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In the book of Judges, we learn that the tribe of Benjamin fielded a corps of slingers.

These soldiers were not mere conscripts, but rather we're informed that they were "chosen", in the sense of 'elite' or in some way elevated to a position of esteem. Moreover, they were skilled at the sling to the extent that they were accurate to a hair's breadth.

What's more interesting is that this corps of chosen elite was left handed. How did this come to be? Were these soldiers veterans whose right arm had become mangled and disfigured during the course of so many campaigns such that it was no longer usable? And so they retrained into left handed slingers? And having been veterans they were already combat-ready and disciplined and thus ready to be a "chosen" elite?

Or were left handed children culled at a very young age and trained to be slingers (i.e., the Jedi model)? If so, how could there be so many left handed children so as to make a "chosen" corps of 700?

Otherwise what is a plausible explanation for an elite corps of left handed soldiers?

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2 Answers 2

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Rik Smits, in "The Puzzle of Left-Handedness", points out that slingers and other fighters really needed to be sorted by handedness. They stood close together, and if they were mixed up, people were going to get hurt.

10% of the male population, more or less, appears to have been left-handed since the birth of Homo Sapiens. Rather than try to intersperse their lefties into the general battle line, with potentially bad consequences, it makes sense that they would have taken them all together. Why they preferred the sling is an interesting question, but perhaps if you only have a small group, they are more effective with the ranged weapon instead of hand-to-hand.

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The Hebrew idiom for left handed is 'bound/restricted in the right hand' so that in Judges 20:16, which is the verse you are describing, it reads בָּח֔וּר אִטֵּ֖ר (chosen men bound). Therefore, I think the Net Bible is correct:

The phrase, which refers to Ehud, literally reads “bound/restricted in the right hand,” apparently a Hebrew idiom for a left-handed person. See Judg 20:16, where 700 Benjaminites are described in this way. Perhaps the Benjaminites purposely trained several of their young men to be left-handed warriors by restricting the use of the right hand from an early age so the left hand would become dominant. Left-handed men would have a distinct military advantage, especially when attacking city gates. See B. Halpern, “The Assassination of Eglon: The First Locked-Room Murder Mystery,” BRev 4 (1988): 35.

This seems to make sense to me as the same tribe of slingers are also called ambidextrous which would make sense when you train people to be left, when the are naturally right.

They were bowmen and could shoot arrows and sling stones with either the right or the left hand; they were Benjaminites, Saul’s kinsmen. (1 Chronicles 12:2)

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  • Could “bound/restricted in the right hand,” be interpretted as having lost the use of the right hand in combat or the like?
    – GJV
    Feb 21, 2013 at 21:27
  • @GJV - sure. It is possible.
    – Mike
    Feb 21, 2013 at 23:57
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    Left-handed people have an advantage when dealing with others (e.g. fencing or other one-on-one activities). Lefties spend about 90% of their time with opponents using the opposite hand, while right handed people encounter opposite handed people only 10% of the time. A right-hander and a left-hander might have equal skills, but the left-hander will have far more experience. Sep 30, 2019 at 14:03
  • Southpaws and left handers in some other sports come in at a different angles to what most people are used to, which can be difficult for some to defend against.
    – Michael
    Sep 30, 2019 at 22:23

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