Thursday, October 26, 2006

The sad, but true story of the Amalekites

A couple of days ago, a post, Using religion to justify genocide, by Steven Carr took me to this interesting post: CADRE Comment - Focusing on the Trees while Ignoring the Forest.

The background for the latter post is a challenge by The Uncredible Hallq. In short, that challenge was itself a reaction to another Cadre Comment post dealing with Hitler's religious beliefs. I won't go into all that - though it's certainly relevant enough - but the main point is that the Holocaust is frequently used by biblical inerrantists against those who aren't, although the Bible itself has a few nasty stories, where God orders genocide.

One of these stories is in 1 Samuel 15:2-3, where the Israelites "are told to exterminate the Amalekites to the last child" (quote from Hallq's challenge).

BK of the CADRE Comment, who is the author of the CADRE Comment post defends both that Hitler was not a Christian and that the destruction of the the Amalekites was justifiable, in which connection he supplies the following link, A Reasonable Understanding of the Destruction of the Amalekites?


According to a comment by zok:

[Hallq] compares God to Hitler for destroying the Amalekites and other ancient nations, when it was these nations who were basically the Hitlers of the ancient world. Saying that God is evil for attacking the Amalekites is like saying Europe and America were evil for attacking Nazi Germany.

So, the Amalekites were the Hitlers of the ANE, but let's see about that, shall we?.


In the following, all Bible quotes are from the ASV.

First, let's find out, who the Amalekites were. As usual in the OT, a nation descends from only one person, which for the Amalekites is Amalek.

In Genesis 36 we find out, who Amalek was:

Gen 36:2 Esau took his wives of the daughters of Canaan: Adah the daughter of Elon the Hittite, and Oholibamah the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite,

...

Gen 36:10 these are the names of Esau's sons: Eliphaz the son of Adah the wife of Esau, Reuel the son of Basemath the wife of Esau.

Gen 36:11 And the sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, and Gatam, and Kenaz.

Gen 36:12 And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau's son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek: these are the sons of Adah, Esau's wife.

Usually genealogies in the OT trace the male line with the odd woman thrown in for branching. So also in this case, Amalek counts as a son of Adah, Esau's Hittite wife, within the sons of Esau.

Also we see the usual smearing of a nation by its descendancy (racism is certainly no new invention). The Hittites, who had been the friendly, neighborhood natives in the time of Abraham, have suddenly become despised for no clear reason - except not been of the kin; Rebecca sent Jacob to her brother Laban to find a wife among his daughters, because she didn't like the "daughters of Het" (= the Hittite women).

Interestingly, east of the Euphrates the name 'Hatti' was still used for the area west of the Euphrates at least as late as the 3rd century bce, and Laban lived in Harran, east of the Euphrates.

The Edomites supposedly descended from Esau, and it is therefore among Esau's descendants that we find the chiefs of Edom, such as for instance described in:

Gen 36:15 These are the chiefs of the sons of Esau: the sons of Eliphaz the first-born of Esau: chief Teman, chief Omar, chief Zepho, chief Kenaz,

Gen 36:16 chief Korah, chief Gatam, chief Amalek: these are the chiefs that came of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah.

Here we again find Amalek (in v. 16).

And according to Deuteronomy 23, an Edomite should not be abhored:

Deu 23:7 Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a sojourner in his land.

Deu 23:8 The children of the third generation that are born unto them shall enter into the assembly of Jehovah.

Except, of course, when he is called an Amalekite. 

In Exodus 17, the Israelites camp in Rephidim in the Sinai Desert. As in general during the wandering, they complain, this time about the lack of water, as if Yahweh wasn't among them. But of course, Yahweh is among them and sends out Moses to smite a rock with his rod, so water will flow. After that, in v. 8, Amalek comes to fight with the Israelites.

Moses tells Joshua to choose men to go fight with the Amalek. During the battle, Moses is on top of a hill with his rod. When he holds up his hand, the Israelites prevail, and when he lets down his hand, Amalek prevails.

But Moses's hands are heavy, so Aaron and Hur finds Moses a stone to sit on, and each of them holds up one of Moses's hands, so Moses' hands were steady until the going down of the sun (v. 12),

Exo 17:13 And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Exo 17:14 And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.

Note that no particular reason is given for Amalek's attack, nor is any description given of him and his people. All we know is that Amalek is supposedly a bad guy, because he is descended from Esau's Hittite wife. Now, wouldn't this be the line of thinking of the Hitlers of the ANE?

The chapter ends with

Exo 17:16 And he said, Jehovah hath sworn: Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.

Apparently, it isn't Amalek that is the problem.

In Numbers 13, Moses sends people to spy out the land of Canaan. As the spies return, they tall all the congregation about what they had seen:

Num 13:27 And they told him [= Moses], and said, We came unto the land whither thou sentest us; and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it.

Num 13:28 Howbeit the people that dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified, and very great: and moreover we saw the children of Anak there.

Num 13:29 Amalek dwelleth in the land of the South: and the Hittite, and the Jebusite, and the Amorite, dwell in the hill-country; and the Canaanite dwelleth by the sea, and along by the side of the Jordan.

Again, no particular description of the Amalekites, only that they dwell in the "land of the South"; that is, in Negeb, the Edomite territory.

But the Israelites start to fear the inhabitants of the land of Canaan and murmur against Yahweh. Accordingly, so Yahweh sends the Israelites on a detour:

Num 14:25 Now the Amalekite and the Canaanite dwell in the valley: to-morrow turn ye, and get you into the wilderness by the way to the Red Sea.

Note that agin we are not really told anything about the Amelekites, only where they dwell. 

