Amalekites: Josephos and Philo on a prototypical arch-enemy people (first century CE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Amalekites: Josephos and Philo on a prototypical arch-enemy people (first century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified June 7, 2023,

Ancient authors: Josephos (late-first century CE), Judean Antiquities, various passages (link); Philo (early first century CE), Life of Moses 1.214-219; On Mating with Preliminary Studies; and, Migration of Abraham 143-144 (link).

Comments: Much like the Philistines and then the Babylonians later on, the Amalekites became an early symbol for the arch-enemy people of the Israelites or Judeans (Jews). The key biblical passages in Exodus and Deuteronomy themselves (supplied here for context) allude to the leading role that Amalekites (usually pictured south of what would become the territory of Judah) played when Moses, Joshua and the Israelites were on the verge of entering the land, especially with reference to the battle at Rephidim (ca. Numbers 24:20). However, those accounts do not really spell out the background details of what led to the emphasis on the plan of Yahweh (the Hebrews’ / Israelites’ god) to completely erase this people specifically. Usually the biblical authors separate the Amalekites out from Canaanites, so the phrase “Amalekites and Canaanites” (e.g. in Numbers) was a general way of saying everyone in the land to be occupied, in some cases. The Amalekites as a people are only known from the biblical narratives and are not attested in contemporary, outside materials in recognizable form.

In part due to the lack of details regarding why the Amalekites specifically are targeted for a special extermination and due to their image as arch-enemy, some Judean authors of the Roman era give considerable attention to them. Josephos’ expansions of the biblical narratives about the Amalekites seek to clarify their role as the ultimate arch-enemy of the Hebrews or Israelites while also rationalizing the call for the Amalekites’ extermination. Josephos locates Amalekites both to the south of Judah (in what would be called Idumea) and to the northeast near Petra.

Philo’s treatment of passages in the Bible where Amalekites appear is noteworthy here because of his alternative approach. In his more historically-minded writing on Moses, Philo blurs who this people is by referring to them simply as “Phoenicians” (a contemporary first century term and later equivalent of the earlier “Canaanites”). Since Philo does not refer to the extermination order at all in his Life of Moses (in fact he tends to eschew the notion of a Hebrew conquest at all), this avoids the need to go into great detail about the offenses or activities of Amalekites in particular. Even more notable perhaps is his allegorical writing, where Amalek in the biblical material is interpreted not as a reference to a people at all, but to moral vices or passions (with an etymology involving “licking up”).

These roughly contemporary, if quite different, Judean dealings with a then non-existant people illustrate the ongoing concern with peoples nonetheless. Amalekites also make appearances in Rabbinic literature (link coming soon), where they remain the type of the ultimate enemy of God’s people. A fascination with peoples no longer on the scene or even mythical was also common among Greek authors as well, on which, for instance, search for Pelasgians or Lelegians or Hyperboreans on this site.

Works consulted: L.H. Feldman, “Remember Amalek!”: Vengeance, Zealotry, and Group Destruction in the Bible According to Philo, Pseudo-Philo, and Josephus (Cincinnati, OH: Hebrew Union College Press, 2004).

This post is part of the Biblical peoples redux series:

  • Descendents of Noah’s sons Shem, Japheth and Ham in Josephos and Pseudo-Philo (link)
  • Ishmaelites (Arabians) in Jubilees, Molon and Josephos (link)
  • Edomites (Idumeans) in Josephos (link)
  • Amalekites in Josephos and Philo (link)
  • Canaanites (Phoenicians) in Jubilees (link) and in Wisdom of Solomon (link)
  • Kushites (Ethiopians) in Artapanos, Josephos and others (link)
  • Midianites and Moabites (Arabians) in Philo and Josephos (link)
  • Chutheans or Samaritans in Josephos (link) and in biographies of Jesus / gospels (link)

Source of the translations: Bible translations are from the Lexham bible with significant modifications. H.S.J. Thackeray and R. Marcus, Josephus, volumes 1-7; LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1926-43), public domain; and, F.H. Colson, G. Whitaker, and R. Marcus, Philo, 12 volumes, LCL (Cambridge, MA: HUP, 1929-51), public domain, adapted by Harland.



