The Tribe of Benjamin


Dagobah Resident
I always thought my name, Benjamin, was from the biblical Tribe of Benjamin, the smallest Hebrew tribe dwelling in the land of Canaan encompassing Jerusalem, Gibeah and Jericho, carrying the meaning of ‘son of my right hand’, ‘son of the south’. And that’s where it ended for me.

Well, I recently looked into this a bit deeper because I ran into another name with a similar definition a while ago while looking into the rooster stuff. But before I get to that, upon my revisit, I became aware of a massive cache of famous Babylonian texts written in Akkadian, dating from c. 1800 BCE, excavated from the palace archives of king Zimiri-Lim of Mari. In those texts was mentioned a warlike tribe known as the Banu-Yamina (Banuyamina; Binu-Jamina), and to my surprise this name meant ‘sons of the right hand’, ‘sons of the south’. 'The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Vol. 1' (1962, Abingdon Press) says this “very rebellious Bedouin group” had extensive pasture lands from south of Harran to Terqa (40 miles (64 km) north of Mari) (map). This was a western Semitic (which is a linguistic classification, btw, not a racial one), non-Hebrew tribe since the Mari tablets also list the separate name of Ḫapiru (“Hebrews").

Here is more from ‘The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Vol. 3’- ‘Mari’:

“The texts from the royal archives frequently mention a tribe named TUR(mes)-ia-mi-na. Whereas it is not established yet whether the first element of this name must be read mârê(mes) (with the Akkadian term for “sons”) or binû(mes) (with its West Semitic equivalent), the meaning “sons of the South” is beyond doubt. The tribe so named was renowned for its military prowess. It had, at least to a large extent, given up nomadic life and was settled in towns and villages along the rivers Habor, Euphrates, and Balikh, south of the city of Harran. The names of the tribesmen are West Semitic, with a high percentage of theophorous names alluding to the moon-god (Eraẖ or Sîn), the grain-god Dagan, and others. One letter mentions an alliance between the “sons of the South” and another tribe concluded in the temple of Sîn at Harran. Whereas other peoples and tribes were ruled by Kings, they were headed by chieftains (suqâqû) and “elders” (šibûtum). When not engaged in warfare, they tilled the soil. The relation of this tribe to the Israelite tribe of Benjamin is obvious; it remains to be investigated whether they migrated from Mesopotamia to Palestine, taking with them from their former habitat near Harran the traditions centering around this famous holy city, as reflected in the patriarchal stories.”

This page says the “Binu-Yamina was a confederation of five Northwest Semitic speaking Amorite tribes: Yarihu, Amnanu, Rabbu, Yahruru and Uprapu.” It also points out that the Biblical person, Benjamin, never actually speaks. Was there ever a person named Benjamin?

In a transcribed lecture Zimri-Lim of Mari posted in 2010:

“The [Mari palace] records also offer some illuminating evidence about nomads. Various tribes would encamp near Mari for a few months at a time and interact with the people of Mari, so they were very well-known to the king. There's a close interaction between these groups we don't normally get much evidence about, and the people of Mari.”

From p. 129 of “Gods, Demons and Symbols of Ancient Mesopotamia”:

“Martu (Amurru)

The god Martu (Akkadian Amurru) is a god who destroys cities and rages over the land like a storm. He was regarded as a son of An, and was sometimes said to be a son of Ninhursaka. According to some traditions his wife was Bēlet-sēri ('Lady of the Desert') or else Asratu. There seems little doubt that he represents a personification of the nomadic peoples of the desert who began to appear on the horizon of settled Mesopotamia at least as early as the later third millennium BC, originally from the west, but gradually infiltrating the Mesopotamian area so that they also occupied lands to the east in the foothills of the Zagros. The first waves of these people were called Martu in Sumerian, and we tend to use the Biblical term ‘Amorites'."

From the ‘Amurru (god)’ wiki (as opposed to the ‘Amurru kingdom’ wiki):

“Amurru/Martu was probably a western Semitic god originally. He is sometimes described as a ‘shepherd’ or as a storm god, and as a son of the sky-god Anu.”

