Erich Lessing

Assyrian slingers whirl their slings as they assail the fortified Israelite city of Lachish in 701 B.C. Close inspection of this stone relief from Sennacherib’s palace in Nineveh reveals extraordinary details of military accouterments. Double strips, probably made of leather, wrap around the stones about to be hurled at the enemy; the sling’s length adds leverage, making it possible to fling the stone with great force. Each man prepares for the next volley by holding another stone in his left hand. Conical helmets with earflaps and coats of mail over fringed garments protect the attacking soldiers.

Unlike these right-handed slingers, the elite force of slingers from the Israelite tribe of Benjamin are identified as left-handers in the Bible. “Benjaminites mustered… 700 picked men [who] were left-handed. Every one of them could sling a stone at hair and not miss” (Judges 20:15–16). Against right-handed soldiers who held a shield on the left and weapon on the right, use of the left hand gave the Benjaminites an advantage in individual combat. Their weapon, a dagger for instance, would thrust against the unshielded right side of an opposing soldier. As the author shows, the language used to describe Ehud’s “left-handedness” indicates that he was this kind of specially trained warrior—the perfect assassin.