Covering the southern third of Israel, Judah (Lat., Judea) designates, in certain late periods, an entire country. Both poor and remote, this small region was the cradle of the Hebrew Bible.


Judah extends over some 4,400 sq km (2,728 sq. mi.): 2,150 sq km (1,333 sq. mi.) are essentially desert; 1,500 sq km (930 sq. mi.) are partly cultivatable highlands; and 750 sq km (465 sq. mi.) tend to have good soil. The adjacent regions are, from the north, counterclockwise, the highland of Ephraim; Philistia (the coastal plain and the western Negev desert); the Negev highlands; and the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley.

The core of the region is the Jerusalem area (about 150 sq km or 93 sq. mi.) and the highlands of Judah (about 1,000 sq km or 625 sq. mi., including the ῾Arqub in the northwest, and the central and southern parts, also known as the highlands of Hebron). The Land of Benjamin (the Benjamin highlands, about 350 sq km, or 217 sq. mi.), is north of these. All of these areas (the Judean highlands) comprise the southern part of modern Israel's central highlands. The altitude ranges from 600 m above sea level in the south to 1,020 m near Hebron. Mean annual rainfall ranges from 300 to 400 mm in the south, to about 700 mm (including snow) in the highest parts of the region, but it may fall to below 300–200 mm in the frequent drought years. Mean temperature is about 10–7°C (January) to 22–26°C (August). The Judean highlands, especially south of Jerusalem, are the highest, steepest, and poorest part of the central highlands.

East of the highlands, the Judean Desert slopes down to the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea shore (about 400 m below sea level). The desert is large (about 1,150 sq km, or 713 sq. mi., not including Jericho) but very marginal: it has a mean annual rainfall of only 50–100 mm (200–400 mm on the higher desert plateau) and, in August, a mean temperature of only 26–34°C. To the south lies the Beersheba-Arad valley: the biblical Negev of Judah (only part of the modern Negev). This also is a fringe area, but it is not so marginal. An important natural route to the south and east, it extends for more than about 1,000 sq km (620 sq. mi.). Its mean annual rainfall is about 300–150 mm and its mean temperature is about 28–26°C (August) to 14–10°C (January).

Below, to the west, lies the Shephelah of Judah (about 750 sq km, or 465 sq. mi., excluding the western parts, which are connected to Philistia), the richest part of Judah, composed of moderately undulating hills. Its altitude is about 150–300 m in the lower (western) Shephelah and 300–600 m in the upper (eastern) Shephelah. This is the real biblical hill country of Judah, although some translations give that name to the highlands. Its mean annual rainfall is about 350–550 mm; its mean temperature is the same as the Negev's.

History and Methods of Research.

Judah's ancient remains were first recorded by such nineteenth-century explorers as Edward Robinson, Victor Guerin, and above all Claude R. Conder and Horatio Herbert Kitchener, but they were unable to date most of the ruins. [See the biographies of Robinson, Guerin, Conder, and Kitchener.] Modern excavations have been conducted at several sites since the 1920s. The main stratigraphic excavations (mostly of more than one period) are in the Judean highlands: Jerusalem, Khirbet et-Tell (Ai), Tell el-Jib, Tell en-Naṣbeh, Tell el-Ful, Ramat Raḥel, Giloh, Herodium, Beth-Zur, Hebron, Susiya, and Khirbet Rabud (Debir); in the Shephelah: Beth-Shemesh, Tel Yarmut, ῾Azekah, Mareshah (Marisa)/Beth-Guvrin, Lachish, Tell Beit Mirsim, and Tel Ḥalif; in the Negev of Judah: Tel Beersheba, Tel Esdar, Tel Masos, Tel ῾Ira, Arad, ῾Aro῾er, Tel Malḥata, and Ḥorvat ῾Uza; and in the Judean Desert: Masada, ῾Ein-Gedi, Qumran, several caves and monasteries, and sites in the Buqei῾a valley and along the Dead Sea shore. Major stratigraphic-ceramic sequences for the early periods have been published for Tell Beit Mirsim and Lachish.

The first modern archaeological survey, systematic but very selective, was conducted in the Judean Desert and highlands in 1967–1968 (Kochavi, 1972). More detailed surveys have been conducted since the early 1980s in the highlands and the Shephelah. The available data (Finkelstein and Magen, 1993) from the various subregions still differ significantly.

The highlands of Judah have been surveyed by Avi Ofer since 1982 (800 sq km, or 496 sq. mi., not including the ῾Arqub). A sample of about a third of the area has been completed, enabling an estimation of the possible lacunae in the selective survey (completed for the entire region, including all ruins marked on maps). To fill in the gaps, 15 percent must be added to the settled area in the surveyed region, based on results from the wide sample areas. An additional 35 percent must be added for the ῾Arqub. The size of each site in different periods is estimated following a standard technique: sherd scatters and maximum size of site. Diagnostic pottery rims from each period are counted, while the rims that can be dated to more than one period are assigned to them according to percentages. This counting is weighted according to the length of each period, which is indispensable for valid analysis. The weighted relative percentage of each period, compared with the maximum percentage, yields the relation of its size to the maximum size, or a calculated size estimate. For early periods, this estimate may be too low, as sherds could be covered by later debris. To minimize error, an average is made between the maximum and the calculated size, using a factor proportional to the extent of later debris. This averaged estimate may reduce possible errors and is the basis for further evaluations. In special cases, the estimate is changed according to other relevant data (e.g., sherd distribution over the site, which, however, generally is not useful). Several averages were calculated for each period and subregion, such as relative height above sea level as a security factor, distance from water sources and roads, and land use. The averages were calculated not only per site, but also per settled area, which is more significant. A rank-size analysis of all periods indicates possible changes in social integration. The intensity of pottery at every site and in every period was also analyzed, representing the intensity of human activity—population size relative to carrying capacity (an estimate based on settled area is, however, problematic because the coefficients of inhabitants per acre vary too much). By all these means, a purely archaeological history of the region was obtained, which will be compared to its documented history.

