The Amorites

The name “Amorite” ultimately comes from Old Akkadian Amurru, meaning “the West”.  It was used by the ancient Assyrians as a general term for the cultures of the desert and steppe-land in Syria.  For the most part, it designated no specific nation or ethnic group, although a kingdom by that name did exist for a while around the 14th century BCE in central Syria.  After the fall of the kingdom of Amurru, the label came to be used by the Assyrians for any lands west of Assyria to the Mediterranean Sea, with no particular southern limit.  As Neo-Assyrian involvement in Palestine increased, all the kingdoms of Palestine came to be called “Amurru”, including Israel as well as its neighbors, Phoenicia, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the Philistine cities.  The Amorites were one of the names included in the often-repeated stereotyped list of Israelite enemies.  Although many biblical passages seem to imply that the Amorites were a specific ethnic group, the way the term was actually used often reflects a Neo-Assyrian usage from the 8th century BCE onward, a blanket term for the peoples living in Palestine and the Transjordan area.  Using archaic terms like “Amorite” was necessary to make the text sound like something that would have come from the time of Moses, therefore more authoritative.  Sometimes, the Deuteronomistic history was oddly specific with the location of the Amorites, but there is little agreement as to what that location was.  The Amorites were equated with the sons of the Anakim, a primeval race of “giants” who lived in the Israelite hill country.  Then they were equated with Ammon and Moab across the Jordan River.  Amorite in the Old Testament does not correspond to any political or ethnic entity known from the historical documents of the second millennium BCE.  Instead, the biblical writers probably learned about this term from Assyrian and Babylonian sources of the first millennium.  They then construed it as an archaic term for the pre-Israelite inhabitants of Palestine, since their use of this term was largely ideological and rhetorical.  Amorites represent a primeval wicked nation that God displaced in order to give Israel its land.  What do you know about the Amorites?

The deserted land (Isa 17:9-17:9)

“On that day,

Their strong cities will be

Like the deserted places of the Hivites,

Like the deserted places of the Amorites.

They deserted them

Because of the children of Israel.

Now there will be desolation.”

On this day of destruction, the strong cities of the north would be deserted like the former places of the Hivites and the Amorites. The Hivites were one of the northern tribes that lived in Canaan, supposedly the Semitic descendants of Ham, the son of Noah. The Amorites were southern Canaanites, before Judah took over. However, the Amorites were more spread out into Mesopotamia and into Syria. Within the biblical literature Amorites and Canaanites are sometimes interchangeable. Anyway, after the takeover of Canaan at the time of Joshua, their cities were deserted because the children of Israel left them in ruins. The same thing was now going to happen to the northern Israelites.

Yahweh and the Promised Land (Ps 136:16-135:22)

“Yahweh led his people through the wilderness.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He struck down great kings.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He killed famous kings.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He killed Sihon,

King of the Amorites.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He killed Og,

King of Bashan.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He gave their land as a heritage.

His steadfast love endures forever.

He gave it as a heritage to Israel his servant,

His steadfast love endures forever.”

Once again, the congregational refrain, “His steadfast love endures forever” is repeated after every verse. This is once again a repetition of the previous psalm, Psalm 135, about the trip to the Promised Land. In order to take the Promised Land, they had to defeat a number of nations and countries. Yahweh helped them to strike down these fellow humans because his steadfast love endures forever. They and Yahweh killed many kings. The two most prominent as found in Numbers, chapter 21, was King Sihon of the Amorites and King Og of Bashan, on the borders of Canaan. They also killed the kings and people in Canaan as found in Joshua, chapters 5-12. Thus Yahweh gave Israel the land of Canaan as a heritage because of his enduring steadfast love.

Ezra explains the role of Abraham (Neh 9:7-9:8)

“You are Yahweh,

The God who chose Abram,

You brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans.

You gave him the name Abraham.

You found his heart faithful before you.

You made with him a covenant,

To give to his descendants

The land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite,

The Perizzite, the Jebusite, and the Girgashite.

You have fulfilled your promise.

You are righteous.”

Besides creation, Yahweh gave us Abraham, who accepted his call from Ur. He had a faithful heart so that the covenant of the land for his descendents was made. They were to inherit the land of Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, and the Girgashites. These are the classic land battle enemies of Israel. Now the promise was fulfilled because Yahweh is righteous as was outlined in Genesis, chapters 12-25.


Marriages with foreigners (Ezra 9:1-9:4)

“After these things had been done, the officials approached me and said. ‘The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations. They were intermingling with the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and for their sons. Thus the holy seed has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands. In this faithlessness the officials and leaders have led the way.’ When I heard this, I tore my garments and my mantle. I pulled hair from my head and beard. I sat appalled. Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered round me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice.”

