The region of biblical Israel can be referred to as the Cisjordan, meaning ‘on this side’ of the Jordan. The region to the east of the Jordan River is referred to as the Transjordan, meaning ‘across’ the Jordan. During the Iron Age, the Transjordan was home to the nations of Ammon, Moab and Edom, running from north to south, respectively.
Genesis 19 tells the origin story of the nations of Ammon and Moab. Lot’s daughters got their father drunk and slept with him, “The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab, he is the father of the Moabites of today. The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi, he is the father of the Ammonites of today.”
The region of Edom is also discussed in this week’s Torah reading. In Genesis 21, “While Ishmael was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother Hagar found him a wife from Egypt.” In Deuteronomy 1, the Desert of Paran is in the vicinity of Edom: “These are the words Moses spoke to all Israel in the wilderness east of the Jordan, that is, in the Arabah, opposite Suph, between Paran and Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth and Dizahab.”
Ammon was led from modern day Amman, Jordan, and it was centered on a series of hills that included the Amman Citadel. The Amman Citadel Inscription, dated to the 9th century BCE, is the oldest recovered inscription that is written in the Ammonite language, a language closely related to ancient Hebrew.
Archaeologically speaking, a normal state would typically have a multi-tiered settlement pattern of a large city flanked by smaller villages and smaller agricultural settlements. In the 9th BCE, these appear to be missing in Moab and Edom, but there is evidence of their existence.
The Mesha Stele is a 9th century BCE monument that records the battles of King Mesha of Moab. The extensive inscription demonstrates the existence of a ruler, of literacy and of conflict with neighboring states, demonstrating Moab was an independent entity in the 9th BCE.
The evidence for Edom is weaker and pushes our understanding of ancient nations. The Wadi Faynan Copper Mine appears to have been managed by a nomadic group. So while Edom appears to have lacked the large cities, monumental structures and records more typically seen in ancient kingdoms, the ability to run a complex mining operation could only have been done by an entity capable of some of the other features of a kingdom, the ability to marshal and direct large manpower resources towards a project.
Evidence for Edom in the 9th century BCE is solidified in the records of the Assyrian king Adad Nirari III who records conquering “the land of Edom” in the Nimrud Slab.
Based on the archaeological evidence, in the 9th BCE, Israel’s Transjordan rivals appear to be in place.
The image above is of the Amman Citadel Inscription, on display at the Jordan Archaeological Museum in Amman.