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The left-handed warriors of the Tribe of Benjamin

According to Sebastian Ocklenburg, Ph.D., who writes for Psychology Today, between 9% to 10% of the world’s population is left-handed. This amounts to about 700 million people worldwide.

In his articles, Ocklenburg says that left-handedness is primarily genetic.

For example, if both parents are right-handed, Ocklenburg says there is a 7% probability that their child will be left-handed. If one parent is left-handed and the other right, there is a 21.4% chance a child is left-handed, and that increased to 26% if both parents are left-handed.

However, pointing to a Dutch study, Ocklenburg adds that other factors can play a role in determining if a child is left-handed, including biological and cultural. Left-handedness is more prominent in certain years, suggesting a cultural effect. Biologically, studies have shown that left-handedness is more prominent in children with lower birth weights.

And we see the possibility that both genetics and culture are at work in the Bible’s three mentions of left-handed people.

In their article in Biblical Archaeology Review, entitled “Biblical Views: Left-Handed Sons of Right-Handers,” Boyd Seevers and Joanna Klein noted that the Bible refers to left-handed people three times, and they are all from the Tribe of Benjamin

This includes:

  • Ehud, the Judge who freed Israel from its Moabite servitude by assassinating their king (Judges 3:15)
  • 700 left-handed slingers who were renown for their accuracy (Judges 20:16).
  • A group of soldiers from the Tribe of Benjamin who joined King David at Hebron and could shoot arrows and slings with both their right or left hand (1 Chronicles 12:2).

This suggests that there may have been a genetic predisposition to left-handedness in the tribe. And they suspect that the Biblical writers enjoyed citing this because of the irony associated with Benjamin’s name.

“Ben-jamin means ‘son of (my) right hand’ in Hebrew,” Seevers and Klein explain, “making these lefties ‘left-handed right-handers.’”

But there may have been other factors at play as well, because all the references to left-handedness are in the context of war.

Though there may have been a genetic disposition to left-handness within the tribe, it may have also been encouraged and even trained for its soldiers.

They note that the Hebrew word translated left-handed in Judges 3:15 and 20:16, literally means “restricted (’iṭṭēr) in his right hand.”

They wonder if this meant that when training their soldiers, the Benjamites restricted the right hand in order to force the usage and subsequent increased ability with the left hand.

And that ability to be ambidextrous was pointed out in First Chronicles, when we are told that the Benjamite soldiers could use both the right and left hand. Whether the soldiers were genetically disposed to be right-handed or left-handed, they were obviously trained to be effective with their opposite hand.

Seevers and Klein also suggest that left-handed soldiers would have an advantage in certain aspects of battle, such as sword fights. In this context, a study found that nearly 50% of modern fencers are left-handed.

Seevers and Klein added that city defenses were often set up to disadvantage right-handed soldiers.

Ocklenburg noted in his article in Psychology Today, that studies have similarly shown that left-handed players have an advantage over right-handed opponents in certain competitive sports when opposing players are not anticipating left-handed actions or shots.

He pointed to a 2019 Basque study of water polo that showed left-handed players not only made more shots than right-handed players, but also scored more goals.

It seems the Tribe of Benjamin with perhaps a genetic inclination to left-handedness, quickly realized the advantage this had in war and also trained its soldiers to fight with both the left and right hand.

READ: Biblical Views: Left-Handed Sons of Right-Handers AND 8 New Scientific Findings About Left-Handedness AND Does Left-Handedness Run in Families?

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