Question: "Who were the Zamzummim?"


As the Israelites, free from Egyptian bondage, journeyed through the wilderness to the Promised Land, the Lord God gave clear instructions to His people as to their actions, behavior, and conduct. On their journey, the Lord warns His people not to demonstrate aggressiveness toward the people of Ammon, who were descendants of Lot:

The Lord said to me, “Today you are to cross the border of Moab at Ar. And when you approach the territory of the people of Ammon, do not harass them or contend with them, for I will not give you any of the land of the people of Ammon as a possession, because I have given it to the sons of Lot for a possession.” (It is also counted as a land of Rephaim. Rephaim formerly lived there—but the Ammonites call them Zamzummim—a people great and many, and tall as the Anakim; but the Lord destroyed them before the Ammonites, and they dispossessed them and settled in their place, as he did for the people of Esau, who live in Seir, when he destroyed the Horites before them and they dispossessed them and settled in their place even to this day.) (Deuteronomy 2:17–22, ESV).

From this brief narrative, we learn the Ammonites had dispossessed the territory from a people known as Rephaim. The Ammonites referred to Rephaim as Zamzummim, for reasons that will presently be discussed. Like the Anakim or Anakites, the Zamzummim were giants, many in number, who were defeated because of God’s favor toward the ancestry of Lot. Lot was a close relative of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham.

The name Zamzummim (זמזומים) originates from the Hebrew word Zimzum (זמזום), which means “buzz” or “hum” (, accessed 12/14/21). Quite possibly, Zamzummim is onomatopoeic, that is, the word itself phonetically imitates or suggests the sound associated with the thing being named. (Commonly used onomatopoeic English words are meow, oink, sizzle, pop, chirp, snap, etc.). The conquerors of the Zamzummim, the Ammonites, may have likened the Rephaim’s language to buzzing. In a similar way, the ancient Greeks labeled foreign tribes “barbarians” because of the unintelligible nature of their speech, which the Greeks mocked as nothing more than a babbling of “barbar.”

It is also possible the name Zamzummim indicates these people practiced necromancy and fortune telling, evil practices strictly forbidden by God. The “humming” or “buzzing” could have been associated with various occult rituals:

And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? (Isaiah 8:19, ESV).

It is reasonable to conclude the name Zamzummim is based on a peculiarity of the language of the Zamzummim, their idolatrous religious practices, or both.

Despite their great size and number, these giants were defeated by the Ammonites, a people of normal stature, because the Ammonites went into battle with God’s favor. Herein is a lesson for us: no enemy, regardless of strength or number, can stand against those who are shielded by God’s divine protection. Even giants like the Zamzummim cannot stand against Almighty God.