Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Illustration from Speculum Humanae Salvationis. Augsburg, Günther Zainer, photo by Harvard Art Museum
But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded: and by him the children of Israel sent a present unto Eglon the king of Moab. But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh.
— Judges 3:15-16
Ehud the left-handed is the second Israelite judge in the series, and the first man in the Bible to be identified as a left-hander, a trait which gave him a strategic advantage over his enemy: he was able to conceal his weapon on his right side, where the guards would never think to search. Ehud's killing of Eglon, following Eglon's enslavement of a large group of Israelites is a gruesome and graphic depiction, and ultimately a victory not only for Israel but for left-handed people everywhere.
Left-handedness is referred to on only two subsequent occasions 1 both in reference to the Benjamite tribe, to which Ehud belonged—as too did Saul, Israel's first king. Curiously, the word Benjamin means literally "son of (my) right hand" an irony surely not missed by the book's author/s.2 The third mention of left-handedness actually describes ambidextrous archers and stone slingers, indicating a possibility that the tribe of Benjamin actively encouraged left-handed ability. In all three mentions of left-handedness there is no negative connotation, indeed, quite the opposite, making it surprising then that over time the trait became, within the Christian church, synonymous with evil.3 Up until as late as the 1960s left-handed children were forced to write and eat right-handedly, and even punished for failure to do so.
I like that the Bible extols, rather than denigrates this difference. Left-handers are a minority group. Israel was a minority group. It makes sense that standing apart is seen as a virtue by the writers of these works. It is only we (Christians) who in later centuries became so fearful of minority groups. As Christianity became mainstream there was no room for difference. Comply or die was essentially the motto of the inquisition. The story of Ehud the left-handed can serve to bring us back to our senses and teach us, once again, to respect and celebrate difference, rather than to fear and destroy it.
1 Judges 20:16 and 1 Chronicles 12:2
2 From Biblical Views: Left-Handed Sons of Right-Handers by Boyd Seevers and Joanna Klein, Biblical Archaeology Review 39:3, May/June 2013
3 The word sinister originally meant left-handed, as did the word gauche. Somewhere is Christian history left-handedness became synonymous with wickedness and coarseness. A short history is offered by Merriam-Webster.