Besides the detour, as should be known, Yahweh condemns the Israelites to wander in the wilderness for 40 years because of their distrust in him, and that all those of the Israelites from 20 years and up that had murmured against him out of fear of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan shall die in the wilderness:

Num 14:28 Say unto them, As I live, saith Jehovah, surely as ye have spoken in mine ears, so will I do to you:

Num 14:29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness; and all that were numbered of you, according to your whole number, from twenty years old and upward, that have murmured against me,

Num 14:30 surely ye shall not come into the land, concerning which I sware that I would make you dwell therein, save Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun.

Num 14:31 But your little ones, that ye said should be a prey, them will I bring in, and they shall know the land which ye have rejected.

Num 14:32 But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness.

Num 14:33 And your children shall be wanderers in the wilderness forty years, and shall bear your whoredoms, until your dead bodies be consumed in the wilderness.

Num 14:34 After the number of the days in which ye spied out the land, even forty days, for every day a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my alienation.

Num 14:35 I, Jehovah, have spoken, surely this will I do unto all this evil congregation, that are gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.

Note here v. 31, which says that the Israelites claimed that their little ones would fall prey for the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, including the Amalekites. Apparently Yahweh doesn't believe such a thing.

Those of the spies that had started the murmuring die immediately of a plague; but as for the rest of the Israelites:

Num 14:39 And Moses told these words unto all the children of Israel: and the people mourned greatly.

Num 14:40 And they rose up early in the morning, and gat them up to the top of the mountain, saying, Lo, we are here, and will go up unto the place which Jehovah hath promised: for we have sinned.

Num 14:41 And Moses said, Wherefore now do ye transgress the commandment of Jehovah, seeing it shall not prosper?

Num 14:42 Go not up, for Jehovah is not among you; that ye be not smitten down before your enemies.

Num 14:43 For there the Amalekite and the Canaanite are before you, and ye shall fall by the sword: because ye are turned back from following Jehovah, therefore Jehovah will not be with you.

Num 14:44 But they presumed to go up to the top of the mountain: nevertheless the ark of the covenant of Jehovah, and Moses, departed not out of the camp.

Num 14:45 Then the Amalekite came down, and the Canaanite who dwelt in that mountain, and smote them and beat them down, even unto Hormah.

This is a confusing text for several reasons. Who are "they" in v. 40? But for our investigation here, the most important part is near the last few three verses. We have been told in v. 25 that the Amalekite and the Canaanite dwell in the valley; but apparently they have started dwelling on a mountain since then. And while the Amalekite and the Canaanite here smite some Israelites, it is rather to be considered as pinishment for their disobedience, first by not trusting Yahweh and then for not accepting to wander in the wilderness.

In Numbers 24, we have some of the prophecies of Balaam, who had been called by the king of Moab to curse the Israelites who were camping in Moab, east of Jordan. However, Balaam being a true prophet can only say, what God tells him to say, so the Israelites are blessed, while the other nations are cursed. In v. 20, Balaam has come to the Amalekites:

Num 24:20 And he looked on Amalek, and took up his parable, and said, Amalek was the first of the nations; But his latter end shall come to destruction.

Here we are told that "Amalek was the first of the nations", but nothing about what that is supposed to mean, and nothing else is said.

In Deuteronomy, while the Israelites are still in Moab, Moses retells the story about the wandering. And in ch. 25, the Amalekites are mentioned:

Deu 25:17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt;

Deu 25:18 how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.

Deu 25:19 Therefore it shall be, when Jehovah thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which Jehovah thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget.

Moses has grown old, and apparently his memory isn't, as he remembered it. This isn't quite the same story as in Exodus; but who cares? Just pick and choose the version that you like the best.

The Moab-Israel thing continues, and occasionally with the Amalekites thrown in for good measure, such as in this story from Judges:

Jdg 3:12 And the children of Israel again did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah: and Jehovah strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah.

Jdg 3:13 And he gathered unto him the children of Ammon and Amalek; and he went and smote Israel, and they possessed the city of palm-trees.

Note that it is Yahweh who strengthens Eglon in order to punish Israel.

In Judges 5 we have Deborah's Song after she and Barak had freed Israel from Jabin, the king of Canaan. In the song is mentioned who took part in the war and who didn't, and we have this mysterious passage:

Jdg 5:14 Out of Ephraim came down they whose root is in Amalek; After thee, Benjamin, among thy peoples; Out of Machir came down governors, And out of Zebulun they that handle the marshal's staff.

Who are "they whose root is in Amalek"? I have no idea; but it is certainly strange that there should be any such in Ephraim, and that they should have counted as Israelites and have fought against Jabin.

After the victory of Deborah and Barak, things, of course, go wrong again:

Jdg 6:1 And the children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah: and Jehovah delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years.

Jdg 6:2 And the hand of Midian prevailed against Israel; and because of Midian the children of Israel made them the dens which are in the mountains, and the caves, and the strongholds.

Jdg 6:3 And so it was, when Israel had sown, that the Midianites came up, and the Amalekites, and the children of the east; they came up against them;

Jdg 6:4 and they encamped against them, and destroyed the increase of the earth, till thou come unto Gaza, and left no sustenance in Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass.

As with the Eglon story, the Amalekites here are just running along with the others to punish Israel, so where's the problem?

It is up to Gideon to deal with the Midianites and the Amalekites:

Jdg 6:33 Then all the Midianites and the Amalekites and the children of the east assembled themselves together; and they passed over, and encamped in the valley of Jezreel.

Jdg 6:34 But the Spirit of Jehovah came upon Gideon; and he blew a trumpet; and Abiezer was gathered together after him.

