[b-hebrew] Amorites

Yigal Levin leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il
Fri Jun 30 03:41:07 EDT 2006

> Chris Watts:
> Thanks Yigal, this all now makes more sense and actually answers my
> questions in a nutshell.

In than case I'll keep going: "Amorite" is the English form of the Hebrew 
"Emori". In the Bible, the Amorites are considered to be a sub-group of the 
Canaanites, although sometimes, the word Amorite is used instead of 
Canaanite. It would seem as if the Amorites were the dominant group in 
Canaan, and any Canaanite who was not a Jebusite, Girgashite, Hivite, 
Perizite etc. was, by default, an Amorite. Something like the way in which 
people in the West used to call all Soviets "Russians" unless they 
specifically meant Ukrainians, Georgians etc., even though most people were 
aware that the Russians were only one of the peoples who made up the USSR.

On the other hand, in the 19th century, when scholars began reading 
cuneiform documents, they "discovered" the term "Amurru". Literally, 
"amurru" means "west". However, it was also used to mean "the west-land", 
anything west of the Euphrates, and also "westerners", people living in the 
west-land, as well as westerners who were living in Mesopotamia. (BTW, 
"Amurru" was also the name of a small kingdom in what is now northern 
Lebanon in the 14th century BCE). As it became clear, what these "Amurru" 
had in common was that they all seemed to speak western-Semitic dialects 
(and as I stated before, we don't have enough documentary evidence to know 
just how diverse or uniform these dialects were), the same large family that 
would eventually produce Canaanite/Phoenician, Hebrew, Moabite on one side 
and Aramaic on the other.

Since the 19th century scholars were very much "biblically-minded", they 
immediately assumed that the "Amurru" of the cuneiform documents and the 
biblical "Emori" are one and the same, and began calling both "Amorites". 
But in fact, the two are NOT the same: the biblical "Amorites" are a sub-set 
of the Canaanites, and are not mentioned in any context other than that of 
Canaan, while the "Amurru" in cuneiform documents are a large group, of 
which the Canaanites are only a small part. I do not doubt that there is a 
connection - linguistically, "Emori" and "Amurru" are too similar to be a 
coincidence. But I don't see any way to reconcile the difference in usage. 
So if scholars would keep the two terms apart, using "Amorite" only in its 
biblical contexts and "Amurru" in its ANE contexts, they would help avoid 
lots of confusion.

By the way, the same is true of "Hittite". In the Bible, the Hittites are 
one of several groups who make up the population of Canaan, with no 
indication that they were ever something else. In cuneiform documents, the 
"Hatti" are an Indo-European speaking people who settled in Anatolia and 
built up an empire which, in the 14-12 centuries, took over much of northern 
Syria (and NEVER ruled Canaan!). But scholars, assuming that the Hatti were 
the same as the Hittites, became inviting theories to explain the connection 
(Anatolian immigrants to Canaan and so on). Until we DO understand the 
connection, better keep the two apart.

Yigal Levin 

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