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Southpaws of the Old Testament

TRIBE OF BENJAMIN
Leemage | AFP
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Experts question whether the tribe of Benjamin was predominantly left-handed due to nature or nurture.

While the practice of allowing children to choose which hand they prefer is common today, in biblical times it was far less common. The right hand has historically been a symbol for power, for example: “He is seated at the right hand of the Father …” The seat to the right of a king was considered a seat of honor and power; after all that was the arm used to swing the sword.

However, there was one tribe of Israel that didn’t follow this traditional path, in fact they took a left turn.

Biblical Archaeology notes that the Old Testament mentions left-handed people just three times: 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). Each of these stories presents lefties in military contexts and, interestingly enough, the southpaws described were all part of the tribe of Benjamin.

“Were these warriors from the tribe of Benjamin left-handed by nature or nurture?” That was the topic question of professors Boyd Seevers and Joanna Klein in their Biblical Views column in the May/June 2013 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. Through study of biblical texts and what we now know of the genetics behind left-handedness, they believe it was a bit of both.

Biblical Archaeology explains:

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.

The study notes that the description of Benjamites as left-handed warriors may have also been a bit of wordplay on the part of it’s Jewish authors. The name Benjamin means, “son of (my) right hand.” It is possible that the presence of lefties fighting under the name “sons of (my) right hand” was too ironic to leave unnoticed.

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