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According to the Book of Genesis and 1 Chronicles, Amalek (עמלק "Dweller in a valley", Standard Hebrew ʿAmaleq, Tiberian Hebrew ʿĂmālēq) was the son of Eliphaz and the grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12; 1 Chr. 1:36); the chief of an Idumean tribe (Gen. 36:16). His mother was a Horite, a tribe whose territory the descendants of Esau had seized. The Hebrews, not unlike the Greekss and other ancient cultures, rendered their understanding of the ethnology of surrounding peoples concrete in the form of genealogy. In this way, the tribes of Amalekites were seen as 'sons' of an eponymous Amalek. Compare the Anakites, the 'sons of Anak'. Fundamentalists prefer to give these genealogies the most literal reading, viz. as literally the 'sons of Amalek.'

The genealogy of Amalek, if it may be read as traditional ethnology rather than literally, relates the Amalekites to the Edomites (consequently also to the Hebrews). This can be concluded from 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. 'Timnah' appears as the name of an Edomite clan-chief in Gen. 36:4. Amalek, for what ever reason, has become eponymous for the Amelekites.

The name is often interpretted as "dweller in the valley" [1] [1].

Table of contents
1 Amelekites
2 Allies of the Amelekites
3 Extermination of the Amelekites
4 Symbolism of the Amalekites
5 Kings of the Amalekites
6 External links
7 References


In the Pentateuch, the Amelekites are nomads who attacked the Hebrews at Rephidim in the desert of Sinai during their exodus from Egypt: "smiting the hindmost, all that were feeble behind," (1 Samuel 15:2). 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" (Num. 13:29; 1 Sam. 15:7). At times said to be allied with the Moabites (Judg. 3:13) and the Midianites (Judges 6:3). 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 defeated them utterly, but earned the wrath of God by sparing some for use as slaves, and failing to burn their treasures (1 Sam.).

Allies of the Amelekites

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 (the only Amalekite name that has been preserved).

Extermination of the Amelekites

As the Jewish Encyclopedia put it, "David waged a sacred war of extermination against the Amalekites," who subsequently disappeared from history. Long after, in the time of Hezekiah, five hundred Simeonites annihilated the last remnant "of the Amalekites that had escaped" on Mount Seir, and settled in their place.(1 Chr. 4:42-43)

The Amalekites existed as early as the time of Abraham in what would later be known as the Roman province of Arabia Petraea [1] (Gen. 14:7). The Biblical relationship between the Hebrew and Amalekite tribes was one of unmitigated enmity. "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." (1 Sam. 15:3). The Jews manner of dealing with them was extreme, as they could be shown no mercy. Women and children were slain, and no slaves or gold could be taken from them. Rather all were killed, and their valuables were burned. "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)

See Wipe Out Amalek for a current rabbinical teaching on the matter.

Symbolism of the Amalekites

In Jewish tradition, the Amalekites came to represent the archetypal enemy of the Jews. For example, Haman, from the Book of Esther, is called the Agagite, which is interpretted as being a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag. The term has been used metaphorically to refer to enemies of Judaism throughout history, including the Nazis, and controversially, by some to refer to the Arabs. The concept has long been used by rabbis (particularly the Baal Shem Tov) to represent the rejection of God, or Atheism. Of the 613 mitzvot (commandments) followed by Orthodox Jews, three refer to the Amalekites: to remember what the Amalekites did to the Jews, to not forget what the Amalekites did to the 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 mitzvah: 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".

Kings of the Amalekites

Agag (1 Sam. 15:8)

External links


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.