- Tribe of Benjamin
The Tribe of Benjamin (Hebrew Name|בִּנְיָמִין|Binyamin|Binyāmîn) was one of the Tribes of Israel. At its height, the territory it occupied was sandwiched between that of Ephraim to the north and Judah to the south, with the
Jordan Riveras the eastern border, and included many historically important cities, such as Bethel, Gibeah, and encroached on the northern hills of Jerusalem. Its situation, between the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Israel(Ephraim), and the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Judah(Judah), is seemingly prophesied in the Blessing of Moses, where it is described as "dwelling between YHWH's shoulders" [Deuteronomy 33:12] , though textual scholars view this as postdiction- the poem being written long after the tribe had settled there [ Richard Elliott Friedman, "Who wrote the Bible?"] .
According to the
Torah, the tribe was founded by an eponymous individual, Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacoband Rachel, who was born once Jacob and Rachel arrived in Canaan. Biblical scholars, however, suspect that this is just an aetiolocial metaphordescribing the text's author's view of the ethnic origin of the tribe, namely that it branched off from the Rachel group of tribes (those tribes descended from Rachel) once the tribes had settled in Canaan [JewishEncyclopedia] . According to several scholars, Benjamin was originally part of the " house of Joseph" (metaphorically a son of Joseph not Jacob), but that the biblical account of this became lost ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] [" Peake's commentary on the Bible"] ; the Torah's account of the birth of the eponyms of the other tribes is regarded by textual scholars as a complex mixture of Elohistand Yahwisttexts, and very corrupt, and it is clear that parts of the corresponding Elohist text, and parts of the corresponding Yahwist text, are missing ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] .
In the Jahwist version of Jacob's visit to
Laban, no mention is made of Jacob having any wife apart from Rachel, and no mention is made of Jacob having children apart from those descended from Rachel ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] [Richard Elliott Friedman, "Who Wrote the Bible?"] . A number of biblical scholars suspect that the story of Jacob's visit to Laban to obtain a wife began as a metaphor for a second migration of Israelites to Canaan, the family, possessions, and livestock that journeyed from Laban to Canaan with Jacob being representations of the new wave of migrants ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] ; according to this view, taking the textual evidence into account, it was only the tribes which had Rachel as a matriarch that formed this second group. Despite the current view among archaeologists that many of the Israelites originated in Canaan without having travelled to Egypt [ Israel Finkelstein, "The Bible Unearthed"] , scholars believe that a small section of Israelite society may nevertheless have once migrated to Egypt and later fled from it, forming a historic nucleus from which the Exodusnarrative developed ["Peake's commentary on the Bible"] ; the section of Israelite society in question is suspected to be the tribes with Rachel as matriarch - Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh [ibid] .
etymologyof the name "Benjamin" is a matter of dispute, though most agree that it is composed of two parts - "ben" and "jamin" - the former meaning "son of". The literal translation of "Benjamin" is "son of right" (as opposed to "left"), generally interpreted as meaning "son of my right hand", though sometimes interpreted as "son of the right [hand] side"; being associated with the right hand side was traditionally a reference to strength and virtue (cf " sinister", which derives from the latinfor "left"). This is, however, not the only literal translation, as the root for "right" is identical to that for "south", hence "Benjamin" also literally translates as "son of the south"; this meaning is advocated by several classical rabbinical sources, which argue that it refers to the birth of Benjamin in Canaan, as compared with the birth of all the other sons of Jacob in Aram["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . Modern scholars have instead proposed that, with the eponymous Benjamin being just a metaphor, "son of the south"/"son of the right" are references to the tribe coming into existence in a geographic situation respect to the more dominant tribe of Ephraim [ibid] . In the Samaritan Pentateuch, the name is consistently written with a terminal mem, making it "Benjamim", and would literally translate as "son of days"; some classical rabbinical literatureargues that this was the original form of the name and was a reference to the old age of Jacob when Benjamin was born ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] .
Blessing of Jacob, Benjamin is referred to as a ravenous wolf[Genesis 49:27] ; traditional interpretations often considered this to refer to the mightof a specific member of the tribe, either the champion Ehud, king Saul, or Mordecaiof the Esther narrative, or in Christian circles, the apostle Paul ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . The Temple in Jerusalemwas traditionally said to be partly in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin (but mostly in that of Judah), and some traditional interpretations of the Blessing consider the "ravenous wolf" to refer to the Temple's altar, as similein regard to the heavy presence there of biblical sacrifices ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . Some scholars believe that it instead originates from the tribe having the figure of a wolf in its standard.
The tribe of Benjamin is initially described in the Bible as being very pugnacious ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , for example in the
Song of Deborah, and in descriptions where they are described as being taught to fight left handed, so as to be able to wrong foot their enemies [Judges 3:15-21] [Judges 20:16] [1 Chronicles 12:2] , and where they are portrayed as being brave and skilled archers [1 Chronicles 8:40] [2 Chronicles 14:7] . However, an abrupt change of character to one of placidity occurs in the text after a traumatic incident for the tribe ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . The Book of Judgesrecounts that an incident of gross inhospitality by part of the tribe resulted in a Battle at Gibeah, in which the other tribes of Israel sought vengeance, and after which the surviving members of Benjamin were systematically slaughtered, including women and children; when Benjamin was nearly extinguished, it was decided that the tribe should be allowed to survive, and the 400 surviving men of Benjamin were married off to wives from other tribes. [Judges 19-21] .
According to textual scholars, the biblical text describing the battle and the events surrounding it is considerably late in date, originating close to the time of the
deuteronomist's compilation of Judges from its source material, and clearly has several exaggerations of both numbers and of modes of warfare ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] , and additionally, the inhospitality which triggered the Battle is reminiscent of the Torah's account of Sodom and Gomorrah["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . Many Biblical scholars concluded that the account was a piece of political spin, which had been intended to disguise atrocities carried out by the tribe of Judahagainst "Benjamin", probably in the time of King Davidas an act of revenge or spite by David against the associates of King Saul, by casting them further back in time, and adding a more justifiable motive [ibid] ; more recently, scholars have suggested that it is more likely for the narrative to be based on a kernel of truth, particularly since it accounts for the stark contrast in the biblical narrative between the character of the tribe before the incident, and its character afterwards [ibid] .
Despite its ethnic connection to Ephraim, the main tribe in the
Kingdom of Israel, Benjamin instead associated with the southern tribes and became part of the Kingdom of Judah. Benjamin was very much a minor partner; kings came from the tribe of Judahand it was Judah which gave its name to the kingdom. As part of the kingdom of Judah, Benjamin survived the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, and instead was subjected to the Babylonian captivity; when the captivity ended, the distinction between Benjamin and the other tribes in the kingdom of Judah were lost in favour of a common identity as " Jews".
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