Left-Handed People in the Bible

Is there a genetic link to Benjamite lefties?

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published in 2013.—Ed.


 
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.
 


 

Posted in Hebrew Bible, People in the Bible.

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  • Sang says

    What shape of thumb nail for both hands? Can you see the opposite moon on them?

  • Dan says

    Here’s a thought; since Hebrew writes from right to left it presents problems for right handed persons. If you are writing with a quill pen a right handed person would tend to smear the still-wet ink as his hand slid over it. It seems then that the person or persons who developed Hebrew script were most likely left-handed who would not have this problem.

    Since Moses was known as one of the early developers of Hebrew script, is it possible that Moses himself was left-handed?

  • Chris says

    I think Joab was a relative of David, if you are familiar with the scripture. They didn’t want to destroy the entire tribe however, after the loss they went back and did just that destroyed them. It starts out something like the scripture regarding Sodom and Gomorrah. ie… left handed/

  • JAmes says

    Maybe by mentioning that Ehud was left-handed indicates that God can use someone who was different; someone unconventional; someone like Gideon who was a part of a remnant to do God’s will. Ehud, being from the tribe of Benjamin was someone who was left-handed living in a right-handed world. God is unconventional and He doesn’t do everything the same way every time. He used a little boy to kill a giant; two fish and five loaves to feed thousands; and a left-handed man living in a right-handed world to kill an evil king and free God people to live in peace.

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