The Amorites were among the original inhabitants of Canaan before the Israelite conquest, along with Hittites, Canaanites, Jebusites, and others (Gen. 15.18–21). The entire aboriginal population of Canaan is also called “Amorite” (Gen. 15.13–16), and Jerusalem was perhaps an Amorite town (Ezek. 16.3). There were Amorites east of the Jordan River at Heshbon in Ammon (Num. 21.25–26) and at Bashan in Gilead (Josh. 2.10; 1 Kings 4.19). These were related to the Ammonites of central Transjordan, but not to the Moabites or Edomites in the south (Num. 21.13).

The Bible mentions Amorites as settled in Canaan and Transjordan. These were elements of an earlier, larger, more diverse Amorite group that originated apparently in the Euphrates region of eastern Syria. Cuneiform texts of the third millennium BCE refer to a land west of the Euphrates known as MAR.TU in Sumerian or Amurru in Akkadian. Amurru included Syria and possibly parts of Palestine. Its inhabitants were considered foreign to Mesopotamia in language and culture. The Amorite language belongs to the linguistic family of Northwest Semitic, like Ugaritic, Aramaic, and Hebrew, and Amorite material culture in Syria shows affinities with that of Palestine in the Middle Bronze Age (first half of the second millennium BCE). Mari, a second‐millennium Syrian city on the Euphrates, can be considered an Amorite town, though the Akkadian‐language Mari texts do not refer to the city's inhabitants specifically as “Amorites.” Some Amorites were not town‐dwellers but nomads, and the Mari texts frequently mention one such group, the “Banu‐yamina,” who resembled, in name and nomadic habits, the later biblical Benjaminites (Gen. 49.27).

Joseph A. Greene