Left-Handed People in the Bible

Is There a Genetic Link to Benjamite Lefties?

There are only three mentions of left-handed people in the Bible—and all of them refer to members of the tribe of Benjamin, including their deadly accurate slingers (see drawing above). Were these people from the tribe of Benjamin left-handed by nature or nurture? Modern studies in the genetics of left-handedness may be able to shed light on this curious case. (Drawing by Josh Seevers, courtesy of Boyd Seevers)

The Hebrew Bible mentions left-handed people on three occasions: the story of Ehud’s assassination of the Moabite king (Judges 3:12–30), the 700 Benjamites who could use the sling with deadly accuracy (Judges 20:16) and the two-dozen ambidextrous warriors who came to support David in Hebron (1 Chronicles 12:2). All of these stories of left-handed people in the Bible appear in military contexts, and, curiously, all involve members of the tribe of Benjamin.

In a Biblical Views column in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, professors Boyd Seevers and Joanna Klein ask the question, “Were these warriors from the tribe of Benjamin left-handed by nature or nurture?” Citing studies in the genetics of left-handedness and Biblical texts, Seevers and Klein show that it may have been a bit of both.

Benjamites may have been genetically disposed to left-handedness at birth, but the trait may also have been encouraged in soldiers to give them a strategic advantage in combat—somewhat like left-handed baseball pitchers today—against right-handed opponents who were unaccustomed to fighting “lefties.” Warriors from the tribe of Benjamin might have been trained to be equally or more effective with their left hands.

Then again, perhaps the Biblical writers simply enjoyed a bit of word play. The name Benjamin means “son of (my) right hand.” Perhaps the irony of left-handed “sons of right-handers” caused the Biblical authors to take note in these cases.

For more about the tribe of Benjamin, left-handedness in the Bible, and the genetics of left-handedness, see Boyd Seevers and Joanna Klein, Biblical Views: Left-Handed Sons of Right-Handers in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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18 Responses

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  1. Greg says

    Interesting but the artist has drawn a slinger with 2 left-hands!?

  2. John says

    Actually, it looks like the artist has portrayed the slinger holding the sling in his right hand. Nevertheless, the article was very interesting.

  3. donald says

    I don’t think the analogy to baseball works, except perhaps for switch hitters. It fits perfectly well, however, for gunslingers of the old west who survived cavalry skirmishes during the civil war.

  4. Fay says

    My husband is right-handed and his name is Ben…just because a person is left-handed does not mean they are less righteous!!! Old school marks differences based on physical appearance. Get some ethics on yourselves. White, black, yellow, young, old, big or small no matter what, if you’re righteous, you’re righteous!!!

  5. Robert says

    According to 2 Sam 20:8-10 (not explicitly, but by implication), Joab, David’s general, was also left-handed. Joab’s tribal affiliation is obscure; he may have been a member of Bnay Ammon, i.e. a non-Israelite, like many of David’s “mighty men”.
    N.B. this incident has literary parallels to the Ehud incident cited.

  6. Kirkland says

    It is true that we live in a right-handed world, but left-handedness may provide advantages in numerous ways, whether in sport or warfare. The Biblical references provide some insight into the advantage taken by southpaws in these applications but there is so much more which remains untold, yet well comprehended by those taken at the disadvantage by them. The extended right hand, whether clasping another’s right hand in handshake or taking hold of the beard to exchange the customary greeting kiss, as in Joab’s case, signaled that there was no intent of malice. Joab may well have been left-handed or perhaps ambidextrous. Striking an intended death blow with the off-hand, even with the element of surprise, would be perilous at best and disastrous at its worst. Not so with Ehud, of course, who took full advantage of his left-handedness and subsequently escaped undetected.
    In baseball the right-handed batter is disadvantaged by the left-handed pitcher and vice-versa, as attested by the frequent substitutions from the bullpen in the latter innings of a close game. Most positions on the field provide advantage to the right-hander with the exception of first base, clearly the domain of the lefty who can take full advantage of the extended right catching hand.
    Boxers and martial artists can all attest to the strategic advantages afforded the southpaw combatants, and the same principal may be applied in many other sports as well. Golf is one which reveals some interesting perspectives on handedness, particularly when it comes to the hook and slice applied to the drive. Being ambidextrous can come in handy in certain situations, however how many golfers carry both right and left-handed clubs? It has been said that golf is ideally suited to the left-hander using right-handed clubs, which I found to be the case when I switched!

  7. Elizabeth D. says

    The person in the graphic is holding the sling in his right hand. What gives?

  8. Jay says

    It seems Simon Peter may have been left-handed as well. In the garden, when he cut off Malchus’ ear, they would probably have been facing each other. Peter swung his sword, Malchus tried to duck and lost his right ear in the glancing blow–the swing of a left-handed person.

  9. Kirkland says

    The artwork is unusual, to say the least, as Greg pointed out. The warrior appears to have left hands on both the right and left arms, so Elizabeth’s question, for now, remains a mystery. Jay may well be correct that Peter could have been left-handed, however people seldom duck straight down, especially while in motion, but will duck away to the right or left. If Malchus ducked away to his left, Peter’s downward swing with the right arm could have easily severed the ear from top to bottom. Had he ducked straight down or to the right more serious injury would likely have been inflicted to the skull.

