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Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
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Judah, the name of a region in Palestine, of a tribe, and of an individual, who is the eponymous ancestor of the tribe. In Genesis, Judah is introduced as the fourth son born to Jacob and his first wife, Leah (Gen. 29:35; 37:26; 43:3, 8; 44:14, 16, 18; 46:28). The tribal name ‘Judah’ may have derived from the geographical area in which clans settled in the highlands approximately between Jerusalem and Hebron (i.e., the mountains of Judah), the greater part of southern Palestine. The twelve-tribe scheme includes under Judah a number of other tribal groups that settled in the area from Hebron southward into the Negeb—i.e., the Calebites (in the territory around Hebron; Josh. 14:13-15; Judg. 1:20), Kenites (in the area around Arad; Judg. 1:16), Kennizzites (in the environs of Debir; Josh. 15:15-19; Judg. 1:11-15), Simeonites (near Zepath-hormah; Judg. 1:17), Jerahmeelites, and Othnielites. Of these groups, Simeon alone is given autonomous tribal status among the southern tribes and represented as a partner to Judah in Judges 1. The fact that Judah is not mentioned in the ancient Song of Deborah (Judg. 5) is probably due to its firm association with the south from a very early period. Judah’s position in the Blessing of Moses (Deut. 33:7), which stems from a relatively early period, is that of a rather insignificant tribe. The Blessing of Jacob (Gen. 49:8-12), however, makes Judah the ruler and displaces the older Reuben. This probably reflects the situation of the tribes in the time of David (late eleventh century b.c.). The tribe of Judah became the state of Judah in the time of David. In Hebron, the capital of Judah, David was anointed king by ‘the men of Judah’ (2 Sam. 2:4) to rule over what was apparently a loose confederation of southern tribes.
In the nt, Judah is ranked at the head of ‘the sealed’ (Rev. 7:5) and Jesus’ descent is from Judah, a nonpriestly tribe in Heb. 7:14.
Judah, Kingdom of, a kingdom in southern Palestine consisting of the tribal areas of Judah and Benjamin that was created by the dissolution of the United Monarchy at the death of Solomon (922 b.c.). Following this division there was a period of civil war between Judah (the Southern Kingdom) and Israel (the Northern Kingdom) that finally terminated in the time of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah (868-847 b.c.). Although Judah was considerably less populous than its sister kingdom, it enjoyed greater political stability due to the presence of Jerusalem and the Davidic monarchy. Because of its relatively secluded geographic location, it was somewhat less vulnerable to external aggression.
The population of Judah, from the time of David on, had incorporated considerable numbers of non-Israelites, leading to an alternation between pro-Canaanite, non-Yahwist religious policies on the part of some kings and the reversal of such policies in periodic religious reforms. Thus, Rehoboam (ca. 926-907 b.c.), the first king of Judah, adopted pro-Canaanite policies (1 Kings 14:21-24), but his policies were reversed by his grandson Asa (ca. 905-874; 1 Kings 15:9-13). Asa’s pro-Yahwist reforms were continued by his son Jehoshaphat, but they were again reversed by the extremely anti-Yahwist policies of Queen Athaliah (843-837 b.c.; 2 Kings 8:26; 11:2; 2 Chron. 24:7), a daughter or sister of Ahab of Israel, who seized the throne violently, causing a break in what had been Judah’s orderly succession to the throne. She ruled as Judah’s only queen until she was ousted by the Jerusalem priesthood acting in concert with the Judean rural nobility. The Davidic succession was renewed with Athaliah’s ouster (2 Kings 11:17) and the installation of her seven-year-old grandson Jehoash (837-801 b.c.) on the throne.
Jehoash’s son Amaziah (ca. 801-787) campaigned against Edom (2 Kings 14:7) and was involved in costly hostilities with Joash of Israel (2 Kings 14:8-14). He fell victim to a conspiracy mounted by pro-Yahwists, who assassinated him and placed his sixteen-year-old son, Uzziah (ca. 787-747), on the throne. The reign of Uzziah (or Azariah in 2 Kings 14:21; 15:1, 6, 7, 8) was marked by territorial expansion, an increase in population, strengthening of defenses, advancement of agriculture with the cultivation of semiarid areas, and the development of commerce. Uzziah pursued Yahwist policies but was afflicted with leprosy, leading the Chronicler (2 Chron. 26:16-21) to blame his illness on the fact that he had usurped a priestly prerogative by sacrificing incense in the Temple. His son Jotham (ca. 756-742), who began his reign before his father’s death, continued Uzziah’s successful policies, but Judah suffered losses under Jotham’s son, Ahaz (ca. 742-727), losing territory to the Philistines and to Edom and being attacked by an Israel-Syrian alliance. These losses drove Ahaz to Assyria for help, and he instituted pro-Assyrian, anti-Yahwist practices, including even the human sacrifice of his own son (2 Kings 16:2-4).
