views updated May 17 2018


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 attribute no words to him, though he is frequently mentioned in the stories about Jacob, because he was the youngest son and born of the beloved wife Rachel and also because he was, as *Joseph's only full brother, closest to him. Jacob did not send Benjamin to Egypt with the other brothers to procure food during the famine, but when they applied to Joseph for rations he insisted that Benjamin should be sent for. Much against Jacob's will, Benjamin eventually accompanied his brothers to Egypt after Judah had undertaken to be responsible for him. When Benjamin was presented to him, Joseph was so overcome with feeling that he went into a private room and wept there. He invited his brothers to dine and favored Benjamin with extra portions. Joseph, however, put his brothers' integrity to the test and did not make himself known to them. He instructed his steward to conceal a silver goblet in Benjamin's bag and later to overtake the brothers on their journey home and accuse him of stealing it. The brothers interceded for Benjamin, and Judah declared himself ready to sacrifice his liberty in exchange for Benjamin's release to spare their father's grief if he failed to return. Then Joseph finally disclosed his identity to them, and sent an invitation to his father to settle in Goshen with his family (Gen. 42–45).

Rachel had named her son Ben-Oni which could mean either "son of my vigor" or "son of my suffering," though the second meaning better fits the context as her labor was hard

and she died in childbirth. The father, however, named the baby Benjamin, which literally means "son of the right hand," and can be understood as having an auspicious sense. It could also mean "son of the south" (cf. Ps. 89:13), either because this son was the only one born in the south, that is in Canaan (all his brothers were born in Aram-Naharaim), or because the legacy of Benjamin was south (i.e., to the right) of that of his brother Joseph. A parallel to the name Benjamin used in the sense of "southerners" is to be found in the *Mari documents referring to West Semitic tribes called Dumu. Meš (= binī-) Yamina, meaning "southerners," literally, "sons of the right," in contrast to another group of tribes called Dumu. Meš (= binī -) Sim'all, "northerners," literally, sons of the left." There is a linguistic connection between the Hebrew term "Benjamin" and the Bini-Yamina tribes of the Mari documents (18th century b.c.e.) but no apparent historical connection.

The Genealogies

The Bible contains genealogical lists of the tribe of Benjamin which in part do not correspond with one another either in respect of the number of clans or their names (Gen. 46:21; Num. 26:38–41; i Chron. 7:6–12; 8:1–40; 9:35–44). The variations arise from the fact that some are fragmentary and that the lists may reflect differing traditions about the lineage of the tribe as well as periodic changes in its composition and in territorial boundaries. Beriah, for example, appears in the genealogical lists of Benjamin (i Chron. 8:13–16), Ephraim (ibid. 7:21–23), and Asher (Gen. 46:17; Num. 26:44–45). If in each case the reference is to the same clan then this reflects a movement of Beriah from south to north or the reverse. Huppim and Shuppim are included in the genealogical lists of the tribes of both Benjamin (Gen. 46:21, where the latter is Muppim; Num. 26:39; i Chron. 7:12) and Manasseh (i Chron. 7:15). In view of the close ties between Benjamin and the east bank of the Jordan (see below) it seems that the duplication reflects the migration of one or two clans from Benjamin to Manasseh or the reverse. i Chronicles 8:29–40 and 9:35–44 preserve two parallel lists of the family of Saul, which place "the father of Gibeon" in the genealogical records of Benjamin. The city of Gibeon was inhabited by the Gibeonite descendants of the Hivites and included in the territory of Benjamin, and the relationship of Saul to Gibeon in these lists indicates the intermingling of the Gibeonite population with the Benjaminites. However, some scholars believe that "Gibeon" is a scribal error for "Gibeah," the city of Saul (i Sam. 11:4).