  10. Eric says

    As far as Peter and Malchus are concerned. I figure if Peter is right handed he would have worn his sword on his left side, and he stood opposing Malchus face to face he drew his sword out of his left side sheath. Then in one swing to his right toward Malchus neck, (I figure he meant to take his head off) the Malchus ducked away to his right leaving his left ear vulnerable and in line of the sword wielded by Peter. It is either that or if Peter only meant to cut his left ear off then he would have been the most renowned and skilled swordsman on earth coming from being just a fisherman.

  11. Neat says

    Both of our parents were Lefties; however the 6 children were all right handed!!
    TGD

  12. Carl says

    I don’t know why people fared left handed swordsmen, but I suppose thinking about it they are
    trained to fight a right handed sowrdsmen, one must presume they leave an open gard in certain
    moves, best to be ampidextrous I think as one arm gets tired yos and use the other, or better
    sword in one dagger in other, they used to fight that was as well. The scotts left handers were
    more effective with a sword against right handed people it is claimed.

  13. galen says

    Keep in mind that Peter, was a Zealot. In occupied Roman territory. Only Roman Soldiers, temple guards, and a few authorized body guards, were allowed to openly carry a sword.

    Peter’s sword would have been carried hidden beneath his robes, like all Zealots.

    Peter was constantly urging Jesus to lead the revolt to over-throw Rome. He and Judas wanted Jesus to begin openly displaying defiance to Rome.

  14. Melese says

    The Benjamites are not left handed people, and genetics has nothing to do with their roles. From their name, they represent characteristics of people who play a role in judgement. These include Judges, victims and the law.

    My regard

  15. Angela says

    Angela from Nueva Vida Bookstore says
    Left Handed and right handed swordsmen are symbols of strength or power. The power of the flesh is represented in both ways of handling a sword either right or left. The world power acts in both ways but the resulting consequences always are catastrophic because it relies solely in the fleshy nature of humankind. An

  16. Connie says

    In all cases where left-handedness is mentioned, it appears that it was intentional that we are made aware that the person was indeed left-handed. For example, in the study of Judges 3, Ehud, it is mentioned more than once (15,21) and is really a take-away from the story. There has to be a reason this was stressed. Ehud could have been introduced simply as a Benjamite, son of Gera and the story told without ever mentioning that he was left-handed. When I studied Judges, the reasoning for this reference, and then again in chapter 20, intrigued me so I asked the Holy Spirit for answers. In God’s word, I believe nothing is wasted or it wouldn’t be there. So why this mention of left-handedness? None of what’s written here seems to satisfy. Athough I have seen reference to left-handedness being considered weakness in the Bible, I agree with a previous writer that really, the mentions of left-handedness for the most part seems to be an advantage or strength in battle at the very least. (Although I do see that the right hand is used in blessing and the place of favor in places in scripture as well over the left hand (Genesis 48:17-20) and (Matt 25 the sheep and goats) but this has nothing to do with being “left-handed” per se. So with this being said, I think the focus has to be on the trait of being left-handed. Often we try to make sense of scripture by taking a certain part and making something of it, instead of looking at the whole, as it was intended. In the whole counsel of the word of God, then, what can we glean from this trait of left-handedness and why the Holy Spirit would go to such an extent to make sure that we made note of it, especially in reference to fighting and battle? If left-handedness was indeed seen as weakness because more people were right-handed (statistics seem to be somewhere in the 80/20 range), it would seem God was trying to make a statement. However, this is not good enough for me because I do not see in the Holy Scriptures where God has made a point to tell us that left-handedness is a weakness. (If anyone can show me where, please do because I want truth over being right!) So what I have gathered is this. God knew what we would believe today even back then.. If it was not considered weakness back then, it has been challenged today as we see in the notes above and in other google references, especially in light of those who are trying to argue the gay/left-handed connection. Perhaps the whole point, in light of seeing scripture in its entirety, is that God can use whoever He wants to, to accomplish His work and sometimes it is the people that society (even Gods own people) have written off as useless or weak or unvalued: 1 Cor 1:26 “Look carefully at your call, brothers and sisters. By human standards, not many of you are deemed to be wise. Not many are considered powerful. Not many of you come from royalty, right? 27 But celebrate this: God selected the world’s foolish to bring shame upon those who think they are wise; likewise, He selected the world’s weak to bring disgrace upon those who think they are strong. 28 God selected the common and the castoff, whatever lacks status, so He could invalidate the claims of those who think those things are significant. 29 So it makes no sense for any person to boast in God’s presence. 30 Instead, credit God with your new situation: you are united with Jesus the Anointed. He is God’s wisdom for us and more. He is our righteousness and holiness and redemption. 31 As the Scripture says: “If someone wants to boast, he should boast in the Lord.”

Continuing the Discussion

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    […] a coincidence. Left-handedness is an interesting concept in Scripture. The Old Testament contains several stories of lefties, and all of them are set within a context of war.  They also all, strangely enough, […]

  2. 전세계의 최신 영어뉴스 듣기 - 보이스뉴스 잉글리쉬 linked to this post on August 11, 2014

    […] a coincidence. Left-handedness is an interesting concept in Scripture. The Old Testament contains several stories of lefties, and all of them are set within a context of war.  They also all, strangely enough, […]


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