Who Were the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites in the Bible?

Ancient Israel’s neighbors east of the Jordan


Standing more than 6.5 feet tall and dating to the Iron Age, this statue of an Ammonite king was uncovered in 2010 at Amman, Jordan. Photo: Joel S. Burnett

jordan-mapWho were the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites in the Bible?

When the kingdoms of Israel and Judah controlled the land of Canaan, the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom ruled east of the Jordan. Although the Bible offers information about these three Iron Age kingdoms, recent archaeological discoveries are bringing to light a fuller picture of them. In his article “Ammon, Moab and Edom: Gods and Kingdoms East of the Jordan,” published in the November/December 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Joel S. Burnett examines the incredible archaeological discoveries from Ammon, Moab and Edom.

Who were the Ammonites? In the Bible, they are described as being descendants of Ben-ammi, who was the son of Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and Lot’s younger daughter (Genesis 19:38). The capital of the Iron Age kingdom of Ammon was Rabbah, which is located at modern-day Amman, Jordan. Burnett describes the boundaries of Ammon: “The Ammonite heartland comprised the north-central Transjordanian Plateau encircled by the upper Jabbok … within a 12.5-mile radius of its capital at the headwaters of the Jabbok.” The Ammonites’ primary deity was the god Milcom. Depictions of Milcom have been uncovered through archaeological excavations—as have representations of Ammonite kings, such as the monumental statue uncovered at Rabbah in 2010.

Other than Israel, no country has as many Biblical sites and associations as Jordan: Mount Nebo, from where Moses gazed at the Promised Land; Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John baptized Jesus; Lot’s Cave, where Lot and his daughters sought refuge after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and many more. Travel with us on our journey into the past in our free eBook Exploring Jordan.


We learn about the Moabites in the Bible and in the famous Mesha Stele. Photo: “Stèle de Mésha” by Mbzt 2012 is licensed under CC-by-3.0

Who were the Moabites? In the Bible, the Moabites are said to have descended from Moab, the son of Lot and his oldest daughter (Genesis 19:37). The kingdom of Moab stretched “north and south of the Arnon River” with its capital at Dibon. The Moabites worshiped the god Chemosh, who may be depicted in the Balua‘ Stele (dated to the end of Late Bronze Age). The most famous Moabite king—from the archaeological record at least—is Mesha. The large inscription he left behind is the longest Moabite text. Dating to the ninth century B.C.E., the Mesha Stele describes how King Mesha rescued the Moabites from Israelite rule.

Who were the Edomites? In the Bible, the Edomites are the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s twin and Isaac’s oldest son (Genesis 36). The Edomites controlled an area east of the Arabah, from the Zered to the Gulf of Aqaba. Their capital was Bozrah, which sat in the northern part of their territory. Although no name of an Edomite deity is given in the Bible, archaeologists know from inscriptions that the Edomites’ principal deity was Qaus (or Qos). Several Edomite places of worship and cultic figurines have been uncovered. One of the most notable is the depiction of an Edomite goddess wearing a three-horned headdress from the site of Qitmit, Israel.

edomite-goddess- qitmit

Wearing a three-horned headdress, this Edomite goddess figurine was discovered at Horvat Qitmit. Photo: “Edomite Goddess, Qitmit” by Chamberi is licensed under CC-by-SA-3.0

The kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom fought with the Israelites and the Judahites over territory. The Bible presents things from the Israelites’ and Judahites’ point of view, and archaeological discoveries help show us the other side. By looking at what these ancient peoples wrote and left behind, we are able to better understand their perspective. We now have a fuller picture of their kings, gods and daily life.

To learn more about the kingdoms of Ammon, Moab and Edom, read Joel S. Burnett’s comprehensive article “Ammon, Moab and Edom: Gods and Kingdoms East of the Jordan,” in the November/December 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.


BAS Library Members: Read the full article “Ammon, Moab and Edom: Gods and Kingdoms East of the Jordan,” by Joel S. Burnett in the November/December 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Human Sacrifice to an Ammonite God?

Bible Artifacts Found Outside the Trench: The Moabite Stone

The Edomite Stronghold of Sela


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6 Responses

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  1. Francis says

    I am interest in this reading and need to have more information about the Edomite

  2. Rise says

    Ammonites and Moabites are the Asian and Japanese. The edomites are definitely the so called white people. I say so called because they aren’t really white, they are different shades of red. The same as Esau, they also have the same traits as Esau. The Israelites today are the so called blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Deuteronomy 28:15-68 are the curses that God put upon those people. They are the only people today who fit the curses. Especially Deuteronomy 28:68.

  3. Think4self says

    Can we please stop calling native Europeans ‘so called whites’. It’s unnecessary. And has for your assumption that so called blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans are the Israelites is taking things a stretch too far. How can you be sure that Esau and Jacob’s role in scripture hasn’t been changed. Afterall, Jacob is classified as a deceiver. This title fits a nation other than the ones you name. Do your own research. Something tells me deception is still rife.

  4. HiddenIdentity says

    You right. But did you not know that 30 some books are taken out of the Bible? Where is Enoch in the bible since you said scriptures been change. If we will all go back and found the missing books of the Bible, we will know the truth. Until than no one should speak against anyone opinion. One thing I know is white man did away with a lot from the Bible that’s why slaves was forbidden to read and was killed if they did. I wonder why?

  5. Stephen says

    In our quest to unravel the historical elements of the bible and explain the various ethnicities, I think we sometimes forget what the true purpose of the two books ( testaments) are. There are chapters of biblical prose ( besides the dead sea scrolls ) not included in the bible, but if one believes that God is the editor, it is complete.

  6. Island says

    The book of Deuteronomy chapter32 explains what’s going on today false religions and doctrines entertainment false ungodly court system passing same sex laws which is a abomination unto THE LORD and forcing the people to accept it giving rights to the lbgt community modern day Sodom and Gomorrah practicing idol worshipping in all churches bowing to false images especially to that false image of THE LORD worshipping statues in wood and stone wearing crosses when THE LORD was crucified on a tree it’s all pagan worshipping celebrating their false holy days which they call them holidays GOD forbid all roads lead to Rome all religions are false set-up by Rome to control the people and take their money brainwashing you telling you that THE LORD loves everyone and HE died for everyone when HE died for only HIS people read revelation chapter21 verse 12 it tells you who the kingdom of heaven is for my people the 12 tribes of the children of Israel that’s why they banned the bible from school so they can teach false history in their false education system with their false science trying to prove that THE MOST HIGH doesn’t exist the education system is ran by atheists staging false wars to steal other countries land and resources Esau is doing a good job at it calling himself the government so that no one can get the blame cops killing Hebrew Israelites and justify it that’s called murder the bible says ain’t nothing new under the sun the task masters back then had whips and chariots move further into the future they rode horses carried a gun and whips today they have police cars a gun and tasers just follow the eagle the Sunday law is coming soon also forcing you worship their false religions and gods THE LORD day is on Saturday not the first day of the week you will know that it’s not of THE LORD because HE doesn’t force you to do anything it’s called free will to make a choice

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