Descendants of Ammon, Lot’s son by the younger of his two daughters. (Gen. 19:36-38) They were close relatives of the Moabites, descended from Lot’s other son, Moab, and are regularly mentioned in Biblical and ancient secular history along with the Moabites. They were also more distantly related to the Israelites, and this Biblical relationship is supported by the fact that the Ammonite language was a dialect or variant of Hebrew. With rare exceptions, however, the Ammonites displayed violent enmity toward the nation of Israel.
Evidently out of consideration for their faithful forefather Lot, Jehovah God enabled the Ammonites to take possession of the territory previously held by the Rephaim, a towering people called the Zamzummim by the Ammonites. (Deut. 2:17-21) This land lay E of the southern end of the Jordan River and, at one time, the territory of the Ammonites joined with that of the Moabites in the plateau region on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. Sometime prior to Israel’s entry into Canaan, however, the Amorites had dispossessed the Ammonites of some of their land and pushed them to the N and E, thereby driving a wedge between them and the Moabites (who also suffered the loss of considerable territory). (Num. 21:26; Josh. 12:2; Judg. 11:13, 22) Thereafter the land of the sons of Ammon generally extended from the upper reaches of the curving Jabbok River eastward toward the desert (Num. 21:24; Josh. 12:2), with their capital located at Rabbah (modern Amman) by the Jabbok’s headwaters. (Deut. 3:11) Archaeologists have discovered ancient Ammonite sites and border fortresses in this region.
Under divine orders, the Israelites were careful not to trespass on the landholdings of the Ammonites when conquering the neighboring Amorites. (Deut. 2:37; Josh. 13:8-10) Thus, whereas Joshua 13:25 states that the tribe of Gad received “half of the land of the sons of Ammon” as part of their tribal inheritance, the reference is evidently to that portion of land previously taken from the Ammonites by the Amorites, territory apparently situated between the Jordan River and the upper Jabbok.
CONFLICTS WITH ISRAEL
Although the Ammonites appear to have joined the Moabites in hiring the mercenary prophet Balaam to curse Israel, they made no immediate military effort against Israel. (Deut. 23:3, 4) It was not until the time of King Eglon of Moab that the Ammonites, together with the Amalekites, joined with the Moabites in attacking Israel, driving westward to Jericho on the Jordan. (Judg. 3:12-14) After Judge Ehud erased the effects of this assault (vss. 26-30), the Ammonites did not again constitute a major threat to Israel until the days of Jephthah. By then the Israelites had returned to serving the gods of the nations and an eighteen-year period of oppression had ensued, with the Ammonites pushing at Israel from the E while the Philistines menaced from the W. Ammonite forces not only terrorized the Israelites living in Gilead but even sallied W of the Jordan to harass the tribes of Benjamin, Judah and Ephraim. (10:6-10) Finally cleansed of false worship, the Israelites rallied under the headship of Jephthah and, after Jephthah legally refuted the Ammonite charges of a usurpation of land rights by Israel, the Ammonites were severely defeated.—10:16–11:33; see JEPHTHAH.
Some scholars have viewed Jephthah’s reference to “Chemosh your god” as erroneous, claiming that Chemosh was the national god of Moab, not Ammon. (Judg. 11:24; Num. 21:29) While the god of the Ammonites is variously referred to as Molech, Milcom, or Malcham (1 Ki. 11:5, 7; Jer. 49:1, 3), these terms (meaning “king” or “their king”) are considered by some authorities to be titles rather than proper names, and could have been applied to the god Chemosh. At any rate, the Ammonites were polytheistic (Judg. 10:6) and the worship of Chemosh may have been nearly as prominent among them as among their relatives, the Moabites.
About one month after Saul’s being designated king of Israel, King Nahash of Ammon besieged the city of Jabesh in Gilead, demanding the city’s surrender, with the cruel requirement that its men could have peace only by each one’s allowing his right eye to be bored out. Learning of the siege, Saul proved his merit as king, marshaled the Israelite forces and routed the Ammonites. (1 Sam. 11:1-4, 11-15) Samuel’s later statement reveals that it was the growing menace of the Ammonites under Nahash that ultimately provoked the Israelites’ request for a king.—1 Sam. 12:12.
During David’s rule
The Ammonites also suffered defeats at the hands of David, spoils or tribute being taken from them. (1 Chron. 18:11) The account of this at 2 Samuel 8:11, 12 forms part of a summary of David’s conquests, and this summary may not necessarily be in complete chronological order with the preceding and subsequent accounts. Thus 2 Samuel 10:1, 2 suggests a comparatively peaceful relationship existing between Ammon and Israel during David’s rule up to the time of King Nahash’s death. Hanun, Nahash’s son and successor, greatly angered David, however, by humiliating the messengers David sent to him as bearers of consolation. Becoming aware of the seriousness of the affront committed, the Ammonites sought out mercenary troops from the Syrians and prepared for an offensive against Israel, but were outmaneuvered and defeated by Israelite general Joab and his brother Abishai.—2 Sam. 10:1-14; 1 Chron. 19:6-15.
