Benjamin (Hebrew: בִּנְיָמִין; standard transliteration Binyamin, Tiberian vocalization Bínyāmîn) is a Hebrew Bible figure. The name literally translates to "son of right," generally taken to mean "son of my right hand," but in some rabbinical traditions "son of the right side [of the body]" or "son of the south," the youngest son of Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 35:18). The "right" direction had the connotation of strength or desirability. In the Samaritan Pentateuch, this name is consistently spelled בנימים (Binyamim), which may indicate a neutralization of nasal-final endings, or may imply a different analysis, as בן ימים, "son of days", implying the son of Jacob's old age (as he is described in Genesis 44:20).
His birth took place on the road between Bethel and Ephrath, which is identified with Bethlehem (Genesis 35:19). His mother Rachel died in childbirth, and with her last breath named him Ben-oni ("son of my pain"), an ill-omened name which was changed by his father into Binyamin. His posterity were the tribe of Benjamin, sometimes translated "Benjamites" (Genesis 49:27; Deuteronomy 33:12; Joshua 18:21).
The tribe of Benjamin at the Exodus was the smallest aside from Manasseh, which was split off from Joseph (Numbers 1:34-1:37; Psalms 68:27). During the march its place was along with Manasseh and Ephraim on the west of the tabernacle. At the entrance into Canaan it counted 45,600 warriors. It has been inferred by some from the words of Jacob (Genesis 49:27) that the figure of a wolf was on the tribal standard: "Benjamin is a wolf that raveneth; in the morning he shall devour the prey, at evening he shall divide the spoil."
The inheritance of this tribe lay immediately to the south of that of Ephraim, and was about 26 miles in length and 12 in breadth. Its eastern boundary was the Jordan. Dan intervened between it and the Philistines. Its chief towns are named in Josh. 18:21-28.
The history of the tribe contains a sad record of a desolating civil war in which they were engaged with the other eleven tribes; they were almost exterminated (Judg. 20:20, 21; 21:10).
The first king of the Jews was Saul, a Benjamite. A close alliance was formed between this tribe and that of Judah in the time of David (2 Sam. 19:16, 17), which continued after his death (1 Kings 11:13; 12:20). After the Exile these two tribes formed the great body of the Jewish nation (Ezra 1:5; 10:9), and to this day the other ten are referred to as the lost tribes of Israel. The tribe of Benjamin was famous for its archers (1 Sam. 20:20, 36; 2 Sam. 1:22; 1 Chr. 8:40; 12:2) and slingers (Judges 20:6).
The gate of Benjamin, on the north side of Jerusalem (Jer. 37:13; 38:7; Zech. 14:10), was so called because it led in the direction of the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. It is called by Jeremiah (20:2) "the high gate of Benjamin"; also "the gate of the children of the people" (17:19). (Comp. 2 Kings 14:13.)
- For a list of persons with the given name Benjamin see Template:Lookfrom
Son of Jacob
Benjamin was the son of Jacob and Rachel, the youngest of Jacob's twelve sons and full blood brother to Joseph. Benjamin's early years are not divulged too deeply, but what is known is that he did not feel jealousy towards Joseph as their older brothers did and he had no involvement in Joseph being sold into slavery.
Once Joseph was sold and thought to be dead, it appears that Jacob took Benjamin up as his favorite son. Though this is not directly said, he did not send Benjamin with his older brothers to Egypt and when they returned for him it took them two years to convince Jacob to let him go.
Benjamin was key in Joseph's plan in testing their brothers to see if they had really changed. When they arrived in Egypt he demanded that they bring Benjamin back with them on the pretense that they prove they are not spies, while he kept Simeon as collateral. After two years they do return with Benjamin and though he doesn't recognize his brother, Joseph is very happy to see him:
When Joseph looked around he saw his own mother's son, his brother Benjamin and asked, 'Is this your youngest brother, of whom you told me?' and to Benjamin he said, 'May God be gracious to you, my son!' Joseph, suddenly overcome by his feelings for his brother, was almost in tears, and he went into the inner room and wept. (Genesis 43:29-30)
Later Joseph had his silver cup planted in Benjamin's sack and then had him arrested for theft. This was still part of his plan in testing their older brothers. When the brothers pleaded his case and even Judah offers to stay in his place, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and hugs Benjamin first.
On his deathbed, Jacob blesses each one of his sons, usually based upon the actions they took in life. Though Benjamin had no involvement in Joseph's enslavement and there doesn't seem to be much evidence that he was troublesome, Jacob bestows upon him a rather somber blessing:
Benjamin is a ravening wolf, in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he snatches a share of the spoil. (Genesis 49:27)
- Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.
- The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1908: Benjamin. Material on the tribe, its territory, Rabbinical tradition and Islam, where Benjamin is not specifically mentioned in the Qur'an.