Tribe of Benjamin

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 River as 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 Jacob and Rachel, who was born once Jacob and Rachel arrived in Canaan. Biblical scholars, however, suspect that this is just an aetiolocial metaphor describing 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 Elohist and Yahwist texts, 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 Exodus narrative 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] .

The etymology of 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 latin for "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 literature argues 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"] .


In the Blessing of Jacob, Benjamin is referred to as a ravenous wolf [Genesis 49:27] ; traditional interpretations often considered this to refer to the might of a specific member of the tribe, either the champion Ehud, king Saul, or Mordecai of the Esther narrative, or in Christian circles, the apostle Paul ["Jewish Encyclopedia"] . The Temple in Jerusalem was 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 simile in 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 Judges recounts 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 Judah against "Benjamin", probably in the time of King David as 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 Judah and 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".

See also

* Benjamin


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  • BENJAMIN — (Heb. בִּנְיָמִין), youngest son of jacob by rachel (Gen. 35:16–18), and the eponym of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was the only one of Jacob s sons to be born in Canaan. Little is told of his life and personality. Our preserved texts… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Benjamin — (Hebrew Name|בִּנְיָמִין|Binyamin|Binyāmîn) in the Book of Genesis, is a son of Jacob, the second (and last) son of Rachel, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Benjamin [Genesis 35:18] ; in the Biblical account, unlike Rachel s first son… …   Wikipedia

  • Benjamin — • The youngest son of Jacob born of Rachel Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight. 2006. Benjamin     Benjamin     † …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Benjamin (disambiguation) — Benjamin is a figure in the Hebrew Bible. It is also a common given name for men, and a surname. Origin and history People Other * Benjamin (died 1936) is the name now given to the last living individual Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) * Benjamin,… …   Wikipedia

  • Tribe of Joseph — The Tribe of Joseph was one of the Tribes of Israel, though since Ephraim and Manasseh together traditionally constituted the tribe of Joseph, it was often not listed as one of the tribes, in favour of Ephraim and Manasseh being listed in its… …   Wikipedia

  • benjamin — /ben jeuh meuhn/, n. benzoin1 (def. 2). [1570 80; alter. (by assoc. with the proper name) of benjoin, early form of BENZOIN1] * * * (as used in expressions) Banneker Benjamin Benjamin Judah Philip Benjamin Walter Benjamin Kubelsky Bloch Marc… …   Universalium

  • Benjamin — /ben jeuh meuhn/, n. 1. the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel, and the brother of Joseph. Gen. 35:18. 2. one of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel traditionally descended from him. 3. Asher, 1773 1845, U.S. architect and writer. 4. Judah Philip, 1811 …   Universalium

  • Tribe of Ephraim — The Tribe of Ephraim (Hebrew Name|אֶפְרַיִם / אֶפְרָיִם|Efráyim|ʾEp̄ráyim} / ʾEp̄rāyim| double fruitfulness ) was one of the Tribes of Israel; together with the Tribe of Manasseh, Ephraim also formed the House of Joseph . At its height, the… …   Wikipedia

  • Benjamin —    Son of my right hand.    1) The younger son of Jacob by Rachel (Gen. 35:18). His birth took place at Ephrath, on the road between Bethel and Bethlehem, at a short distance from the latter place. His mother died in giving him birth, and with… …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • Benjamin — The younger son of Jacob and Rachel (Gen. 35:18), from whom the tribe of Benjamin claimed to be descended. He is mentioned as being close to Joseph, and this suggests that historically the Benjaminites were associated with the northern (Joseph)… …   Dictionary of the Bible

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