days of the prophet Samuel, the Ammonite leader Nahash besieged Jabesh-Gilead, east of the Jordan. This incited its inhabitants to call on “Israel” for assistance. The incident became the stimulus behind the unification of the tribes under Saul, who overwhelmed the Ammonites and was thus confirmed as king (1 Samuel 11:11-14). In Samuel’s, “farewell speech,” he specifies that it was the threat of aggression from Nahash that stimulated Israel to ask him for a king (1 Samuel 12:12).

From 2 Samuel 10:2, it may be established that Nahash aided the fugitive David while Saul was still king. Nonetheless, Nahash’s son Hanun incited David by ill-treating his ambassadors and thus brought about the absolute defeat of the Ammonites, despite aid from their northern neighbours in Aram.

Relations with Judah and Israel

Warfare broke out between Judah and Ammon under Jehoshaphat of Judah (2 Chron. 20). Ammon combined with Moab on this occasion, but in the biblical version of the conflict, the forces allied against Judah turned against each other. From Assyrian inscriptions, we come to know that the Ammonite king Ba’sa (Baasha) son of Ruhubi united with Ahab of Israel and his Syrian allies against Shalmaneser III at the Battle of Qarqar in 853 B.C.E. The Ammonites might at this time have been vassals of Bar-Hadad II (the Aramaean king of Damascus).

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