The following spring Rabbah, the capital city of Ammon, came under siege by David’s forces. During one desperate sally by the besieged Ammonites, Uriah the Hittite died. (2 Sam. 11:1, 17, 24, 26, 27) The length of the siege is difficult to determine. The record of the birth of the adulterine child to Bath-sheba and the later birth of Solomon may fit chronologically within the period of the siege or may simply be given in complete form in order to terminate the account involving Bath-sheba, even though one or both of the births could have taken place after the siege. While the account at 1 Chronicles 20:1, 2 does not seem to indicate a protracted period, it would not be unusual if the siege had lasted into the following year. The full conquest of the Ammonite capital was finally effected by David.—2 Sam. 12:26-29; see RABBAH.
The “crown of Malcam,” referred to in the capture of Rabbah, was evidently a crown placed on the head of the Ammonite idol god, elsewhere called Molech or Milcom. While the Revised Standard Version translates the Hebrew term Mal·kamʹ here as “their king,” it does not seem logical that a human king is referred to, inasmuch as the crown weighed “a talent of gold” or about 91.5 troy pounds (34.2 kilograms). It also seems likely that the crown’s being placed on David’s head was only a momentary act, perhaps to demonstrate the victory over this false god.—2 Sam. 12:30.
Due to the King James, American Standard and Douay translations of 2 Samuel 12:31 some have understood that the defeated Ammonites were cruelly sawed, axed and burned to death by David. Later translations (RS, AT, NW, JB), however, give the correct sense, showing that the Ammonites were put to forced labor working with saws and axes and in making bricks. This is substantiated by the fact that the Hebrew term rendered “brickkiln” in some translations is now known to refer instead to a wooden mold in which the clay was formed into a brick shape.
When David withdrew to Mahanaim due to Absalom’s intrigue, it is noteworthy that one of those offering him aid was “Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah,” possibly the brother of Hanun. Further evidence that not all Ammonites were bitter enemies of Israel is the presence of Zelek the Ammonite among David’s mighty men. (2 Sam. 17:27-29; 23:37) King Solomon had Ammonite women among his foreign wives, including the mother of Rehoboam. (1 Ki. 11:1; 14:31) This, however, contributed to Solomon’s apostasy and his setting up of “high places” for the worship of Milcom and other gods, these places being finally ruined by faithful King Josiah.—1 Ki. 11:5; 2 Ki. 23:13.
During the divided kingdom
The Ammonites regained their independence from the Davidic kings and during Jehoshaphat’s reign (936-911 B.C.E.) joined the Moabites and the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Seir in a combined offensive against Judah, but the alliance suffered a crushing defeat. (2 Chron. 20:1-4, 10-26) The inscriptions of Assyrian emperor Shalmaneser III, who ruled in the time of King Jehu (905-876 B.C.E.) of Israel, list the forces of “Baʼsa, son of Ruhubi, from Ammon” among a coalition of kings opposing Assyria in the battle of Qarqar. One of the conspirators in the death of King Jehoash of Judah (898-858 B.C.E.) was an Ammonite servant, Zabad. (2 Chron. 24:22, 26) The strong government of Uzziah (829-777 B.C.E.) once more made the Ammonites tributaries of Judah (2 Chron. 26:8) and Uzziah’s son Jotham reimposed this dominance over Ammon, exacting from them a hundred silver talents (approximately $l42,359) and ten thousand cor measures (about 62,000 bushels or 2,200,000 liters) of wheat and ten thousand of barley. (2 Chron. 27:5) The ability of the Ammonites to pay this large sum during three successive years may have been due to their favorable position along one of the major trade routes from Arabia to Damascus and the relative fertility of the Jabbok valley region, wheat and barley still being principal products in this area.
Evidently the increasing intervention of Assyrian power in Palestine during the reign of Jotham’s successor Ahaz (761-745 B.C.E.) allowed the Ammonites to break free of Judean domination but only to exchange it for Assyrian oppression, for the records of Tiglath-pileser III list “Sanipu of Bit-Ammon [the house of Ammon]” as paying tribute to Assyria along with Ahaz of Judah and Salamanu of Moab. Sennacherib’s prism, recounting his invasion of Judah in Hezekiah’s time, likewise shows Ammon as bringing gifts to the Assyrian invader, while Sennacherib’s son Esar-haddon, a contemporary of Manasseh, includes “Puduil, king of Beth-Ammon,” among those providing materials for building the city of Nineveh.
It appears likely that, following the deporting of the people of the northern kingdom of Israel by Tiglath-pileser and subsequent Assyrian rulers (2 Ki. 15:29; 17:6), the Ammonites began occupying the territory of the tribe of Gad, for which they had unsuccessfully fought against Jephthah. (Compare Psalm 83:4-8.) Thus in Jehovah’s prophetic message through Jeremiah, the Ammonites are rebuked for seizing the Gadites’ inheritance and warned of a coming desolation upon Ammon and its god Malcham (Milcom). (Jer. 49:1-5) The Ammonites went yet further by sending marauder bands to harass Judah under King Jehoiakim during the closing years of the Judean kingdom.—2 Ki. 24:2, 3.
