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The Amalekites are a people mentioned a number of times in the Hebrew Bible. They are considered to be descended from an ancestory Amalek.

According to the Book of Genesis and 1 Chronicles, Amalek (Arabic,عماليق,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.

According to Arab historians such as Ibn Khaldun and Ali ibn al-Athir, Amalek is a name given to the Amorites and the Canaanites.

The name is sometimes interpreted as "dweller in the valley" [1] [2], 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,ʿamlāq‎) 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.



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 [3]. 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," (1 Samuel 5:2). 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" (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). 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 just how God's command was understood in the biblical period.

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.

War of extermination 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 last 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 opposed the Hebrews and vice-versa, the former became associated with ruthlessness and trickery and tyranny, even more so than Pharaoh or the Philistines, and must be responded to with ruthlessness:

"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! 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).

Maimonides explains, however, 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 is the commandment applicable.

Some commentators, such as Rabbi Hayyim Falaggi (1788–1896) 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, Senaherib confused the lineage of many nations." [Eynei Kol Hai, 73, on Sanhedrin 96b])

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."

It is important, in Jewish tradition, that the plot to exterminate the Jews, as reported in the book of Esther, was carried out by Haman, an Agagite, or Amalekite. Because the Lord promised to "blot out the name" of Amalek, when the book of Esther is read at the Purim festival, the hearers make noise whenever "Haman" is mentioned, so his name is not heard.

See below 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 the title of the Amalekite rulers Agag.

The term has been used non-genetically, to refer to certain types of enemies of Judaism and decency throughout history, including Adolf Hitler. In fact, a prominent 19th and early 20th century 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. In a highly controversial article, an ultra-right wing rabbi, Israel Hess, claimed that the Palestinians are Amalekites [4]. The concept has been used by some hassidic rabbis (particularly the Baal Shem Tov) to represent the rejection of God, or Atheism.


Origin of Commandment

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"..

Kings of the Amalekites

  • Agag (1 Sam. 15:8)

Listing of Amalek/Amalekite references in Hebrew Scripture

See also


  • 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.
  • Between Rephidim and Jerusalem, Elliott Horowitz. This introduction from the book Reckless Rites: Purim and the Legacy of Jewish Violence (Princeton University Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-691-12491-9) examines the influence of the Amalek symbolism on relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the twenty-first century.

External links



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Proper noun




  1. (Biblical) The name given to the grandson of Esau through his eldest son, in the Hebrew Bible.
  2. The nation that purportedly traced their ancestry to Amalec.

Alternative spellings



  • (nation descended from Amalec): Amalecites
  • Amalekites

Derived terms

  • Amalecite

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki


A people remembered chiefly as the most hated of all the enemies of Israel, and traditionally reputed among the fiercest of Bedouin tribes.



According to a widely accepted interpretation of Gen., xxxvi, 10-12, their descent is to be traced from Amalec, son of Eliphaz and grandson of Esau, and ultimately therefore from Abraham; which account is credited by most modern scholars in so far as it indicates the Arabian origin of the Amalecites and a racial affinity with the Hebrews. The Amalec of Gen., xxxvi, 12, however, is not stated to be the ancestor of the Amalecites, though the main purpose of the context, which gives the origin of various Arabian tribes, favours that view; but against it is the earlier account of Gen., xiv, which can only be fairly interpreted to mean that the Amalecites, instead of being descended from Abraham, were already a distinct tribe in his day, when they were defeated at Cades (Kadesh) by Chodorlahomor (Chedorlamour), King of the Elamites. This evidence of their antiquity would be confirmed by the more probable interpretation of those who regard the obscure prophecy of Balaam, concerning "Amalec, the first of the nations) as indicating not their greatness, but their age, relative to the other nations mentioned in the oracle. No light on the origin of the Amalecites can be gathered from other sources; the Arabian traditions are late and add nothing trustworthy to the biblical data; and though it happens that nearly every passage of Scripture concerning their origin in subjected by competent scholars to different, and at times, even contradictory, interpretations, little doubt is entertained that the Amalecites were of Arabian stock and of greater antiquity than the Israelites. The belief in their Arabic descent is confirmed by their mode of life and place of dwelling.