The Binuyamina (Benjaminites) appear be one of those Amorites ('foreigners'? somewhere from the west or north?; known in the Bible as Ammonites?) living in a land referred to as ‘the land of Amurru’.

Now, getting back to what made me want to take a closer look at the meaning of my name is found on p. 92 of 'History of Religions, Vol. II', by Morris Jastrow:

“Similarly, Nin-gish-zida, whose name signifies ‘the lord of the right-hand (or propitious) sceptre,’ becomes a title and not a name,…”

Several other quotes from ‘History’ to speed up my point:

p. 227:

Gibil and Nusku are called ‘sons of Anu;’ Gibil, indeed, is spoken of as the first-born of heaven, and the image of his father.”

p. 280:

“So I-shum becomes the messenger of Nusku, while Nin-gish-zida… appears to be regarded, as Tallquist has suggested, as the consort of Nusku.

p. 463:

“… Sargon assigns the forth month to the ‘servant of Gibil,’ the fire-god, by which Nin-gishzida is meant…

Ningishzida is represented as a serpent and sceptre, Gibil as a torch and stylus, and Nusku as an oil lamp and lamp stand (upon which the rooster stood in place of Gibil pictured on a Persian cylinder seal (c. 500-1000 BCE)). As far as I’ve been able to (finally) understand, these are all references to comets or are comet related. I reason that Gibil might be the ‘head’ and Ningishzida the ‘tail’ and that since Gibil is a “son of Anu”, that it was a fragment that broke off from a main comet becoming its own comet either adopting its own orbit or continuing its break-up and smiting the Earth in a ‘multiple event’ perhaps.

Two other points that may be related are: 1) The Vermilion Bird of China is also known as the ‘bird of the south’, and 2) Jesus, the ‘son of the lord’, upon ascending to heaven, sat at the ‘right hand of god’ (1 Peter 3:22).

'The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 1' also gives the folklore etymology of Benjamin as ‘child of fortune’. The Fenghaung bird of China was a bird of fortune, the rooster was a symbol of luck, and the Huma bird of Persia was a symbol of fortune and royalty (sceptre). At least the rooster and the Huma bird are, for sure, associated with comets.

When I looked into the biblical Tribe of Benjamin, there was a famous battle that occurred in Judges 19-21, known as ‘A Levite and His Concubine’ (who may have been his wife). I may have read it way in the past but I can’t even remember, but having read it now, I find it to be, as written, utterly ridiculous! If you are not familiar with the story, it goes from weird to whacked pretty fast and stays there. There are many different versions so I just summarized the NIV version:

The story started with an unnamed Levite who was travelling with his concubine from Bethlehem in Judah, where her parents lived, to a remote place in Ephraim where he lived. However, she left her husband (?) and went back to her parents’ house for four months. The Levite with his servant and two donkeys arrived at the house to persuade her to return to him. She took him to her parents’ home and was warmly welcomed by her father who convinced him to stay for four days, eating and drinking. The Levite became increasingly reluctant wanting to start the journey. Finally leaving on the afternoon of the fifth day, they heading towards Jerusalem (Jebus) but with evening approaching the Levite decided to not stay the night there since the people were not Israelites, and instead continued on to Gibeah or Ramah.

Arriving in Gibeah in Benjamin after sunset, they sat in the square but nobody took them in. An old man, from the same hill country in Ephraim as the Levite, was coming in from his work in the fields and saw the travellers in the square and struck up a conversation and eventually offered his house in Gibeah to stay for the night warning them against staying in the square.

Having settled in and enjoying themselves, some wicked men of the city surrounded the house pounding on the door demanding the owner bring out the Levite so they could have sex with him. The owner of the house came out and tried to reason with them saying that the Levite was his guest and that they should not be so vile. He then tried to appease them by offering his own virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine to do with as they please leaving the Levite alone from such an outrageous thing (!), but the men weren’t interested. So the Levite took matters into his own hands and sent his concubine out to the men who apparently raped her all night. Letting her go at dawn, she returned to the house where her master was staying and fell down in the doorway.