With the Babylonian overthrow of Judah (607 B.C.E.) some Jews fled into Ammon, Moab and Edom, but returned upon hearing of the appointment of Gedaliah over the land. (Jer. 40:11, 12) King Baalis of Ammon, however, conspired with Judean army chief Ishmael in the assassination of Gedaliah (2 Ki. 25:23; Jer. 40:14; 41:1-3) and Ishmael thereafter took refuge in Ammon.—Jer. 41:10-15.
Although Ammon rejoiced at the fall of Jerusalem, Jehovah’s “day of accounting” with the circumcised Ammonites finally came upon them due to their uncircumcised hearts. (Jer. 9:25, 26; Ezek. 25:1-10) True to the prophecies proclaimed by Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos, the Ammonites began to drink the cup of Jehovah’s wrath and experienced sword, famine, pestilence and the desolation of their land.—Jer. 25:17, 21; 27:1-8; Ezek. 25:1-10; Amos 1:13-15.
That Ammon did not willingly submit to the Babylonian yoke is indicated by Ezekiel’s description of the king of Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar) standing at the crossways and using divination to decide whether to go against Rabbah of Ammon or against Judah. (Ezek. 21:19-23, 28-32) Though the choice came out for attack first upon Jerusalem, Jewish historian Josephus records that, in the fifth year after desolating Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar returned to war against Coelesyria, Ammon and Moab and thereafter attacked Egypt. (Antiquities of the Jews, Book X, chap. IX, par. 7) That Ammon did become “a resting place of a flock” and Rabbah “a pasture ground of camels” (Ezek. 25:5) is substantiated by the archaeological evidence showing that “Transjordan was largely depopulated before the middle of the sixth century B.C., and that sedentary occupation of Ammon ceased almost completely until the third century.” (The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 1962, Vol. I, p. 112) Thus the camel-riding Orientals were able to possess the land and tent therein.—Ezek. 25:4.
It is likely that Ammonite exiles, along with those of other nations, were allowed to return to their homeland by Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 49:6.
INTERMARRIAGE WITH ISRAELITES
Following the return of the Jews from captivity (537 B.C.E.), an Ammonite named Tobiah took a leading part in endeavoring to obstruct the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. (Neh. 4:3, 7, 8) Yet later he had the arrogant audacity to make use of a dining hall within the temple precincts, until Nehemiah indignantly threw his furniture out. (Neh. 13:4-8; see TOBIAH No. 2.) Many of the returned Jewish exiles also had taken wives of Ammonite and other foreign extraction and were severely rebuked for this, resulting in a general dismissal of such wives.—Ezra 9:1, 2; 10:10-19, 44; Neh. 13:23-27.
After Tobiah’s ejection from the temple grounds God’s law at Deuteronomy 23:3-6 prohibiting the entry of Ammonites and Moabites into the congregation of Israel was read and applied. (Neh. 13:1-3) This restriction, imposed some one thousand years earlier because of the Ammonite and Moabite refusal to succor the Israelites when they were approaching the Promised Land, is generally understood to mean that these races could not enter into full legal membership in the nation of Israel with all the concomitant rights and privileges that such membership would signify. It does not mean, of necessity, that Ammonite and Moabite individuals could not associate themselves with or reside among the Israelites and thereby benefit from the divine blessings upon God’s people, and this is evident from the inclusion of Zelek, mentioned earlier, among David’s chief warriors, as well as from the record concerning Ruth the Moabitess.—Ruth 1:4, 16-18.
As to this latter case, Ruth’s marriage to Boaz shows that females of these races, upon turning to the worship of the true God, could be acceptable for marriage by Jewish males. Because the terms “Ammonite” and “Moabite” in the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 23:3-6 are in the masculine gender the Jewish Talmud argues that only male Ammonites and Moabites were excluded from Israel. Nevertheless, Ezra’s insistence that the Jewish men send away their foreign wives and Nehemiah’s similar attitude, previously mentioned, indicate that the admission of Ammonite and Moabite females into association with Israel was dependent upon their acceptance of true worship.
Though historical evidence, including the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees (5:6), shows that Ammon continued to be a distinct territory down till the second century B.C.E., by the first century B.C.E. the region appears to have become part of the Nabataean kingdom and by the third century C.E. the Ammonites as a race disappear from history, doubtless absorbed by the Arabic tribes. As Zephaniah had prophesied, the sons of Ammon had become “like Gomorrah, . . . a desolate waste.”—Zeph. 2:8-10.
In view of the disappearance of the Ammonites early in the Common Era, Daniel’s mention of Ammon in his prophecy of the “time of the end” must apply in a spiritual sense and would logically refer to those who are among the hard-set enemies of the spiritual Israel of God, the Christian congregation.—Dan. 11:40, 41.