The Biblical Ammonites -- By: Henry O. Thompson

Journal: Bible and Spade (First Run)
Volume: BSP 11:1 (Winter 1982)
Article: The Biblical Ammonites
Author: Henry O. Thompson


The Biblical Ammonites

Henry O. Thompson

Part 1 of 2 Parts

We can learn a great deal about the bene Ammon, the sons of Ammon, the Ammonites, by reading the Bible. There are over 135 references to Ammon, Rabbah or Rabbath (= Rabbath Ammon, the capital), Ammonite, and Ammonites in the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Our knowledge is also being supplemented by the results of archaeology including chance finds of seals and seal impressions. Having excavated in Ammonite territory for several years, I feel a certain kinship with the desert kingdom. Their story is in a sense my story, though it is also part of the larger human story. As the excavator’s spade continues to fill out the picture of these biblical people, I sense a deeper understanding of the Bible and of myself.

Early References to the Ammonites

The first appearance of the Ammonites in the Bible is in Genesis 19:38. This is the infamous story of Lot and his two daughters who escaped from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot left Zoar and lived in a cave in the hills. The daughters thought the whole of humanity had been destroyed. They committed incest with their

father and became pregnant. The older daughter had a son named Moab — “He is the father of the Moabites to this day.” The younger bore a son and called him Ben-’ammi — “He is the father of the Ammonites to this day.” One would like to think that the record is objective history, but even in objective history there are some things better left unsaid. The suspicion is that this was recorded to poke fun at the Ammonites and Moabites or perhaps to ventilate some hostility toward them. On occasion, as we will see shortly, they were enemies of the Hebrew people. The easterners, however, were more often subjected to Israelite rule than the other way around. The hostility appears again in Deuteronomy 23:3. Here the people are told that Ammonites and Moabites are not to enter the assembly of the Lord because they did not offer hospitality to the Hebrews after the Wilderness Wandering and because they hired Balaam the diviner to curse Israel. The rule was revived in Nehemiah 13:1. The Balaam story is in Numbers 22–24 (see Bible and Spade, Autumn 1977, PP- 121–124). In 22:4–5, we find it is the king of Moab who sent for Balaam. The inclusion of the Ammonites in the list of forbidden people in Deuteronomy 23:3 is thus something of a mystery. No less a person t...

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