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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  • Valera says

    One of the most common questions posed to me as a child psychologist and speech therapist is a question about reading disorders. And more often than not, they come from parents of children who are left handed.
    https://ekidz.eu/en/left-handed-learning-difficulty/

  • A.H. says

    The reason that left-handed is usually specifically mentioned in military context, is because of the military formation. Inserting several left-hand men into the regiment will throw off the unity of the formation and cause compilcations when marching or fighting or doing other maneuvers. So military commanders could either force the left-handed people to fight right-handed (which would reduce agility and accuracy) or not allow left-handed people to be in such formations, or form a special unit of left-handers in order to maintain a unity of formation (which is what is going on here). And that is primarily why it is mentioned in military context and not in other places.

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