Vol. 19, no. 1-2 (2023): Suzanna Millar

Species and Ethnicity in 1 Samuel 15: The Slaughter of Agag and Rejection of Saul

Suzanna Millar, University of Edinburgh


In 1 Samuel 15, Yahweh commands Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites. Accordingly, Saul massacres the population, but spares the foreign king (Agag), as well as some livestock for sacrifice. Samuel judges this as disobedience, slaughtering Agag and rejecting Saul. In this article, I argue that this narrative trajectory depends upon the interrelated constructions of ethnicity and species. The construction of Amalekite ethnicity includes humans and domestic animals, and is internally divided by socio-economic status into “the best” (humans and animals) and “the despised”. This simultaneous blurring of the species line and reification of a socioeconomic line brings Agag into close correspondence with fattened animals and leads to his sacrifice. When Samuel sacrifices him, he asserts his power not only over Agag but also over Saul, who is described in terms uneasily similar to the Amalekites. Furthermore, Saul is depicted like a bird of prey, and is thereby removed from civilized society, serving to justify his rejection.


ethnicity, species, animalization, human sacrifice, 1 Samuel

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