The Tribal Territory

The territory of Benjamin, which extended from the hill country of Ephraim to the hill country of Judah, is described in great detail in Joshua 18:11–28. The description of its southern border fits that of the northern border of Judah (Josh. 15:5–11), while the picture of its northern border accords with that of the southern border of the House of Joseph (Josh. 16:1–3, 5). The northern boundary began at the Jordan and continued in an almost straight line westward to Jericho, which it bypassed to the north; it then ascended the mountains in a west-northwesterly direction, encompassing Beth-El, turning south and continuing to the southwest, and circumventing lower Beth-Horon on the south. The western border of Benjamin is unclear; however, from the description of the territory of Dan, it would seem that it did not reach the sea, but ended in the vicinity of the valley of Aijalon, with the area of lower Beth-Horon and Kiriath-Jearim marking its northern and southern extremities (cf. Josh. 18:28 with 15:60). The southern border ran "from the outskirts of Kiriath-Jearim" (Josh. 18:15), eastward via the "spring of the Waters of Nephtoah" (Lifta) to Jerusalem, which was included in the territory of Benjamin; for the border passed Jerusalem on the south and descended east by way of En-Rogel, En-Shemesh, "the Stone of Bohan son of Reuben," and Beth-Hoglah to the Dead Sea, near where the Jordan enters it. The eastern border was the Jordan.

The list of Benjaminite towns (Josh. 18:21–28) does not accord with the northern border of the tribe as described in Joshua 18:12–13 since Beth-El, Zemaraim, Ophrah, and Mizpeh are elsewhere included in the territory of Ephraim (cf. Josh. 16; ii Chron. 13:4, 19). Possibly the list of cities and the list of border points are not from the same period and reflect fluctuating territorial and historical situations. It is generally believed that the list of border points antedates the period of the monarchy, whereas the list of cities is of later date. A westward expansion of the Benjaminites – possibly as early as the end of the period of Judges, but perhaps taking place during the monarchy – can be inferred from the list of Benjaminite towns in Nehemiah 11:31–35. Non-Israelite enclaves existed within the territory of Benjamin; the Jebusites dwelt in Jerusalem (Josh. 18:28), and there were four cities of the Hivites in the western portion. Echoes of the conflicts between the Benjaminites and the indigenous population are discernible in ii Samuel 21:1–2 and possibly in i Chronicles 8:6–8.

The History of the Tribe

Despite the fact that the territory of Benjamin was smaller than that of most of the other tribes and although Benjamin was regarded as the youngest tribe (see the *Tribes of Israel), it played an important part in the history of the unification of the tribes of Israel during the period of the Judges and the beginning of the monarchy. One of the first judges who arose to save Israel was *Ehud son of Gera, of the tribe of Benjamin (Judg. 3:15), and the first king to rule Israel was *Saul the Benjaminite (i Sam. 9:1). Benjamin's importance was due to the strategic position of its territory, through which the divide (watershed) of the central hill country passed. The territory's main north-south road ran along the divide; a main highway connecting Transjordan with the west also passed through Benjamin's territory. It was this road that the Israelites used after they crossed the Jordan. When *Eglon king of Moab extended the boundaries of his rule westward, the oppressive effects were felt mainly by the tribe of Benjamin, since the corridor connecting regions on the banks of the Jordan was situated in its territory. Therefore it was not just by chance that the judge who saved Israel from Moab came from the tribe of Benjamin (Judg. 3:12ff). The close ties between the Benjaminites and the people of Jabesh-Gilead (Judg. 20–21; i Sam. 11; 31:11–13; Obad. 19) are also explained in part by the Benjaminites' easy access to Transjordan. In the days of *Deborah the Benjaminites joined in the war against Jabin and Sisera (Judg. 5:14). After forcing the tribe of Dan to move northward, Philistine pressure focused upon the territory of the Benjaminites because of the strategic importance of the area. The *Philistines dominated the entire central part of the country and placed a garrison in Gibeath-Benjamin (i Sam. 10:5; 13:3). Opposition to Philistine rule was thus centered in Benjamin, and so it is hardly surprising that the first king, Saul, whose primary task it was to save Israel from the Philistines (cf. i Sam. 9:16), was a Benjaminite. This is also in keeping with Benjamin's reputation for military prowess, as expressed in Jacob's blessing: "Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he consumes the foe, and in the evening he divides the spoil" (Gen. 49:27).