Jdg 6:35 And he sent messengers throughout all Manasseh; and they also were gathered together after him: and he sent messengers unto Asher, and unto Zebulun, and unto Naphtali; and they came up to meet them.

Somewhat similar to the Deborah and Barak story. And further:

Jdg 7:12 And the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the east lay along in the valley like locusts for multitude; and their camels were without number, as the sand which is upon the sea-shore for multitude.

Jdg 7:13 And when Gideon was come, behold, there was a man telling a dream unto his fellow; and he said, Behold, I dreamed a dream; and, lo, a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came unto the tent, and smote it so that it fell, and turned it upside down, so that the tent lay flat.

Jdg 7:14 And his fellow answered and said, This is nothing else save the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel: into his hand God hath delivered Midian, and all the host.

We here see the strange logic of these things: Yahweh uses the Midianites to punish the Israelites because they have been naughty, and when the time of punishment is over, he selects a hero to smite those people that he first used. Now, if alse he hadn't planted that tree in the Garden of Eden in the first place, all this wouldn't have been needed.

Next time it is Jephtah the Gileadite's turn. The Israelites have worshipped other gods, and the Ammonites cross the Jordan to attack. Then the Israelites cry to Yahweh, and then:

Jdg 10:11 And Jehovah said unto the children of Israel, Did not I save you from the Egyptians, and from the Amorites, from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines?

Jdg 10:12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, did oppress you; and ye cried unto me, and I saved you out of their hand.

Jdg 10:13 Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will save you no more.

Well, but he forgets to tell that he first sent these people to punish the Israelites, doesn't he? We won't go into the details of that story, since it anyway doesn't involve the Amalekites apart from the favorable mentioning in v. 12.

In Judges 12 we have this funny detail:

Jdg 12:13 And after him Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite judged Israel.

Jdg 12:14 And he had forty sons and thirty sons' sons, that rode on threescore and ten ass colts: and he judged Israel eight years.

Jdg 12:15 And Abdon the son of Hillel the Pirathonite died, and was buried in Pirathon in the land of Ephraim, in the hill-country of the Amalekites.

Again, things appear to be confused. Did the Amalekites live in valleys or in a hill-country? And did they live in the south or in the land of Ephraim?

After the judges, the Israelite kingdom starts with Saul, and he starts out quite impressively:

1Sa 14:47 Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, and against the children of Ammon, and against Edom, and against the kings of Zobah, and against the Philistines: and whithersoever he turned himself, he put them to the worse.

1Sa 14:48 And he did valiantly, and smote the Amalekites, and delivered Israel out of the hands of them that despoiled them.

He smites the Amalekites, but that's not enugh: Saul is given the task of fullfilling Balaam's prophesy:

1Sa 15:1 And Samuel said unto Saul, Jehovah sent me to anoint thee to be king over his people, over Israel: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the words of Jehovah.

1Sa 15:2 Thus saith Jehovah of hosts, I have marked that which Amalek did to Israel, how he set himself against him in the way, when he came up out of Egypt.

1Sa 15:3 Now 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.

Note here is only mentioned the old story from Exodus, and that is supposed to be more than 400 years ago by the time of Saul, so the revenge is to be taken out on people who had no part in the original event, and even apart from that, in what way could the animals be said to have had any guilt? Even accepting all these stories, the Amalekites cannot be said to have been worse than the other nations mentioned in Judges, so it's not because of anything they have done since that event more than 400 years ago.

Anyway, Saul does as ordered:

1Sa 15:4 And Saul summoned the people, and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand footmen, and ten thousand men of Judah.

1Sa 15:5 And Saul came to the city of Amalek, and laid wait in the valley.

1Sa 15:6 And Saul said unto the Kenites, Go, depart, get you down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them; for ye showed kindness to all the children of Israel, when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.

1Sa 15:7 And Saul smote the Amalekites, from Havilah as thou goest to Shur, that is before Egypt.

1Sa 15:8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword.

As ordered - though not quite:

1Sa 15:9 But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep, and of the oxen, and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them: but everything that was vile and refuse, that they destroyed utterly.

And Yahweh repented that he had made Saul king, because Saul had turned away from him and did not follow his commandments. It is up to the prophet Samuel to kill Agag:

1Sa 15:33 And Samuel said, As thy sword hath made women childless, so shall thy mother be childless among women. And Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before Jehovah in Gilgal.

We only have Samuel's words for it, and nothing mentioned before about Agag or any other Amalekite (except more than 400 years ago) having done anything wrong.

Anyway, after this Samuel goes to Bethlehem to anoint David; but Saul is still king. And interestingly, the Amalekites are still alive; because while David serves the Philistine king Achish, this incident happens:

1Sa 27:8 And David and his men went up, and made a raid upon the Geshurites, and the Girzites, and the Amalekites; for those nations were the inhabitants of the land, who were of old, as thou goest to Shur, even unto the land of Egypt.

1Sa 27:9 And David smote the land, and saved neither man nor woman alive, and took away the sheep, and the oxen, and the asses, and the camels, and the apparel; and he returned, and came to Achish.

If Samuel had killed Agag the last of the Amalekites, how could there then still be Amalekites around?

Later the Philistines gather their armies together to fight with Israel. Samuel is dead, so Saul cannot ask him for advice, but he goes to the witch of En-dor to ask her call forth the spirit of samuel; but it's to no help, because Samuel says:

1Sa 28:17 And Jehovah hath done unto thee, as he spake by me: and Jehovah hath rent the kingdom out of thy hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David.

1Sa 28:18 Because thou obeyedst not the voice of Jehovah, and didst not execute his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath Jehovah done this thing unto thee this day.

