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Judah (Kingdom of)

See also Kingdom of Judah

JUDAH, (KINGDOM OF) jōō’ də (יְהוּדָ֑ה). One of the two kingdoms of the Hebrews into which Israel was divided after the death of Solomon.


The inception of the kingdom of Judah.

The twelve tribes of Israel constituted a united kingdom under David and Solomon. The dynasty established by David continued to rule in Jerusalem until the destruction of the southern kingdom in 586 b.c. by Nebuchadnezzar, but the power and influence of the dynasty were seriously limited after the division of the kingdom upon the death of Solomon in 936 b.c. The tensions between the northern and southern sections of the country polarized around Rehoboam of Judah, the son of Solomon, and Jeroboam son of Nebat, of the tribe of Ephraim in the N. Jeroboam’s secession movement was successful, and he became the first king of the northern kingdom whereas Rehoboam retained the crown of David as king of the kingdom of Judah in the S.

The nature of Judah’s territory.

The kingdom of Judah comprised, besides the tribe of Judah, most of Benjamin and, apparently, eventually the tribe of Simeon, which was isolated in the southernmost area of Israel. As the tribe of Judah grew in power, it practically absorbed Benjamin and Simeon. The physical characteristics of Judah’s territory had important effects upon the life, culture, and history of the people. The western boundary of Judah was the Mediterranean Sea, and the E was bounded by the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. On the S was the desert, incapable of sustaining life without a system of irrigation. On the N there was no natural division between the territory of Judah and that of the rest of Israel. The boundary seems to have shifted somewhat but was usually thought to run a little to the N or S of Bethel (Beitun). The line extended approximately from a point a little N of Joppa to the Jordan River at a point about thirteen m. N of the Dead Sea. It was along this line that the frontier fortresses of Michmash, Ramah, Gibeon, Bethel, and others were built. The territory of the kingdom of Judah roughly resembled a square, covering approximately forty-five square m.

This area includes a variety of physical features, climate, and resources, which may be divided into three main sections; the coastal plain, the Shephelah, and the hill country. The coastal plain was never completely dominated by the Hebrews due to the power of the Philistines who gave the name to the whole country in the word “Palestine.” Because of their dominance, the coastal plain came to be known as the “land of the Philistines” (2 Kings 8:2). In recent years, the success of the citrus groves has demonstrated the fertility of the area, but the ancient Israelites were not able to develop it. The unbroken coast line of the plain did not provide suitable harbor facilities for the development of commerce as did the rugged coast of the Phoenicians to the N.

East of the Coastal Plain was the Shephelah, or lowlands (Josh 11:2, 16), a district formed by the broken foothills of the Judean highlands. Situated between the coastal plain and the hill country, the Shephelah was the scene of many battles between the Philistines and the Israelites. The strongholds of Azekah, Beth-shemesh, Debir, Lachish, and Libnah were located here. The region was extremely important to Judah for defensive reasons, but also for the olive orchards of its hills and the grain of its valleys. The Shephelah is separated from the central mountain range by a system of valleys, the most famous of which is the valley of Aijalon.

The hill country is an area about thirty-five m. long and fifteen m. wide. Approaching Jerusalem from Samaria, the range descends to 2,500-2,600 ft. above sea level, and then as they go S they rise to the highest point of 3,370 ft. just N of Hebron. This area did more to form the character and influence the life of the Jews than any other geographical feature of the country. The mountains form an adequate watershed on the W slope; clouds that come in from the Mediterranean Sea deposit rainfall that sustains the life of the country. The eastern slope is the wilderness of Judah (Judg 1:16), a wasteland deeply cut by valleys, leading to the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The descent to the Dead Sea, 1,291 ft. below sea level, is so sharp that there is little possibility for agricultural development. In this eastern area of the country were located Jericho, En-gedi, Qumran, and Masada.

The history of the kingdom of Judah.

