—Biblical Data:

King of the Amalekites, taken by King Saul after a successful expedition against him (I Sam. xv.). His life was spared by Saul; but the prophet Samuel, who regarded this clemency as a defiance of the will of YHWH, put him to death at Gilgal as a sacrifice similar to that sometimes performed by the early Arabs after a successful combat (W. Robertson Smith, "Religion of the Semites," 2d ed., p. 491). In Num. xxiv. 7 Balaam refers to Agag in a way that gives probability to the conjecture that the name was a standing title of the kings of Amalek.

J. F. McC.—In Rabbinical Literature:

The rabbis taught that the Jews took vengeance on Agag for the cruelties they had undergone at the hands of the Amalekites, who, to mock at the Jews, their God, and the rite of circumcision, mutilated every Jew that fell into their power (see Amalek); Samuel, they say, treated Agag in the same way. According to some authorities, the death of Agag, described in the Bible by the unusual word wa-yeshassef ("hewed in pieces," I Sam. xv. 33), was brought about in a much more cruel way than the word denotes. Others think that the only unusual thing in the execution of Agag consisted in the fact that it was not carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of the Jewish law, requiring witnesses to prove the crime; nor had he been specifically "warned" as the law required. But, Agag being a heathen, Samuel convicted him according to the heathen law, which demanded only evidence of the crime for condemnation (Pesiḳ. iii. 25b, Pesiḳ. R. xii. xiii. and the parallel passages quoted by Buber in Pesiḳ.). The execution of Agag, however, occurred in one respect too late, for had he been killed one day sooner—that is, immediately upon his capture by Saul—the great peril which the Jews had to undergo at the hands of Haman would have been averted, for Agag thereby became a progenitor of Haman (Meg. 13a, Targ. Sheni to Esth. iv. 13).

L. G.
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