Sometimes reading about he Ammonites, Moabites, or Edomites in the Bible can seem to modern readers much like reading about people from Gondor, Rohan, or Mordor in The Lord of the Rings. I find it helpful to contextualize the people and places I read about in the Bible by locating them on modern maps. It helps remind me of the historicity of the accounts that are recorded in the pages of Scripture. Unlike Tolkien’s fictional world of Middle Earth, the world of the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites in the Bronze Age and Iron Age was very much a real world. Archaeologists have learned much about these ancient peoples from the material remains they left.
So which modern-day country did the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites inhabit?
The answer is the modern-day kingdom of Jordan. When we read in the Bible about things that happened on “the east side of the Jordan,” we’re reading about events that took place in present-day Jordan.
Every year many tourists flock to the Holy Land of Israel, without realizing that the Land of the Bible includes its neighbour Jordan. Indeed Todd Bolen, of BiblePlaces.com notes, “You’re missing half of the story by not studying the east side of the Jordan River.”
So who were these ancient people who lived east of the Jordan River?
1) The Ammonites – The Bible describes the Ammonites as descending from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his younger daughter (Gn 19:38). They were the frequent enemies of the Israelites, and Jephthah delivered Israel from their oppression in Judges 11. During the Iron Age, their capital city was Rabbah (modern-day Amman, Jordan). The remains of an Ammonite watch-tower can still be seen there today.
2) The Moabites – The Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son of Lot by his
older daughter (Gn. 19:37). At times there appeared to be a peaceful coexistence between those from Moab and Judah. In Ruth 1:1 we read, “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.” Ruth herself is perhaps the most famous Moabitess in the Bible. Later, during the time of the kings the nations of Moab and Judah were enemies. Both David (2 Ch 18:2) and Jehoshaphat (2 Ch 20:1) both fought against the Moabites. One of the most famous archaeological artifacts is the Moabite Stone. Discovered in 1868 in Dhiban, Jordan, the Moabite Stone (or Mesha Stela) confirms the events of 2 Kings 3 – the account of how Moab was subject to Israel, but rebelled. King Jehoram of Israel. The inscription of King Mesha of Moab, tells the story from Moab’s perspective.
3) Edomites – The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother and at one time their kingdom covered parts of both southern Israel and southern Jordan. “Because they were close relatives, the Israelites were forbidden to hate the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7). However, the Edomites regularly attacked Israel, and many wars were fought as a result. King Saul fought against the Edomites, and King David subjugated them, establishing military garrisons in Edom. “(https://www.gotquestions.org/Edomites.html)
The Edomite stronghold of Sela, located near modern-day Borzah, Jordan, is mentioned at least four times in Scripture and may be the place where Amaziah, King of Judah, slaughtered 10,000 Edomites as described in 2 Ch 25:12 and 2 Ki 14:7 (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-sites-places/biblical-archaeology-sites/the-edomite-stronghold-of-sela/)
4) The Nabateans – No discussion of biblical people in Jordan would be complete without mentioning the Nabateans. The rock-hewn city of Petra is arguably the most famous archaeological landmark in the country. In New Testament times, the kingdom of Nabatea extended from Jordan to Saudi-Arabia. The Nabataeans held a monopoly on the Frankincense trade, amassing considerable wealth from the sale of it from Petra. It is quite possible that the magi stopped at Petra to purchase the frankincense that they gave to Jesus, or at the very least, that it was Nabataean frankincense that was given. The Nabatean King Aretas IV is mentioned in 2 Cor. 11:32-33.
Many other events in bible history took place in the modern-day country of Jordan, including:
- Jacob wrestled at the Jabbok
- The Israelites looked on the bronze serpent
- The Israelites defeated the army of Sihon
- Moses spoke the book of Deuteronomy
- Moses viewed the land from Mount Nebo
- Saul delivered the city of Jabesh Gilead
- Uriah the Hittite died because of David’s treachery
- David fled from his son Absalom
- Ahab was killed by the Arameans
- Jehu launched his coup
- Elijah was born and later ascended into heaven
- The prophets spoke against Ammon, Moab, and Edom
- John the Baptist ministered and baptized
- Herod Antipas beheaded John the Baptist
- Jesus traveled through Perea
Knowing where on modern maps these biblical people lived helps to underscore the fact that they were real people, whose archaeological remains confirm many details we read about in the Bible. Ammon, Moab, and Edom are not Gondor, Rohan, and Mordor; unlike the mythical world of Tolkien’s Middle Earth these biblical places actually existed and we are learning more about the people who lived there each year through the many excavations that take place in the country of Jordan.
P.S. For those wanting to stay informed about archaeology in the country of Jordan, I recommend the following website: http://archaeologyofjordan.strikingly.com/