The Amalecites were nomadic and warlike and their name is consequently connected in the Bible with various regions. Their original home, however, as appears from I K., xxvii, 8, was in the desert to the south and southwest of Judea, which stretches to the border of Egypt and to the foot of Mt. Sinai, and is now called Et Tih; a region too arid for cultivation, but fertile enough to afford excellent pasture. This indication of I K., xxvii, 8, is confirmed by other passages. It was in this desert, at Cades, that they suffered defeat from Chodorlahomor (Gen., xiv); here, farther to the south, at Raphidim, near the foot of Mt. Sinai, they offered opposition to Moses (Ex., xvii); here Saul attacked them (I K., xv), and here the last remnant of them perished under Ezechias (I Par., iv, 43). But they were not always confined to the desert; they pushed farther north and in Moses's time some of them, at least, are found within the borders of Palestine, and frustrated the attempt of the Israelites to enter the country from the south (Num., xiii). Twice our present Hebrew text shows them even as far north as the territory of Ephraim (Judges, v, 14; xii, 15); but in both cases there seems to be a faulty reading in the Hebrew, which allows us, therefore, to dispense with the habitual speculations, based on these texts, regarding the great expansion and varying fortunes of the Amalecites and their puzzling possession of Mount Ephraim. (See commentaries of Moore and Lagrange on Judges, and Moore's Hebrew text of Judges in Paul Haupt's polychrome Bible.) Nomads and possessors of the Sinaitic peninsula, the Amalecites necessarily came into contact, and almost inevitably into conflict, with the Israelites.


Their first meeting took place in the first year of the wandering, after Israel came out of Egypt, and was of such a nature that Israel then conceived a hatred of the Amalecites that outlasted their extermination under King Ezechias, many centuries later. The first encounter was at Raphidim, where the Israelites under Moses had encamped on their way to Mount Sinai; in the desert home, therefore, of the Amalecites. Moses, putting Josue in command, went up to the top of a hill, with Aaron and Hur, and it was on this occasion that the fortune of battle was decided by "the rod of God" held in the hands of Moses, Israel prevailing while his hands upheld the rod, Amalec when they dropped, the victory finally going to the Israelites (Ex., xvii). There is little in this account of Exodus to show why the Amalecites should be singled out to incur the special animosity of the Israelites, yet it concludes with the decree of Jehovah that He will destroy the memory of Amalec from under heaven, and that His hand will be against Amalec from generation to generation. Amalec, however, was the agressor (ibid., 8); though it must be borne in mind that the Israelites had invaded their country. The reason for Israel's hatred, which is wanting in this historical account, may be supplied from the later (and hortatory) account given in Deut., xxv, where it is incidentally stated that the head of Amalec's offending lay in his cruel and treacherous attack, by which he disregarded the laws of Bedouin hospitality, which was an affront to God as well as to man. Instead of showing ordinary humanity to the feeble stragglers of the Israelite army, "spent with hunger and labour", they ruthlessly slew them. Now, "according to the rules of ancient hospitality, and with some sense of God, the Amalecites ought to have spared, and indeed, rather assisted, those who lagged behind, unfit for battle. That they did the contrary was inhuman and barbarous" (Dillman). Cruelty such as this was considered to render a tribe unfit for existence; so hatred of the Amalecites, even unto extermination, was enjoined upon the Israelites as a religious duty. Even apart, however, from this cruelty, rivalry between the two tribes was almost inevitable, as Amalec could not be expected to regard with complacency Israel's invasion of his rich pasture-lands.

No further molestation from the Amalecites is related during the journey of the Israelites to Mt. Sinai, or their stay there, or their march to Cades, near the southern boundary of Palestine. It was from this side that the Israelites first attempted the entry into the Promised Land; and here they again encountered the Amalecites, at the place where the ancestors of the latter had been defeated by Chodorlahomor. Israel had got as far as the wilderness of Pharan (Paran) and from there they sent spies into Palestine to spy out the peoples there, with their lands and cities. The Amalecites were found in the south of the country and apparently at the head of a confederacy of different tribes, or nations, since they soon led a concerted attack on the Israelites; but the spies also brought back reports of giants living in the land, in comparison with whom, they said, "we were in our own sight as grasshoppers; and so we were in their sight" (sic Heb. text, Num., xiii, 34). These stories of the giants frightened the people and "the whole multitude crying wept that night", and they began to murmur and to wish they had died in Egypt or in the wilderness, rather than be doomed by the Lord to undertake the conquest of the land of giants. Moses, Aaron, and Josue contended against their foolish rebellious spirit, but only gained their hatred; and the Lord then passed on them the punishment of the forty years' wandering, decreeing that none of them should enter the Promised Land. This grieving the people exceedingly, they determined to go up into the land and attack the Amalecites and the Chanaanites. But Moses forbade it, prophesying evil because the Lord was not with them. They presumed, nevertheless, to go up, though Moses would not accompany them, and they met the fate foretold; the Amalecites, with their allies, attacking them with considerable slaughter and driving them as far as Horma (Num., xiv, 45). The subsequent history of the Amalecites during the time of Moses is obscure. Their destruction is foretold by Balaam in his famous oracle uttered on the top of Phogor, while he viewed the nations around. "And when he saw Amalec he took up his parable and said: 'Amalec, the first of nations, thy latter end shall be destruction,'" a prophecy (whatever be its date) which shows at least that Amalec once held an important place among the Semitic tribes or nations surrounding Israel (Num., xxiv). The fulfillment of this prophecy is enjoined upon the Israelites by Moses in a farewell discourse as a sacred duty. "When they shall have established peace with all other people, then shall they blot out the remembrance of Amalec from under heaven: see thou forget it not" (Deut., xxv, 19). And if this seem an inhuman command, let us remember the prevailing sentiment that the Amalecites were "inhuman and barbarous; a people with such evil customs deserves no mercy"; for it is a question of national life or death. It is plain, however, that we are far from the Sermon on the Mount.

