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Near East Kingdoms

Ancient Levantine States


Horites (Canaan)

In the mid-third millennium BC, city states began to appear in Syria as people benefited from interaction with Sumer and from improvements in irrigation. Within five hundred years, around 2000 BC, the same process was happening farther south and west, in the Levant, along the Mediterranean coast. Semitic-speaking Canaanite tribes occupied much of the area, creating a patchwork of city states of their own. The Phoenicians (more Canaanites) also occupied parts of this region, eventually founding their own mighty seaborne trading empire.

The Horites were Canaanite natives who occupied areas of the later kingdom of Edom. If any truth can be extracted from Old Testament coverage of the kingdom's creation then, by the early part of the second millennium BC, the Horites were being displaced by newly-arriving Canaanites (in the form of Edomites, whatever their claimed origins as followers of the eldest son of Isaac of the Israelites). They seem to have centred their territories around Mount Seir, a generally mountainous region (and therefore already poor country) between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba to the south-east of later Judea.

Like various other such marginal populations around this period, they appear to have been cattle-herding pastoralists of the sort which had existed in the region for several millennia, moving from seasonal pasture to pasture and rarely occupying any of the region's long-established cities (although Jericho seems to have been one of the rarer exceptions).

The Rephaim, Zuzim and others all lived similar lives and all seem to have become marginalised or absorbed into newer arrivals around this time. The Shasu also occupied parts of the same broad region as the Horites. That latter, though, are distinguished as being a shorter people, unlike the tall Rephaim, so perhaps they were not long-standing pastoralists after all. Nevertheless, all these fringe groups had entirely disappeared by the middle of the first millennium BC at the latest.

Phoenicians shifting cedarwood from shore to land

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Unger's Bible Dictionary, Merrill F Unger (1957), from Easton's Bible Dictionary, Matthew George Easton (1897), from Egypt, Canaan and Israel in Ancient Times, Donald Redford (Princeton University Press, 1992), from Early Israel and the Surrounding Nations, A H Sayce, from Jewish War & Jewish Antiquities, Flavius Josephus, from the Illustrated Dictionary & Concordance of the Bible, Geoffrey Wigoder (Gen Ed, 1986), and from External Links: Encyclopædia Britannica, and Time Maps, and Ancient History Encyclopaedia, and Ancient kingdom of Edom (Sky News).)

c.1750 BC

King Amraphel of Shinar is allied with 'Chedorlaomer' of Elam (probably King Kudur Lagamar), plus 'Arioch of Ellasar' (originally thought to be Rim-Sin of Larsa, but now thought more likely to be the early Hurrian King Ariukki), and 'Tidal, king of nations' (probably the Hittite king, Tudhaliya I, with the 'nations' probably being the recently-conquered Hatti).

Map of Anatolia and Environs 2000 BC
This was the situation in Anatolia which was inherited by the Hittites as they formed their early empire in the eighteenth century BC (click or tap on map to view full sized)

Together they attack the early Israelites during a general conflict. After twelve years of paying tribute, several Canaanite 'cities of the plain' have rebelled. These are the five cities of the Vale of Siddim which are mentioned in the Old Testament.

'Chedorlaomer' also attacks the Rephaim and defeats them, while the Horites are said to be members of the coalition which includes Sodom and Gomorrah, and they are similarly defeated. The rebellion occurs in the same period in which the city of Shalem also figures in connection with Abraham of the Israelites.

c.1700 BC

According to the Old Testament, the Edomites under Esau displace the apparently primitive Horites to claim their kingdom. The 'primitive' label undoubtedly arises due to the Horites being a population of nomadic, cattle-herding pastoralists, just like the Emim and Rephaim Zuzim (probably one and the same) who are being shunned or absorbed elsewhere. The city-dwelling farmers of the newly-arriving Canaanite populations generally look down upon these pastoralists.

Possible location of Edom
While some scholars continued to insist that the lack of historical evidence for an Edomite state meant that there was no such state at all, some of the required archaeological proof may have been unearthed in 2019 (see sources, above)

fl c.1700 BC


Confirmed Horite leader.

The Mount Seir range of hill country is identified with a Horite leader of the same name, with the possibility that the area is of religious importance to these people. He is the only Horite leader to be named in any surviving records, although the possibility exists that there may be a degree of anthropomorphism being used to turn a mountain range homeland into a (mythical) chieftain.

The Old Testament (Genesis 36:20-29) lists the immediate descendants of Seir while stating that they are the chiefs of the Horites, chief by chief. These are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan, presumably in order of birth, with each of them leading a clan. Lotan's sister is Timna, presumably (but not confirmed as) the Timna who gives birth to Amalek (see below).

Mount Seir in Jordan
The Old Testament's Mount Seir mountain range is usually equated to today's Jibal ash-Sharah of south-western Jordan

c.1660s? BC

One of the sons of Eliphaz is Amalek, with his mother being Timna, the Horite, previous occupants of the Edomite territories. Amalek is 'chief of Amalek', suggesting that he leads a division of Edomites who become known as the Amalekites. Like the Horites before them, these people live on the edge of habitable territory, pursuing a nomadic life in the Negev Desert to the immediate south of modern Israel.

The Horites themselves seem to have been accepted by the Edomites. Even by the seventeenth century BC they can be seen to be undergoing a process of integration into the Edomite population. Since no truly historical source of reference mentions them, it can be taken as read that they become indistinguishable from the general Edomite population.

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