1Sa 28:19 Moreover Jehovah will deliver Israel also with thee into the hand of the Philistines; and to-morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: Jehovah will deliver the host of Israel also into the hand of the Philistines.

All because Saul did not "execute [Yahweh's] fierce wrath upon Amalek". And notice that not only is Saul going to die, also his sons will die because of the sin of their father, and the wole of israel is going to be under Philistine rule because of the sin of their king.

Now, Samuel killed Agag and that should have been the end of the Amalekites. And even if it wasn't, then David "smote the land, and saved neither man nor woman alive," which should have put things straight. But those Amalekites are tougher than that. Achish had given David the town of Ziklag, and while he is still serving Achish, this incident happens:

1Sa 30:1 And it came to pass, when David and his men were come to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid upon the South, and upon Ziklag, and had smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire,

1Sa 30:2 and had taken captive the women and all that were therein, both small and great: they slew not any, but carried them off, and went their way.

Sure, it's not a nice thing to burn down other people's houses; but at least the Amalekites appear to not be killers. Let's see how David treats the Amalekites, when he attacks them:

1Sa 30:17 And David smote them from the twilight even unto the evening of the next day: and there escaped not a man of them, save four hundred young men, who rode upon camels and fled.

1Sa 30:18 And David recovered all that the Amalekites had taken; and David rescued his two wives.

1Sa 30:19 And there was nothing lacking to them, neither small nor great, neither sons nor daughters, neither spoil, nor anything that they had taken to them: David brought back all.

But then again, this is David, so special rules apply.

After this event, we have the following:

2Sa 1:1 And it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David was returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had abode two days in Ziklag;

2Sa 1:2 it came to pass on the third day, that, behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul, with his clothes rent, and earth upon his head: and so it was, when he came to David, that he fell to the earth, and did obeisance.

Who is this man? you ask. You are granted one guess:

2Sa 1:6 And the young man that told him [that Saul and his sons were dead] said, As I happened by chance upon mount Gilboa, behold, Saul was leaning upon his spear; and, lo, the chariots and the horsemen followed hard after him.

2Sa 1:7 And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called unto me. And I answered, Here am I.

2Sa 1:8 And he said unto me, Who art thou? And I answered him, I am an Amalekite.

And what a nasty Amalekite he is:

2Sa 1:9 And he said unto me, Stand, I pray thee, beside me, and slay me; for anguish hath taken hold of me, because my life is yet whole in me.

2Sa 1:10 So I stood beside him, and slew him, because I was sure that he could not live after that he was fallen: and I took the crown that was upon his head, and the bracelet that was on his arm, and have brought them hither unto my lord.

So, this young Amalekite slew saul, though upon Saul's own request. But he is no worse than that he brings Saul's crown and bracelet to David and calls David his lord. There are alternate stories about saul's death; but we won't go into that, because it's not the point of this essay.

David knows how to ackowledge this service:

2Sa 1:13 And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.

2Sa 1:14 And David said unto him, How wast thou not afraid to put forth thy hand to destroy Jehovah's anointed?

2Sa 1:15 And David called one of the young men, and said, Go near, and fall upon him. And he smote him, so that he died.

2Sa 1:16 And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain Jehovah's anointed.

2Sa 1:17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son

That should teach you to be careful with kings.

Now, was this young man the last of the Amalekites? No, not quite so:

2Sa 8:11 these also did king David dedicate unto Jehovah, with the silver and gold that he dedicated of all the nations which he subdued;

2Sa 8:12 of Syria, and of Moab, and of the children of Ammon, and of the Philistines, and of Amalek, and of the spoil of Hadadezer, son of Rehob, king of Zobah.

So, even as king, David subdued Amalek - must have been those four hundred camel riders.

Were the Amalekites never finally done away with? Indeed they were:

1Ch 4:42 And some of them, even of the sons of Simeon, five hundred men, went to mount Seir, having for their captains Pelatiah, and Neariah, and Rephaiah, and Uzziel, the sons of Ishi.

1Ch 4:43 And they smote the remnant of the Amalekites that escaped, and have dwelt there unto this day.

Now, mount Seir is in Edom, down in the south. So did they start there, or did they end there?

But that's not even all; compare vv. 10 and 12 from Genesis 36 quoted above with these verses from 1 Chronicles:

1Ch 1:35 The sons of Esau: Eliphaz, Reuel, and Jeush, and Jalam, and Korah.

1Ch 1:36 The sons of Eliphaz: Teman, and Omar, Zephi, and Gatam, Kenaz, and Timna, and Amalek.

According to Genesis 36:12, Timna was concubine to Eliphaz; but according to 1 Chronicles 1:36, Timna was a son of Eliphaz. No, no, I am not saying that I have caught an error - in ANE culture, a concubine counted as a son in certain circumstances. No, just kidding, a scribal error sneaked itself in at some time in 1 Chronicles 1:36, so the real position of Timna got corrupted. But we still have the absolutely inerrant report in Genesis 36:12, don't we?

1 Chronicles also has the report from 2 Samuel 12:

1Ch 18:11 These also did king David dedicate unto Jehovah, with the silver and the gold that he carried away from all the nations; from Edom, and from Moab, and from the children of Ammon, and from the Philistines, and from Amalek.

And, of course, with the same problem: that Agag was supposed to have been the last of the Amalekites. Of course, Amalek may here refer, not to the Amalekites, but to an area that had been inhabited by Amalekites; but the OT tendency to confuse a supposed ancestor with a place with a people sure doesn't make it easy to figure out who's who when and where.

In Psalm 83, Amalek is mentioned in v. 7 as one of the nations that have made a covenant with each to subdue Israel. The psalm is by Asaph, a descendant of David; but ok, for a poetic text, I suppose we can accept an anachronism.

