The Amalekites are a people mentioned a number of times in the Hebrew Bible. They are considered to be descended from an ancestor Amalek.
According to the Book of Genesis and 1 Chronicles, Amalek (Hebrew: עֲמָלֵק, Modern Amalek Tiberian ʻĂmālēq), was the son of Eliphaz and the grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12; 1 Chr. 1:36); the chief of an Edomite tribe (Gen. 36:16). His mother was a Horite, a tribe whose territory the descendants of Esau had seized.
According to the genealogy in Gen. 36:12; 1 Chr. 1:36. Amalek is a son of Esau's son Eliphaz and of the concubine Timna, a Horite and sister of Lotan. Gen. 36:16 refers to him as the "chief of Amalek" thus his name can be understood to be a title derived from that of the clan or territory over which he ruled. Indeed an extra-Biblical tradition recorded by Nachmanides relates that the Amalekites were not descended from the grandson of Esau but from a man named Amalek after whom this grandson was later named. Such an eponymous ancestor of the Amalekites is also mentioned in Old Arabian poetry.
The name is sometimes interpreted as "dweller in the valley", but most specialists regard the origin to be unknown (M. Weippert, Semitische Nomaden des zweiten Jahrtausends. Biblica vol. 55, 1974, 265-280, 427-433).
In (Arabic: عملاق,ʿimlāq) is the singular of giant, and the plural is (عمالقة, ʿamāliqah) or (عماليق, ʿamālīq), suggesting the sons of this tribe were known for being unusually tall.
- 1 Amalekites
- 2 War against the Amalekites
- 3 Amalekites in the Bible
- 4 In Rohl's Reconstruction
- 5 Amalekites in post-biblical era
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
- 9 Footnotes
Some interpret Gen. 14:7 (which refers to the "land of the Amalekites") to mean that the Amalekites existed as early as the time of Abraham, in the region that would later become the Roman province of Arabia Petraea. This view corroborates Nachmanides' claim of an origin for the Amalekites earlier than Esau's grandson. However, the passage in question does not require this interpretation as it may be referring to the region by a name from a later era. However, the Arab historian Abu al-Hasan 'Alī al-Mas'ūdī, citing 'traditional' Arab history, relates that the Amalekites did indeed exist at this early period having originated in the region of Mecca before the time of Abraham.
In the Pentateuch, the Amalekites are nomads who attacked the Hebrews at Rephidim (Exodus 17:8-10) in the desert of Sinai during their exodus from Egypt: "smiting the hindmost, all that were feeble behind," (Deuteronomy 25:18 HE). The Tanakh recognizes the Amalekites as indigenous tribesmen, "the first of the nations" (Numbers 24:20). In the southern lowlands too, perhaps the dry grazing lands that are now the Negev (Num. 12, 14), there were aboriginal Amalekites who were daunting adversaries of the Hebrews in the earliest times. "They dwelt in the land of the south...from Havilah until thou comest to Shur" (Numbers 13:29; 1 Samuel 15:7). At times said to be allied with the Moabites (Judg. 3:13) and the Midianites (Judges 6:3). One may consider the hypothesis that each of their kings bore the hereditary name of Agag (Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:8). They also attacked the Israelites at Hormah (Num. 14:45). Saul and his army destroyed most of the people, and earned Samuel's wrath for leaving some of the people and livestock alive (1 Samuel 15:8-9) against God's command. Saul and the tribal leaders also hesitated to kill Agag, so Samuel himself executed the Amalekite king (1 Samuel 15:33).
Agag's death might be expected to have been the end of the Amalekites; however, they reappear in later periods described in the Bible (see below). Even Samuel, before hacking Agag to pieces, says to Agag: "As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women." This seems to mean that Samuel believes Agag's mother to be alive, in spite of his obvious conviction that by killing Agag he was completing God's order to exterminate all Amalekites. Such passages raise questions about belief that persons were alive in Sheol after death or just how God's command was understood in the biblical period.
War against the Amalekites
As the Jewish Encyclopedia put it, "David waged a sacred war of extermination against the Amalekites," who may have subsequently disappeared from history. Long after, in the time of Hezekiah, five hundred Simeonites annihilated the remnant "of the Amalekites that had escaped" on Mount Seir, and settled in their place (1 Chr. 4:42-43).