The dynasty of David occupied the throne during its entire history, with the capital at Jerusalem. This gave the country a stability that was lacking in the northern kingdom, and contributed to the life of the people until the disintegration of the southern kingdom set in. Its history is recorded in 1 Kings 12 to 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 10 to 36, and in the writings of the contemporary prophets. The kings of Judah, with their approximate dates (all b.c.) are as follows:

The history of the kingdom of Judah may be conveniently divided with respect to the relations it had with other nations (Israel, Assyria, and Babylon). The first period extends from Rehoboam to Jotham (936-731); the second from Ahaz to Josiah (731-608); the third from Jehoiakim to Zedekiah (608-586).

Judah and Israel.

The first period was characterized by Judah’s relations with Israel. The inevitable strife between the two Heb. kingdoms began immediately upon their separation, as Rehoboam mustered an army to force Israel back under the domination of the house of David. He did not, however, complete his plan because of the intervention of the prophet Shemaiah.

Rehoboam fortified the country by building fortresses in at least fifteen cities throughout the land; but this did not prevent Shishak (Sheshonk) of Egypt, who had supported Jeroboam in his rebellion, from invading Judah and plundering the treasures of the Temple and palace. Rehoboam’s numerous wives had a corrupting effect on him, drawing him under the influence of foreign gods. The defeat at the hands of Shishak was interpreted to be divine judgment, and the king and people confessed their sin. Rehoboam’s son and successor, Abijah, gained a great military victory over Jeroboam. As a result, Judah recovered some border cities from Israel. Religiously, there was widespread apostasy to the worship of strange gods and images, with sacred groves as worship centers. Abijah had sought an alliance with Syria against Israel as did his successor Asa against Baasha of the northern kingdom. Before the end of his reign in 875 b.c., Asa was able to establish friendship with Israel, which endured until the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 b.c. According to the records, Asa was the first of the kings to combat actively the pagan cult of Asherah, even deposing his mother “from being queen mother because she had made an abominable image for Asherah” (2 Chron 15:16). In the later years of his reign, however, Asa became a victim of the Baal cult.

Asa’s son Jehoshaphat continued to fight against Baalism. He also reformed the courts of justice, but in his attempt to revive the maritime commerce of Solomon, he was not very successful. In the extended wars waged by the Syrians and Mesha of Moab against the northern kingdom, Judah took no direct action beyond sending aid to the sister kingdom. In the battle of Ramoth in Gilead against the Syrians, Jehoshaphat himself fought side by side with Ahab of Israel with almost disastrous results (2 Chron 18:31, 32). Judah’s alliance with Israel was strengthened by the marriage of Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and the Phoen. Jezebel. One evil result of this marriage was the introduction of the degrading fertility cult of the Tyrian Baal to Jerusalem. When Jehu rebelled against Joram of Israel and killed him, King Ahaziah, the son of Jehoram and Jezebel, who was visiting his uncle Joram, also was slain by Jehu. Ahaziah had reigned only a year. Athaliah seized the throne of Judah and proceeded to exterminate the Davidic line by murdering the children of her marriage with Ahaziah. Of Ahaziah’s sons, only the infant Joash was rescued by the quick action of the priest Jehoiada and his wife Jehoshabeath, the daughter of King Jehoram (2 Chron 22:10-12).

Athaliah, the only woman to rule over the Israelites, was able to maintain herself in power for six years. She was then executed in a rebellion led by the priest Jehoiada, who then placed on the throne the legitimate heir—seven-year-old Joash, the son of Ahaziah (2 Chron 23:1-24:1). Jehoiada also led the move to suppress Baalism, and governed the state until Joash became of age. Joash proved to be weak and inept and was assassinated after a long reign because he paid tribute to the Syrian Hazael with the Temple treasure as a price for withdrawing from Jerusalem. From this time on, the priesthood grew in influence in the affairs of the state.

Under Amaziah, the son and successor of Joash, Judah began a period of prosperity and progress that eventually made it one of the leading kingdoms of the western Near E. An important factor in this success was the recapture of Edom and its capital Sela (Petra), which Judah had lost under Jehoram. This victory gained the control of overland traffic of western Arabia as well as that of the Red Sea from the Gulf of Akaba and Elath. Amaziah’s success led to overconfidence, which led to war with Israel. He was defeated and was taken prisoner, but he was released upon paying a ransom with the treasures of the Temple and the royal palace together with submission to the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem and the surrender of hostages.

