Left-Handed People in the Bible

Is there a genetic link to Benjamite lefties?

left-handed-people-bible

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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In the free eBook Exploring Genesis: The Bible’s Ancient Traditions in Context, discover the cultural contexts for many of Israel’s earliest traditions. Explore Mesopotamian creation myths, Joseph’s relationship with Egyptian temple practices and three different takes on the location of Ur of the Chaldees, the birthplace of Abraham.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

The First Historical Evidence of King David from the Bible

Who Were the Ammonites, Moabites and Edomites in the Bible?

Who Are the Nephilim?

Beth Shean in the Bible and Archaeology
The story of the death of King Saul as told by archaeology and the Bible
 


 
This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 31, 2013.
 


 

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  • Edward says

    There wasn’t much about genetics in the article. I was hoping it might shed light on why my niece is the only left-hander in the family.
    Benjamin is also interpreted as “BenYomin”, “son of my days (old age).

  • David says

    Lisa, you are about 80% wrong. Binyaamiyn absolutely does mean “son of right hand”. To say it does not mean that is nonsense. However, because the concept of what we call “compass directions” in the Bible is based on the perspective of looking east toward the rising son, that is, in the direction the mercy seat was oriented in the temple, which represents the direction YHWH theoretically faces on His throne, “north” and “left” correspond and “south” and “right” correspond. There are numerous places in the Bible where yaamiyn clearly denotes YHWH’s or a human’s “right hand” and not “south-ness”. (Exo. 15:6, 12; Job 40:14; Psa. 89:13 are just a few examples). It is possible that Binyaamiyn could men “southerner” (more accurately, “son of south”), but to settle on that possibility, the context must clearly suggest that a compass direction is intended.

    Regarding ‘Eihuudh, he is described not explicitly as left-handed, but as “bound” in his right hand. Even if one insisted on construing his description to mean “a man bound in his south hand”, it would and could only mean he was bound in his right hand. That probably is intended to convey he was left-handed, but the precise nature of this condition can’t be certain. It may refer to a congenital condition, or perhaps a deliberate decision to enforce left-handedness.

    In my opinion, this characteristic is a prophetic marker for an “against nature” condition that exists in the tribe of Binyaamiyn. I will support that conclusion in a book that I am developing. Stay tuned.

  • Gary says

    Left-handedness, runs in families. My dad, I, some of my ancestors, were left-handed. My great-grandfather would write two copies of the same letter, simultaneously. Benjamites, have the same genetic traits. It is not all of them, who are left-handed; but it is, many of them.

    Fighting with the left hand, is also a direct insult to your enemies. I can beat you with my good hand held behind my back, even on my worst day. That, was the implication. It was meant to be an insult, and most impressive, and domineering. A way to strike abject fear, into the hearts of your enemies. So that they would come to negotiate, rather than to fight, and thus, all be slaughtered. The very real threat of an assured destruction, is a pretty good negotiating point.

    Benjamin, were Moses’ shock troops. They had first dibs, on the territory they all first entered, once they were West of the Jordan. And there was nothing wrong with resting beneath the palm trees, of the Plain of Jericho.

  • Lisa says

    Benjamin doesn’t mean “son of my right hand”. It means “Southerner”. Benjamin was born far to the south of all of his brothers. In ancient semitic languages, the word “yemin” and variants thereof meant “south”. Yemen still carries that in its name.

  • John says

    Your so-called left-handers in 1 Chron 12:2 were said to be ambidextrous, not left-handed. Some suggest that the way Ehud was described might indicate he was crippled in his right hand, so not necessarily left-handed by nature (however the story does show as suggested that being left-handed, since that was unexpected, could be used to strategic advantage).

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