A count of Benjaminites made before the intertribal war that followed the affair of the concubine in Gibeah (Judg. 19–21) revealed "twenty six thousand men that drew the sword… Among all these were seven hundred picked men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss" (Judg. 20:15–16; cf. i Chron. 8:40; 12:1–2). According to the account, Benjamin was defeated and its civilian population massacred. The survival of the tribe was only insured by seizure as wives for the 600 remaining warriors of the unmarried women of Jabesh-Gilead and Shiloh (Judg. 21). The kingdom of Judah established by David did not include Benjamin (see *Ish-Bosheth), and when Israel also chose David as its king, Benjamin continued to belong to "the House of Joseph" (II Sam. 19:17–21). The tribe retained some rancor against David as the supplanter of the House of Saul, as is shown by the episode of *Shimei son of Gera and the revolt of *Sheba son of Bichri (ii Sam. 16:5–13; 20:1–2). Under Solomon, too, the territory of Benjamin constituted one of the administrative divisions of Israel (i Kings 4:18). After Solomon's death and the revolt of Israel, the Davidides tried to regain as much of Israel as they could, and according to ii Chronicles 13 for a time pushed the northern limit of their dominion well beyond Benjamin. Ultimately, however, they had to be content with the Benjaminite watershed as a buffer between Israel and their place of residence, Jerusalem (i Kings 15:22).

[Bustanay Oded]

In the Aggadah

Benjamin, according to one opinion, was the image of his mother, Rachel (Tanḥ. B. 1:197), and according to another resembled his father (Tanḥ., Mi-Keẓ 10). He alone of all the brothers took no part in the sale of Joseph; as a result he was privileged to have the Temple built on the territory of his tribe (Gen. R. 99:1). Another reason is that he was not yet born when his father and brothers prostrated themselves before Esau (Targ. Sheni to Esther 3:3). Although he knew of Joseph as having been sold into slavery, he never revealed it to his father (Mid. Ps. 15:6). The four additional portions given by Joseph to Benjamin (Gen. 43:34) consisted of one each from Joseph, Asenath, and their sons, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen. R. 92:5). After Joseph's silver cup was found in Benjamin's sack, his brothers struck Benjamin on the shoulder saying, "O thief and son of a thief, thou hast brought the same shame upon us that thy mother brought upon our father when she stole the teraphim that were her father's" (Tanḥ. B. 1:198). Jacob's deathbed blessing to Benjamin contained the prophecy that his tribe would provide Israel with its first and its last ruler, both Saul and Esther being of the tribe of Benjamin (Gen. R. 99:3). He was untainted by sin (Shab. 55b), and when he died his corpse was not exposed to the ravages of worms (bb 17a).

In Islam

Though Muhammad does not mention the name Benjamin in the Sura of Yūsuf (Sura 12, verse 69ff.), there is no doubt concerning the identity of the brother whom Joseph wishes to bring to him in Egypt. The Koran continues with the biblical account (cf. Gen. 42–43), according to the version derived from the aggadah. Not only Reuben but all the brothers guarantee Jacob that they will bring Benjamin back (sura 12, 66; cf. Tanḥ. Mi-Keẓ, 8). There are many accounts in Muslim legends of the threats made by Benjamin's brothers when Joseph wanted to imprison him (cf. Gen. 44:17).

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]


W.F. Albright, in: aasor, 4 (1922–23), 150–5; J. Muilenburg, in: jbl, 75 (1956), 194–201; Z. Kallai, in: vt, 8 (1958), 134–60; E.A. Speiser, Genesis (1964), 273–4; K.D. Schunck, Benjamin (Ger., 1963); idem, in: zdpv, 78 (1962), 143–58; H.L. Ginsberg, in: Fourth World Congress of Jewish Studies, Papers, 1 (1967), 91–93. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index. in islam: Ṭabarī, Tafsir, xiii, 6–20; al-Kisā'ī, Qiṣaṣ (1922), 169–76; Vajda, in: eis2, s.v.Binyamin. add. bibliography: A. Ben-Tor (ed.), The Archaeology of Ancient Israel (1992), 286, 289, 372; S. Ahituv, Joshua (Heb., 1995), 294–97.


