At Genesis 36:16, Amalek is described as the "chief of Amalek", and thus his name can be construed to refer to a clan or a territory over which he ruled. Josephus calls him a 'bastard' (νόθος), though in a derogative sense. A late extra-Biblical tradition, recorded by Nachmanides, maintains that the Amalekites were not descended from the grandson of Esau but from a man named Amalek, from whom the grandson took his name.
The Amalekites were a people mentioned a number of times in the book of Genesis, and considered to be Amalek's descendents. In the chant of Balaam at Numbers, 24:20, Amalek was called the 'first of the nations', attesting to high antiquity.
The name is often interpreted as "dweller in the valley", and occasionally as "war-like," "people of prey", "cave-men" In some rabbinical interpretations, Amalek is etymologised as a people am, who lick blood, but most specialists regard the origin to be unknown.
In Arabic, the corresponding term for the Biblical Amalek is Imlīq, whose descendants Al-′Amālīq were early residents of the ḥaram at Mecca, later supplanted by the Banu Jurhum, and formed one of the first tribes of ancient Arabia to speak Arabic.
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 is similar to 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.
Gustave Doré, The Death of Agag. "Agag" may have been the hereditary name of the Amalekite kings. The one depicted was killed by Samuel (1 Samuel 15).
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, 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 said to Agag: "As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women"(1 Samuel 15:33) before be "hewed Agag in pieces before the LORD".
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)
Flavius Josephus 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 of old, as far as Shur, to the land of Egypt. 9 And 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 states that "He took Agag king of the Amalekites alive, and all his people he totally destroyed with the sword." This implies that after Agag had been killed so were all the people of Agag who consequently became extinct. In a later story in the time of Hezekiah, however, the Simeonites annihilated a group of 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, 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 the Israelites, not to forget what the Amalekites did to Israelites, 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"..
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 Judges 6-8 in the story of Gideon, the Amalekites and the Midianites are said to have amassed a visible army of at least 135,000 encamped against Israel.
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
Beginning in the 10th century, and continuing until the 19th century, Armenians were considered to be Amalekites by some Jewish authorities.
“In 1839...the British missionary Joseph Wolff found it “remarkable that the Armenians, who are detested by the Jews as the supposed descendants of the Amalekites, are the only Christian church who have interested themselves for the protection and conversion of Jews.” Scottish Missionaries Bonar and McCheyne suggested that “the peculiar hatred which the Jews bear toward the Armenians may arise from a charge often brought against them, namely that Haman was an Armenian, and that the Armenians are the Amalekites of the Bible” for becoming the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301 AD. Late in the nineteenth century Joseph Judah Chorny reported hearing from the Jews of Georgia, among whom he had traveled, of their ancestral tradition that the Armenians were descendants of the Amalekites, and another Jewish traveler reported a bizarre practice in eastern Galicia, whereby the Armenians that did business with the local Jews would mourn Haman’s death every Purim, and light candles in his memory. If there was any truth to the latter report, it is likely that Armenians were paid to do so by the local Jews, as a form of Purim entertainment, just as elsewhere in Eastern Europe Jews would often hire Christians to play the role of Haman in their Purimshpiel. ”
“'A slight grimace on their lips, a short heartfelt sigh, and nothing more. The Armenians are not Jews, and according to folk tradition the Armenians are nothing more than Amaleks! Amaleks? We would give them help? To whom? To Amaleks? Heaven forbid!'
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 Naziwar criminalAdolf Eichmann's wife pleading for clemency after he was taken to Israel and sentenced to death.
"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.
The Palestinians have been associated with Amalek since 1974 when Rabbi Moshe Ben-Tzion Ishbezari of Ramat Gan made the association in a book. The equation began to circulate in Gush Emunim circles, and its full implications were spelled out by Rabbi Yisrael Hess in 1980. A former campus rabbi of Bar-Ilan University, Hess published in the university's student paper in February 1980 an article on "The Genocide Commandment in the Torah", in which he concluded that:
'The day is not far when we shall be called to this holy war, to this commandment of the annihilation of Amalek.'
Hess's reference to Amalekites was later taken in Israel to be an allusion to the Palestinian Arabs, especially since he spoke of a jihad.
'Against this holy war God declares a counter jihad . .in order to emphasise that this is the background for the annihilation and that it is over this that the war is being waged and that it is not a conflict between two peoples. . God is not content that we annihilate Amalek -'blot out the memory of Amalek' - he also enlists personally in this war . .because, as has been said, he has a personal interest in this matter, this is the principal aim.'
In 1982 Danny Rubinstein, in his book On the Lord's Side argued that this notion permeates the Gush Emunim movement's bulletins, citing one such article on 'The Right to Hate' which affiremed:-
'In every generation there is an Amalek. The Amalekism of our generation finds expression in the deep Arab hatred towards our national revival in our forefathers' land.'
In 1985 Uriel Tal, in his Foundations of a Political Messianic Trend in Israel, argued that Hess's position is to be contextualised within a totalitarian messianic force, whose process he summed up as follows.
Palestinians in the Occupied Territories were to be reduced to the halakhic status of resident alien.
The promotion of Arab 'transfer'
The implementation of the commandment of Amalek, involving the 'annihilation' of Palestinian Arabs.
