JUDEA, JUDAEA (jū-dē'a, Heb. yehûdhâh, Gr. Ioudaia). A geographical term that first appears in the Bible in Ezra.5.8 (kjv, niv “district of Judah”), where it designates a province of the Persian Empire. The land of Judea is also mentioned in the apocryphal books 1 Esdras (1:30) and 1 Maccabees (5:45; Ezra.7.10). Since most of the exiles who returned from the Babylonian exile belonged to the tribe of Judah, they came to be called Jews, and their land Judea.

Under the Persian Empire, Judea was a district administered by a governor who was usually a Jew (Hag.1.14; Hag.2.2). Under Rome, with the banishment of Herod’s son Archelaus, Judea became annexed to the Roman province of Syria; but its governors were procurators appointed by the Roman emperor. Their immediate superior was the proconsul of Syria, who ruled from Antioch (Luke.3.1). The official residence of the procurators was Caesarea. This was true during the ministry of Christ. Geographically, Judea was about fifty-five miles (ninety-two km.) north to south and the same distance east to west, extending from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, with its northern boundary at Joppa and its southern boundary a few miles south of Gaza and the southern portion of the Dead Sea. Its exact boundary was, however, never fixed.

En-gedi, where David hid from Saul.

JUDEA jōō de’ ə (̓Ιουδαία, G2677). KJV JUDAEA (except in Ezra 5:8 where it has Judea for יְהוּדָ֑ה). The name for the southern division of Pal. after the end of the kingdom of Judah.

The name.

Judea is the Graeco-Roman designation of an area earlier included in the former kingdom of Judah, and to which the Hebrews of the Babylonian captivity returned. Added to this is the fact that most of the returnees from the Exile were of the tribe of Judah. The name is used first in Tobit 1:18 where it is used of the Davidic kingdom of Judah. The name is sometimes used freely to designate western Pal. (Luke 23:5; Acts 10:37). Used strictly, it specified the southernmost of the three traditional divisions of ancient Pal. The other two were Samaria (in the center) and Galilee (in the N).

The nature of Judea’s territory.

The geographical area of Judea seems to have varied somewhat in different periods. There was no clearly marked boundary to divide Judea from Samaria. The N—E line separating the two regions customarily was thought to run a little to the N or S of Bethel (the present site of Beitin). There is no valley or any sharp break in the terrain to separate the two areas, since the hill country of southern Samaria levels to a plateau. The line of this northern boundary of Judea extended approximately from a little N of Joppa to the Jordan River at a point about thirteen m. N of the Dead Sea.

The S boundary of Judea was even more nebulous than the N boundary. Beersheba was considered to be at the southern limit of Judea, as it was the traditional southern boundary of Israel as a people (Judg 20:1). Beyond that point, to the S was the dry Negev wilderness that without irrigation could support little life. The western boundary of Judea was the Mediterranean Sea from a little below Gaza northward to Joppa. The eastern boundary was the Dead Sea from about Masada northward to the southern reaches of the Jordan River and a little N of Jerusalem. Thus Judea resembled a square of about forty-five m. on each side.

The heart of Judea was the upper hill country, a plateau extending from Bethel to Beersheba and including Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Hebron. Near Jerusalem the plateau rises to an altitude of 2,693 ft. and at Hebron, to 3,346 ft. This was the center of the life of the people of this area from the earliest times. The plateau gently slopes downward to the W through the Shephelah to the maritime plane and finally the Mediterranean. Clouds moving eastward in from the sea supplied rainfall sufficient to sustain the farming and pastoral life of the people. It is estimated that c. 200,000 Jews lived in Judea, half of whom were in Jerusalem.

Eastward from the plateau, the terrain slopes rapidly down toward the Dead Sea and the Jordan River. This eastern area is known as the Wilderness of Judea because the rain clouds empty their moisture on the plateau and its western slope, leaving little for the eastern section of the country. It was in the Wilderness of Judea that John the Baptist appeared as the forerunner of Christ (Matt 3:1; cf. Mark 1:4; Luke 3:2). The most important city in this eastern area was Jericho. There was also Masada, the site of Herod the Great’s fortress, where the Jews made a heroic last defense in a.d. 73 against the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem three years before. There is also En-gedi, an oasis of fresh-water springs, and Qumran, the center of the discoveries of the DSS.