The Biblical relationship between the Hebrew and Amalekite tribes was that the Amalekite tribes without provocation pounced on the Hebrews when they were weak. The Amalekites became associated with ruthlessness and trickery and tyranny, even more so than Pharaoh or the Philistines, and required a ruthless response:
- "8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
- "14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord is my banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord Jacob! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation." (Exodus 17)
This enmity is repeated in Numbers 24, in Balaam's fourth and final oracle:
- "20 Then he looked on Amalek and took up his discourse and said, Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction.
And again in the law, in Deuteronomy 25:
- "17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget."
The fighting is mentioned again in Judges 3:13, in the Judgeship of Ehud, and again under Gideon, as the Amalekites allied with the Midianites (Judges 6:3, 6:33, 7:12). This enmity is also the background of the command of the Lord to Saul:
- "2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey." (1 Sam. 15:2-3).
Saul's failure to obey this command cost him his kingship. Note the commentary on this total destruction later by Samuel, when Saul summons him from the dead through prophetic vision literary tool:
- "16 And Samuel said, 'Why then do you ask me, since the Lord has turned from you and become your enemy? 17 The Lord has done to you as he spoke by me, for the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. 18 Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord and did not carry out his fierce wrath against Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day." (1 Sam 28)
A later Romanized Jewish author also commented on this event:
- "He betook himself to slay the women and the children, and thought he did not act therein either barbarously or inhumanly; first, because they were enemies whom he thus treated, and, in the next place, because it was done by the command of God, whom it was dangerous not to obey" (Flavius Josephus, Antiquites Judicae, Book VI, Chapter 7).
The destruction of animals and booty, however, was not universal at Saul's time. This was evidently a command for a particular battle. His contemporary David handled the matter differently a few years later.
- "8 Now David and his men went up and made raids against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the inhabitants of the land from of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. 9And David would strike the land and would leave neither man nor woman alive, but would take away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the garments, and come back to Achish."
Survival of the Amalekites
It is not clear if the historical Amalekites were exterminated or not. 1 Samuel 15:7-8 seems to imply ("He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword.") that - after Agag was also killed - the people of Agag were extinct, but in a later story in the time of Hezekiah, the Simeonites annihilated some Amalekites on Mount Seir, and settled in their place: "And five hundred of these Simeonites, led by Pelatiah, Neariah, Rephaiah and Uzziel, the sons of Ishi, invaded the hill country of Seir. They killed the remaining Amalekites who had escaped, and they have lived there to this day." (1 Chr. 4:42-43).
Haman and the Book of Esther
In the Book of Esther, the arch villain is Haman, an Amalekite (his origin is evident from the epithet the Agagite—i.e., descendant of the agags, Amalekite kings) that led the plot to kill the Jews. Because the Lord promised to "blot out the name" of Amalek (Exodus 17:14), it is customary when the book of Esther is read at the Purim festival, for the audience to make noise whenever "Haman" is mentioned, so that his name is not heard.
Some commentators have discussed the ethics of the commandment to exterminate all the Amalekites, including the command to kill all the women, children, teenagers, little girls, little boys and the notion of collective punishment.
Maimonides explains that the commandment of killing out the nation of Amalek requires the Jewish people to peacefully request of them to accept upon themselves the Noachide laws and pay a tax to the Jewish kingdom. Only if they refuse must they be physically killed.
Some commentators, such as Rabbi Hayim Palaggi (1788–1869) argued that Jews had lost the tradition of distinguishing Amalekites from other people, and therefore the commandment of killing them could not practically be applied ("...We can rely on the maxim that in ancient times, Sennacherib confused the lineage of many nations." [Eynei Kol Ḥai, 73, on Sanhedrin 96b])
Commandments to exterminate Amalekites
Of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) followed by Orthodox Jews, three refer to the Amalek: to remember what the Amalekites did to Jews, to not forget what the Amalekites did to Jews, and to destroy the Amalekites utterly. The rabbis derived these from Deuteronomy 25:17-18, Exodus 17:14 and 1 Sam. 15:3. Rashi explains the third commandment:
- From man unto woman, from infant unto suckling, from ox unto sheep, so that the name of Amalek not be mentioned even with reference to an animal by saying "This animal belonged to Amalek"..