Ron Geaves also writes that 'in settler circles, the Palestinians are likely to be identified with the Amalekites', and citing the same pamphlet from the campus rabbi attached to Bar-Ilan University, adds that the message is passed on through 'the religious schools where boys are taught that the Arab is Amalek.' After Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Palestinians at the Mosque in Hebron, Rabbi Arthur Waskow argued that Goldstein had decided to 'blot out the memory of Amalek' by machine-gunning the Palestinian worshippers, and commented:
So then, in our generation, for some Jews the Palestinians become Amalek. Some Palestinians are terrorists? Some Palestinians call publicly for the State of Israel to be shattered? The archetypes of fear slide into place: all Palestinians are Amalek. And the fantasies of the powerless become the actions of the powerful. For in our generation, Jews have power.’
After the death of Yassir Arafat, a declaration was issued by 200 rabbis of Pikuach Nefesh asserting that the anniversary of the death of 'this Amalek of our generation' should be celebrated as 'a day of rejoicing'.
Zionists as Amalekites
The anti-Zionist Haredi rabbi Zalman Teitelbaum denounced the proposed draft of Haredi men by the Israel Defense Forces by saying "the Zionists came from the seed of Amalek. There has never been such a sect that caused so much damage to the Jewish people." A senior rabbi in Israel's Shas party, Shalom Cohen, publicly labeled Religious Zionists as Amalek, but later backpedaled his remarks saying that they were aimed only at The Jewish Home party, not all Religious Zionists.
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 historical 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 victims 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 aggressor 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."
^Hatzvi Newspaper May 1909-[Quoted in English translation in Y. Auron, Zionism and the Armenian Genocide: The Banality of Indifference, Transaction Publishers, London, (2002), p. 126.] “Armenia is also sometimes called Amalek in some sources, and Jews often referred to Armenians as Amalekites. This is the Byzantine term for the Armenians. It was adopted by the Jews from the Josippon chronicle (tenth century, ch. 64). According to Josippon, Amalek was conquered by Benjaminite noblemen under Saul (ibid., 26), and Benjaminites are already assumed to be the founders of Armenian Jewry in the time of the Judges (Judg. 19–21). Benjaminite origins are claimed by sectarian Kurds. The idea that Khazaria was originally Amalek helped to support the assumption that the Khazar Jews were descended from Simeon” (I Chron. 4:42–43; Eldad ha-Dani, ed. by A. Epstein (1891), 52; cf. Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut, Iggeret) Hatzvi Newspaper May 1909-[Quoted in English translation in Y. Auron, Zionism and the Armenian Genocide: The Banality of Indifference, Transaction Publishers, London, (2002), p. 126.] “In 1839...the British missionary Joseph Wolff found it “remarkable that the Armenians, who are detested by the Jews as the supposed descendants of the Amalekites, are the only Christian church who have interested themselves for the protection and conversion of Jews.” Scottish Missionaries Bonar and McCheyne suggested that “the peculiar hatred which the Jews bear toward the Armenians may arise from a charge often brought against them, namely that Haman was an Armenian, and that the Armenians are the Amalekites of the Bible” for becoming the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301AD. Late in the nineteenth century Joseph Judah Chorny reported hearing from the Jews of Georgia, among whom he had traveled, of their ancestral tradition that the Armenians were descendants of the Amalekites, and another Jewish traveler reported a bizarre practice in eastern Galicia, whereby the Armenians that did business with the local Jews would mourn Haman’s death every Purim, and light candles in his memory.” "When in late 15th century R. Obadiah of Bertinoro,a native of Umbria who emigrated to Jerusalem,described the city's [Christian] sects in a letter to his father, he listed "the Latins, Greeks, Jacobites, Amalekites,Abyssinians." Armenians still hold their own quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem to this day. The book Holy Women of Byzantium: Ten Saints' Lives in English Translation By Alice-Mary Talbot speaks about Byzantine Emperor Leo V the Armenian who ruled from 813 AD to 820 AD until his assassination by one of his top generals, Michael the Amorian. When describing Emperor Leo the book claims, “He is called Amalekite, meaning Arab, because of his apparent approval of Islamic prohibition of the depiction of sacred images.” A Synopsis of Byzantine History, By John Skylitzes, John Wortley has a footnote regarding magistrate of the Byzantine Empire, Stylian Zaoutzes, who is described as being of the Armenian race and his skin color as “very dark”. The book claims that his last name is derived from the Armenian word for black meaning “zaoutch”. Zaoutzes was born in Thrace and the book claims he was “most likely related to Tzantes, the strategos of Macedonia, whose name was supposedly derived from the same Armenian word. The book The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam By David M. Goldenberg describes Zaoutzes as being literally referred to as the “Ethiopian” and called kushi meaning dark skinned or dark in color. Even inanimate objects were sometimes referred to as kushi. The word is a reference to Kushitic people of East Africa. [someone edit this I dont know how to properly format these entries but the info is all legit!]
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
^Alastair G. Hunter, '(De)nominating Amalek, Racial Stereotyping,’ in Jonneke Bekkenkamp, Yvonne Sherwood (eds.)Sanctified Aggression: Legacies of Biblical and Post Biblical Vocabularies of Violence, T&T International/Continuum International Publishing Group, 2003 pp.92-108, pp.103-104, p.104.