From Academic Kids

According to the Book of Genesis and 1 Chronicles, Amalek (עֲמָלֵק; Standard Hebrew ʻAmaleq, Tiberian Hebrew 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.

The maximalist understanding of the Bible regards this genealogy as literal. A minimalist understanding regards it as traditional ethnology rather than literal genealogy. In this latter view the Amalekites are related to the Edomites (consequently also to the Hebrews) and Horites. 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. Amalek, for what ever reason, has become eponymous for the Amalekites. Gen. 36:16 refers to him as the "chief of Amalek" thus even within a literalist perspective of the Bible, his name can be understood to be a title derived from that of the clan or territory over which he ruled.

An extra-Biblical tradition recorded by Nachmanides relates that the Amalekites were descended from a man named Amalek after whom Esau's grandson was later named. Such an eponymous ancestor of the Amalekites is also mentioned in Arab traditions.

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



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 Masudi, 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 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.). Saul also hesitated to kill Agag, at which point Samuel executed the Amalekite king himself.

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 (the only Amalekite name that has been preserved).

Extermination of the Amalekites

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 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, children and animals 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 interpreted 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.

Rejection of God

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.he:עמלק pl:Amalekici


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