The next morning, when the Levite decided to leave, the woman was still lying where she had fallen. Showing compassion, he ordered her to get up and follow him, but she didn’t move. The way it is written, it is assumed that she is dead, and so he puts her on his donkey and heads for home.

Upon arrival, he took a knife and dismembered her body into twelve parts and sent them throughout all of Israel. Apparently this had not been seen or done since the day the Israelites came up from Egypt and it really freaked the people out which lead to 400,000 ‘united’ Israelite troops marching to fight 26,700 Benjaminites at Gibeah.

The united troops consulted with God and he told them that the tribe of Judah should attack first. They did and were sorely beaten to the tune of 22,000 dead at Gibeah. They consulted God again and he told them, again, to attack and were again beaten, losing 18,000 men. The Israelites consulted God a third time and were still told to attack only this time he would give them into their hands. The Israelites changed tactics and set an ambush around Gibeah and drew out the Benjaminites who attacked from the west side of the city killing the Israelite troops as before (30 (?) dead). When this happened, 10,000 young Israelite fighters entered and put the whole city to the sword, women and children included. They then set the whole place on fire which sent up a great column of smoke, and when the commanding Benjaminites saw it, the Israelites counterattacked and routed the valiant fighters to the east side of the city where they became surrounded. 18,000 were slaughtered. In a fighting-retreat, 5,000 more were killed in the wilderness and a further 2,000 at Gidom, for a grand total of 25,000 (or 25,100) dead. The last 600 Benjaminites were able to flee to the rock of Rimmon and hid there for four months. The Israelites then focused on the towns of Benjamin killing everyone, all the animals and burned everything to the ground. Almost complete genocide.

It was also noticed by the Israelites that no troops had been sent from Jabesh Gilead to join the 'union', so 12,000 Israelite men marched on that city and wiped out all the men and the women who were not virgins.

Later, the Israelites, assembled at Mizpah and, being seemingly remorseful, consulted God, lamenting “why should one tribe be missing from Israel today”. Realizing that one of the tribes of Israel was almost wiped out and had no way of replenishing their numbers, since all the Benjaminite women had been killed, the Israelites tried to come up with a solution. However, they ran into a problem with an oath that was taken before the attack on Gibeah. They had sworn that none of them would give away any of their daughters to any Benjaminite in marriage. So, at the camp near Shiloh, after they made peace with the remaining 600 Benjaminites, they gave them the 400 virgin women from Jabesh Gilead who were not slaughtered. Being 200 women short, they came up with another plan. The Benjaminites were instructed to hide in the vineyards during the festival in Shiloh. When the young women came out to join the dancing, they were to rush out and seize one each as their wives. The reasoning was that the Israelites would be helping the Benjaminites to repopulate their tribe and, at the same time, the oath would not be broken because they did not give their daughters away.

Josephus’ version ends a bit different saying: “… let then the Benjaminites be allowed to steal away, and marry such women as they can catch, while we will neither incite them nor forbid them; and when their parents take ill, and desire us to inflict punishment upon them, we will tell them, that they were themselves the cause of what happened, by neglecting to guard their daughters, and that they ought not to be over angry at the Benjaminites, since that anger was permitted to rise too high already. … Accordingly the virgins came along playing, and suspected nothing of what was coming upon them, and walked after an unguarded manner, so those that lay scattered in the road rose up, and caught hold of them: by this means these Benjaminites got them wives, and fell to agriculture, and took good care to recover their former happy state. And thus was this tribe of Benjaminites, after they had been in danger of entirely perishing, saved in the manner fore-mentioned, by the wisdom of the Israelites.” (p. 113 Josephus: Complete Works, 1974 edition)


Now, my interpretation could be way off, but when I read it for the 'first time', it just really seemed like I was reading a comet catastrophe story.

At the beginning when the Levite is being entertained at his father-in-law’s house, it makes me think of "negotiations' and ‘being distracted’. However, the concubine/wife did not want to go with the Levite. What if she didn’t go? Then the rest story would never have happened (which, to me, actually implies the story, as written, is made up even if there might be real elements within it).

