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JUDAH (jū'da, Heb. yehûdhâh, praised)

Judah was one of the largest tribal territories. From east to west it measured some forty-five miles (seventy-five km.). The north-south dimension of the part fit for intensive habitation was about fifty miles (eighty-three km.), while if the Negev area, suited only for scattered dwelling, was included, the length was one hundred miles (one hundred sixty-seven km.). Judah’s territory consisted of three north-south belts of land: (1) the Judean hill country (Josh.15.48), the eastern slopes of which were the wilderness of Judah; (2) the lowlands of Shephelah (Josh.15.33)—the low, rolling land where the hill country meets the plain—and (3) the plain near the Mediterranean Sea. The southern part, near and south of Beersheba, was called the Negev. Much of the tribe’s land was hilly and rocky, but apart from the wilderness of Judah and the Negev, it was well suited for pasture and for the cultivation of grapes and olives (Gen.49.11-Gen.49.12). In ancient times the hills were terraced.

During the period of the rule of the judges, Judah tended to be separated from the rest of the Hebrew tribes, which were to the north, by the pagan people who lived between them (Gibeonites, Josh.9.1-Josh.9.27; Jebusites, Judg.19.10-Judg.19.13), and also by rough and wild land, with deep east-west valleys. The Simeonites, who lived in southern Judean cities, tended to become assimilated into Judah and thus to lose their tribal identity.

Othniel, the judge who delivered the people from the domination of Mesopotamia, was a Judean (Judg.3.8-Judg.3.11). The Philistine threat must have been especially troublesome to this tribe, for the Philistine plain, as it came to be called, was actually Judah’s coastal plain land. The account of Ruth and Boaz, which centers in Bethlehem, occurred during the time of the judges and first brought the country town of Bethlehem into prominence in Hebrew history. Saul, whose reign brought the period of the judges to an end, ruled from Judah; and it was the Judeans who first anointed their fellow tribesman, David, king at Hebron (2Sam.2.1-2Sam.2.4).

The tribe of Judah.

The kingdom of Judah.

David acted astutely when he made Jerusalem the capital of the united monarchy, since it was in effect a neutral political zone that could thereafter serve as a legitimate symbol of national unity. The tribe of Judah played a normal part in the political and social life of the early monarchy, and there is no reason to suppose that it was trying to maintain its separate identity during this time, as some scholars have thought. Nor is there any ground for the view that Solomon showed any particular favoritism toward Judah as compared with the other eleven tribes (cf. 1 Kings 4:1, 7, etc.).

During the cent. between the accession of Jehu of Israel (841-813 b.c.) and the death of Uzziah of Judah (767-739 b.c.), the fortunes of both kingdoms were interrelated. Judah was prosperous when Israel flourished, particularly in the days of Jeroboam II (782-753 b.c.), when the two nations began to reflect something of the peace and plenty of the earlier Solomonic era. After Jeroboam II died, the fortunes of Israel crumbled before a resurgent Assyria, and when the northern kingdom collapsed in 722 b.c. to Sargon II, Judah was left to face the Assyrians alone.


R. K. Harrison, A History of Old Testament Times (1957), 147-192; J. Bright, A History of Israel (1961), 210-310.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

joo’-da: Lu 1:39 the King James Version, see Juttah; Lu 3:26, see Joda; 3:30, see Judas.

(yehudhah, "praised"):

(1) 4th son of Jacob by Leah (see separate article).

(2) An ancestor of Kadmiel, one of those who had the oversight of the rebuilding of the temple (Ezr 3:9). He is the same as Hodaviah (Ezr 2:40), and Hodevah (Ne 7:43).

(3) A Levite who had taken a strange wife (Ezr, 10:23).

(4) A Levite who came up with Zerubbabel (Ne 12:8).

(5) A priest and musician who took part in the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem (Ne 12:36); (3), (4) and (5) may be the same person.

(6) A Benjamite, the son of Hassenuah, who was second over the city of Jerusalem in the days of Nehemiah (Ne 11:9).

(7) One of the princes of Judah who took part in the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem (Ne 12:34).

(yehudah; in Ge 29:35 Codex Vaticanus, Ioudan; Codex Alexandrinus, Iouda; elsewhere Codices Vaticanus and Alexandrinus, Ioudas):

1. Jacob’s Son:

The 4th son born to Jacob by Leah in Paddan-aram (Ge 29:35, etc.). Of this patriarch’s life only scanty details remain to us. He turned his brethren from their purpose to slay Joseph, persuading them to sell him to the Midianites at Dothan (Ge 37:26 ). A dark stain is left upon his memory by the disgraceful story told in Genesis 38. Reuben forfeited the rights of primogeniture by an act of infamy; Simeon and Levi, who came next in order, were passed over because of their cruel and treacherous conduct at Shechem; to Judah, therefore, were assigned the honors and responsibilities of the firstborn (34; 35:22; 49:5 ff). On the occasion of their first visit to Egypt, Reuben acted as spokesman for his brethren (42:22,37). Then the leadership passed to Judah (43:3, etc.). The sons of Joseph evidently looked askance upon Judah’s promotion, and their own claims to hegemony were backed by considerable resources (49:22 ff). The rivalry between the two tribes, thus early visible, culminated in the disruption of the kingdom. To Judah, the "lion’s whelp," a prolonged dominion was assured (49:9 ff).

2. Tribe of Judah:

The tribe of Judah, of which the patriarch was the name-father, at the first census in the wilderness numbered 74,600 fighting men; at Sinai the number "from 20 years old and upward" was 76,500 (Nu 1:27; 26:22; see Numbers). The standard of the camp of Judah, with which were also the tribes of Zebulun and Issachar, was to the East of the tabernacle "toward the sunrising," the prince of Judah being Nahshon, the son of Amminadab (Nu 2:3). Caleb, the son of Jephunneh, represented Judah among the spies (Nu 13:6); he also was told off to assist at the future allocation of the tribal portions (Nu 34:19).

3. Territory:

The land assigned to Judah lay in the South of Palestine (see Territory of Judah), comprising part of the mountain, the Shephelah, and the maritime plain. The information given of its conquest is meager and cannot be arranged in a self-consistent story. In Jos 11:21 ff, the conquest is ascribed to Joshua. Caleb is described as conquering at least a portion in Jos 14:12; 15:13 ff; while in Jud 1 the tribes of Judah and Simeon play a conspicuous part; and the latter found a settlement in the South within the territory of Judah The tribal organization seems to have been maintained after the occupation of the land, and Judah was so loosely related to the northern tribes that it was not expected to help them against Sisera. Deborah has no reproaches for absent Judah. It is remarkable that no judge over Israel (except Othniel, Jud 3:9-11) arose from the tribe of Judah. The first king of all Israel was chosen from the tribe of Benjamin. This made acquiescence on the part of Judah easier than it would have been had Saul sprung from the ancient rival, Ephraim. But the dignity of Judah was fully vindicated by the splendid reigns of David and Solomon, in lineal descent from whom the Saviour of the world should come. The further history of the tribe is merged in that of Israel.