== IV. PERIOD OF THE JUDGES == Under Josue, Israel, entering Palestine from the east, did not come in contact with the Amalecites, but was kept busy with other enemies, whose territories they were endeavouring to capture. As soon, however, as the Israelites were well established in Palestine, the old enmity became active again. When Eglon, King of Moab, went up against Israel, he was joined by the Amalecites and Ammonites as allies, and together they subdued the Israelites; and the Israelites remianed in subjection for fourteen years till, through the cunning and treachery of Aod (Ehud) the Benjamite, King Eglon met his tragic death (Judges, iii). Petty warfare between the Amalecites and the Israelites was incessant during a good part of the period of the Judges. The Israelites had by this time become an agricultural people, while the Amalecites remained Bedouin, and made frequent incursions into the land of their enemy and destroyed their crops and cattle (Judges, vi). On one occasion, they accompanied the Madianites on an invasion of Palestine, forming an almost innumerable host; they were unexpectedly attacked at night by Gedeon and 300 picked men, and through panic (and perhaps distrust) turned the sword on one another and fled, with Gedeon in pursuit (Judges, vii).


This defeat of the Amalecites had the effect of quieting them for many years, for they are not heard of again till the early days of Saul. Saul began his reign by vigorous military operations, waging war, with great success, against "enemies on every side"; among them, the Amalecites, who had been harassing the Israelites (I K., xiv, 48). Then came the prophet Samuel and reminded Saul of Amalec's old offence and God's decree of extermination. The prophet's words made it clear (xv, 1-3) that no enemy was hated like Amalec and that his extermination was regarded as a religious duty, imposed by God. All, man, woman, child, and beast, were to be destroyed and Israel was to covet none of Amalec's possessions for spoils. Saul proceeded to carry out this injunction, and its character as special punishment upon the Amecites is emphasized by his mercy to the Cinite (Kenites). Saul invaded the territory of the Amalecites to the south of Palestine and smote them from Hevila in the extreme east, to Sur near the border of Egypt–a campaign of unusual magnitude–and put all to the sword,–men, women, and children–except the King, Agag, whom he took alive, and the best of the animals, which he reserved for sacrifice. For this disobedience in sparing Agag and the best of the flocks and herds, Saul was rejected in the name of God by Samuel who hewed down Agag in his presence; from that day his fortune changed, and when, after Samuel's death, Saul consulted his spirit in the cave at Endor, he was told that he was rejected because he had not executed the fierce wrath of God upon Amalec (Newman's sermon, "Wilfulness the Sin of Saul"). It was an Amalecite who claimed, untruthfully, it seems (II K., i, with I K., xxxi), to have given King Saul his death­blow. While still a fugitive from Saul, David was bringing nearer to its climax the extermination of the doomed race. He was in the service of Achis, King of Geth, in the land of the Philistines, near therefore to Amalecite territory. With his own men, and soldiers borrowed from Achis, he raided the Amalecites and inflicted great slaughter, sparing not a soul (I K., xxvii). The Amalecites retaliated, during the absence of David and Achis, by burning Siceleg (Ziklag), a city which Achis had given to David, and carrying off all its inhabitants, including two wives of David. David pursued and overtook the enemy in the midst of feast and revel, recovered all the spoil and captives, and slew all the Amalecites except 400 young men who escaped on camels (xxx). This slaughter broke the power of the Amalecites and drove them back to their desert home; there a miserable remnant of them lingered on till the days of Ezechias, tenth successor of David, when a band of 500 Simeonites sufficed to exterminate, to the last man, Israel's fiercest foe (I Par., iv, 42, 43). Thus on Mount Seir was fulfilled the doom passed on them by Moses and Balaam about six hundred years earlier. Their name occurs no more except in Ps. lxxxii (reputed by many to be of the Machabean period) where the use cannot be taken as an historical datum, but is rather poetical, applied to Israel's traditional enemies. The Egyptian and Assyrian discoveries have as yet disclosed no mention of Amalec. The Bible is our only witness, and its testimony, though sifted and questioned in regard to many details, particularly in the accounts of the battles at Raphidim and Cades, and the marvellous victory of Gedeon, has been accepted in the main as a reliable account.

Portions of this entry are taken from The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907.


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