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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  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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!!!

  • 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.

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