AMORITES ăm’ ə rīts (אֱמֹרִ֖י; LXX Αμορραι̂οι).


The Akkad. amurrû served to tr. the Sumer. mar-tu. Both are often tr. as “westerner(s).” While this seems adequate as an explanation of the name from the viewpoint of Babylonia, it fails to explain either the use of the name by the Amorites themselves (why would they call themselves “westerners”?) or its application to them by other western peoples such as the Hebrews. It seems preferable to admit that we do not know the original “meaning” of the designation amurrû. Certain groups which moved about on the fringes of the Syrian desert in the early second millennium b.c. called themselves by this name. It was heard by the settled peoples to the E, who then employed it as a general designation for western nomads and westerners in general. Much the same fate has befallen the word “Arab” among western Europeans and Americans, or the word “Indian.”

The Amorites,

The god Amurru.

Although it would seem that the principal deity venerated by Amorites in the 18th cent. was Dagan (Dagon), and the Hurrian god Teshub was chief in the Amarna Age kingdom of Amurru (c. 1400-1200 b.c.), it is of some interest that a god who bears the name Amurru (Sumer. Mar-tu) appears in cuneiform documents from Syria, Assyria and Babylonia. This god is first attested in personal names from the third dynasty of Ur (c. 2100-2000 b.c.). Amurru-Martu was the son of the sky-god An. His consorts (wives) were Bēlet-ṩēri (“Lady of the Steppe”) and Ashratu (Asherah). Amurru shows the typical aspect of a storm god, storming over the land and wrecking cities. A Sumer. myth tells of how Amurru sought in marriage the daughter of the city god of Kazallu (a city in Middle Babylonia). The daughter’s name was Numushda. Numushda consented to the marriage despite warnings of well wishers, who told her of the rude customs of the nomad: he eats raw meat, often goes without a house, is not buried properly.


The principal source of our knowledge of the Amorite language is the corpus of Amorite personal names, most of them from the Mari texts. This language is a member of the western branch of the Sem. family, closely related to Ugaritic, Canaanite, Hebrew and Arabic. In fact, if Amurru is extended to both Syria and Palestine, Canaanite, Moabite, Ugaritic and Phoenician would have to be considered as branches of the broader “Amorite” family. Amorite was also the ancestor of the Aram. language. Its importance for the understanding of certain aspects of Biblical Heb. can be illustrated by the occurrence in Amorite of a number of words which so far occur only in the Mari texts and in the OT.

Amorites in the OT.


A. Clay, The Empire of the Amorites (1919); Reallexikon der Assyriologie, I (1928), 99-103; E. Dhorme, “Les Amorrhéens,” in Révue Biblique 37 (1928) 161-180; 39 (1930) 161-178; 40 (1931) 161-184; D. O. Edzard, Die “Zweite Zwischenzeit” Babylonians (1957); J. R. Kupper, Les nomades en Mesopotamie au temps des rois de Mari (1957); W. F. Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity (1957) 109ff.; C. J. Gadd, “Babylonia c. 2120-1800 b.c.” in The Cambridge Ancient History, Revised Ed., fasc. 28, (1964), 33ff.; G. Roux, Ancient Iraq (1964) 164ff.; A. L. Oppenheim, Ancient Mesopotamia (1964) 57ff.; A. Goetze, “The Struggle for the Domination of Syria, etc.” in The Cambridge Ancient History, Rev. Ed., fasc. 37 (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

am’-o-rits; Amorites (’emori, always in the singular like the Babylonian Amurru from which it is taken; Amorraioi):

1. Varying Use of the Name Explained

2. The Amorite Kingdom

3. Sihon’s Conquest

4. Disappearance of the Amorite Kingdom

5. Physical Characteristics of the Amorites

The name Amorite is used in the Old Testament to denote

(1) the inhabitants of Palestine generally,

(2) the population of the hills as opposed to the plain, and

(3) a specific people under a king of their own. Thus

(2), in Nu 13:29 the Amorites are described as dwelling in the mountains like the Hittites and Jebusites of Jerusalem, while the Amalekites or Bedouins lived in the south and the Canaanites on the seacoast and in the valley of the Jordan. Lastly (3) we hear of Sihon, "king of the Amorites," who had conquered the northern half of Moab (Nu 21:21-31; De 2:26-35).