Uzziah (Azariah), Amaziah’s son, was unusually capable and brought Judah to its greatest power. He strengthened the country internally, strengthened the army, built fortresses in the Negev, and extended his kingdom to control some of the Philistine and Ammonite territory. He developed the natural resources of Judah by developing agriculture, constructing cisterns, and making use of the harbor at Elath (Ezion-geber). Near the close of his life, Uzziah was stricken with leprosy and was succeeded by his son Jotham who acted as regent until the death of his father. “The year that King Uzziah died” (Isa 6:1) was 740 b.c. Jotham’s reign in many respects resembled that of his father’s. The success of Judah in the period of Uzziah was contemporaneous with the same development of Israel under Jeroboam II. The surrounding nations, weak at the time, were in no position to interfere in the affairs of Judah and Israel.

Judah and Assyria.

The second period of Judah’s history began with the reign of Ahaz, son of Jotham, and was characterized by the surge of Assyrian might with its threat to Israel and Judah. It was Tiglath-pileser III (the Pul of 2 Kings 15:19; 1 Chron 5:26) who initiated this period of Assyria’s expansion, much to the concern of the small nations of the Near E. In expectation of an Assyrian advance, Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin of Syria tried to coerce first Jotham and then Ahaz into an alliance against Tiglath-pileser III. To frustrate an invasion of Judah by Pekah and Rezin, Ahaz, against the admonitions of Isaiah, called upon Assyria for help, which Tiglath-pileser III was happy to grant on the basis of a treaty for which Judah paid heavy tribute. Ahaz thus introduced into Judah a policy of treaty-making that was proving to be fatal to the northern kingdom.

Tiglath-pileser III destroyed Syria and divided Israel, the northern half of which was annexed by Assyria. Isaiah’s advice proved to be correct, for Ahaz had to pay tribute to Tiglath-pileser III as a vassal, and he witnessed Assyrian paganism introduced into the Temple in Jerusalem. The incident of Pekah and Rezin forms the historical background of Isaiah’s Immanuel prophecy (Isa 7). It was largely due to the influence of Isaiah that Judah did not become involved in the machinations of the small states of the Near E that eventuated in the final destruction of Israel by the Assyrians in 722 b.c.

Hezekiah followed Ahaz to the throne and in the early successful years of his reign accepted the advice of Isaiah, which led to a religious reform and the repudiation of the Assyrian gods imported during the reign of Ahaz. The repudiation of the gods of Assyria was a part of the attempt to throw off Assyrian domination. Against the prophets’ advice, he became involved in a coalition with Merodach-baladan of Babylonia, Egypt, and other countries, which was directed against Assyria. Isaiah (ch. 28) reflects his feeling of disappointment in Hezekiah’s involvement in international power politics. The Assyrians (now under King Sennacherib) moved against the coalition; Judah was soon overrun and Jerusalem besieged. According to Sennacherib’s inscrs., he captured forty-six cities in Judah and noted that he considered their inhabitants numbering 200,150 as his subjects.

Isaiah had consistently prophesied that Jerusalem itself would be spared. Hezekiah, anticipating the Assyrian invasion, had strengthened the defenses of the city and, to insure the water supply of the city, had excavated the Siloam tunnel. As Sennacherib invested Jerusalem, c. 701 b.c., Isaiah encouraged Hezekiah to hold out. Isaiah as usual was right, for Sennacherib suddenly was forced to raise the siege because “the angel of the Lord went forth, and slew a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isa 37:36). In his inscrs. describing his campaign into Judah and his siege of Jerusalem, Sennacherib boasts of his victories and investment of the city but says nothing about the catastrophe that overwhelmed his army. Of Hezekiah he says, “He himself I shut up like a caged bird in Jerusalem, his capital city.” It was not the custom of the ancient monarchs to record their defeats.

The defeat of the major objective of Sennacherib vindicated the preaching of Isaiah and led the people to cooperate in expurgating the Temple of paganism. They broke in pieces the brazen serpent of the wilderness wanderings that had come to be worshiped and they returned to the ethical monotheism of Yahwehism (2 Kings 18:4). On the other hand, there developed a formality in religion and a superstitious veneration of the Temple that prompted the prophet Micah to warn, “Because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field” (Mic 3:12).