Amalekites in the Bible
Kings of the Amalekites
- Agag (1 Sam. 15:8)
Listing of Amalek/Amalekite references in Hebrew Scripture
- Genesis 14:7; 36:12, 16
- Exodus 17:8-11, 13-14, 16
- Numbers 13:29; 14:25, 43, 45; 24:20; 25:19
- Deuteronomy 25:17
- Judges 3:13; 5:14; 6:3, 33; 7:12; 10:12; 12:15
- 1 Samuel 14:48;15:2-8, 15, 18, 20, 32; 27:8; 28:18; 30:1, 13, 18
- 2 Samuel 1:1, 8, 13; 8:12
- 1 Chronicles 1:36; 4:43; 18:11
- Psalms 83:7
Allies of the Amalekites
In the books of 1 Samuel and Judges, the tribe of Kenites are associated with the Amalekites, sometimes their allies, sometimes allied with the tribes of Israel. The Amalek people are invariably enemies of Israel. Saul's successful expedition against the unidentified "city of Amalek," in the plain (1 Sam. 15) resulted in the capture of the Amalekite king, Agag.
In Rohl's Reconstruction
Amalekites in post-biblical era
In Jewish tradition, the Amalekites came to represent the archetypal enemy of the Jews. The concept has been used by some hassidic rabbis (particularly the Baal Shem Tov) to represent atheism or the rejection of God. Nur Masalha, Elliot Horowitz and Josef Stern suggest that Amalekites have come to represent an "eternally irreconcilable enemy" that wants to murder Jews, and that Jews in post-biblical times sometimes associate contemporary enemies with Haman or Amalekites, and that some Jews believe that pre-emptive violence is acceptable against such enemies.
Armenians as Amalekites
Jewish Communists as Amalekites
Zionists as Amalekites
Nazis as Amalekites
A prominent 19th and early 20th century rabbi, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, claimed upon Kaiser Wilhelm's visit to Palestine in 1898, three decades before Hitler's rise to power, he had a tradition from his teachers that the Germans are descended from the ancient Amalekites.
Samuel's words to Agag: "As your sword bereaved women, so will your mother be bereaved among women." (Samuel 1:15:33) were quoted by Israeli President Itzhak Ben-Zvi in his handwriting in response to a telegram sent by Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's wife pleading for clemency after he was taken to Israel and sentenced to death.
Palestinians as Amalekites
Nur Masalha and other scholars describe several associations of modern Palestinians with Amalekites, including recommendations by rabbi Israel Hess to kill Palestinians, which are based on biblical verses such as 1 Samuel 15. Shulamit Aloni, a member of the Israeli Knesset indicated in 2003 that Jewish children in Israel were being taught in religious schools that Palestinians were Amalek, and that therefore total genocide was a religious obligation.
- The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem, Avi Sagi, Harvard Theological Review Vol.87, No.3 (1994) p. 323-46.
- Wipe Out Amalek, Today? chabad.org
- Amalek, Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe
- Remember Amalek: A lesson in Divine Providence
- Remembering Amalek
- Latznu: Popular Culture and the Disciples of Amalek
- Antiquities of the Jews - by Josephus Flavius
- The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1901-6: Amalek
- A Kabbalistic view of Amalek
- Amalec - Catholic Encyclopedia article
- Between Rephidim and Jerusalem - Amalek symbolism in relations between Israelis and Palestinians
- ^ http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/ebd/ebd018.htm
- ^ http://www.bju.edu/bible/strongs.php?lang=h&id=6002
- ^ http://www.dalton.org/groups/Rome/RMap.html
- ^ Jewish Encyclopedia article on Amalekites
- Divine command ethics: Jewish and Christian perspectives, Michael J. Harris, pp 137-138
- The Bible's Top Fifty Ideas: The Essential Concepts Everyone Should Know, Dov Peretz Elkins, Abigail Treu, pp 315 - 316
- The ethics of war: shared problems in different traditions, Richard Sorabji, David Rodin, p 98
- Theory and practice in Old Testament ethics, John William Rogerson, M. Daniel Carroll R., p 92
- Masalha, Nur, Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: the politics of expansion, Pluto Press, 2000, pp 129-131.
- Stern, Josef, "Maimonides on Amalek, Self-Corrective Mechanisms, and the War against Idolatry" in Judaism and modernity: the religious philosophy of David Hartman, David Hartman, Jonathan W. Malino (Eds), Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004 page 360-362
- "The example concerns the set of biblical commandments … centered on Amalek, the ancient nation that ambushed Israel during the Exodus from Egypt… What does it mean to 'blot out the name of Amalek'? We have evidence of what this meant for biblical Israel … where the commandment is taken literally to mean: destroy by actually killing every Amalekite, man, woman, and child…. Some rabbis allegorize Amalek, taking it as a eupemism for the evil inclination; others have it symbolize the enemies of Israel throughout history; yet others make it the personification of evil…. There are also more specific historital identifications of the people of Amalek. It is well known that in medieval rabbinic literature Esau, and his land Edom, are typologically identified with Rome and, in turn, with Christianity. It is less widely known that Amalek … also came to be conflated with his ancestor and identified with Rome and then Christianity. By the early medieval period, the descendants of the ancient nation of Amalek were identified by some Jewish authors as the Armenians…. Jewish authors could put a biblical face on this overarching foe by identifying it with Amalek and find hope for ultimate victory in the biblical promise that 'God is at war with Amalek from generation to generation' (Ex. 17:16)."
