May 25, 2024

Civilization is from the Jews

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by Andrew Doran, Senior Research Fellow

Humanity evolved beyond the violence of the pagan world because of Hebraic ethics, universalized by the Abrahamic faiths.

In the aftermath of October 7, many (including this author) noted the similarity between the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas and those of the Amalekites during the Israelite exodus from ancient Egypt. This, in turn, led others to suggest that any comparison to the Amalekites could be seen to justify genocide.

According to Hebrew scripture and Midrash, as the Israelites came out of Egypt, the Amalekites slaughtered defenseless stragglers, women and children, the elderly and wounded. The Amalekites cut off the circumcised organs of the males, the mark of God’s covenant with Abraham, which they hurled toward the sky, calling out in mockery to heaven: “Here, take what you have chosen.” This, Yahweh seems not to have taken well.

After Moses sent Joshua to defeat the Amalekites and “put their people to the sword,” God told Moses to write down God’s words and repeat them for Joshua: “I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses then constructed an altar, “because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” The command “do not forget Amalek” recurs throughout Hebrew scripture and liturgy. The enmity between God and Amalek is unique in scripture: nowhere else does God declare a perpetual state of conflict with a human community. This perplexed Jewish and later Abrahamic scholars for centuries. Since October 7, it has been debated more widely, invoked as evidence of the genocidal ethos of primitive paganism or of the genocidal inclinations of Israel.