Hezekiah died in comparative youth and was followed by his son Manasseh who reversed the policy of his father, and the prophets saw in his reign the deathblow to the kingdom of Judah. He submitted to Assyria as a vassal, and the land was practically under their control. Both Esarhaddon (681-669 b.c.) and Ashurbanipal (669-630 b.c.) list Manasseh with Edom, Gaza, Ammon, Tyre, et al., as tributaries. Cuneiform tablets discovered at Gezer indicate that the Assyrians had a garrison there. The situation was such that the infiltration of foreign ideas and customs into the life of Judah was inevitable. Religion and politics were inseparable, resulting in unlimited religious syncretism. Baal, Asherah, the host of heaven, the sacrifice of children upon the pagan altars in the valley of Hinnom were again practiced. The reign of Manasseh was characterized by degeneracy in worship, faith, and morals (2 Chron 33:1-20). In the later years of Manasseh’s fifty-five year reign, he was taken a prisoner to Babylon by the Assyrian Esarhaddon, perhaps for an attempted insurrection, and then permitted to return to Jerusalem. The chronicler indicates that the incident of the king’s arrest was divine punishment, and upon his repentance he was released to return to Jerusalem to begin a religious reform, which apparently did not succeed very well (2 Chron 33:1, 2, 11-17).

During the reign of Manasseh, Assyrian power reached its zenith, but before the end of that reign, there were evidences of Assyrian disintegration. Manasseh’s son Amon succeeded and continued his father’s evil practices (2 Chron 33:22, 23). He was assassinated after he had reigned two years and was followed on the throne by his eight-year-old son Josiah, who was proclaimed king by “the people of the land” (2 Chron 33:25).

The decay of Assyria is reflected in the inscrs. of Ashurbanipal, which state that the provinces of his empire were inflamed by the revolt of his brother Shamash-shum-ukin. The situation encouraged throughout the Assyrian empire the expression of national feelings of independence and Josiah’s reign was an example. The preceding regime had been one of corruption and oppression, when worshipers of Yahweh dared not confide in their closest relatives and friends (Mic 7:5, 6). In a new political situation, Josiah, king by popular choice, was upon the throne. Under him the reforming party gained the upper hand.

The hegemony of Assyria in the fertile crescent now was being challenged by Babylonia. Nineveh fell in 612 b.c. under an onslaught of a coalition of Medes, Persians, Scythians, and Babylonians led by the Babylonian Nabopolassar. Sinshariskun, the last king of the great Assyrian dynasty, died in the battle; but his army, under the leadership of Ashur-uballit, prepared itself for the final battle, which took place at Carchemish in 605 b.c.

As Assyria decayed, Egypt recovered from the attacks of Ashurbanipal to which Nahum refers (Nah 3:7-10). Pharaoh Necho, fearful of the growing power of Babylonia, allied himself with the Assyrians and in 608 b.c. marched through Judah against the objections of Josiah. Josiah, against the advice of Jeremiah, tried to stop the Egyptians and was slain at Megiddo (2 Chron 35:20-27). Pharaoh Necho now controlled both Judah and Syria. Jehoahaz (Shallum) was made king of Judah by the people, but after three months was deposed by Necho and exiled to Egypt where he died (2 Chron 36:1-4; Jer 22:11). He was replaced by Josiah’s oldest son, Eliakim, whose name was changed by Necho to Jehoiakim to demonstrate his change of allegiance. Necho joined Ashur-uballit and the Assyrians to fight the battle of Carchemish against the coalition led by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar the son of Nabopolassar. This battle was a turning point of history; the Babylonian victory ended Assyrian hegemony in the Near E.

Judah and Babylon.