views updated May 08 2018


Youngest son of jacob and a full brother of Joseph; his mother, Rachel, died at his birth (Gn 35.1619, 24). The Joseph narratives depict Benjamin (Hebrews binyāmîn, "son of the right hand," i.e., southerner) as the instrument of the estranged Joseph in reuniting and reconciling Jacob's family in Egypt (Gn 3950). Little more is known of him than that he had ten sons (Gn 46.21). According to the census recorded by the priestly writers, the tribe of Benjamin had 35,400 males of military age at the beginning of the 40 years of wandering in the desert, and 45,000 at its end; on the value of these figures, see census (in the bible). At the Israelite conquest of Canaan, the Benjaminites received as a possession a narrow tract of central hill country bounded by Ephraim, Dan, Judah, and the Jordan, containing some of the principal cities of Israelite history (Jos 18.1128). A barren territory, naturally defensible and strategically located at the heart of the chief routes of communication in Canaan, it determined the warlike character of the tribe and its role in Israelite history as reflected in the blessings of Jacob (Gn 49.27). During the period of the Judges, Aod, a Benjaminite. overthrew a Moabite oppressor, Eglon (Jgs 3.1230), and under the leadership of Debora and Barac, Benjamin joined the tribal coalition that defeated Sisera (Jgs 5.14). Because of an attempt to protect fellow Benjaminites guilty of a heinous crime, the tribe was nearly exterminated by the reprisal of all Israel. The remnant abducted wives to restore their decimated ranks (Jgs 1921). Benjaminite martial glory reached its zenith against the Philistine aggression of the 11th century b.c., a crisis that precipitated the establishment of the monarchy and Israelite unification. saul, a Benjaminite warrior, rallied Israel and was anointed its first king (1 Sm 9.112.25). At his death (c. 1000 b.c.) a power struggle ensued between Saul's son is-baal, supported by Abner, general of the army, and David, the newly elected king in Judah (2 Sm 2.111). Most Benjaminites remained faithful to Saul's house against Judah until Abner's break with Is-Baal and his pact with David (2 Sm 2.123.21). Upon Is-Baal's death David was acknowledged as king by all Israel and shifted his capital from Hebron in Judah to Jerusalem in Benjaminite territory, a neutral location (2 Sm 4.15.10). Benjaminite dissatisfaction with David manifested itself in the two abortive rebellions of Absalom and Seba (2 Sm 1518; 20). Benjamin seems initially to have joined the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I at Solomon's death (c. 922 b.c.; 1 Kgs 12.20), only to become and remain annexed to Juda when Roboam occupied its territory in order to keep Jerusalem as his capital (1 Kgs 11.2936; 2 Chr 11.1, 512, 23; 14.8). Subsequently, Benjamin became a buffer state in the internal wars for supremacy between the northern and southern kingdoms (1 Kgs 15.1722; 2 Chr 13.19; 15.8). With the destruction of the north in 721 b.c., Benjaminite fortunes became linked with those of Judah. Elements of the tribe are mentioned in the post-Exilic tribal lists of Nehemiah's time (1 Chr 8.140). The most famous of the later Benjaminites was Saul of Tarsus, the NT Apostle of the Gentiles (Phil 3.5).

Bibliography: Encylopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman, (New York 1963), from a. van den born, Bijbels Woordenboek, 225226. j. bright, A History of Israel (Philadelphia 1959).

[r. barrett]


views updated May 29 2018

Benjamin a Hebrew patriarch, the youngest and favourite son of Jacob, whose elder brothers were forced by their unrecognized brother Joseph, whom they had wronged, to take back to Egypt with them.

In Egypt, an accusation of the theft of a cup is arranged against Benjamin, and it seems that Jacob will indeed lose him; however, this is the dramatic opening to Joseph's forgiveness of, and reconciliation with, the other brothers.

Benjamin gave his name to the smallest tribe of Israel, traditionally descended from him.

Benjamin's portion the largest portion of something, with allusion to Genesis 63:34, in which Joseph, giving food to his brothers, gives to Benjamin (the only one who is innocent of wrongdoing against him) five times the amount he has given to the others.


views updated May 23 2018

Benjamin. Youngest son of the patriarch Jacob, full brother to Joseph and forefather of the tribe of Benjamin.

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