1. Varying Use of the Name Explained:

Assyriological discovery has explained the varying use of the name. The Hebrew form of it is a transliteration of the Babylonian Amurru, which was both sing. and plural. In the age of Abraham the Amurru were the dominant people in western Asia; hence Syria and Palestine were called by the Babylonians "the land of the Amorites." In the Assyrian period this was replaced by "land of the Hittites," the Hittites in the Mosaic age having made themselves masters of Syria and Canaan. The use of the name "Amorite" in its general sense belongs to the Babylonian period of oriental history.

2. The Amorite Kingdom:

The Amorite kingdom was of great antiquity. About 2500 BC it embraced the larger part of Mesopotamia and Syria, with its capital probably at Harran, and a few centuries later northern Babylonia was occupied by an "Amorite" dynasty of kings who traced theft descent from Samu or Sumu (the Biblical Shem), and made Babylon their capital. To this dynasty belonged Khammu-rabi, the Amraphel of Ge 14:1. In the astrological documents of the period frequent reference is made to "the king of the Amorites." This king of the Amorites was subject to Babylonia in the age of the dynasty of Ur, two or three centuries before the birth of Abraham He claimed suzerainty over a number of "Amorite" kinglets, among whom those of Khana on the Euphrates, near the mouth of the Khabur, may be named, since in the Abrahamic age one of them was called Khammu-rapikh and another Isarlim or Israel. A payment of a cadastral survey made at this time by a Babylonian governor with the Canaanite name of Urimelech is now in the Louvre. Numerous Amorites were settled in Ur and other Babylonian cities, chiefly for the purpose of trade. They seem to have enjoyed the same rights and privileges as the native Babylonians. Some of them were commercial travelers, but we hear also of the heads of the great firms making journeys to the Mediterranean coast.

In an inscription found near Diarbekir and dedicated to Khammu-rabi by Ibirum (= Eber), the governor of the district, the only title given to the Babylonian monarch is "king of the Amorites," where instead of Amurru the Sumerian Martu (Hebrew moreh) is used. The great-grandson of Khammu-rabi still calls himself "king of the widespread land of the Amorites," but two generations later Babylonia was invaded by the Hittites, the Amorite dynasty came to an end, and there was once more a "king of the Amorites" who was not also king of Babylonia.

The Amorite kingdom continued to exist down to the time of the Israelite invasion of Palestine, and mention is made of it in the Egyptian records as well as in the cuneiform Tell el-Amarna Letters, and the Hittite archives recently discovered at Boghaz-keui, the site of the Hittite capital in Cappadocia. The Egyptian conquest of Canaan by the kings of the XVIIIth Dynasty had put an end to the effective government of that country by the Amorite princes, but their rule still extended eastward to the borders of Babylonia, while its southern limits coincided approximately with what was afterward the northern frontier of Naphtali. The Amorite kings, however, became, at all events in name, the vassals of the Egyptian Pharaoh. When the Egyptian empire began to break up, under the "heretic king" Amenhotep IV, at the end of the XVIIIth Dynasty (1400 BC), the Amorite princes naturally turned to their more powerful neighbors in the north. One of the letters in the Tell el-Amarna correspondence is from the Pharaoh to his Amorite vassal Aziru the son of Ebed-Asherah, accusing him of rebellion and threatening him with punishment.