(17:1-2, 8-15) All the community of the Israelites set out on their journeys from the desert of Sin according to the command of Yahweh. They camped in Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. And the people quarreled with Moses, and they said, “Give us water so that we can drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yahweh?” . . . (8) And Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us, and go out, fight against Amalek tomorrow. I will be standing on the top of the hill, and the staff of God will be in my hand.” And Joshua did as Moses had said to him to fight with Amalek. Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And when Moses raised his hand, Israel would prevail, but when he rested his hand, Amalek would prevail. But the hands of Moses were heavy, and they took a stone and placed it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on each side, and his hands were steady until sundown. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Yahweh said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the scroll and recite it in the hearing of Joshua, because I will completely erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”

And Moses built an altar, and he called its name “Yahweh is my Banner.” And he said, “Because a hand was against the throne of Yah, there will be a war for Yahweh with Amalek from generation to generation.”



(25:17-19) “Remember what Amalek did to you on the journey when you went out from Egypt, that he met you on the journey and attacked you, all those lagging behind you and when you were weary and worn out, and he did not fear God. And when Yahweh your God gives rest to you from all your enemies from all around you in the land that Yahweh your God is giving to you as an inheritance to take possession of it, you shall completely erase the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. You shall not forget [what Amalek did]!”



[Esau as ancestor of the Amalekites]

(2.4-6) Esau became the father of five children. Among these, Jeush, Jalam and Korah came from one wife named Oholibamah. Regarding the others, Eliphaz was born from Adah and Ruel from Basamath.

Those were the sons of Esau. Eliphaz had five legitimate sons: Teman, Omar, and Zepho, Getam and Kenaz.

Amalek was a bastard born to him by a concubine named Timna. These people [Amalekites] occupied the region of Idumea called “Gobolitis” and the region called, after Amalek, “Amalekitis.” For Idumea, formerly extensive, has kept that name [Idumea] for the entire country and, in its specific districts, it has preserved the names that were derived from the founders of these districts [i.e. Idumea in Josephos time overlaps with the territory of the Amalekites in earlier times, although the two peoples are not coextensive]. . . [omitted sections].

[Amalekites organize opposition to Moses and the Hebrews’ entry into the land; cf. Exodus 17]

(3.39-43) As the fame of the Hebrews was now being loudly broadcast and there was talk about them everywhere, the inhabitants of the country became quite afraid. Sending embassies back and forth, the inhabitants encouraged each other to repel and try to destroy these upstarts [the Hebrews / Israelites]. The instigators of this movement were those inhabitants of Gobolitis [Gebal south of Judah, later encompassed within Edom / Idumea] and Petra [i.e. across the Jordan to the east] who are called Amalekites and who were the most war-like of the peoples in those parts.

It was their kings who sent messages exhorting one another and the neighbouring peoples to make war on the Hebrews. They said that: “An foreign army has escaped from slavery in Egypt and is waiting to attack us. It is our responsibility not to disregard them. No. It is safer and prudent to crush them before they gain strength and obtain resources and openly engage in battle with us, emboldened by meeting with no opposition on our part. In this way, we will exact retribution for their incursion into the wilderness and for what they have done there, instead of waiting until they have seized on our cities and our goods. Those who attempt to crush an enemy’s power at the outset show greater wisdom than those who, when it is already far advanced, would prevent its extension. For the latter seem only resentful of the enemy’s great strength, whereas the former never give the enemy a chance against them.” Addressing such messages by embassies to the neighbouring districts and to one another, they decided to engage the Hebrews in battle.

Since Moses was not expecting this hostility, this rising of the natives was perplexing and troubling. While, since they were already advancing to battle and the peril had to be faced, there was grave agitation in the Hebrews’ army, destitute of everything, yet destined to contend with men at all points perfectly equipped. Moses accordingly proceeded to console them. . . [omitted section].

(3.53-61) The adversaries met and a hand-to-hand contest ensued, fought with great spirit and with mutual shouts of encouragement. So long as Moses held his hands up, the Amalekites were disturbed by the Hebrews. Moses, therefore, unequal to the strain of this extension of his arms, and seeing that as often as he dropped them so often were his men losing ground, called on his brother Aaron and his sister Mariamme’s husband – named Ur – stand on either side of him to support his hands and by their aid not allow them to decline. After that, the Hebrews inflicted a crushing defeat on the Amalekites, who would all have died if night had not arrived to hold off the carnage.

