texts of violence
2.2 READING SECTION: INTRODUCTION
ASSIGNMENT. Read the next two passages. Then answer the questions on the following page.
2.2.1 exodus 17:8-16
2.2.2 deuteronomy 25:17-19
ASSIGNMENT. Answer the following questions.
What event are these two passages referring to?
Is this event told in exactly the same way, or is there a difference in information between the two passages?
If there is a difference in information: what is the difference between the Exodus passage and the Deuteronomy passage? (You can also answer this question the other way around).
What is the essence of these passages:
Who will fight/eradicate the memory of Amalek:
According to you: who or what is Amalek?
2.3 Interpretation of the Amalek Passages
2.3.1 ex. 17:8-16
This passage can be found in the middle section of the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah. The Book of Exodus can be divided into two parts: Ex. 1-18 and Ex. 19-40. The first part is the tale about the journey out of Egypt. The second part tells about the Covenant at Mount Sinai. So Amalek attacks the Israeli people just before they make the Covenant with G-d on Mount Sinai!
The story of the journey out of Egypt is well known. The people of Israel have been slaves of the mighty Egypt for years, where ‘the law of the strongest’ prevails. Then G-d comes, and He helps the Jewish people escape. However, in the desert, the people of Israel get hungry and thirsty, and they start to question the decision to leave Egypt. They even question their liberator, G-d: “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (Ex. 17:7) After this sentence, Amalek’s attack occurs.
The place name Rephidim has a special meaning. The name consists of the verb ‘rafah’ and the noun ‘jadim’. ‘Rafah’ means ‘to become weak’. Jadim’ means ‘hands’. Rephidim thus means: ‘the becoming weak of the hands’. This means that our courage can fail: our strength can, literally and figuratively, ‘leave our hands’.
In the end, G-d declares war on Amalek. G-d takes on responsibility! Moreover, it is not a one-off battle, but it will take place from generation to generation.
2.3.2 deut. 25:17-19
This passage can be found in the middle section of the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and last book of the Torah. The Book of Deuteronomy can be divided into three parts: Deut. 1-11, Deut. 12-26, and Deut. 27-34. The first part consists of Moses’ opening words to a new generation of Israelites. The second part consists of a collection of laws on how to structure life in the Promised Land. The third part consists of Moses’ last words and his passing. This means that the Amalek passage lies at the end of the middle part: the collection of laws!
The Deuteronomy Passage on Amalek gives us new information on the
1. Amalek attacked while the Jewish people were “by the road”. The Torah means the path of liberation, leading from Egypt to the Promised Land. The people of Israel didn’t have a home yet, lived in uncertain times, and were very vulnerable.
2. Amalek attacked “at your rear”. The ‘rear’ means the people at the back of the line, who consisted of the most vulnerable and weak. Amalek’s attack was twice as cruel: among an already vulnerable people, he attacked the most vulnerable.
3. It says: “He did not fear God”. Translations here often refer to Amalek. The sentence thus means: Amalek did not fear God. But it’s not that simple! The Hebrew language leaves open the possibility that it could be Israel that did not fear God. The sentence is somewhat isolated, and grammatically it is possible.
4. We read that Israel also bears responsibility. It is a commandment or mitzvah: an obligation given by G-d. Israel has the obligation to wipe out the memory of Amalek. And at the same time, the attack must be remembered. “You must not forget it!”
1. Ex. 17:8-16 teaches us:
• G-d will wipe out the remembrance of Amalek
• G-d will wage war against Amalek from generation to generation
2. Deut. 25:17-19 teaches us:
• Emphasis that the Jewish people were ‘by the road’: the road to
liberation from confinement in Egypt to freedom in the land of Canaan.
• Amalek attacked Israel at their weakest point
• Israel must blot out the remembrance of Amalek
• It is a mitzvah: a religious commandment
ASSIGNMENT. Answer the following questions with help from the explanation above.
Where do the passages in their book take place:
Who’s to wipe out the remembrance of Amalek?
Who did not fear G-d?
Explain, using your own words, the meaning of the place name ‘Rephidim’.
In the Deuteronomy passage, it says: “He did not fear God.” This sentence can grammatically also refer to Israel. Why would Israel not fear God? What could this mean?
Amalek’s attack was an act of war. Is the commandment to erase the memory of Amalek a matter of self-defense (to survive), or a matter of revenge?
Read this sentence again: “For the Lord has sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Ex. 17:16) Do you think “from generation to generation” means that the battle is eternal, or do you think it refers to specific generations?
Do you think the commandment to blot out the remembrance of Amalek still applies today?
In this glossary you will find more information and an explanation of certain concepts.
In Hebrew, the term ‘Amalek’ can refer to both a person, Amalek, and a people, the Amalekites. This module uses both meanings interchangeably.
The Book of Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Torah. The name Deuteronomy comes from Ancient Greek and means “The Second Law”. The Hebrew name of this book is Devarim, which means “The words [of Moses]”. This refers to the opening words of the text.
The term ‘Exodus’ refers in the first place to the Book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah. Secondly, this term also refers to the first part of this book: the exodus of the Jewish people in Egypt. The name ‘Exodus’ comes from Ancient Greek and means “going out-”. This refers to the second meaning discussed above. The Hebrew name is “Names,” which refers to the opening words of the text.
The term ‘genocide’ means the deliberate extermination of an ethnic group. International law regards this act as a horrific crime.
According to the Hebrew Bible, Canaan is the land promised to the Jewish people. This area lies between the Mediterranean Sea in the West and the Jordan River in the East. This area is now made up of Lebanon, Israel, a part of Syria, and Jordan.
Mitzvah is the synonym for religious commandment or religious obligation. The Amalek commandment is such a mitzvah, given by G-d to the Jewish people. The plural of ‘mitzvah’ is ‘mitzvot’.
Ausloos, Hans. Geweld, God, Bijbel. Averbode: Uitgeverij Averbode, 2019.
Bible Gateway. “Deuteronomy 25:17-19.” Accessed 1 may, 2020. https://www.biblegateway.com/
Bible Gateway. “Exodus 17:8-16.” Accessed 2 may, 2020. https://www.biblegateway.com/ passage/?search=Exodus+17&version=MEV.
Harris, J. Michael. “DCT/SMU and the Commandment to Wipe out Amalek.” In Divine Command Ethics: Jewish and Christian perspective, 134-150. London: Taylor & Francis Group, 2004. Taylor & Francis e-Library. https://www.routledge.com/Divine-Command-Ethics-Jewish-and-Christian- Perspectives/Harris/p/book/9781138869769
Rooze, Egbert. Amalek: over geweld in het Oude Testament. Kampen: Kok, 1997. Sagi, Avi. “The Punishment of Amalek in Jewish Tradition: Coping with the Moral Problem.” The Harvard Theological Review 87, no. 3 (1994): 323-46. Accessed April 1, 2020. www.jstor.org/ stable/1509808.
Wikipedia, The battle of Refidim, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Refidim (toegang 5/05/2020).