Ehud and King Eglon – A Queer Reading

Judges 3:12-30 accounts for the triumph of a Ehud, a Benjaminite, over King Eglon of Moab through an act of deception. However, three distinct elements of this story appear providing a worthy queer hermeneutic.  First, Ehud is described as being left handed, a queer characteristic.  Second, the word “hand” (yad) itself is open to multiple interpretations including “penis.”  Finally, the description of King Eglon as “fat” depicts the King in a feminized way, suggesting that Ehud assumes the role of domination.  The result is a story that seems to present an act of male-on-male rape of an effeminate king by a queer man, rather than a story about a conquering hero who vanquishes a ruthless enemy.

Ehud is a queer in the sense that he is left-handed.  Left-handed people deviate from the “norm” of right-handedness.  Huffpost states that only ten percent of the people in the world are left-handed.[1]  Ehud stands out as a left-handed person.  He is “one in ten” if you subscribe to conventional wisdom.  In at least one respect, Ehud is queer.  He does not conform to the “normality” of being right-handed.  Deryn Guest notes: “It is often pointed out that being left-handed is a singularly odd fate for one who has just been described as a Benjaminite (literally, ‘son of the right hand’); an incongruity immediately suggestive of ambivalence, of things not being as they should be.”[2]  This deviant characteristic of Ehud appears deliberately in this tale.  It is thus not accidental that Ehud attacks the king of Moab with his left hand.

Finally, the word “hand” (yad) requires additional scrutiny.  Although yad does interpret correctly as “hand,” this word has an alternative meaning in other biblical passages.  Deryn Guest mentions two occurrences in which yad refers to penis.  She explains:  “References where yad seems to indicate the penis include Isaiah 57:8, where the prophet chastises the adulterous Israelites for widening their beds and gazing upon the “hand” of their “lover”.  In Song of Solomon 5:4, the beloved thrusts his “hand” into his lover’s opening.  More questionable references appear in Jeremiah 5:31 and 50:15.”[3]  The ambiguity of the meaning of the word yad bolsters the argument for a homoerotic rape scene in Judges 3:12-30.

One third point to address is King Eglon’s description as “fat”.  At first glance, this appears merely to describe the King’s appearance.  As a king, Eglon appears to be powerful.  Yet as a fat person, he also receives another characteristic.  As Guest notes, “Fatness in the ancient world could be an indicator of opulence, but it was also especially associated with effeminate men.”[4]  Guest adds that the name Eglon contains an indirect inference to his ultimate fate because “Eglon, bears phonetic similarity to egel (calf) and given his emphasized fatness (the adjective bari’ is also used mostly in connection with cattle), his name and description are evocative of a fatted calf ready, of course, for the slaughter.”[5]

In sum, non-queer interpretations of the Ehud/Eglon story suggest that a Benjaminite triumphs over a wicked king.  A queer reading of the tale considers three particular elements in the story to offer an alternative interpretation.  Rather than a story of ambush, Judges 3:12-30 becomes a story of heteronormative power.  A deviant left-handed man, thrusting his penis into an effeminate king, effectively rapes the king in the royal chamber.  As a result, the story suggests male-heteronormative domination.  The king, forcibly violated and penetrated by another man, is not powerful.  Ehud, a queer, left-handed Benjaminite, emerges as conqueror from the conquered via an act of forcible gay rape, the ultimate humiliation experience.


[2] Deryn Guest, Robert E. Goss, Mona West, and Thomas Bohache (eds.), Queer Bible Commentary:  Judges.  (London:  SCM Press, 2015), 170.

[3] Guest 170.

[4] Ibid, 172.

[5] Ibid, 172-173.