[Josephos’ direct assessment of the meaning of this victory over surrounding peoples]

This was a most noble and timely victory that our ancestors won, because they defeated their assailants, terrified the neighbouring inhabitants. Furthermore, they acquired by their efforts great and magnificent riches, having captured their enemy’s camp and thereby obtained stores of wealth both for communal and individual use. These were the same people who just recently had even lacked the necessaries of life. Nor was it only for the present, but also for the future that their success in this battle proved productive of blessings, because they not only enslaved the bodies of their assailants, but also their spirits. After the defeat of those first adversaris, the Hebrews became a source of terror to all the neighbouring inhabitants, while the Hebrews themselves amassed a great quantity of wealth. For abundant silver and gold was captured in the camp, as well as vessels of brass, which served for their meals, a mass of coins of both metals, all manner of woven fabrics, decorations for armour, with all the accompanying trappings and apparatus, spoils of all sorts of beasts of burden, and everything that usually accompanies armies into battle. The Hebrews now began to have pride in their valour and to have high aspirations to heroism, while they perservered in hard work, convinced that by hard work anything was attainable. Such was the nature of this battle.

[Notion of the extermination of the Amalekites]

The next day, Moses had the corpses of the enemy stripped and all the armour left behind by those who fled collected. Moses presented rewards to the valiant and praised their general, Joshua, whose exploits were attested by the whole army. In fact, not a single one of the Hebrews died, while the enemy’s dead were countless. Offering sacrifices of thanksgiving, Moses erected an altar, calling God by the name of “Giver of victory.” He also predicted that the Amalekites were to be utterly exterminated and not one of them should survive to later times, because they had set upon the Hebrews at a time when they were in desert country and in sore distress.” He then regaled the troops with festivity.

[Conclusion to the section on Moses’ communal organization in war and peace: Remember the Amalekites]

(4.302-309) Such then is the communal organization (politeia) that Moses left behind. He also delivered over those laws which he had written forty years earlier and about which we will speak in another work [perhaps the last part of Against Apion – link is in mind]. On the following days – for the assembly was held continuously – Moses gave them blessings, with curses upon any that did not live in accordance with the laws but transgressed the ordinances that were in the laws.

Then Moses recited to them a poem in hexameter verse, which he has left behind in a book preserved in the temple, containing a prediction of future events, in accordance with which all has come and is coming to pass. This seer has no way strayed from the truth. He consigned all these books to the priests, together with the ark, in which he had deposited the ten commandments written on two tables, and the tabernacle.

Once the Hebrews had conquered the country and were established in it, Moses also called on the people not to forget the prideful violence of the Amalekites, but to take the field against them and exact vengeance for the wrong which they had done against the Hebrews when they were in the desert [i.e. 3.39 above].

Furthermore, when the Hebrews had completely defeated the land of Canaan and destroyed its entire population, as was appropriate, they were to erect the altar pointing towards the rising sun, not far from the city of Sikima between two mountains: Gerizim mountain on the right and the mountain called “Counsel” [i.e. Ebal] on the left. The army, divided into two portions of six tribes each, was to take up its station on these two mountains, and with them Levites and priests. Those on mount Gerizim were to invoke the best of blessings first upon any who were enthusiastic for the worship of God and for the observance of the laws and were not disobedient to the words of Moses. The other tribes were to express pious approval. And when the latter offered prayers in their turn, the first party was to signify their assent. Afterwards, in the same order, they should pronounce curses upon future transgressors, mutually responding in corroboration of the pronouncements. These blessings and curses Moses put on record himself, so that their lesson might never be abolished by time. In fact, he finally inscribed them upon the altar, on either side. This altar is where, he said, the people were to stand and offer sacrifices and whole burnt-offerings, but after that day they would offer no further victim on that altar, since that would be unlawful. Such were the ordinances of Moses, and the Hebrew people (ethnos) continues to act in conformity with this. . . [omitted sections].

