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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Benjamin (Hebrew: בִּנְיָמִין, Modern Binyamin Tiberian Binyāmîn) בִּנְיָמִין was one of the Tribes of Israel.

From after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in c. 1050 BCE, the Tribe of Benjamin was a part of a loose confederation of Israelite tribes. No central government existed, and in times of crisis the people were led by ad hoc leaders known as Judges. (see the Book of Judges) The entire tribe of Benjamin, women and children included, was almost wiped out by the other Israelite tribes after the Battle of Gibeah. The remnant of the tribe was spared and allowed to marry women of another town, whose husbands had been killed, to enable the tribe to continue. (Judges 19-21)

With the growth of the threat from Philistine incursions, the Israelite tribes decided to form a strong centralised monarchy to meet the challenge. The first king of this new entity was Saul, who came from the Tribe of Benjamin, (1 Samuel 9:1-2) which at the time was the smallest of the tribes. He reigned from Gibeah for 38 years, (1 Samuel 8-31) which appears to have been his home town.

After the death of Saul, all the tribes other than Judah remained loyal to the House of Saul, but after the death of Ish-bosheth, Saul's son and successor to the throne of Israel, the Tribe of Benjamin joined the northern Israelite tribes in making David, who was then the king of Judah, king of a re-united Kingdom of Israel. However, on the accession of Rehoboam, David's grandson, in c. 930 BCE the northern tribes split from the House of David to reform a Kingdom of Israel as the Northern Kingdom. However, this time the Tribe of Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David, and remained a part of the Kingdom of Judah, in which it remained until Judah was conquered by Babylon in c. 586 BCE and the population deported.

When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, residual tribal affiliations were abandoned, probably because of the impossibility of reestablishing previous tribal land holdings. However, the special religious roles decreed for the Levis and Kohanim were preserved, and the general population was called Israel. These designations are still followed today.

Tribal territory


Tribe of Benjamin (light pink - center)

Following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BCE[1], Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes. To Benjamin he assigned the territory 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. (Joshua 18:11-28)

Though Jerusalem was in the territory allocated to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:28), it continued to be under the independent control of the Jebusites. Judges 1:21 points to the city being within the territory of Benjamin, while Joshua 15:63 implies that the city was within the territory of Judah. In any event, Jerusalem remained an independent Jebusite city until it was finally conquered by David[2] in c. 1000s BCE and made into the capital of the united Kingdom of Israel.[3][4] After the breakup of the United Monarchy, Jerusalem continued as the capital of the southern Kingdom of Judah.

The ownership of Bethel is also ambiguous. Though Joshua allocated Bethel to Benjamin, by the time of the prophetess Deborah, Bethel is described as being in the land of the Tribe of Ephraim. (Judges 4:5) Then, some twenty years after the breakup of the United Monarchy, Abijah, the second king of Kingdom of Judah, defeated Jeroboam of Israel and took back the towns of Bethel, Jeshanah and Ephron, with their surrounding villages.[5] Ephron is believed to be the Ophrah that was also allocated to the Tribe of Benjamin by Joshua.[6]

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.[7] Textual scholars view this as a postdiction - maintining that the poem was written long after the tribe had settled there.[8]


According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob with Rachel.


In the Blessing of Jacob, Benjamin is referred to as a ravenous wolf;[9] 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.[10] 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.[10] Some scholars believe that it instead originates from the tribe having the figure of a wolf in its standard.

The Battle of Gibeah

The tribe of Benjamin is initially described in the Bible as being very pugnacious,[10] 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, 20:16, 1 Chronicles 12:2) and where they are portrayed as being brave and skilled archers. (1 Chronicles 8:40, 2 Chronicles 14:8)

However, an abrupt change of character to one of placidity occurs in the text after a traumatic incident for the tribe.[10] 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 600 surviving men of Benjamin were married off to wives from other tribes. (Judges 19-21)

The years in which these events took place is subject to academic dispute. According to textual scholars,[who?] the biblical text describing the battle and the events surrounding it is considerably late in date, originating close to the time that they postulate as the date of the deuteronomist's compilation of Judges from its source material, and possibly has several exaggerations of both numbers and of modes of warfare,[10] and additionally, the inhospitality which triggered the Battle is reminiscent of the Torah's account of Sodom and Gomorrah.[10] 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;[11] 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 afterward.[12]


After the dissolution of the united Kingdom of Israel in c. 930 BCE, the Tribe of Benjamin joined the Tribe of Judah as a junior partner in the Kingdom of Judah, or Southern Kingdom. The Davidic dynasty, which had roots in Judah, continued to reign in Judah. As part of the kingdom of Judah, Benjamin survived the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, but instead was subjected to the Babylonian captivity; when the captivity ended, the distinction between Benjamin and Judah was lost in favour of a common identity as Israel.

See also

External Links


  1. Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
  2. 1 Chronicles 11:4-8
  3. Greenfeld, Howard (2005-03-29). A Promise Fulfilled: Theodor Herzl, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gurion, and the Creation of the State of Israel. Greenwillow. p. 32. ISBN 006051504X. 
  4. "Timeline". City of David. Ir David Foundation. Retrieved 2007-01-18. 
  5. 2 Chronicles 13:17-19
  6. Joshua 18:20-28, esp 23
  7. Deuteronomy 33:12
  8. Richard Elliott Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible? (Harper San Francisco) (1987) ISBN 0-06-063035-3
  9. Genesis 49:27
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 Jewish Encyclopedia
  11. ibid
  12. ibid

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