Talking about anachronisms, we have this little piece from the time of Abraham:

Gen 14:7 And they returned, and came to En-mishpat (the same is Kadesh), and smote all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites, that dwelt in Hazazon-tamar.

Ok, there is an easy way around this: the verse mentions "the country of the Amalekites"; that is it refers to an area known by this designation to the Israelites at the time of Moses, not to Amalekites. But it all just adds to the confusion.


As should be clear from this exposition, even accepting the biblical stories, the Amalekites were no worse than the rest, including the Israelites. These stories are stories about standard tribal warfare, known from just about everywhere, and possibly as exaggerated as elsewhere. We are not given any precise information about them, so we really don't know anything about them. That they should have been descendants of Esau doesn't quite fit in with everything else told about them, and even if they were, would that tell us anything?


In the CADRE Comment post, BK writes that

Don't like the fact that the order of the Amalekites needs to be looked at in the context of pre-Jesus's coming context, and the Amalekite identification with evil? Fine, but then simply acknowledge that you aren't really interested in the truth. The Amalekites were like a weed growing in the garden that needed to be pulled so that the garden could flourish in accordance with God's plan. But to understand that requires reading the entire Bible and understanding the verses in the context of the time and circumstances that were occurring. But then, you [= Hallq] don't want to hear about context.

What should be clear from the Bible quotes that I have supplied here is that BK's premise doesnt quite hold; not even the Bible says that the Amalekites were a threat to the Israelites, and in most cases they were simply a part of God's punishment of the Israelites for their disobedience.

See also Reconstructing a murder case.

10 comments:

BK said...

Exactly what types of people were the Amalekites? Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Bible which is largely believed to have been written centuries before 1 Samuel, describes the Amalekites in rather unflattering language. Deut 25:17-19:

"Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God. It shall be that when the Lord, your God, gives you rest from all your enemies all around, in the Land that the Lord, your God, gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under heaven – you shall not forget!" (Emphasis added.)

I actually think it funny that you should find this version to be the result of Moses' failed memory when, in fact, it is more likely that Deut. fills in facts that were omitted from the Exod. story.

The Jewish Encyclopedia (JewishEncyclopedia.com) describes the Amalekites as follows:

A kinsman of the Israelites, Amalek nevertheless displayed the most intense hatred toward them: he inherited Esau's hostility to his brother Jacob. When other nations hesitated to harm God's chosen ones, his evil example induced them to join him in the fray. "Like a robber he waylaid Israel"; "like a swarm of locusts"; "like a leech eager for blood"; "like a fly looking for sores to feed on"; Amalek ('am laḳ = the people which licketh) hurried over hundreds of miles to intercept Israel's march:(Tan. Ki Teẓe, ix., and Pesiḳ. iii. 26b)

(Sorry, some of the Jewish writing doesn't translate very well).

Likewise, the Jewish Virtual Library makes these points about the Amalekites:

This nomadic nation was, in ancient times, Israel's eternal foe. Shortly after the Israelites left Egypt and were wondering the desert, the Amalekites attacked the weary nation, slaughtering the weak and elderly. The Israelites, under the leadership of Joshua, later avenged the attack and defeated the Amalekites, but failed to completely eradicate the nation. Israel was then plagued with raids Amalekite raids. Today, the name Amalek is a symbol for evil and hatred against Jews, and Haman, the Persian leader who vowed to destroy all Jews, is considered a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites.

The commentary of the Whole Bible authored by Jamison, Faucett and Brown echoes the fact that the Amalekites were ruthless and hateful people:

[The Amalekites were a] powerful tribe which inhabited the country immediately to the eastward of the northern Cushites. Their territory extended over the whole of the eastern portion of the desert of Sinai to Rephidim--the earliest opponent ( Deu 25:18 Exd 17:8-16 ) --the hereditary and restless enemy of Israel ( Num 14:45 Jdg 3:13 6:3 ), and who had not repented ( 1Sa 14:48 ) of their bitter and sleepless hatred during the five hundred years that had elapsed since their doom was pronounced. Being a people of nomadic habits, they were as plundering and dangerous as the Bedouin Arabs, particularly to the southern tribes.

The sources are consistent in their view of the Amalekites as an exceptionally wicked people. The verses from Deuteronomy point to their treachery (accord, Exod 17:8-16). They are seen as the embodiment of evil and hatred towards the Jews which were God’s chosen people. While Israel was to make justice and brotherly love—-even to strangers-—its guiding rule (see, e.g., Leviticus 19:34), the Israelites were commanded to not forget that Amalek had perpetrated a cowardly and unprovoked attack on the feeble and hindmost, when the Israelites were marching from Egypt.

Amalek’s enmity against Israel stems not only from its legacy as Esau’s grandson (Jewish Encyclopedia, supra), but from what it represents. Amalek was the first among nations (Num 24:20), i.e., the leading force of evil. Consequently, the struggle between Israel and Amalek can be seen as a heavenly metaphor played out in real life for the eternal struggle of good versus evil.

The Israelites were God’s chosen people. It was through them that Christ was to enter into the world. The Amalekites, the forces of Mordor (so to speak), were seeking to eliminate the Israelites and God’s plan of salvation. The manner in which they acted was very much as a terrorist might approach the task-—picking on the poor and weak with cowardly attacks. They needed to be eliminated so that God’s plan of salvation could proceed. God chose His people which were His agent for the ultimate "good" of the Christ to act as His hand of judgment upon the Amalekites, and ordered their absolute annihilation.