[Samuel, Saul and the Amalekites; cf. 1 Samuel 15]

(6.131-151) Samuel [the prophet] now came to Saul [king of Israel] and said that he had been sent to him by God to remind him that God had preferred him above all others and made him king, and that he should therefore obey and listen to God. For while Saul had dominion over the peoples (ethnē), God had dominion both over him and over the universe. At that point, Saul announced that God had spoken like this: “Because the Amalekites did much evil to the Hebrews in the wilderness, when they had come out of Egypt and were on their way to the land that now is theirs, I command you to take vengeance on the Amalekites in war and, when victorious, to leave not one of them remaining. You should kill everyone of every age, beginning with the women and infants. In this way you will take vengeance for what they did to your ancestors. You are not to spare any beasts of burden or any cattle at all for private profit or possession. Everything is to be dedicated to God and, in compliance with the commands of Moses, to totally wipe out the name of Amalek.”

[Attack and defeat of the Amalekites]

Saul promised to fulfil these injunctions. As Saul was reflecting about how obedience to God rested not only in making this campaign against the Amalekites, but would be displayed even more by his readiness and quickness, he gathered all his forces. After counting them at Galgala, Saul found that the Israelites, apart from the tribe (phylē) of Judah, were about 400,000 men. The tribe of Judah by itself supplied 30,000 combatants. After invading the country of the Amalekites, Saul posted numerous lines of soldiers and ambuscades around the ravine. His intent was not only to harass them in open warfare, but also to attack them unexpectedly on the roads and to envelop and destroy them. In fact, when he engaged in battle with them, he completely defeated the enemy and, pursuing the fugitives, destroyed everyone of them. After successfully achieving that task in keeping with God’s prediction, Saul attacked the cities of the Amalekites. They stormed all the cities, some by engines of war, others by mining operations and exterior opposing walls, others by hunger and thirst, and still others by other means, he had carried and stormed them all. Saul then proceeded to slaughter the women and infants, considering nothing cruel or too savage for human nature to perform. This was because they were enemies whom he was treating in this way, and then because of the commandment of God, whom was dangerous to disobey.

[Failure to obliterate all Amalekites and their animals]

But he also took prisoner the enemy’s king, Agag, whom out of admiration for his beauty and his stature he accounted worthy to be saved. In this, Saul was no longer acting in accordance with the will of God, but giving way to feelings of his own and yielding to compassion at the wrong time, when it was not permitted to him without dangerous consequences. For God hated the people (ethnos) of the Amalekites so much that God had ordered Saul not even to spare the infants, to whom it is more natural to show pity. Instead, Saul saved their king, the author of all the injuries to the Hebrews, having had more regard for the beauty of his enemy than for memory of what God commanded. The populace were also his partners in sin, because they spared the beasts and the cattle. They took as plunder what God had forbidden to be preserved, and carried off all the chattels and riches as well. But they did destroy things that they did not want.

Conquering the whole region extending from Pelousion in Egypt to the Erythraian sea [i.e. Amalekites pictured as being south of Judah down to the Red Sea in what would later be Idumean territory], Saul destroyed the inhabitants as enemies, saving only the people (ethnos) of the Sikimites, who had settled in the heart of the country of Midian [i.e. northeast of the Red Sea]. Before combat, he had sent messengers to the Sikimites admonishing them to withdraw, in case they would share the fate of the Amalekites. For, being kinsmen of Raguel, the father-in-law of Moses, he had, as he said, good reason to spare them. Saul behaved as though he had not neglected any of the injunctions which he had received from the prophet when embarking on his campaign against the Amalekites. Instead, he behaved as though he had strictly observed them all in having conquered his enemies. So Saul returned homeward happy at his success.

[God’s reaction to the disobedience]

But God was not pleased that Saul spared the life of the king of Amalek and that the populace plundered the cattle, because these things had not been permitted by God. God considered it a terrible offence that, when they had conquered and defeated the enemy through the might which God had given them, God would be faced with such contempt and disobedience that they would not even show to a human king. So God told the prophet Samuel that God regretted having elected Saul as king, since Saul was in no way executing God’s commands. Instead, Saul was doing things according to his own pleasure. On hearing this, Samuel was very troubled. All night long Samuel directed himself to entreating God to be reconciled to Saul and not very angry with him. But God would not grant pardon to Saul at the prophet’s request, considering this not merely condoning sins at the intercession of another. For nothing more favoured their growth than laxity on the part of the wronged, who in seeking a reputation for mildness and kindness are unwittingly the instigators of crime. . . [omitted lengthy interchange between God’s prophet, Samuel, and Saul, with Saul asking forgiveness and Samuel predicting a new king [i.e. David] would succeed Saul].