- Hunter, Alastair G. "Denominating Amalek: Racist stereotyping in the Bible and the Justification of Discrimination" in Sanctified aggression: legacies of biblical and post biblical vocabularies, Jonneke Bekkenkamp, Yvonne Sherwood (Eds), Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003, page 99-105.
- "The Amalekites could well be regarded as the archetypal vicitims in the Pentateuch, in that divine instructions to dispose of this people are given on more than one occasion… They also symbolize a further classic device: the rhetorical move … of portraying the victim as agressor in order to justify his/her elimination…. For most Jews .. .the denunciation of Haman the enemy is part of the light-hearted celebration of a rather 'laid back' festival. But there are more sinister implications which have in recent years emerged on the political scene …. In the early 1900s Rabbi Hayim Soloveitchik of Brisk argued that … there was a possibility of contemporary war against Amalek … Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik used this position in the early 1940s to contend that the Allied war against Nazi Germany could be understood in Jewish law as a war against Amalek… [regarding the Sept 11 attacks] a couple of 'position pieces' draw disturbing parallels between the suicide plots and the enemy Amalek. The first is .. written by Rabbi Ralph Tawil, in which the writer … comes perilously close to equating President George Bush's war against terrorism with Israel's command to eradicate their troublesome enemy."
- Reckless rites: Purim and the legacy of Jewish violence, Elliott S. Horowitz, p 122
- Encyclopaedia Judaica, Volume 3, p 473
- Judaism and modernity: the religious philosophy of David Hartman, David Hartman, Jonathan W. Malino, p 361
- ^ a b [http://www.jewsagainstzionism.com/rabbi_quotes/chaimclarification.cfm
- Open wounds: the crisis of Jewish thought in the aftermath of Auschwitz, David Patterson, p 216
- Jewish literacy: the most important things to know about the Jewish religion, Joseph Telushkin, p 36
- The annihilation of Lithuanian Jewry, Ephraim Oshry, p 172
- ^ The First Word: Are Jews still commanded to blot out Amalek? - Jerusalem Post
- ^ Carmel, Yoseph, Itzchak Ben Zvi from his Diary in the President's office , Mesada , Ramat Gan, 1967 , page 179
- ^ Trial and History, Menahem Moutner Editor, The Zalman Shazar Center for Jewish History, 1999, pages 395-421
- Masalha, Nur, Imperial Israel and the Palestinians: the politics of expansion, Pluto Press, 2000, pp 129-131.
- "Frequently Jewish fundamentalists refer to the Palestinians as the 'Amalekites' … of today… According to the Old Testament, the Amalek … were regarded as the Israelites' inveterate foe, whose 'annihilation' became a sacred duty and against whom war should be waged until their 'memory be blotted out' forever (Ex 17:16; Deut 25:17-19)…. Some of the [modern] political messianics insist on giving the biblical commandment to 'blot out the memory of the Amalek' an actual contemporary relevance in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians. In February 1980, Rabbi Israel Hess … published an article [titled] 'The Genocide Commandment in the Torah' … which ends with the following: 'The day is not far when we shall all be called to this holy war, this commandment of the annihilation of the Amalek'. Hess quotes the biblical commandment … 'Do not spare him, but kill man and woman, baby and suckling, ox and sheep, camel, and donkey'…. In his book On the Lord's Side Danny Ribinstein has shown that this notion permeates the Gush Emunim movement's bulletins [one of which] carried an article … which reads 'In every generation there is an Amalek. The Amalekism of our generation finds expression in the deep Arab hatred towards our national revival …'… Professor Uriel Tal … conducted his study in the early 1980s … and pointed out that the totalitarian political messianic stream refers to the Palestinian Arabs in three stages or degrees: …[stage] (3) the implementation of the commandment of Amalek, as expressed in Rabbi Hess's article 'The Commandment of Genocide in the Torah', in other words 'annihilating' the Palesinian Arabs'".
- See also Hunter, p 103
- Also describing Palestinians as targets of violence due to association with Amalek is: Geaves, Ron, Islam and the West post 9/11, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2004, p 30
- ^ Murder Under the Cover of Righteousness - CounterPunch
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