Moreover, the eradication of the Amalekites was not a "sudden" turn where God ordered the attack on a nation that had had nothing to do with the nation of Israel for 400 years.

"The command for exterminating them, with which 1 Samuel 15 opens (1 Sam 15:2-3), may have been given as a consequence of their raids having become more sanguinary under their then king Agag (1 Sam 15:33). It was clear to Samuel that the struggle with these ancient and ever-hostile opponents was a matter of life and death to Israel. According to the Talmud, the Torah commands Israel to do three things after completing the conquest of the Holy Land: to appoint a king, to eradicate Amalek, and to build the Temple. Hence, Samuel introduced this command to battle Amalek by telling Saul that, since he had been anointed as king, Amalek – the leading force of evil in the world – was to be wiped out entirely."

Source: Unknown.

Amalek was a constant and belligerent predatory tribe of nomads that was quite capable of raids at a distance from its usual home.

"Joshua already encountered Amalek early in the game, as we are told in Exod 17:9-10,13. Then we find during the era of Judges, the 400+ years that spanned from Joshua to Samuel, the following references to "troubles" with Amalek: Judges 3:13, 6:3,33, and 7:12. In 1 Sam 14:48, Amalek is referred to as Israel's 'oppressor', which could be interpreted in the continuous 'pain in the butt' vein. We also see that this problem didn’t end with Saul's victory over Amalek, since he didn’t 'wipe them out'. King David had to fight them (1 Sam 30:1) as well as King Hezekiah (1 Chron. 4:43)."

Source: Unknown.

Since the Amalekites were one of the instrumentalities of Satan, God knew not only what they had done, but what they would do if allowed to continue. God, in love for the greatest number of people, and recognizing these particular individuals in Amalek (all of whom have finite value as individuals) as totally depraved and unregenerate under any circumstances, decides to cut off this problem by having the Israelites—-as his instrument for good—-wipe them out totally. This destruction, when viewed out of context, certainly appears to show that God is being mean-spirited, even evil. But in fact, it was required to save the largest number of people while causing the death of some people who were evil themselves.

FreezBee said...

Hello BK;

You ask:

Exactly what types of people were the Amalekites?

Then you refer to Deuteronomy - but as you also mention (and as I mention in the OP), the evnts actually were first detailed in Exodus, and the description there isn't quite the same as in Deuteronomy.

And, in henral the Amalekites aren't described as any different from all the other nations, including the Usraelites.

I actually think it funny that you should find this version to be the result of Moses' failed memory when, in fact, it is more likely that Deut. fills in facts that were omitted from the Exod. story.

What is the most likely - that a 120 year old man has a few memory faults about an event that happened 40 years, or that he doesn't?

The Jewish Encyclopedia (JewishEncyclopedia.com) describes the Amalekites as follows:

...


The quoted entry is not based on the biblical record, but on later interpretations. Nowhere in the OT is it mentioned that Amalek held any personal grufge against Israel. And even if "he" did, then the description, I'm afraid to say, is racist: claiming that some nation is evil due to its descendency simply is racist.

The commentary of the Whole Bible authored by Jamison, Faucett and Brown echoes the fact that the Amalekites were ruthless and hateful people:

...


Again you are quoting later interpretations. Note the phrase "the hereditary and restless enemy of Israel" - isn't it racist to write about hereditary enemies?

Remember, all this started with the difference between the Holocaust and certain events in the Bible, such as the commanded killing of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15.

Anyway, as I clearly show in the OP, the historicity of that event is, at least, debatable; but still Samuel 15 clearly states that a commanded genocide must be carried out.

The sources are consistent in their view of the Amalekites as an exceptionally wicked people. The verses from Deuteronomy point to their treachery (accord, Exod 17:8-16). They are seen as the embodiment of evil and hatred towards the Jews which were God’s chosen people.

That your "sources are consistent in their view" is because they simply perpetrate an established tradition; it doesn't prove anything.

Actual nowhere does the OT make any claim that the Amalekites had anything personally against the Israelites. It's a conclusion based on Amalek's descendency from Esau and therefore a racist conclusion.

While Israel was to make justice and brotherly love—-even to strangers-—its guiding rule (see, e.g., Leviticus 19:34), the Israelites were commanded to not forget that Amalek had perpetrated a cowardly and unprovoked attack on the feeble and hindmost, when the Israelites were marching from Egypt.

But you forget that no such attack is mentioned in Exodus. So maybe the whole story is caused by Moses' faulty memory and possibly the hardship of the wandering in the wilderness, a wandering commanded by God to punish the Israelites due to faults of their own, not faults of the Amalekites.

Amalek’s enmity against Israel stems not only from its legacy as Esau’s grandson (Jewish Encyclopedia, supra), but from what it represents. Amalek was the first among nations (Num 24:20), i.e., the leading force of evil.

But where is there any description of, in what way Amalek "was the leading force of evil"?

Consequently, the struggle between Israel and Amalek can be seen as a heavenly metaphor played out in real life for the eternal struggle of good versus evil.

An allegorical interpretation; that's better than the literal, I will certainly admit. Shall we agree that the whole story is made up to illustrate a point? And that it has nothing whatsoever to do with nations and who descended from who?

The Israelites were God’s chosen people. It was through them that Christ was to enter into the world. The Amalekites, the forces of Mordor (so to speak), were seeking to eliminate the Israelites and God’s plan of salvation.

And what is your evidence for this? In most cases, where the Amalekites attacked Israel, it was in connection with God's punishments for the naughtyness of his chosen people.

Say, he had chosen the Amalekites instead. Then everything would just be turned around: the Israelites were the forces of Mordor.

The manner in which they acted was very much as a terrorist might approach the task-—picking on the poor and weak with cowardly attacks. They needed to be eliminated so that God’s plan of salvation could proceed.

