Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Ammonites

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AMMONITES, called also very frequently the children of Ammon, a people allied by descent to the Israelites, and living in their vicinity, sprung from Lot, Abraham’s nephew, by the younger of his daughters, as the immediately adjoining people, the Moabites, were by the elder (Gen. xix. 37–38). Both peoples are sometimes spoken of under the common name of the children of Lot (Deut. ii. 19; Ps. lxxxiii. 8); and the whole history shows that they preserved throughout the course of their national existence a sense of the closest brotherhood. The original territory of the two tribes was the country lying immediately on the east of the Dead Sea and of the lower half of the Jordan, having the Jabbok for its northern boundary; and of this tract the Ammonites laid claim to the northern portion, the “half mount Gilead” (Deut. iii. 12), lying between the Arnon and the Jabbok, out of which they had expelled the Zamzummim (Judg. xi. 13; Deut. ii. 20, 21; cf. Gen. xiv. 5), though apparently it had been held, in part at least, conjointly with the Moabites, or perhaps under their supremacy (Num. xxi. 26, xxii. 1; Josh. xiii. 32). From this their original territory they had been in their turn expelled by the Amorites, who were found by the Israelites after their deliverance from Egypt in possession of both Gilead and Bashan, that is, of the whole country on the left bank of the Jordan, lying to the north of the Arnon (Num. xxi. 13). By this Amorite invasion, as the Moabites were driven to the south of the Arnon, which formed their northern boundary from that time so the Ammonites wore driven out of Gilead across the upper waters of the Jabbok where it flows from south to north, which henceforth continued to be their western boundary (Num. xxi. 24; Deut. ii. 37, iii. 16). The other limits of the Ammonitis, or country of the Ammonites (μμανῖτις χῶρα, 2 Mac. iv. 26), there are no means of exactly defining. On the south it probably adjoined the land of Moab (but cf. Ewald, Gesch. Israels, ii. 266); on the north it may have met that of the king of Geshur (2 Sam. xiii. 37); and on the east it probably melted away into the desert peopled by Amalekites and other nomadic races.

The chief city of the country, called Rabbah, or Rabbath of the children of Ammon, i.e., the metropolis of the Ammonites (Deut. iii. 11), and Rabbathammana by the later Greeks (Polyb. v. 7, 4), whose name was changed into Philadelphia by Ptolemy Philadelphus, a large and strong city with an acropolis, was situated on both sides of a branch of the Jabbok, bearing at the present day the name of Moiet or Nahr Amman, the water or river of Ammon, whence the designation “city of waters” (2 Sam. xii. 27; cf. Burckhardt, Syria, p. 361). The ruins called Amman by the natives are extensive and imposing. 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 which, however fierce, was settled and industrious (see Burckhardt, op. cit., 357, cf. Lindsay, Holy Land, 5th ed., p. 279), a fact indicated also by the tribute of corn paid annually to Jotham (2 Chron. xxvii. 5). The Israelites on their journey out of Egypt to the land of promise were forbidden to meddle with the territory of Ammon as of Moab (Deut. ii. 19); and it seems to indicate that friendly relations subsisted at first between this people and the chosen nation, that after the latter had conquered and slain Og, the giant king of Bashan, the enemy of both, his bedstead was placed in Rabbah (Deut. iii. 11). Like Moab, however, the Ammonites beheld with jealousy the rising greatness of Israel. They joined the former in hiring Balaam to curse them (Deut. xxiii. 4); and thenceforward their history, so far as known, reveals a spirit of bitter hostility against the people of Jehovah shown in invasions repeated and violent, and cruelties the most outrageous and unsparing (Judg. x. 8; Amos i. 13). They could not forget that the Gileadite portion of the inheritance of Israel had once been their possession, nor cease to press their claim for its recovery (Judg. xi. 13). We find them joined first with Moab (Judg. iii. 12), and then with the Philistines (Judg. x. 7, 8), in the invasion and oppression for lengthened periods of the land of their enemies. Subdued by the prowess of Jephthah, they begun again to act on the offensive in the days of Saul, laying siege to Jabesh-Gilead (1 Sam. xi. 1). David offered his friendship to the king of Ammon, but his offer was rejected with contumely and outrage, for which a terrible vengeance was exacted in the capture and overthrow of their metropolis, and the deliberate slaughter of the people (2 Sam. x.) They were united with Moab against Judah in the days of Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. xx. 1); they paid tribute to Uzziah and Jotham (2 Chron. xxvi. 8, xxvii. 5); and with the neighbouring tribes helped the Chaldean monarch against Jehoiakim (2 Kings xxiv. 2). When, after the destruction of Jerusalem, the poor remnants of the Israelites were gathered together under the protectorate of Nebuchadnezzar, it was by the instigation of a king of Ammon that Gedaliah, the ruler appointed over them, was murdered, and new calamities were incurred (Jer. xii. 14); and when Jerusalem was to be rebuilt, the foremost in opposing the patriotic Jews were a Moabite and an Ammonite (Neh. ii. 10, 19; iv. 1 3). True to their antecedents, the Ammonites, with some of the neighbouring tribes, did their utmost to resist and check the revival of the Jewish power under Judas Maccabæus (1 Macc. v. 6; cf. Jos. Ant. Jud. xiii. 8, 1). The last historical notice of them is in Justin Martyr (Dial. cum Tryph. §119), where it is affirmed that they were still a numerous people. The Ammonites are repeatedly mentioned under the form Bit-Amman, i.e., house of Amman, in the inscriptions of Nineveh among the tributaries of the kings of Assyria (Schrader, Keilinschriften und d. A. T. 52). The names of their kings, so far as known,—in Scripture, Nahash, Hanun, Baalis, or Baalim (2 Sam. x. 2; Jer. xl. 14); in Assyrian, Puduilu (cf. Pedahel (Num. xxxiv. 28), Basa (cf. Baasha, 1 Kings xv. 33), and Sanibi (of less obvious analogy),—testify, in harmony with other considerations, that their language was Semitic, closely allied to the Hebrew; and this fact is now placed beyond question by the discovery of the Mesha-stele, presenting the language of the Moabites, and doubtless that also of the brother tribe (see Moabites). Their national deity, Moloch or Milcom (see Moloch), was worshipped with cruel rites, a circumstance tending to foster that fierceness of character which distinguished this people throughout their history.