On p. 235 of CatHoM, Laura mentions that sexual imagery was used to describe activities of the comet gods. I wondered if this could apply to the ‘gang rape’ scene in Gibeah? I also wonder if it could be a metaphor for ‘looting a temple’, or generalized for 'really bad times'? The death of the woman might also imply the death of compassion and reason initiating a ‘cosmic mind purification’ since insanity followed in the story.

The dismemberment scene is beyond bizarre for me. But it made me think of a comet breaking up into many ('twelve') pieces with the unnamed Levite, in a way, perhaps playing the role of Anu, "the sky/storm god", with the fragments being scattered across the land. A secondary thought also came to mind of cannibalism.

The war and near annihilation of the Benjaminites (Banuyamina), may have been an actual event of man-made proportions. I don’t know. If you add up the numbers, there are 113,030 dead men in ‘3 days’, and that doesn’t include all the elderly, women and children (not to mention all the animals) killed during the Israelites ‘bloodlust’ afterwards. And with the imagery of a ‘great column of smoke’ as Gibeah burned and the subsequent destruction of all the other Benjaminite towns, I thought a bolide event could be possible. ‘600 men’ escaped the destruction taking refuge at Rimmon rock for ‘four months’ and once everything calmed down (decades? centuries?), moved to surrounding populations perhaps or stayed and did the best they could.

The rock of Rimmon that was near Gibeah might be an actual place known today as Rammun located four miles east of Bethel. It is protected on the north, west and south sides by ravines and has many caves in which the Benjaminites could have hid. 'The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible Vol. 4' talks about Rimmon known as the Assyrian deity Ramanu (aka: Hadad), the god of storm, rain and thunder, and known in Syria as Baal. Rimmon carries possible meanings of ‘pomegranate’ and ‘the thunderer’, which is compared with the Akkadian word ramanu meaning ‘to roar’. So ‘the rock of Rimmon’ could become the ‘roaring or thundering rock’ with the possible visual of the breakup of a comet into thousands of pieces as per the pomegranate.

The ‘four months’ reference happens twice in the story. Once at the very beginning when the concubine stayed with her parents in Bethlehem and again when the Benjaminites hid at the rock of Rimmon. This made me think of the quote from Jastrow’s Histories above:

p. 463:

“… Sargon assigns the forth month to the ‘servant of Gibil,’ the fire-god, by which Nin-gishzida is meant…”

It made me wonder if the ‘four months’ was some kind of ‘code’ framing the beginning and end of a 'comet catastrophe' story. But I could just be humorously deluding myself.

The fact that the city of Jericho is also a part of the Biblical land of the Tribe of Benjamin, and it’s story of the collapsing city walls (Joshua 6) by priests blowing rams horns with the ark being carried ahead, has already been mentioned in Laura’s books as being a dis-aster. As a side not, Joshua 6:22-23 made me think a bit about the Levite’s concubine being tossed out of the house to the ‘wicked men’:

“Joshua said to the two men who had spied out the land, “Go into the prostitute’s house and bring her out and all who belong to her, in accordance with your oath to her.” So the young men who had done the spying went in and brought out Rahab, her father and mother, her brothers and sisters and all who belonged to her. They brought out her entire family and put them in a place outside the camp of Israel.”

This paragraph from the Hammurabi wiki made me think of the Israelites destruction of Jabesh Gilead because they did not send any troops against the Benjaminites, though this punishment is dated to two years before the Mari campaign:

"In order to consolidate its position, Elam tried to start a war between Hammurabi's Babylonian kingdom and the kingdom of Larsa. Hammurabi and the king of Larsa made an alliance when they discovered this duplicity and were able to crush the Elamites, although Larsa did not contribute greatly to the military effort. Angered by Larsa's failure to come to his aid, Hammurabi turned on that southern power, thus gaining control of the entirety of the lower Mesopotamian plain by c. 1763 BC."

I then had a look at the fairly powerful city of Mari (established c. 2900 BCE) and it’s last king Zimri-Lim (Zimirilim).

