the conquest of the amorites


“Semitic people found throughout the Fertile Crescent of the Near East at the beginning of the second millennium B.C. Amorites are first mentioned in the Bible as descendants of Canaan in a list of ancient peoples (Gen. 10:16; cf. 1 Chron. 1:13–16). Some of these nomadic people seem to have migrated from the Syrian desert into Mesopotamia, others into Palestine.” (Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. 1, p. 76)[1] How can the Amorites be Semitic when the following texts say,

Genesis 10:6 (UASV)

The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.


Genesis 10:15-16 (UASV)

15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites,

1 Chronicles 1:13-14 (UASV)

13 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 14 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites,

“The Amorites” In Genesis 10:15-16 above is listed as the sons of Canaan. However, elsewhere the Hebrew term is always in the singular but is used collectively for the major tribe in Canaan, which was the descendants of the original Amorite. Thus, they were not Semitic, but were of the Hamitic race, as is shown by Genesis 10:6. Most sources, like Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, say of the Amorites, “People who occupied part of the promised land and often fought Israel. Their history goes back before 2000 B.C.E. They took control of the administration of Babylonia for approximately 400 years (2000–1595), their most influential king being Hammurabi (1792–1750).” (p. 61.)[2]

Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible Vol. 1, p. 76[3] says, “Akkadian cuneiform inscriptions mention a relatively uncivilized people called Amurruƒ (translation of the Sumerian Mar-tu), perhaps named for a storm god. They overran the Sumerians and eventually most of Mesopotamia. The city of Mari, on the upper Euphrates River, fell to them about 2000 b.c.; Eshunna a short time later; Babylon by 1830 b.c.; and finally Assur around 1750 b.c. Mari had been an Akkadian city; archaeological investigations there from 1933 to 1960 uncovered more than 20,000 clay tablets written in Akkadian but full of Amorite words and expressions.” However, there is another possibility that the Amurru are not to be associated with the biblical Amorites, which descended from the original Amorite, which was fathered by Canaan, the son of Ham. The Amurru found in the Akkadian cuneiform inscriptions, means “west,” in other words, geographically, the region “west” of Mesopotamia.

  1. H. Sayce, in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia,Varying Use of the Name Amorites appears first in Mesopotamia in a divinatory text of the time of Sargon I (ca 2360–2305). There they are a nomadic people, possibly from the northwestern hill countries, but more likely (so Dossin) from the western deserts (kur-mar-tu=the desert countries). The name (“the Westerners”) is therefore a purely geographical indication of their immediate origins, from the perspective of Mesopotamia, and conveys no information about their ethnic composition or their real name.”[4] (Vol. 1, p. 113)

The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia goes on to say under part B, “Early Amorite Kingdoms and Nomads in Syria and Mesopotamia Between the 23rd and 21st [centuries] b.c. the Amorites penetrated into Babylonia, where, after the fall of the 3rd Dynasty of Ur (ca1950), they settled down. Thereafter Northwest Semitic dynasties ruled over Larsa (ca 1961–1699), Isin (ca 1958–1733), Mari (until 1693), and Babylon (ca 1830–1531, the 1st Dynasty of Babylon), further in Syria over Aleppo, Qatna, Alalakh, etc., showing a consistent ethnic and institutional pattern from Mesopotamia to Syria.[5] (Vol. 1, p. 113) However, we must keep in mind that the 20,000 clay tablets were written in the Semitic Akkadian, with “some names of West Semitic origin.” As was mention at the outset, the biblical Amorites were Hamitic, not Semitic. Nevertheless, we would not dismiss the possibility that some branch of them may have assumed the Semitic tongue, we must admit that it is also just as possible that the Amurru were simply “westerners” of Semitic origin, who happen geographically to live west of Babylonia. Professor John Bright says,

Of the greatest interest is the part played in these events by a people called the Amorites (a name known to the reader of the Bible, but with a narrower connotation). For some centuries [latter half of the 3rd millennium B.C.E. and early 2nd millennium B.C.E.], the people of northwestern Mesopotamia and northern Syria had been referred to in cuneiform texts as Amurru, i.e., ‘Westerners.’ This became, apparently, a general term applying to speakers of various Northwest-Semitic dialects found in the area including, in all probability, those strains from which later sprang both Hebrews and Arameans.[6]




[4] Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 113.

[5] IBID, 113.

[6] in A History of Israel (2000, p. 49)