Eventually Aziru found it advisable to go over openly to the Hittites, and pay the Hittite government an annual tribute of 300 shekels of gold. From that time forward the Amorite kingdom was a dependency of the Hittite empire, which, on the strength of this, claimed dominion over Palestine as far as the Egyptian frontier. The second successor of Aziru was Abi-Amurru (or Abi-Hadad), whose successor bore, in addition to a Semitic name, the Mitannian name of Bentesinas. Bente-sinas was dethroned by the Hittite King Muttallis and imprisoned in Cappadocia, where he seems to have met the Hittite prince Khattu-sil, who on the death of his brother Muttallis seized the crown and restored Bente-sinas to his kingdom. Bente-sinas married the daughter of Khattu-sil, while his own daughter was wedded to the son of his Hittite suzerain, and an agreement was made that the succession to the Amorite throne should be confined to her descendants. Two or three generations later the Hittite empire was destroyed by an invasion of "northern barbarians," the Phrygians, probably, of Greek history, who marched southward, through Palestine, against Egypt, carrying with them "the king of the Amorites." The invaders, however, were defeated and practically exterminated by Ramses III of the XXth Egyptian Dynasty (1200 BC). The Amorite king, captured on this occasion by the Egyptians, was probably the immediate predecessor of the Sihon of the Old Testament.

3. Sihon’s Conquest:

Egyptian influence in Canaan had finally ceased with the invasion of Egypt by the Libyans and peoples of the Aegean in the fifth year of Meneptah, the successor of Ramses II, at the time of the Israelite Exodus. Though the invaders were repulsed, the Egyptian garrisons had to be withdrawn from the cities of southern Palestine, where their place was taken by the Philistines who thus blocked the way from Egypt to the north. The Amorites, in the name of their distant Hittite suzerains, were accordingly able to overrun the old Egyptian provinces on the east side of the Jordan; the Amorite chieftain Og possessed himself of Bashan (De 3:8), and Sihon, "king of the Amorites," conquered the northern part of Moab.

The conquest must have been recent at the time of the Israelite invasion, as the Amorite song of triumph is quoted in Nu 21:27-29, and adapted to the overthrow of Sihon himself by the Israelites. `Woe unto thee,’ it reads, `O Moab; thou art undone, O people of Chemosh! (Chemosh) hath given thy sons who escaped (the battle) and thy daughters into captivity to Sihon king of the Amorites.’ The flame that had thus consumed Heshbon, it is further declared, shall spread southward through Moab, while Heshbon itself is rebuilt and made the capital of the conqueror: "Come to Heshbon, that the city of Sihon (like the city of David, 2Sa 5:9) may be rebuilt and restored. For the fire has spread from Heshbon, the flame from the capital of Sihon, devouring as far as Moab (reading `adh with the Septuagint instead of `ar), and swallowing up (reading bale`ah with the Septuagint) the high places of Arnon." The Israelite invasion, however, prevented the expected conquest of southern Moab from taking place.

4. Disappearance of the Amorite Kingdom:

After the fall of Sihon the Amorite kingdom disappears. The Syrians of Zobah, of Hamath and of Damascus take its place, while with the rise of Assyria the "Amorites" cease to be the representatives in contemporary literature of the inhabitants of western Asia. At one time their power had extended to the Babylonian frontier, and Bente-sinas was summoned to Cappadocia by his Hittite overlord to answer a charge made by the Babylonian ambassadors of his having raided northern Babylonia. The Amorite king urged, however, that the raid was merely an attempt to recover a debt of 30 talents of silver.

5. Physical Characteristics of the Amorites:

In Nu 13:29 the Amorites are described as mountaineers, and in harmony with thins, according to Professor Petrie’s notes, the Egyptian artists represent them with fair complexions, blue eyes and light hair. It would, therefore, seem that they belonged to the Libyan race of northern Africa rather than to the Semitic stock. In western Asia, however, they were mixed with other racial elements derived from the subject populations, and as they spoke a Semitic language one of the most important of these elements would have been the Semites. In its general sense, moreover, the name "Amorite" included in the Babylonian period all the settled and civilized peoples west of the Euphrates to whatever race they might belong.

LITERATURE. Hugo Winckler, Mitteilungen der deutschen Orient-Gesellschaft (1907), No. 35, Berlin; Sayce, The Races of the Old Testament, Religious Tract Soc., 1890.

A. H. Sayce