And, where, if I may ask, is this written? Neither in Exodus, nor in Deuteronomy!

Since the Amalekites were one of the instrumentalities of Satan, God knew not only what they had done, but what they would do if allowed to continue.

Methinks it is like we are all the instrumentalities of Satan. But where is there any indication that Satan was involved?

This destruction, when viewed out of context, certainly appears to show that God is being mean-spirited, even evil. But in fact, it was required to save the largest number of people while causing the death of some people who were evil themselves.

Umm, and how is this different from Nazi justifications of the Holocaust?

Anonymous said...

In most cases, where the Amalekites attacked Israel, it was in connection with God's punishments for the naughtyness of his chosen people.

This does not prove that the Amalekites were not evil. God allowing an evil people to harm Israel does not make the evil people any less evil. It only means they were given an opportunity to carry out their wishes.

in henral the Amalekites aren't described as any different from all the other nations, including the Usraelites.

The surrounding nations are described as incredibly wicked (child sacrifice, ritual prostitution, incest, etc.). Israel slips into this behavior once in a while but it's only because of God's grace that He protects them and rebukes them until they snap out of it.

the phrase "the hereditary and restless enemy of Israel" - isn't it racist to write about hereditary enemies?

It's not "racist" in any sense of the word I'm familliar with. Why would it be racist for a tribe with rival values and rival deities opposed to the values and deity of Israel to be described as "hereditary" enemies of Israel? Are their values and religious practices not handed down generation to generation?

And if the God of Israel really is what He says He is, are they not evil and corrupt for continuing in doing the things they do, passing it on from generation to generation?

We have an example of a corrupt civilization snapping out of it and repenting: Nineveh. If Amalek had done the right thing, and surrendered to the God of Israel (since, according to the story, He is the telling the truth about Himself and the Universe), then we would not be reading about their destruction... a judgment which occured after hundreds of years of constant rebellion and violence.

FreezBee said...

This does not prove that the Amalekites were not evil. God allowing an evil people to harm Israel does not make the evil people any less evil. It only means they were given an opportunity to carry out their wishes.

But what evidence do we have of that the Amalekites were particularly evil? And almost in all cases that the Amalekites are "evil" against the Israelites, it is connected with divine punishment. If you get angry and hit someone with a stick, is the stick evil?

The surrounding nations are described as incredibly wicked (child sacrifice, ritual prostitution, incest, etc.). Israel slips into this behavior once in a while but it's only because of God's grace that He protects them and rebukes them until they snap out of it.

But so did all the other peoples think about themselves. Do you know about the Mesha (or Moab) Stone.

It's not "racist" in any sense of the word I'm familliar with. Why would it be racist for a tribe with rival values and rival deities opposed to the values and deity of Israel to be described as "hereditary" enemies of Israel? Are their values and religious practices not handed down generation to generation?

But to all our knowledge, they all had the same values and religious practices, so what's the point?

Anyway, according to Genesis, Amalek was a descendant of Esau and a Hittite woman; that is, the hostility between the Amalekites and the Israelites is not supposed to be standard rivalry between neighboring peoples, but to have originated in properties of single individuals - properties that are inherited from generation to generation. This would be called racism, if it wasn't written in the Bible.

And if the God of Israel really is what He says He is, are they not evil and corrupt for continuing in doing the things they do, passing it on from generation to generation?

But according to Judges, even the Israelites were "evil and corrupt" most of the times, so what makes the Amalekites worse?

We have an example of a corrupt civilization snapping out of it and repenting: Nineveh. If Amalek had done the right thing, and surrendered to the God of Israel (since, according to the story, He is the telling the truth about Himself and the Universe), then we would not be reading about their destruction... a judgment which occured after hundreds of years of constant rebellion and violence.

But you forget two things:

1) That God never sent a prophet to tell the Amalekites to repent; they never knew that they were doing something wrong - assuming they were doing something wrong, that is.

2) That the destruction of the Amalekites was decreed already after the first encounter, not because God finally decided to decree after in vain having tried to make them change their ways.

Anonymous said...

what evidence do we have of that the Amalekites were particularly evil?

Well, we're discussing a story. The evilness of the Amalekites is one of the facts of the story. If you dispute that fact, why not dispute the fact that the war occured at all?

If you get angry and hit someone with a stick, is the stick evil?

But the Amalekites were not a stick. They were a free people who wanted to harm Israel. God removes his protection and allows the Amalekites to let their wicked desire come to fruition as a punishment for Israel. That does not mean that the Amalekites were just in what they did.

they all had the same values and religious practices

If you take the story on its own merits, no they did not. Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry but they also repeatedly turned away from this Idolatry when God punished them. There was always a remnant of those in Israel who were loyal to God and didn't become idolators.

to have originated in properties of single individuals - properties that are inherited from generation to generation. This would be called racism

An attitude is not a property. The passage says that the Amalekites followed a tradition of hating Israel that was started with their forefathers and passed down from generation to generation. The story does not say that each individual Amalekite was culpable for their ancestor's sin except that they embraced the tradition of being against Israel. If anyone was racist, it was the Amalekites who passed down a tradition of racism against the tribes of Israel.

That God never sent a prophet to tell the Amalekites to repent; they never knew that they were doing something wrong

They did have a prophet. The whole region had a prophet. Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt after a series of incredible miracles including the parting of a sea. There was more than enough evidence that the Israelites were favored by God.

Not only that, but Israel itself had a priesthood which acted as "prophets" calling for Amalek to repent. But they didn't. After hundreds of years they were still attacking Israel. If there were any sensible men and women in Amalek they would have ceased agression against Israel and/or left the tribe altogether.