The third period of Judah’s history began with the Babylonian defeat of the Assyrians. Jehoiakim, who was placed upon the throne of Judah as a vassal by Necho in 608 b.c., was friendly to Egypt, but he was a Babylonian subject after the battle of Carchemish and paid tribute to Babylon. His policies encouraged Baalism in Judah, and he disregarded Jeremiah’s advice not to disturb existing relations with Nebuchadnezzar. He renounced allegiance to Babylonia (2 Kings 24:1), which brought Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem to besiege the city, in the course of which Jehoiakim died or was assassinated. Jerusalem fell in March, 597 b.c. Jehoiachin, who followed his father on the throne, after a reign of only three months was taken into exile, along with his mother, many of the leaders of Judah, and the treasures of the royal palace and the Temple. Among the exiles was Ezekiel, who dates the chronology of his prophecy from the date of his captivity. Archeological discoveries in Babylon in the form of cuneiform tablets, which list among the people receiving rations of grain “Yaukin (Jehoiachin), King of Judah,” five of his sons, and other Hebrews, provide a valuable addition to the Biblical narrative. Jehoiachin died in captivity after having been released from prison by Evil-merodach in 560 b.c., the thirty-seventh year of his exile. His remaining years after his release from prison were spent in royal comfort (2 Kings 25:27-30).

Nebuchadnezzar placed Mattaniah, another son of Josiah, upon the throne of Judah to replace Jehoiachin, and changed his name to Zedekiah. Zedekiah took an oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar (Ezek 17:13). This last king of Judah wavered in his loyalty to the Chaldean monarch in conspiring with the Egyptians against the Babylonians. Jeremiah again remonstrated strongly against Judah’s involvement in international intrigue but without success. Zedekiah’s disloyalty to his oath brought Nebuchadnezzar back to Jerusalem. The siege began on 10 January 587 b.c. and lasted until 9 July 586 b.c. Nebuchadnezzar was encamped at Riblah on the Orontes from where he directed the siege. The help that Zedekiah expected from Egypt did not come, and Nebuchadnezzar ravished the country. The Lachish ostraca reflect the progress of the Babylonian campaign and the confusion and panic in Judah and Jerusalem. These are dispatches sent by a Judean military officer leading a party of scouts near Lachish, to his commander in the city that was an outpost of Jerusalem. His dispatches report the advance of the Babylonians and also allude to the tensions, intrigues, and suspicions that gripped the people of Jerusalem. Disloyalty, famine, and pestilence contributed to the horror of the siege until the Chaldeans breached the city wall built by Hezekiah (2 Chron 32:5).

Zedekiah and his entourage fled toward the Jordan valley but were intercepted and taken to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah. He was forced to witness the execution of his sons, and then was blinded and taken in chains to Babylon after a reign of eleven years. The chief priest Seraiah and other leaders were taken to Riblah and executed upon the orders of Nebuchadnezzar. On 7 August 586 b.c. Nebuzaradan, the captain of Nebuchadnezzar’s bodyguard, ordered Jerusalem destroyed. The Temple and palace were burned, the walls of the city broken down, and many people carried off into captivity (2 Kings 24:20-25:21; Jer 39:1-10). This disaster was the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s warning.

The Babylonian policy toward her defeated enemies was not as destructive as that of the Assyrians. Gedaliah, the former mayor of Zedekiah’s palace, was appointed governor of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar. He exercised his office in Mizpah, about five m. NW of Jerusalem. Gedaliah issued an appeal for loyalty to Babylon and tried to restore the country to normal life. He was treacherously assassinated by Ishmael, a member of the royal family, who also killed many members of Gedaliah’s court and Babylonians stationed at Mizpah. This new rebellion brought the Chaldeans back to Jerusalem, and in 581 b.c., another deportation of Hebrews to Babylonia took place. Some of the Hebrews of anti-Babylonian sentiment fled to Egypt, and forced Jeremiah, who had been given special consideration by Nebuchadnezzar, to accompany them (2 Kings 25:22-26; Jer 40-44).

The kingdom of Judah was now completely crushed. It had been in existence as an independent kingdom for 350 years, calculating from the year of the disruption in 936 b.c. This was 214 years longer than the existence of the northern Kingdom, the longer survival of the kingdom of Judah being due primarily to the loyalty of the people to Yahweh.

See History of Israel.


H. R. Hall, The Ancient History of the Near East (1927); G. A. Barton, Archaeology and the Bible (1937); G. E. Wright, Biblical Archaeology (1960); J. A. Thompson, The Bible and Archaeology (1962); W. F. Albright, The Biblical Period from Abraham to Ezra (1963); J. Gray, Archaeology and the Old Testament World (1965).