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Thursday, April 1, 2004


"Remember Amalek!"
Vengeance, Zealotry, and Group Destruction in the Bible
according to Philo, Pseudo-Philo, and Josephus

Louis H. Feldman

The divine commandment to exterminate all the men, women, children, and even the animals of the Amalekite nation is what in contemporary terms has been called no less than genocide. Louis Feldman helps us to understand how the earliest systematic commentators on the Bible-the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo in his many essays on biblical themes, the mysterious, still unclassified Pseudo-Philo in his Biblical Antiquities, and the premier Jewish historian and polymath Josephus in his Jewish Antiquities-wrestled with the issues involved in this divine command, especially its provision that an entire people must be punished for all time for the misdeeds of their ancestors.

Feldman then broadens the issue by examining the positions of these ancient commentators on those biblical narratives relating to other cases where God commands the destruction of whole groups of people-namely, in the Great Flood, in the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, in the plague of the first-born Egyptians, and in the command to annihilate the seven nations of Canaan. In addition, he examines accounts of several instances of mass destruction of entire groups of people where there was no specific divine commandment-the annihilation of the Hivites because of the rape of Dinah by one of them, the annihilation of the nations of Sihon and Og, the complete destruction of the inhabitants of Jericho, and the extermination of the priests of Nob. Finally, he considers the issue of the justification of God's reward to Phinehas for his zealotry in bypassing the law when he put to death a Jew and a non-Jew for their immorality. All of these biblical passages raise difficult questions, to which, Feldman demonstrates, there are no simple answers.

Louis H. Feldman is Abraham Wouk Family Professor of Classics and Literature at Yeshiva University. He is the author of 164 articles and eleven books, including Jew and Gentile in the Ancient World (Princeton University Press, 1993) and Josephus's Interpretation of the Bible (University of California Press, 1998). Professor Feldman is the recipient of the 2003 Cultural Achievement Award for Scholarship in Textual Studies from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

"Remember Amalek!" 
Vengeance, Zealotry, and Group Destruction in the Bible 
according to Philo, Pseudo-Philo, and Josephus 
and other publications of the Hebrew Union College Press are available through Wayne State University Press at 1-800-978-7323 (1-800-WSU-READ)


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Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.