[Samuel on the destruction of Agag]

Agag, king of the Amalekites was also brought to Samuel. When the prisoner asked what type of bitter death he would face, Samuel said, “As you have made many mothers of Hebrews lament and mourn for their children, so will you cause your mother to grieve over your own destruction.” Samuel then ordered that Agag be instantly put to death in Galgala, and he himself departed to the city of Armatha. But King Saul, perceiving what ills he had incurred in making God his enemy, went up to his palace at Gaba (a name which in translation means “hill”) and from that day onward never came into the prophet’s sight. . . [omitted sections].

[David’s slaughter of the Amalekites; cf 1 Samuel 27:8-12 and 30]

(6.356-368) So David, as the king of Gitta ordered, went to Sekella [Ziklag; perhaps near Gaza in Philistine territory]. But at the very time when he had left there to lend aid to the Philistines, the Amalekite people had made an invasion and taken Sekella by storm. After setting fire to Sekella and capturing much booty both from that town and from the rest of the Philistine territory, they had left. Now when David found that Sekella had been sacked and everything in it pillaged, and that his two wives and the wives of his comrades along with their children had been taken captive, he immediately tore his clothes. Wailing and lamenting with his friends, David was so completely undone by this disaster that finally he had no more tears to cry. Moreover, he was not far from being stoned to death by his comrades, who were deeply grieved by the capture of their wives and children, and held him responsible for what had happened. Recovering from his grief, however, and lifting his thoughts to God, he asked the high priest Abiathar to put on his priestly robe and to inquire of God and predict to him whether, if he pursued the Amalekites, God would allow David to overtake them and to rescue the women and children and avenge himself on his foes. And when the high priest commanded him to pursue this aim, David rushed off with his six hundred soldiers on the track of the enemy.

On reaching a stream called Baselos, he came upon a straggler, an Egyptian by descent group (genos), who was exhausted from want and hunger, having endured three days wandering in the wilderness without food. After he had first revived him and restored him with food and drink, David asked him who he was and where he came from. He revealed that he was of the Egyptian descent group and had been left behind by his master, being unable to follow because of sickness. He further explained that he was one of those who had burned and ravaged Sekella as well as parts of Judea. So David made use of the man to guide him to the Amalekites.

David found them lying around on the ground, some at their morning meal, others already drunken and relaxed with wine, regaling themselves with their spoils and booty. Suddenly attacking them, David slaughtered many because, being unarmed and expecting no such thing but intent upon drinking and revelry, they were all an easy prey. Some, being surprised while at the dinner tables, were massacred beside them, and their streaming blood swept snacks and food away. Others were drinking to each other’s health when he killed them. Still others, under the influence of alchohol, were sound asleep. While those who had been quick enough to put on their armour and make a stand against him—these he also cut to pieces with no less ease than those who lay defenceless on the ground. David’s companions also continued the slaughter from the first hour until evening, so that there were left of the Amalekites no more than four hundred. These four hundred had escaped by mounting swift camels. . . [omitted passage on arguments among David’s supporters over plunder]. Such, then, was the affair of the sacking of Sekella and the slaughter of the Amalekites. Meanwhile, the Philistines had joined battle with the Israelites . . . [omitted remainder of account of David].

[Saul’s horrible death as a result of the failure to remember the Amalekites]

(6.378) That is what happened to Saul in the end [death and dismemberment of Saul by Philistines] – as Samuel had predicted – because Saul had disobeyed God’s commandments regarding the Amalekites, and because he had destroyed the family of Abimelech the high priest, Abimelech himself and the city of the high priests. He reigned eighteen years during the lifetime of Samuel and for twenty-two years more after the latter’s death. Thus Saul departed this life. . . [omitted extensive sections leading up to the Persian period].

