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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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BENJAMIN . 1 . The youngest son of Jacob by Rachel, and the only full brother of Joseph ( Genesis 30:22 f. [JE [Note: Jewish Encyclopedia.] ] Genesis 35:17 [J [Note: Jahwist.] ] Genesis 35:24 [P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ]). He alone of Jacob’s sons was native-born. J [Note: Jahwist.] ( Genesis 35:16 ) puts his birth near Ephrath in Benjamin. A later interpolation identifies Ephrath with Bethlehem, but cf. 1 Samuel 10:2 . P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] , however ( Genesis 35:22-26 ), gives Paddan-aram as the birth-place of all Jacob’s children. His mother, dying soon after he was born, named him Ben-oni (‘son of my sorrow’). Jacob changed this ill-omened name to the more auspicious one Benjamin , which is usually interpreted ‘son of my right hand,’ the right hand being the place of honour as the right side was apparently the lucky side (cf. Genesis 48:14 ). Pressed by a famine, his ten brothers went down to Egypt, and Jacob, solicitous for his welfare, did not allow Benjamin to accompany them; but Joseph made it a condition of his giving them corn that they should bring him on their return. When Judah ( Genesis 43:9 J [Note: Jahwist.] ) or Reuben ( Genesis 42:37 E [Note: Elohist.] ) gave surety for his safe return, Jacob yielded. Throughout the earlier documents Benjamin is a tender youth, the idol of his father and brothers. A late editor of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ( Genesis 46:21 ) makes him, when he entered Egypt, the father of ten sons, that is more than twice as many as Jacob’s other sons except Dan, who had seven.

The question is, What is the historical significance of these conflicting traditions? Yâmin ,’ right hand,’ appears to have been used geographically for south,’ and Ben-yâmin may mean ‘son (s) of the south,’ i.e. the southern portion of Ephraim. Ben-oni may be connected with On in the tribe of Benjamin. The two names may point to the union of two related tribes, and the persistence of the traditions that Benjamin was the full brother of Joseph, whereas the other Joseph tribes (Manasseh and Ephraim) are called sons, would indicate not only a close relationship to Joseph, but also a comparatively early development into an independent tribe. On the other hand, J [Note: Jahwist.] E [Note: Elohist.] P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] all make Benjamin the youngest son, and P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] gives Canaan as his native land. This points to a traditional belief that the tribe was the last to develop. This and the fact that Shimei, a Benjamitc, claims ( 2 Samuel 19:20 ) to be’ of the house of Joseph,’ suggest that the tribe was an offshoot of the latter.

The limits of the tribal territory are given by P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] in Joshua 18:11-28 . Within it lay Bethel (elsewhere assigned to Ephraim), Ophrah, Geba, Gibeon, Ramab, Mizpeh, Gibeah, all primitive seats of Canaanitish worship and important centres in the cultus of Israel (cf., e.g. , Bethel, Amos 7:10 ff.). Jericho, where in early times there may have been a cult of the moon-god ( jârçach = ‘moon’), and Jerusalem are also assigned to Benjamin. Deuteronomy 33:12 , as commonly but not universally interpreted, also assigns Jerusalem to Benjamin, though later it belonged to Judah. Anathoth, the birth-place of Jeremiah, also lay in Benjamin ( Joshua 21:18 [P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] ]). In the Blessing of Jacob ( Genesis 49:27 ) a fierce and warlike character is ascribed to Benjamin. The statement is all the more important, since in this ‘Blessing’ we have certainly to deal with vaticinia post eventum . The rugged and unfriendly nature of the tribal territory doubtless contributed to martial hardihood. The tribe participated in the war against Sisera ( Judges 5:14 ). A late and composite story is found in Judges 19:1-30; Judges 20:1-48; Judges 21:1-25 of an almost complete annihilation of the tribe by the rest of the Israelites. Later the tribe gave to united Israel its first king, Saul of Gibeah. It had in Asa’s army, according to 2 Chronicles 14:8 , 280, 2 Chronicles 14 picked warriors an exaggeration of course, but a very significant one in this connexion. Benjamin, under Sheba, a kinsman of Saul, led in the revolt against David when the quarrel provoked by David’s partisanship broke out between Judah and the northern tribes ( 2 Samuel 20:1 ff.). From the first the tribe was loyal to the house of Saul and violently opposed to David (cf. 2 Samuel 16:5; 2 Samuel 20:2 ). In the revolt against the oppressions of Rehoboam it joined with the North ( 1 Kings 12:20 ). A variant account joins it with Judah ( 1 Kings 12:21 f.), but this is only a reflexion of later times. The history of the tribe is unimportant after David. Besides Saul and Jeremiah, St. Paul also traced descent to this tribe ( Philippians 3:5 ). See also Tribes. 2 . A great-grandson of Benjamin ( 1 Chronicles 7:10 ). 3 . One of those who had married a foreign wife ( Ezra 10:32; prob. also Nehemiah 3:23; Nehemiah 12:34 ).

James A. Craig.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Benjamin'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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