From p. 59-61 of the book "The Conflict Between El and Ba'al in Canaanite Religion", Ulf Oldenburg writes:

"In Hebrew, Aramaic, and Ugaritic the name [Haddu] is spelled hdd, in the Akkadian cuniform texts it is written Adad and Addu.

The only likely etymology for the name hdd is the cognate Arabic root (Arabic word), "to demolish with violence with a vehement noise"; (Arabic word), "sound of rain falling from the sky." (Arabic word), "thunder," seems to correspond best to what could be the original title of a storm god. This also corresponds to some of the titles of Hadad found in the cuneiform lexical texts, eg., Mur-ta-i-mu, Ra-gi-mu, and Ra-mi-mu, all expressing the meaning of "thunderer."

... we always have to bear in mind that Hadad (or Adad) from the very beginning was the proper mane of one specific god, like the names Dagân and Anat.

The home land of Hadad

Hadad was also called Ilumer which is composed of ilu, "god," and the Sumerian word mer/wer signifying "wing, rainstorm." It is the name Iluwer which we meet in the Aramean inscription of Zakir written (Aramean word) where is designates Hadad. The logogram of the Storm-god IM and Mer gave rise to his name Immer. Personal names with Mer as the theophoric element are attested as early as the dynasty of Akkad. From the Ur III period an offering to the god Me-ra is mentioned. This name occurs most frequently in the region of the Middle Euphates. A šakkanakku (title designating a military governor) of Mari had the name Niwar-Mer, thus testifying to the early importance of the Storm-god at Mari.

In the prologue to the Code of Hammurapi the city of Mari is spelled Me-ra(ki), and in an inscription of Ilum-i-šar, šakkanakku of Mari, the city is called Me-er(ki). Thus the name of Mari was spelled identically with the name of the Storm-god, wherefore G. Dossin concluded that the city of Mari was named after the Storm-god, who was the specific god of Mari. If this is true, then the Storm-god must have been a dominant god there from time immemorial, since the name of the city Mari is attested in our oldest sources.

At Mari, Mer was also called Itur-Mer probably meaning "Mer has returned." It was "on command of Dagân and Itur-Mer" that Zimri-Lim defeated the Banjaminites. Whereas Dagân was the national god of the Middle Euphrates region, Itur-Mer was the patron deity of the city of Mari.


That Addu was the reading of the logogram IM is further affirmed by a cuneiform list of gods: Ad-du = IM Mar(ki), "Adad = the Storm-god of the land of Amurru."

When Ulf mentions 'Zimri-Lim defeated the Banjaminites' I think he was referring to the 'hierarchy' of their gods and that the 'city-god' Itur-Mer was 'stronger' then the 'country-god' Dagân. As a side note, Gibil, the fire-god, was a child of Hadad, the Storm-god.

Zimri-Lim was an ally and trading partner with Hammurabi. Long story short, they had a falling out (it is unclear why, though Hammurabi seemed to be quite a power-hungry and manipulative guy) and Hammurabi invaded Mari thus taking the city. Apparently this was the second time he attacked it (see lecture notes).

“In the end, Zimri-Lim was unable to overcome the Babylonian army. Hammurabi had sent two forces, they attacked from both the north and south, and the city was captured by 1761 [BCE].

This destruction of Mari occurred two years later than the attack. Again, we're not sure what prompted Hammurabi to take the next step. He already controls the city, so why did he then destroy it? We also have no idea what happened to Zimri-Lim, he just disappeared after the attacks were reported.”

So, despite the dates possibly needing to be older, Zimri-Lim is (presumed) dead in c. 1761 BCE and the city is destroyed c. 1763. Hammurabi dies c. 1750 BCE and the Babylonian empire pretty much collapses. This wiki page mentions Hammurabi’s successors:

“There is also little information to know about the kings who succeeded Hammurabi.”

The story of the Levite in Judges ends with one sentence in chap. 21:25:

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

Everything just kinda ends. Hammurabi may have taken Mari (Gibeah?), but I think a bolide destroyed it along with many other places.
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