The name Agag in the Bible
The name Agag is applied to two or three different individuals in the Bible, but it's not clear whether Agag is a name or rather an Amalekite royal title (not unlike the "names" Caesar, Candace or Abimelech):
- The first Agag we meet is mentioned by the prophet Balaam, who foretells that the king of Israel will be higher than Agag (Numbers 24:7).
- The second and more famous Agag is the Amalekite king whose life king Saul spares (1 Samuel 15:9). Normally that would be a noble thing to do but God had instructed Saul through Samuel to destroy Amalek and kill Agag. Saul declines and instead erects a monument to himself. After that his monarchy quickly spirals into decline.
- The third person to whom the name Agag is applied is Haman, the nemesis of Israel in Persia, in the time of queen Esther. Of him it is said that he was the son of Hammedatha the אגגי; the Agagite (Esther 3:1). And an Agagite may simply be a descendant of a patriarch named Agag, or someone born in a hypothetical town named Agag, but the historian Josephus explains the word Agagite by saying that Haman was an Amalekite.
Etymology of the name Agag
It stands to reason that Agag is not a Hebrew name but an Amalekite name. But the Amalekites spoke a language that was closely related to Hebrew, and the root this name comes from is known in Arabic and Persian. The renowned theologian Gesenius felt confident enough to assume that this root also existed in Hebrew, which would have looked like this: אגג, similar to the name Agag. The Arabic root means to burn or blaze, so the Hebrew root possibly meant the same. BDB Theological Dictionary, however, evokes an Assyrian root agagu, which means violent.
A Hebrew audience, especially one during the Babylonian period, might have connected the name Agag to the root גג (gag), meaning roof:
For a meaning of the name Agag, NOBSE Study Bible Name List reads Flaming or Violent. Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names doesn't translate into English but gives a Latin interpretation: "altus, sublimis valde," which means something like High, Very Sublime. Perhaps Jones is motivated by the sermon of Balaam. BDB Theological Dictionary proposes Violent but adds a question mark, indicating dubiousness.
A Hebrew audience might have felt that the name Agag meant Roof.