Early in the reign of Ahaz’s son Hezekiah (ca. 727-698), the Assyrians conquered Israel, leaving Judah as the sole surviving independent state in the area. The Judean state was one of the few in the region that avoided the catastrophe that befell the other states of the area in the latter part of the eighth century in the reigns of the Assyrian kings Tiglath-pileser III (745-727 b.c.) and Sargon II (722-705).
The fall of the Northern Kingdom encouraged Judean kings to pursue nationalistic policies aimed at recovering a united Davidic monarchy. Accordingly, Hezekiah pursued thorough-going religious reforms (2 Kings 18; 2 Chron. 29-31). He revolted against the Assyrians after the death of Sargon II in 705, and Sargon’s successor, Sennacherib, responded with an invasion in 701, in which he conquered the fortified cities of Judah and besieged Jerusalem (2 Kings 19). Jerusalem, however, escaped destruction when ‘The angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians’ (2 Kings 19:35), causing the Assyrians to withdraw.
The extensive reforms of Hezekiah, in a now familiar pattern, were completely reversed by his son Manasseh (ca. 697-642; 2 Kings 21:1-18; 2 Chron. 33:1-20), who submitted to the Assyrians and ‘seduced [his people] to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel’ (2 Kings 21:9). His son Amon (ca. 641-640) was assassinated by pro-Yahwist elements, who installed his eight-year-old son Josiah on the throne (ca. 639-609; 2 Kings 21:24). When he came of age, Josiah instituted strongly nationalistic, pro-Yahwist policies in a time when Assyria had begun to be severely threatened by the Babylonians and the Medes (2 Kings 22:3-20; 23:8, 15, 19). Josiah purified religious practices and centralized them in Jerusalem. After the Assyrian capital Nineveh fell in 612, Josiah exploited the situation by seeking to expand his territory. The Egyptian pharaoh Neco, at the same time, sought to go to the aid of the Assyrians. Josiah attempted to stop Neco in 609 at the pass of Megiddo and lost his life in the failed attempt (2 Kings 23:29). The disastrous death of such a reformer king put to rest any visions of a restored Davidic empire and marked the end of an independent Judean state.
Josiah’s son, Jehoahaz, reigned for only three months and was then deposed by the pharaoh and deported to Egypt. The Egyptians installed Jehoiakim (Eliakim) on the throne of Judah (608-598); Jehoiakim was hated by his people, both because of his pro-Egyptian policies and the heavy tribute he exacted from them to send to Egypt. There was also a religious decline under his rule (2 Kings 24:2-4).
The last years of Judah saw a struggle between Egypt and Babylon for hegemony over Palestine. The Babylonians, under the leadership of Nebuchadrezzar (or Nebuchadnezzar), decisively defeated the Egyptians at Carchemish in 605 (2 Kings 24:1). It was this Nebuchadrezzar, as king of the newly ascendant Babylonian Empire, that Jehoiakim rebelled against three years later. Responding to this rebellion, Nebuchadrezzar moved against Judah (2 Kings 24:2). Thus Jerusalem fell into Babylonian hands on March 15/16, 597 b.c., as reported in the Babylonian Chronicles. Jehoiakim died during the siege of Jerusalem and was succeeded by his son Jehoiachin, who surrendered to Nebuchadrezzar (2 Kings 24:12). The upper classes and skilled artisans were exiled to Babylon (2 Kings 24:14-16). The Babylonians appointed Zedekiah as their puppet on the throne. After nine years he rebelled against the Babylonians, bringing Nebuchadrezzar to Jerusalem again, which suffered under a two-year siege. Jerusalem fell in 587 and more people were sent into exile (2 Kings 25:11).
The kingdom of Judah outlasted the kingdom of Israel by some 135 years, but it too fell to a foreign power, bringing to an end a period of national independence that had lasted nearly a half millennium.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer