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Judah, The Kingdom of

The Tribe of Judah.

The tribe of Judah, which occupied the hill country between the vicinity of Jerusalem and Hebron (Map 3:x5), plays a minor role in the biblical narratives that pertain to premonarchic times. In the book of Judges, for example, there are only occasional mentions of Judah, and this tribe seems to have been very much on the fringe of Saul's kingdom. Judah comes into prominence, however, with David's rise to power, David himself being a Judean from the village of Bethlehem. Before conquering Jerusalem and transferring his residency there, David ruled over a kingdom centered at Hebron and consisting primarily of the tribe of Judah. Later, the tribal territory of Judah was to be the core of the southern kingdom, which remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty following Solomon's death.

Thus the name “Judah,” like the name “Israel,” is used in different ways in the Bible. It can refer to the eponymous ancestor of the tribe of Judah (Gen. 29.35; 35.23; 37.26), to the tribe itself (Num. 2.3; 7.12; 10.14; Josh. 18.5; 19.1; Judg. 1.4), and to the kingdom of Judah, which covered more extensive territory and included peoples of other tribal origins (1 Kings 14.21, 29; 15.1, 7; Isa. 1.1; Jer. 1.2). These distinctions are not always clear in the biblical story. For example, the tribal boundaries and cities recorded for the tribe of Judah in the book of Joshua actually represent the ideal territorial extent of the kingdom of Judah. Likewise, the biblical genealogies tend to subsume under Judah various other southern tribal groups, such as the Calebites, which became constituents of the kingdom of Judah (see Tribes of Israel).

David's Judean Kingdom.

David gained popularity as a Philistine fighter under Saul's command. Later he broke with Saul and led a rebel army that operated along the frontier of Judean territory. First we hear of David and his men camped at Adullam (1 Sam. 22.1–4). When Saul learned of their presence there, David and his followers moved to the barren slopes of the hill country southeast of Hebron (1 Sam. 23–26). Apparently, they received little support from the local population in either area; on the contrary, the villagers reported their whereabouts to Saul on more than one occasion.

Eventually, David found it necessary to move to Philistine territory, where he placed himself and his army under the command of Achish, the Philistine King of Gath (1 Sam. 27). Thus it happened that David was allied with the Philistines when they defeated Saul's army at the battle of Gilboa, the battle at which Saul and Jonathan lost their lives (1 Sam. 28–31). Saul's Israelite kingdom was left on the verge of collapse and without leadership. The crown fell to Ishbaal (Ishbosheth) who, realizing that the whole central hill country was now vulnerable to Philistine encroachment, moved his residency (and accordingly the administrative center of the kingdom) to Mahanaim east of the Jordan (2 Sam. 2.8–11). Thereupon David, presumably with Philistine approval, occupied the city of Hebron and its surrounding villages (2 Sam. 2.1–3). His kingship over the region was formalized when “the people of Judah came [to Hebron] and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2 Sam. 2.4).

Thus, for the next seven years, according to 2 Samuel 5.4–5 and 1 Kings 2.11, David ruled over a kingdom centered in the hill country south of Jerusalem, composed largely of the tribe of Judah, with Hebron as its capital. David's realm of influence expanded rapidly during these years of rule from Hebron, so that by the time he conquered Jerusalem and moved his residency there (2 Sam. 5.6–10), the tribe of Judah was only one constituent part of the kingdom. This was to remain true throughout the reign of Solomon. Among other constituent elements of the Davidic‐Solomonic kingdom, for example, were the Israelites.

The Post‐Solomonic Kingdom of Judah.

Following Solomon's death, the Israelites rebelled and established an independent kingdom of “Israel” (1 Kings 12.1–17). No doubt, many of them understood this as a restoration of the old Saulide kingdom. The people of Jerusalem and of the southern hill country, however, remained loyal to the Davidic dynasty, specifically to Solomon's son, Rehoboam, who was next in line for the throne. While Rehoboam continued to rule from Jerusalem, his realm of authority consisted essentially of the area that David had ruled from Hebron, that is, the old tribal territory of Judah and immediately adjacent regions—the southern hill country, the “wilderness” region between the hill country and the Dead Sea, some of the Negeb, and some of the Shephelah (see Map 5:w–x5–6). Not surprisingly, this post‐Solomonic kingdom came to be called Judah, even though its territory and population extended well beyond those of the tribe of Judah.

This post‐Solomonic kingdom of Judah remained in existence for almost three and a half centuries, from Solomon's death in approximately 925 BCE to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE. During the first two hundred years of this period, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah existed side by side, sometimes at peace, sometimes at war; and for much of this time, during the Omride period for example, Judah was overshadowed by, and possibly subject to, Israel.

The article in this volume on “Israel, History of” summarizes key political developments during the two centuries that the two kingdoms existed alongside each other. The following summary covers some of the same material, but focuses on Judah and extends to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587/586.

Unstable beginnings (ca. 924–855).

Rehoboam was left with a small and weak kingdom. Hostilities with Israel, whose frontier was only about 17 km (10 mi) from Jerusalem, would have drained his resources even more. As if that were not enough, the Egyptian pharaoh Shishak raided Palestine during the fifth year of Rehoboam's reign. Rather than challenge Shishak, Rehoboam paid a heavy ransom from the Temple treasury (1 Kings 14.25–28).

Apparently, Shishak's raid was a temporary episode with no lasting effect. The hostilities with Israel continued for four decades, however, through the reign of Rehoboam's grandson, Asa (ca. 905–874). 1 Kings 15.16–24 reports that Asa negotiated an agreement with Ben‐hadad, the Aramean king of Damascus, which called for an Aramean attack on Israel's northern border. With Israel's king (Baasha, ca. 902–886) thus distracted, Asa secured his own northern frontier with fortifications at Mizpah and Geba (1 Kings 15.16–22).

In the shadow of the Omrides (ca. 885–843).

Under the Omride rulers during the second quarter of the ninth century, Israel emerged as a powerful kingdom. Jehoshaphat of Judah (ca. 874–850) was roughly contemporary with the two most outstanding of the Omride kings, Omri and Ahab; and the biblical records suggest that he was an unwavering supporter of their military undertakings; probably he had little choice. Moreover, the two royal families were joined by the marriage of Jehoshaphat's son Jehoram (ruled ca. 850–843) to Omri's daughter (or granddaughter; compare 2 Kings 8.18 with 8.26). When the Omride dynasty fell, therefore, in approximately 843 BCE, there were significant political repercussions in Judah as well.

The circumstances are described in horrible detail in 2 Kings 8.28–10.27. On an occasion when Israel's troops were defending northern Transjordan against Aramean encroachment, Jehu, commander of the troops, assassinated the king of Israel (also named Jehoram, a son of Ahab), seized the government, and massacred the whole Omride family. Ahaziah, who by that time had succeeded Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat to the throne in Judah, also was assassinated, while visiting his Omride relatives in Israel.

A century of instability and decline (ca. 843–745).

Jehu's coup initiated a period of hard times in both Israel and Judah (2 Kings 10.32–33; 12.17–18; 13.3). In fact, all of Syria‐Palestine seems to have been dominated for the next four decades by the Aramean kings of Damascus. Judah was troubled as well with dynastic instability. After Ahaziah, who had been assassinated in connection with the Omride massacre, the next three Judean rulers (Athaliah, Joash, and Amaziah) were each executed or assassinated.

Athaliah, the Omride queen mother, seized the throne for herself at Ahaziah's death and ordered the execution of all others in Judah who could possibly have any claim to it. Her own downfall and execution, after seven years of rule, resulted from a palace coup orchestrated by a priest named Jehoiada (2 Kings 11). Joash, whom Jehoiada placed on the throne in her stead, was a seven‐year‐old child, supposedly a son of Ahaziah who had escaped the bloodletting at the time of his father's death. Not surprisingly, Joash was much influenced during the early years of his reign (ca. 837–?) by Jehoiada and the Jerusalem priests. Later, however, as Joash reached adulthood and especially after Jehoiada died, he began to exert more independence over the priests. Eventually he too was assassinated, apparently by persons in the royal court (2 Kings 12.1–16, 19–21).

By the time that Amaziah, the son of Joash, ascended the throne (sometime near the end of the ninth century BCE), the Aramean domination of Syria‐Palestine had begun to relax. Once again, conflict erupted between Israel and Judah, with Israel overwhelmingly victorious. Not only was Amaziah unable to defend his frontier against Jehoahaz of Israel, but Jehoahaz captured Jerusalem, destroyed a large section of the city wall, and took royal Judean hostages to Samaria (2 Kings. 14.8–14). Soon thereafter, Amaziah was assassinated by his own countrymen, and Judah probably remained essentially a vassal to Israel through the reigns of Uzziah and Jotham.

Dates for the Judean kings of this period are impossible to establish with any degree of precision. Uzziah and Jotham would have lived during the latter part of the eighth and first part of the seventh centuries BCE respectively (2 Kings 15.1–7, 32–38). The prophets Amos and Hosea also belong to this period, as does the early career of Isaiah.

Assyrian domination (ca. 745–627).

Judah, along with all the other little city‐states and kingdoms of Syria‐Palestine, succumbed to Assyrian domination during the latter half of the eighth century BCE. Unlike Israel, however, whose national existence came to an end at that time and whose territory was annexed by the Assyrian empire, Judah survived for another quarter of a century after the Assyrian empire itself collapsed. This does not mean, however, that Judah continued to enjoy any significant degree of independence. On the contrary, Tiglath‐pileser's Palestinian campaigns in 734–732 left Judah a subject nation, and this situation remained essentially unchanged until the fall of Jerusalem in 587/586. When Hezekiah and certain other allied kings dared to challenge Assyrian domination during the reign of Sennacherib (705–681), the attempt failed miserably, and numerous Judean cities and villages were destroyed. Jerusalem itself narrowly escaped destruction, which was regarded as a miracle (2 Kings 18.9–19.37). The prophets Isaiah and Micah were active during these years of Assyrian domination.

Egyptian domination (627–605).

Although the specific circumstances are not well known, it seems that the Assyrians and Egyptians established an alliance during the latter years of the Assyrian empire. As the Assyrians began to relax their grip on Syria‐Palestine, the Egyptians tightened theirs. Specifically, Judah seems to have been subject to Egypt from approximately the end of the reign of Ashurbanipal (668–627 BCE) until the battle of Carchemish in 605. This was the political context of Josiah's cultic reform, his execution by Pharaoh Neco, and Jeremiah's early career (2 Kings 22.1–23.30; Jer. 2.18–19).

Babylonian domination and the end of the kingdom of Judah (605–587/586).

The Babylonians, by defeating the Assyrians and their Egyptian allies at the battle of Carchemish in 605 BCE, became masters of Syria‐Palestine as well as of Mesopotamia. Unfortunately, the Judeans persisted in challenging the new master, which resulted in the end of their kingdom. Jehoiakim (605–598) died while Jerusalem was under Babylonian siege. Jehoiakim's son Jehoichin was on the throne when the city fell in 597 and was exiled to Babylon with many other prominent Judeans (2 Kings 24.1–17). The Babylonians placed Zedekiah on the throne; when he too proved disloyal, they conquered Jerusalem again, sacked the city, sent many more Judeans into exile, and placed one Gedaliah in charge of the region (2 Kings 24.18–25.26).

The exact status of Gedaliah, who resided at Mizpah, is unclear—whether he was regarded as a vassal king or as a military governor over annexed territory. Apparently he was not, however, of the Davidic family; soon he was assassinated by a nationalistic group who presumably wished to restore the Davidic line. Very little is known about the situation in Palestine in the aftermath of Gedaliah's assassination, but certainly by this time Judah had ceased to exist as a kingdom.

The Hasmonean Kingdom of Judah.

Mention should be made finally of the revolt of the Maccabees against the Seleucid rulers during the second century BCE. Not only was the revolt successful in throwing off the Seleucid yoke, but it resulted in a Judean kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital, lasting for a century—from the Maccabean recovery of Jerusalem in 164 BCE to Pompey's eastern campaigns in 64–63 BCE. Ruled by the Hasmonean dynasty, the family of Judas approximate chronology of the kings of israel and judah Saul, David, and Solomon lived ca. 1000 BCE. The following dates may be regarded as accurate within ten years for the earlier kings and within two years for the later ones.

Rehoboam(924–907) Jeroboam I(924–903)
Abijam (Abijah)(907–906)
Asa(905–874) Nadab(903–902)
Jehoshaphat(874–850) Omri(885–873)
Jehoram(850–843) Ahaziah(851–849)
Ahaziah(843) Jehoram(849–843)
Athaliah(843–837) Jehu(843–816)
Joash (Jehoash)(837–?) Jehoahaz(816–800)
Amaziah(?–?) Joash(800–785)
Uzziah (Azariah)(?=742) Jeroboam II(785–745)
Jehoahaz I (Ahaz)(742–727) Pekahiah(736–735)
Hezekiah(727–698) Fall of Samaria (722)
Jehoahaz II(609)
Destruction of Jerusalem (587/586)

Maccabeus, this kingdom included virtually all of Palestine when it reached its greatest territorial expansion under John Hyrcanus I (134–104 BCE) and Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE).

J. Maxwell Miller

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