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There is some uncertainty concerning the identity of the Amorites mentioned in the Bible, for the name ‘Amorite’ had a variety of usages in early Bible times. Non-biblical records suggest that the word meant ‘westerner’ and referred to the early Semitic peoples who migrated to ancient Babylonia from Western Mesopotamia and Syria. They conquered the formerly powerful kingdom of Ur, and soon spread their rule throughout Lower, Upper and Western Mesopotamia.

Later these Amorites migrated down into Palestine, and were well established in certain areas by the time Abraham arrived (Genesis 14:7; Genesis 14:13). They intermarried so widely with the original Canaanites that it became common practice to use the words ‘Canaanite’ and ‘Amorite’ interchangeably as names for the whole mixed population of Canaan (Genesis 15:16; Joshua 24:15; Joshua 24:18).

This intermarriage may explain why the biblical records indicate that the Amorites were descended from Ham, whereas non-biblical records suggest they were descended from Shem (Semites). Because most of the original Canaanites were descendants of Ham, the Amorites who later became Canaanites could regard both Ham and Shem as their ancestors (Genesis 10:1; Genesis 10:6; Genesis 10:15-16). Nevertheless, some Amorite tribal groups in Canaan maintained their distinct identity, as did other tribal groups (Exodus 3:8; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 23:23; Joshua 9:1; Joshua 12:8).

Israel and the Amorites

Prior to Israel’s migration from Egypt to Canaan, the Amorite king Sihon had conquered all the Ammonite and Moabite territory east of the Jordan River as far south as the Arnon River. He made the former Moabite town Heshbon his capital (Numbers 21:26). When Sihon went to war against the journeying Israelites, the Israelites overthrew his army and seized his territory (Numbers 21:21-25). They also seized the adjoining northern territory of Bashan, which was ruled by another Amorite king (Numbers 21:33-35). This combined Amorite territory east of Jordan later became the homeland of the Israelite tribes of Reuben, Gad and the eastern half of Manasseh (Numbers 32:33).

Amorite kings west of Jordan (i.e. in Canaan) likewise lost their territory to the conquering Israelites (Joshua 5:1; Joshua 10:5; Joshua 11:1-8). This area became the homeland of the remaining nine and a half Israelite tribes.

At various times throughout their history, the Israelites obtained cheap labour by forcing the Amorites and other conquered peoples to work as slaves on government projects (Judges 1:35; 1 Kings 9:20-21). In time the Amorites were absorbed into Israel and so disappeared as a distinct race. But their name survived as a general term for all the former inhabitants of Canaan (1 Kings 21:26; 2 Kings 21:11; cf. Genesis 15:16).

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Amorites'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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