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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  • Mary says

    i am a lefty. went to catholic school-with nuns-in second grade when learning how to print my name she would always hit me with a ruler trying to make me use my right hand…that did not work…or tie my left hand behind my back…that did not work…my mother had a talk with the bishop and she stoped. my grand mother my mom’s mom was also left handed and two boy coz. non of my children are left handed or non of my grand children. I always wished that one of them would be…but I can do a lot of things with both hands and they can’t…

  • Benjamin says

    I am Benjamin. I am left handed. Never the less I do not do any Sports or Combat as a left handed person. I have always handled a gun or played golf etc… as right handed people do. This was a interesting post though!

  • d says

    i think the reason left handed people are brought to attention is there are so few which puts them at an advantage in battle,first the can use the right hand to grab the right hand in defense while immobilizing the left with the sword.if my thinking is clear.

  • Nancy says

    I Googled this article because I read another on-line article that said that left handedness is mentioned 25 times and all references were negative. I read the Bible from cover to cover several times and I did not remember such references. I am glad I visited this site and discussion. I am happy that the commenters pointed out the scriptures where actual left handed warriors or righteous assassins were mentioned. The discussion about Peter was fascinating. I am going to the other discussion board and raise these points. I am married to a lefty and one parent and 2 brothers are lefties. I love them all! I find them to be analytical, either in math/science, or my mother was very wise, but not athletic. My husband and one lefty brother were WICKED baseball players. They were not pro, but good hitters and pitchers that played for recreation. They are too old to play now, LOL.

  • J.A.Partridge says

    As a lefty and a former fencer I can vouch that righties who haven’t practiced against lefties are at a definite disadvantage. Most combat is “muscle memory” and their normal reactions are wrong. They tend to hesitate as they attempt to mentally adjust.

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