The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Amorite (Hebrew emōr, Egyptian Amar, Akkadian Amurrū (corresponding to Sumerian MAR.TU or Martu) refers to a Semitic people who occupied the middle Euphrates area from the second half of the third millennium BC and also appear in the Tanakh.


The People

From inscriptions and tablets

In early Babylonian inscriptions all western lands including Syria and Palestine, were known as "the land of the Amorites", who twice conquered Babylonia (at the end of the 3rd and the beginning of the 1st millennium.)

The old name is an ethnic term, evidently connected with the terms Amurru and Amar, used by Assyria and Egypt respectively. In the Sumerian spelling MAR.TU, the name is as old as the first Babylonian dynasty, but from the 15th century BC onwards its syllabic equivalent Amurru is applied primarily to the land extending north of Palestine as far as Kadesh on the Orontes.

In unison with the decline of the Sumerian language in Mesopotamia, the Levant archeological era known alternately either as MB1 or Intermediate EB-MB (this is jargon to an educated reader: disambiguation please) was the time of their most famous incursions. Though herdsmen, the Amorites were not peaceful pastoralists. They were fierce tribal clansmen who apparently forced themselves into lands they needed to graze their herds. At first the Amorites were merely a regular irritant to the Ur-III empire, but eventually they undermined it to such an extent that the position of last king Ibbi-Sin was weakened to the point that his Elamite subjects were able to over throw his rule.

Amorites seem to have worshipped the moon-god Sin and Amurru (see below). Known Amorites (mostly those of Mari) wrote in a dialect of Akkadian found on tablets dating from 18001750 BC which shows many northwest Semitic forms and constructions. Presumably their original tongue was a northwest-Semitic dialect (see Amorite language.) The main sources for our extremely limited knowledge about the language are proper names, not Akkadian in style, that are preserved in such texts. Many of these names are similar to later Biblical Hebrew names.

The wider extension of the use of Amurru by the Babylonians and Assyrians is complicated by the fact that it was also applied to a district in the neighbourhood of Babylonia to which the land of Canaan does not traditionally extend. Moreover, if the people of the first Babylonian dynasty (about 21st century BC) called themselves "Amorites," as Ranke seems to have shown, then obviously a common origin with them was recognized by the Babylonians at that early date.

Biblical Amorites

Amorites was used by the Israelites to refer to certain highland mountaineers, or hillmen (described in Gen. 14:7 as descendants of Canaan) who inhabited that land.

In the Bible, they are described as a powerful people of great stature "like the height of the cedars," who had occupied the land east and west of the Jordan river; their king, Og, being described as the last "of the remnant of the giants" (Deut. 3:11).

The Biblical usage appears to show that the more specific "Amorite" and less precise general "Canaanite" terms were used synonymously, the former being characteristic of Judaean, the latter of Ephraimite and Deuteronomic writers as well as the Assyro-Babylonians. A distinction is sometimes maintained, however, when the Amorites are spoken of as the people of the past, whereas the Canaanites are referred to as still surviving. The term "Canaan," on the other hand, is confined more especially to the southern district (from Gebal to the south of Palestine). It seems the terms at an early date were interchangeable, Canaan being geographical and Amorite the major ethnical identity of the Canaanites who inhabited the land.

The Biblical Amorites seem to have originally occupied the land stretching from the heights west of the Dead Sea (Gen. 14:7) to Hebron (13. Comp. 13:8; Deut. 3:8; 4:46-48), embracing "all Gilead and all Bashan" (Deut. 3:10), with the Jordan valley on the east of the river (4:49), the land of the "two kings of the Amorites," Sihon and Og (Deut. 31:4; Josh. 2:10; 9:10).

Historically, these Amorites seem to have been linked to the Jerusalem region, and the Jebusites may have been a subgroup of them. The southern slopes of the mountains of Judea are called the "mount of the Amorites" (Deut. 1:7, 19, 20). One possible etymology for "Mount Moriah" is "Mountain of the Amorites," with loss of the initial syllable.

Five kings of the Amorites were first defeated with great slaughter by Joshua (10:10). They were again defeated at the waters of Merom by Joshua, who smote them till there were none remaining (Josh. 11:8). It is mentioned as a surprising circumstance that in the days of Samuel there was peace between them and the Israelites (1 Sam. 7:14). The discrepancy supposed to exist between Deut. 1:44 and Num. 14:45 is explained by the circumstance that the terms "Amorites" and "Amalekites" are used synonymously for the "Canaanites." In the same way we explain the fact that the "Hivites" of Gen. 34:2 are the "Amorites" of 48:22. Comp. Josh. 10:6; 11:19 with 2 Sam. 21:2; also Num. 14:45 with Deut. 1:44.

Both Sihon and Og were independent kings.

External link

  • Jewish Encyclopedia Solid early 20th century scholarship upon which a more careful entry could be constructed.

The god Amurru

Amurru and Martu are also names given in Akkadian and Sumerian texts to the god of the Amorite/Amurru people, often forming part of personal names. He is sometimes called Ilu Amurru (DINGIR.DINGER.MAR.TU).

This god Amurru/Martu is sometimes described as a shepherd and as a son of the sky god Anu. He is sometimes called blu šadī or bl šad 'lord of the mountain' dr-hur-sag-g sikil-a-ke4 'He who dwells on the pure mountain', and kur-za-gan ti-[la] 'who inhabits the shining mountain'. In Cappadocian Zinčirli inscriptions he is called -li a-bi-a 'the god of my father'.

Accordingly it has been suggested that by L. R. Bailey (1968) and Jean Ouelette (1969) that this Bl Šad might be the same as the Biblical ’Ēl Šaddāi who is the god of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the P-strand of narrative according to the documentary hypothesis. It is possible that Šaddāi means 'He of the mountains'.

Amurru's wife is sometimes the goddess Ašratum (see Asherah) who in northwest Semitic tradition and Hittite tradition appears as wife of the god Ēl which suggests that Amurru may indeed have been a variation of that god. If Amurru was identical with Ēl it would explain why so few Amorite names are compounded with the name Amurru but so many are compounded with Il, that is with Ēl.

Amurru also has storm god features. Like Adad he bears the epithet ramān 'thunderer' and he is even called bāriqu 'hurler of the thunderbolt' and Adad ša a-bu-be 'Adad of the deluge'. Yet his iconography is distinct from that of Adad and he sometimes appears along side Adad with a baton of power or throwstick while Adad bears a conventional thunderbolt

Another tradition about Amurru's wife (or one of Amurru's wives) gives her name as Belit-Seri 'Lady of the Desert'.

A third tradition appears in a delightful Sumerian poem in pastoral style which relates how the god Martu came to marry Adg̃ar-kidug the daughter of the god Numushda of the city of Inab. It contains an amusing speech expressing urbanite Sumerian disgust at uncivilized, nomadic Amurru life which Adg̃ar-kidug ignores, responding only: "I will marry Martu!".

The god Amurru was identified with the constellation Perseus.

References and External Links

  • Bailey, L. R. (1968). "Israelite ’Ēl šadday and Amorite Bl šad", Journal of Biblical Literature 87, 434–38.
  • Cross, Frank Moore (1973). Canaanite Myth and Hebrew Epic, pp. 10, 57–58. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674091760.
  • Ouellette, Jean (1969). "More on ’Ēl Šadday and Bl Šad", Journal of Biblical Literature 88, 470f.
  • ETSCL: Narratives featuring deities: Other deities, including "The Marriage of Martu" in Unicode and ASCII.

Last updated: 08-17-2005 03:43:26