[Haman under Persian rule interpreted as a stray surviving Amalekite with hatred for Israelites / Judeans; cf. Esther 3]

(11.209-220) Now whenever Haman son of Hammedatha, who was of Amalekite descent [“Agagite” – i.e. descendant of king Agag of the Amalekites – in the Hebrew Bible], went in to where the king was, the foreigners and Persians kneeled down before Haman, because Artaxerxes had ordered that Haman should receive this honour from them. But Mordecai because of his wisdom and his native law would not kneel down before any person. After observing this, Haman inquired where he came from. When he learned that he was a Judean, he became indignant and remarked to himself that whereas the free-born Persians kneeled down before him, this man, who was a slave, did not think it was appropriate to do so. And although he wished to take revenge on Mordecai, Haman considered it too little to ask that Mordecai alone be punished by the king, but decided to exterminate his entire people (ethnos), for he naturally hated the Judeans because his own descent group (genos), the Amalekites, had been destroyed by them.

So Haman went to the king and brought a charge, saying that there was a certain wicked people scattered throughout the habitable land ruled by him, which would not mingle with those of another tribe and neither had the same form of worship nor practised the same laws as others. Instead, “by its customs and practices it is the enemy of your people and of all humankind. If you want to store up good deeds with your subjects, you will give orders to destroy this people root and branch and not leave a remnant of them to be kept either in slavery or in captivity.” However, in case the king would experience a loss of tribute collected from them, Haman offered to give out of his own property forty thousand talents of silver whenever the king would give the order. This sum of money he said he would gladly supply in order that the kingdom might be rid of this plague and have peace.

After Haman had made this request, the king presented him with both the money and the men to do as he pleased with them. After getting what he wanted, Haman immediately sent out an edict in the king’s name to all the peoples (ethnē), of which the contents were as follows:

“The decree of the great king Artaxerxes to the rulers of the one hundred and twenty-seven satrapies from India to Ethiopia (Esther 13:1): While I have ruled over many peoples and have had dominion over all the habitable land which I could want, I have not been compelled because of my power to wrong my subjects by any arrogant or brutal act. Rather, I have shown myself considerate and mild, and have looked out for their peace and good government, seeking how they might enjoy these things for ever. But Haman, who because of his prudence and uprightness receives the first share of glory and honour from me and because of his faithfulness and steadfast loyalty is second after myself, has solicitously shown me that there is an unfriendly people mingled with all humankind, a people which has peculiar laws, is insubordinate to kings, is different in its customs, hates monarchy and is disloyal to our government. Therefore, I order that you destroy all those who are pointed out by Haman, my second father, with their wives and children, without sparing anyone or disobeying my written orders by being influenced by pity than my instructions. It is my will that this will take place on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month of the present year, in order that our enemies everywhere may be destroyed in one day and so let us lead our lives in peace thereafter.”

When this decree was brought to the cities and the country districts, they all made themselves ready for the destruction of the Judeans on the mentioned day. And haste was made in Susa as well. And so the king and Haman were busy with feasting and drinking, while the city was in commotion. . . [omitted remainder of summary of Esther narrative in which Judeans are saved from the plot].


Philo, Life of Moses

[Hebrews approach the land occupied by “Phoenicians” (without express mention of Amalekites) after wandering in the desert; cf. Exodus 17]

(1.214-219) After traversing a long and pathless expanse, the Hebrews came within sight of the confines of habitable land, and the outlying districts of the country in which they proposed to settle. This country was occupied by Phoenicians. They had thought they would find a life of peace and quiet, but their hopes were disappointed. For the king who ruled there, fearing pillaging and plundering, called up the youth of his cities and came to meet them, hoping to bar the Hebrews’ way, or, if that were not feasible and they attempted violence, to discomfit them by force of arms, seeing that his men were not tired and were fresh for the contest. On the other hand, the Hebrews were ex­hausted from all the journeying and by the famine and drought which had alternately attacked them.

