Were the Amalekites REALLY nomads?

Someone had an issue with my treatment of the Amalekites as nomads:

I was reading a summary of the Old Testament writings on Samuel and was directed by a link to your article explaining the reasons for God’s command to destroy everything, men, women, children, animals, etc.

Though I am not in a position to judge gods commandments, I was not convinced by your analysis. You say that the Amalekites were nomads and as such it was merciful to kill the women and children. I checked the Old Testament in the original Greek language and it makes reference that in addition to cows and sheep, also food-stuff and vine yards were also spared. As vineyards cannot be transported on camels your argument fails and it looks that you are trying to mislead people.

I responded with some data, and we had an additional round of comments after that:

ABC, thanks for your honest question.

The question puzzled me for a few minutes, because I have never heard of the Amalekites having vineyards at all, in all my research. I had to go looking to find the passage you alluded to.

But as it turns out, the mention of vineyards is NOT in the original language. The original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew (and a few chapters in Aramaic)--NOT in Greek. In the Hebrew original, there is absolutely no mention of , word for, 'vineyards'.

Here is a picture of the Hebrew original (with English translations below the Hebrew words--Hebrew reads from right to left):

The Greek you refer to is a LATER translation-paraphrase, of varying quality. In this case, it mis-translates TWO words from the original Hebrew (referring to the above text):

1. it mis-translates "and the second" (a reference to second-born lambs, considered superior to first-born lambs [although some translators understand this as 'double portions'--still meaning a special type of fatling]) as "fruits" (Gr, edesma). Edesma, though, is a food-stuff, but lexicons of ancient Greek give it as meat and NOT fruit:

, ατος, τό, (ἔδω) meat, food, Pl.Ti.73a, Antiph.26.10: pl., eatables, meats, Batr.31, X.Hier.1.23, Pl.R.559b, Antiph.82.1, Porph.Abst.1.55: metaph., οὐ γὰρ ἡδύσματι χρῆταιἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἐδέσματι τοῖς ἐπιθέτοις Arist.Rh.1406a19:—Dim. ἐδεσμάτιον, τό, Procl.ad Hes.Op.41." [ Liddell, H. G., Scott, R., Jones, H. S., & McKenzie, R. (1996). A Greek-English lexicon (Rev. and augm. throughout /). Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press.]


2. More importantly, it mis-translates "young ram/fatlings" (pasture lambs) as "vineyards" (Gr, ampelon). The Greek translators correctly translate Hebrew "kerem/karem" in Gen 9.20 (where Noah plants a vineyard) with this ampelon word, but in our verse above the Hebrew word is NOT 'kerem/karem" but a DIFFERENT word: kir/kirem (lamb, from the word 'to skip'!). The old Greek translator apparently misread the word (but it would have been an easily mistake, since the words had the same consonants in them).

So, the most modern/strict translation I can find (WBC) gives this for verse nine: "Yet Saul and the troops had pity on Agag and on the best of the sheep and cattle, the fatlings and the lambs, and on everything that was good"  [Klein, R. W. (2002). Vol. 10: Word Biblical Commentary : 1 Samuel. Word Biblical Commentary (Page 144). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.]

Now, there IS a small problem with the word for 'second/double' (translated as 'foodstuffs" or "fruits" in English translations of the Greek Translation, the Septuagint), as professional translators note, but in NO CASES is it ever taken to mean anything other than ANIMALS:

" The fatlings. the Hebrew word is literally “second” or “double portion,” and the meaning is uncertain. (See 8.2 where it clearly means “second.”) Fox takes this to mean “second best,” that is, “But Sha’ul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and the cattle, and the second-best, the lambs and all that was goodly.” njps and tob attempt to translate the mt, saying “the second-born,” and some have suggested that the second calf born to a cow was of greater value than the firstborn. But the mt is obscure, and different small changes in the Hebrew text have therefore been suggested so that the text will read “food with much fat” or “fat animals.”.. The words utterly destroy and utterly destroyed are technical terms... njb maintains the technical aspect, as in verse 8: “They did not want to consign these to the curse of destruction; they consigned only what was poor and worthless.”... ctat gives a {C} rating to the mt and suggests that the meaning is that some animals, called “the seconds,” were kept and fattened after the firstborn had been given to God. A translation such as “best calves” or “fattest calves” is recommended." [Omanson, R. L., & Ellington, J. (2001). A handbook on the first book of Samuel. UBS handbook series (Page 314). New York: United Bible Societies.]

So, I have to conclude that there is no actual mention of 'vineyards' or 'fruits' (although the Amalekites would have had fruits from their raiding of other peoples, probably) in the original Hebrew texts. The word 'vineyard' in the later Greek translation of the Hebrew original is simply a mistranslation of the Hebrew, and modern translators (Christian or Jewish) never make the same mistake.

So, I think the evidence still points to these peoples being nomads.

I hope this helps, friend -- and THANKS for the question!

glenn miller
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I confused him somewhat, so we had one more round--


Thanks for the quick reply. I know that the original texts of the Old Testament were not in Greek. I always thought that the translation of seventy wise people tasked to provide an accurate translation, at the risk of death if not so, must be accurate.

The text I mentioned in my email is according to the Septuagint. I did check in another version of the Greek Bible that also claims translation from the originals and I noticed that this translation, though same word for word everywhere else that I could see, has the text closer to the one you are showing below.

I have a second question for you:

I do not understand Hebrew but it looks to me that there are two versions you are showing below. Which one is the correct one? Why are there variations?


I  sent an explanation back...

The line on the TOP (of the two) is the text as it stands in the Hebrew Bible. The line BELOW it, is that word-phrase broken into its "parts", so students can look up the individual words. the English words "and" and "the" and most prepositions (like 'upon' or 'to'), for example, are PREFIXES in Hebrew, and so they appear as ONE WORD in the text. the line BELOW will divide the word up into the two parts, for study. Hebrew also has suffixes for verbs.
it would be like (in English) something like this:
(where the TOP LINE contraction "didn't" was broken into its parts "did" and "not" in the LINE BELOW for the student)
English doesnt have a like of forms like this, but French, Spanish, and OLD English does -- although some of the forms 'merged' over time.
So, if you look down at the word translated "and all the possession", you will see it divided into FOUR parts. Reading from right to left, the first character (a single letter, looking like a shepherd's crook) is the word for "and"; the second part of two letters is the word for "all"; the third part of one letter is the article "the"; and the fourth part of five letters is the word for possession. [you can also see a 'hyphen' in the combined form, separating the first two parts from the second two parts]
does that help clear it up, friend?

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