Not only that, but as Glenn Miller points out:

"Balaam the Mesopotamian prophet specifically prophesizes to the King of Moab of the destruction of Amalek (Num 24.20). Moab and Midian were closes allies of Amalek throughout biblical history, and this prophesy would have been well known by the leadership of Amalek before they started the next couple of centuries of oppression and violence against Israel."

the destruction of the Amalekites was decreed already after the first encounter

And when did the destruction occur? Hundreds of years after the fact. And those years were full of Amalekite agression towards Israel. It isn't the case that there was a single attack on Israel but then things were peaceful for all the time after that to come.

You can dispute this by saying "what's the evidence" for such and such - but then you change the subject of the conversation. You might as well ask what's the evidence for God. If you deny inerrancy of these passages then you've no good reason to believe the invasion of the amalekites happened as written either.

FreezBee said...

Well, we're discussing a story. The evilness of the Amalekites is one of the facts of the story. If you dispute that fact, why not dispute the fact that the war occured at all?

Not necessarily so. What is it to be evil? Killing other people? If so, the Amalekites were occasionally evil, but so were the Israelites, and that's my point: seen from the outside, it's a tough task to tell the Israelites from the Amalekites.

In the story, Israelite aggression against the Amalekites is not considered as evil, so apparently it is not on its own evil to kill people, unless you have that apply to the Israelites as well.

But the Amalekites were not a stick. They were a free people who wanted to harm Israel. God removes his protection and allows the Amalekites to let their wicked desire come to fruition as a punishment for Israel. That does not mean that the Amalekites were just in what they did.

So, God is dependent on having evil around to do his bidding, is he?

If you take the story on its own merits, no they did not. Israel repeatedly fell into idolatry but they also repeatedly turned away from this Idolatry when God punished them. There was always a remnant of those in Israel who were loyal to God and didn't become idolators.

And how do we know that there wasn't always a remnant among the Amalekites that remained loyal to their god? Remember that miraculously the Amalekites survided Saul's massacre and Samuel's killing of Agaa. And don't forget the four hundred camel riders that escaped from David's massacre.

An attitude is not a property. The passage says that the Amalekites followed a tradition of hating Israel that was started with their forefathers and passed down from generation to generation. The story does not say that each individual Amalekite was culpable for their ancestor's sin except that they embraced the tradition of being against Israel. If anyone was racist, it was the Amalekites who passed down a tradition of racism against the tribes of Israel.

Ans how do we know that this isn't just an Israelite story to defend their own actions?

Anyway, as the OT has it, an attitude is a property; the OT makes no difference between various kinds of inheritance; traditions, biological inheritance, and inheritance of property are one and the same.

They did have a prophet. The whole region had a prophet. Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt after a series of incredible miracles including the parting of a sea. There was more than enough evidence that the Israelites were favored by God.

Why then did God let the Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years?

Not only that, but Israel itself had a priesthood which acted as "prophets" calling for Amalek to repent. But they didn't. After hundreds of years they were still attacking Israel. If there were any sensible men and women in Amalek they would have ceased agression against Israel and/or left the tribe altogether.

I am not sure, what you are referring to here. Where is it said that Israelite priets were calling for Amalek to repent?

Read this:

(Exodus 17:14) And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.

Nothing about that the Amalekites will be given a chance to repent.

Not only that, but as Glenn Miller points out:

"Balaam the Mesopotamian prophet specifically prophesizes to the King of Moab of the destruction of Amalek (Num 24.20). Moab and Midian were closes allies of Amalek throughout biblical history, and this prophesy would have been well known by the leadership of Amalek before they started the next couple of centuries of oppression and violence against Israel."


But that still implies that it was pre-determined, not something conditional on behavior. Maybe the Amalekites really were just defending themselves against the decreed destruction?

And when did the destruction occur? Hundreds of years after the fact. And those years were full of Amalekite agression towards Israel. It isn't the case that there was a single attack on Israel but then things were peaceful for all the time after that to come.

No, but apparently the Israelites couldn't keep faithful for long, so God needed someone to punish them. Maybe, if the Israelites had changed their behavior, the Amalekites would have done the same?

You can dispute this by saying "what's the evidence" for such and such - but then you change the subject of the conversation. You might as well ask what's the evidence for God. If you deny inerrancy of these passages then you've no good reason to believe the invasion of the amalekites happened as written either.

The discussion, as I understood it, wasn't all that much about the historicity of the massacre on the Amalekites, but about whether the Bible can be used to defend genocide.

And your arguments show that it can be used that way. Yes, we might say that all that changed with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross - that was the last sacrifice demanded by God. Some Christiand do think that way, but I personally know of other Christians that don't.

Steven Carr said...

BK writes 'They needed to be eliminated so that God’s plan of salvation could proceed. '

CARR
And villages in Vietnam had to be destroyed so they could be saved.

Human beings have to be killed so God can save humanity?

Scary stuff, written by a wicked person who regards people as things to be killed if they are not on God's side.

Steven Carr said...

BK writes 'They did have a prophet. The whole region had a prophet. Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt after a series of incredible miracles including the parting of a sea. There was more than enough evidence that the Israelites were favored by God.'

CARR
Of course, BK is now trashing the Biblical stories, whch want us to believe that the Israelites themselves had no faith and turned to other gods and made a golden calf, even after personally experiencing all this evidence at first hand.

BK is convinced by this evidence even when he has done no more than read it in a book, but he wants us to believe that as soon as Moses went up a mountain, the very people who saw this 'evidence' made a golden calf.

It all makes no sense, and BK's faith is living proof that it must be false.

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