Judea depended upon the natural resources of her territory for some of her wealth. Grain was grown in the valleys, and grapes, figs, olives, and citrus fruits were an important part of the annual crop. The importance of the pastoral life in Judea is reflected everywhere in the Bible. From the Dead Sea came salt, potash, and other minerals. Perhaps the most important source of income for Judea was due to the location of the Temple in Jerusalem. The annual half-shekel tax paid by all adult male Jews, even those of the Diaspora, brought large regular sums to Jerusalem. Added to this were the pilgrims who contributed to the income of the government. Contributing also to the influence of Judea was the Sanhedrin, which sat in Jerusalem. It ruled over all Judea. but its influence was also felt in areas of Pal. outside of Judea.

It should be noted that along the Mediterranean coast, and within Judea’s territory, was Philistia with its powerful cities. Among these were Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron, Ashdod, and Gath. These cities were a constant source of difficulty for Judea, and even during the Rom. domination of Judea, much of the maritime plane was governed separately from Judea proper by the Romans. In this area also was Jabneel, later called Jamnia, the center of important rabbinical activity after the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.

History of Judea.

It is notable that in the following period in Judea, many Christian churches were built, not only in Jerusalem and Bethlehem but also in various Christian settlements, e.g., Eleutheropolis (Beit Jibrin) and at Messana (’Auja el-Hafir). Constantine the Great reorganized the area and called Judea and Samaria by the name of Palestina Prima. The Moslems took Judea in 637 and held it (except for the Crusader kingdom from 1099 to 1187) until it was made part of the British mandate of Pal. after World War I. Judea was partitioned between Israel and the Hashemite kingdom of the Jordan in 1948 by the United Nations, after the 1947-1948 war between the Jews and the Arabs. As a result of the Six Day War of June, 1967, the whole of Judea is again in the control of the Jews.


G. A. Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1931), 237-315; H. Daniel-Rops, Israel and the Ancient World (1964), 279-358.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

joo-de’-a, ju-de’-a (Ioudaia): The "land of the Jews," the Greco-Roman equivalent of Judah. As most of the Israelites returning from the captivity belonged to the tribe of Judah, they came to be called Jews and their land Judea. In Tobit 1:18 the name is applied to the old kingdom of Judah. For a general description of the physical geography and early history of this region see Judah. The limits of this district varied greatly, extending as the Jewish population increased, but in many periods with very indefinite boundaries.

Under the Persian empire, Judea (or Judah) was a district administered by a governor who, like Zerubbabel (Hag 1:14; 2:2), was probably usually a Jew. Even as late as Judas Maccabeus, Hebron and its surroundings--the very heart of old Judah was under the domination of the Edomites, whom, however, Judas conquered (1 Macc 5:65); in the time of his brother Jonathan (145 BC), three tetrarchies of Samaria, Aphaerema, Lydda and Ramathaim, were added to Judea (1 Macc 10:30,38; 11:34); in some passages it is referred to at this time as the "land of Judah" (Iouda) (1 Macc 10:30,33,37). The land was then roughly limited by what may be called the "natural boundaries of Judah" (see nodetitle).

According to Josephus (BJ, III, iii, 5), Judea extended from Anuath-Borkaeos (i.e. Khan Berkit near Khan es Saweh, close to the most northerly frontier of Judah as described in JUDAH (which see)) to the village Jordan, possibly Tell `Arad, near Arabia in the South. Its breadth was from Joppa in the West to Jordan in the East. The seacoast also as far north as Ptolemais (`Akka), except Jamnia, Joppa and (according to the Talm) Caesarea, belonged to this province.

After the death of Herod the Great, Archelaus received Judea, Samaria and Idumea as his ethnarchy, but on his deposition Judea was absorbed into the Roman province of Syria, the procurator of which lived at Caesarea.

Of later history it is only necessary to notice that in the 5th century Judea became part of the land known as Palaestina Prima; that at the time of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem (12th century) all the hill country of Judah from Sinjil to Tekoa was the royal domain, while the southern section to Beersheba belonged to the Seigneur de Abraham (i.e. of Hebron); and lastly that a district, the rough equivalent of the kingdom of Judah, though larger, and of the Judea described by Josephus (BJ, III, iii, 5), though slightly smaller, forms today the Mutaserraflic of el Kuds, an administrative area where more than in any spot in the world the problem of the "land of the Jews" is today increasingly acute.

joo-de’-a: In Ezr 5:8 for "Judah"; thus the Revised Version (British and American). In the New Testament the form is JUDAEA (which see).