Moses, learning from his scouts that the enemy was not far away, gathered his men of military age. Choosing as their general one of his lieutenants named Joshua, Moses hurried to take a more important part in the fight. Having purified him­self according to the customary ritual, he ran with­out delay to the neighbouring hill and asked God to shield the Hebrews and give a triumphant victory to the people whom God had saved from wars and other troubles still more grievous than this. In doing so, Moses was dispersing not only the misfortunes with which men had menaced them but also those so miraculously brought about in Egypt by the upheaval of the elements and by the continual dearth which they faced in their journeying.

[Confrontation between a superior people and an inferior one]

However, when they were about to engage in the fight, Moses’ hands were affected in the most marvellous way. They became very light and very heavy in turns, and, whenever they were in the former condition and rose aloft, his side of the combatants was strong and distinguished itself more by its valour. But whenever his hands were weighed down, the enemy prevailed. So God used symbols to show that earth and the lowest regions of the universe were the portion assigned as their own to the one party, and the ethereal, the holiest region, to the other. God showed that, just as heaven holds kingship in the universe and is superior to earth, so this people (ethnos) would be victorious over its opponents in war. While, then, his hands became successively lighter and weightier, like scales in the balance, the fight, too, continued to be doubtful. However, when they suddenly lost all weight, the fingers serving them as pinions, they were lifted on high like the tribe that wings its way through the air, and remained thus soaring until the Hebrews won an undisputed victory and their enemies were slaught­ered wholesale. In this way, the enemies were justly suffering the punishment which they wrongly tried to deal out to others. Then too, Moses set up an altar, and called it from the event “Refuge of God.” With prayers of thanksgiving, he offered sacrifices in celebration of the victory on this altar.


Philo, On Mating with Preliminary Studies

[Allegorical interpretation of “Amalek” as passion and “licking up”]

(54-56) The wicked also take on opinions and doctrines as concubines. So he says that Timna, the concubine of Eliphaz, the son of Esau, bore Amalek to Eliphaz [Genesis 36:12]. How distin­guished is the misbirth of him whose descent is here given! What the misbirth is you will see, if you throw away any thought that these words refer to men and turn your attention to what we may call the anatomy of the soul. It is then the unreasoning and unmeasured impulse or appetite of passion which he calls “Amalek,” for the word by translation means “people (laos) licking up.” For as the force of fire con­sumes the fuel put in its path, so too the boiling of passion “licks up” and destroys all that stands in its way. This passion [“Amalek”] is rightly declared to have Eliphaz for its father, for “Eliphaz” means “God has dispersed me.” And is it not true that when God scatters and disperses the soul and ejects it with derision from his presence, unreasoning passion is at once produced? The mind which truly loves God, that has the vision of God, is the mind that God “plants in,” as a branch of noble birth. God deepens its roots to reach to eternity and gives it fruitfulness for the acquisition and enjoyment of virtue. That is why Moses prays in these words, “Bring them in and plant them in” [Exodus 15:17], so that the saplings of God’s culture may not be for a day but age-long and immortal. On the other hand he banishes the unjust and godless souls from himself to the furthest bounds, and “disperses” them to the place of pleasures, lusts and unjust actions. That place is most appropriately called “the place of the impious,” but it is not that mythical place of the impious in Hades. For the true Hades is the life of evil, a life of vengeance and of murderous guilt, the victim of every curse.

[Continued allegorical interpretations of peoples]

Elsewhere we have this text, engraved as if on a stone, “When the highest one divided the peoples (ethnē), when he dispersed the sons of Adam” (Deuteronomy 32:8). This means he drove away all the earthly ways of thinking which have no real desire to look on any heaven-sent good, and made them home­less and city-less, completely and truly scattered . . . [omitted continuing allegorical interpretations in which peoples are moral qualities].


Philo, Migration of Abraham

[Further instance of allegorizing Amalek as “licking up” and vice]

(143-144) This is the end of the way of those who follow the words and injunctions of the law, and march in whatever direction God leads the way. However, the man who gives in under the assaults of the foe, who hungers after pleasure and is licking for passion, whose name is “Amalek,” which means “a people licking up.” Such a man will find himself cut off. The oracles signify that the Amalek type of character lies in ambush, when it is aware that the more stronger portion of the soul-army has gone by, it rises up from its hiding place and “strikes” or “cuts” those behind [Deuteronomy 25] or the labouring stragglers.

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