Once they were settled, a new problem arose. The returning Jews from the exile were marrying the locals who had stayed behind, the hated “people of the land.” Not only the Jews in general but also the priests, the Levites, the officials, and the leaders were involved in marriages with non-Jewish people. Some of them were not Jews but the hated list of the usual suspects, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. Now this had not been a problem for Moses or King Solomon since they married non-Jewish wives. The fear as usual was that the female wives would want to worship their gods rather than Yahweh. Thus these wily females would lead astray the poor weak Jewish men into false worship. This had been a problem in the northern area of Israel before the captivity. The new post-exilic group wanted a pure race of Jewish people. They did not want the holy seed mixed with “the people of the land.” When Ezra found out about this, he was really upset. He tore his clothes and pulled his hair out. As he said in the first person singular, “I was appalled.”

The enslavement of the people (2 Chr 8:7-8:10)

“All the people who were left of the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, were not of the people of Israel. Their descendants were still left in the land, since the Israelites had not destroyed them. These, Solomon conscripted for forced labor, as it is still the case today. But of the people of Israel, King Solomon made no slaves for his work. They were soldiers, and his officers, the commanders of his chariots and cavalry. These were the chief officers of King Solomon, two hundred and fifty of them, who exercised authority over the people.”

Once again, this is based on 1 Kings, chapter 9, with a few minor exceptions. Notice that the newly conscripted peoples the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, are the old list of enemies from the time of Abraham. In fact, this biblical author points out that they are still slaves in forced labor even today. Thus the prejudice against the lowly slaves was justified by calling them the enemies of 800 to 1,000 years earlier. Notice the slight nuance change here from 1 Kings. Here it is the people not destroyed, while in 1 Kings, these people were not able to be destroyed. None of the Israelites became slaves. However, in 1 Kings, chapter 5, there is a statement that 30,000 people from all of Israel were conscripted to work. 10,000 of them worked a month in Lebanon and then they had 2 months off. That text seems to indicate that they were Israelites. Here it seems to indicate that the Israelites were the soldiers, officials, commanders, and captains of his chariots and cavalry. That may be so. However, there seems to be only 250 Israelite officials for all this slave labor which is a lot less than the 3,600 mentioned earlier in chapter 2 of this book.

The descendents of Canaan (1 Chr 1:13-1:16)

“Canaan became the father of Sidon his first-born, Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.”

Canaan was the fourth son of Ham. Canaan became the name of the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern desert, with Lebanon to the north and the wilderness on the south. Canaan was the primary enemy of the biblical authors. Canaan had many sons. (1) Sidon or Zidon had a northern city named after him, a great Phoenician port that is now a city in Lebanon. (2) Heth was the forerunner of the Hittites, a powerful group in the 3rd millennium BCE, but still around in the 2nd and 1st millennium BCE. Canaan also had a whole bunch of people descendent from him. The (3) Jebusites were descendent from Jebus, the third son of Canaan. They seemed to have settled around what is now Jerusalem. The (4) Amorites were the descendents of the 4th son of Canaan, Emer. They lived in the southern area, south of the Dead Sea. Quite often they are referred to as the Canaanites. The north east (5) Girgashites lived around the Sea of Galilee and were only rarely mentioned, about 7 times, in the biblical literature. The (6) Hivites were living in northwest and central Canaan at the time of the invasion of Canaan. The (7) Arkites seem to have settled in the northern town of Arka, somehow connected to Sidon. The (8) Sinites, the (9) Arvadites, the (10) Zemarites, and the (11) Hamathites seem to be obscure groups that are not mentioned elsewhere in biblical literature, except here and in Genesis, chapter 10. Note that Canaan’s children will become the enemies of these biblical authors. The names of the individual children are not mentioned here, but just the groups that came out of them.

The coalition against Israel (Josh 9:1-9:2)

“Now when all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, heard of this, they gathered together with one accord to fight Joshua and Israel.”

This is the classic list of usual suspect enemies that goes back to Genesis. These six groups seem to be the mortal enemies of Israel. The Hittites were the descendants of Heth, a Canaanite tribe near Hebron. The Amorites were the mountain dwellers in Canaan as opposed to the Canaanites, who were the low land inhabitants. The Perizzites were the village dwellers in Canaan on both sides of the Jordan. The Hivites were the descendants of Ham and lived in western Canaan. The Jebusites were the descendants of Jebus and lived around the area of Jerusalem.