Many surveyors have explored the small Land of Benjamin (Finkelstein and Magen, 1993). In most cases the indispensable data are published (although unweighted), but most periods lack subdivisions, such as Iron II–III, and the data, evaluated separately for each arbitrary survey unit, have not been synthesized. Most of the Jerusalem area has been surveyed but not yet published. Yehudah Dagan (1992) has surveyed the Shephelah, covering about 75 percent of the area and almost all of its principal sites. Most of his data has not yet been evaluated or published, but the Iron Age sites are reasonably well known. In the desert there has not been much progress since Pessah Bar-Adon's work (1967 onward). Many scholars have explored the Negev of Judah, especially Yohanan Aharoni and his successors, but their work was not part of a systematic research program or publication, and most of their surveys were incomplete.

History of Settlement.

A detailed archaeological analysis is so far available only for the highlands of Judah.


There have been almost no surveys of prehistoric Judah. However, René Neuville's work in the desert yielded some caves and rock shelters, important type-sites for the prehistoric cultures in Israel: Umm Qaṭafa (Early Paleolithic), ῾Erq el-Aḥmar (Middle to Epipaleolithic), and el-Khiam (Middle Paleolithic to Neolithic). Other Neolithic sites are Naḥal Ḥemar, Abu Ghosh, and (nearby) Khirbet Rabud.

Protohistory (c. 4000–2000 BCE).

During the Chalcolithic period, the Beersheba-Ghassul culture in the Shephelah and Negev flourished, including the type-sites in the Beersheba basin. The highest level of solid organization seems to have been small chiefdoms. The extensive human activity in the desert in the period includes a regional temple found above the oasis of ῾Ein-Gedi; a magnificent hoard of bronzes was found in the nearby Cave of the Treasure. Signs of human activity are scant in the Judean highlands, however—perhaps the result of the environment. [See ῾Ein-Gedi.]

The Early Bronze Age witnessed the first urban civilization. In the first stage (EB I) many sites were inhabited in all of the nondesert parts of Judah, significantly penetrating the highlands. Twenty-eight sites are known in the highlands of Judah, with a total size of about 42/17 acres (42 averaged, 17 calculated). To the north, ten more sites are recorded (about 37 acres in total) that are dominated by the site of Ai. The area south of Jerusalem may have been dominated by the great city at Tel ῾Erani, on the southwestern edge of the Shephelah. During EB II, a large city existed at Arad, connected with copper mining and trade in the southern deserts (Sinai and the ῾Arabah). In the southern highlands, between Arad and Ai, there seems to have been a decline in sites; the situation in the Shephelah is not yet clear. The transition to EB III witnessed a grave crisis in the south, perhaps connected to the strengthening of Egypt under the third dynasty and competition over copper sources. Arad and other centers were weakened or abandoned. In contrast, settlements in the highlands flourished. Ai (27 acres) was still the center of a unit extending north of the region. In the highlands of Judah, twenty-two sites (32/20 acres), most of them fortified, were headed by a large city (15 acres) at Ras Tawra, on the highest mountain in the region (1,010 m high). EB III culture comes to an end in the last third of the third millennium BCE. During the succeeding EB IV, pastoral society is found everywhere in the central highlands (it was not entirely nomadic, as was thought), represented by a few poor sites, with many cemeteries of typical shaft tombs, frequently unconnected to any particular site. [See Arad; Ai.]

Middle Bronze Age (c. 2000–1500 BCE).

In the Middle Bronze Age a new urban culture flourishes. For the first time, documents are available, evidence of a dimorphic Amorite-Canaanite (West Semitic) society—that is, it combines urban and pastoral elements. The main city-states are found at Lachish in the Shephelah and Jerusalem in the Judean highlands. In the latter, twenty-three sites (a total of 34 acres) are centered in the fortified site of Hebron (6 acres). A cuneiform tablet from Hebron, unique in Judah, reveals the existence of an Amorite-Canaanite society, with a Hurrian element. It seems that Hebron was a third city-state, smaller than the other two and maneuvering between them. In the Negev, only two fortified sites were found (Tel Masos and Tel Malḥata), which may belong to a unit centered west of the region. [See Lachish; Hebron.]

Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1150 BCE).

Under the domination of the Egyptian Empire, the Late Bronze Age is a period of great decline, especially in the highlands and frontier zones. The main centers are still Lachish and Jerusalem, bordered on the west by Gezer and Gath (Tel eṣ-Ṣafi). The Amarna letters testify to this reality and to the existence of smaller centers (e.g., Qe῾ilah in the Shephelah) maneuvering between the greater city-states. In the highlands of Judah there is only one significant site, Khirbet Rabud (Debir), which is small. An element of refugees (the ḫapiru) appears, mainly in the highlands. [See Gezer; Rabud, Khirbet.]

Iron Age IA-B (c. 1200–1050 BCE).

Although the Iron I is generally defined as the twelfth-eleventh centuries, it seems that the late eleventh century belongs to the next phase. In Iron I, a mass of new settlements is evident all over the highlands: it appears to be a new society, just beginning to crystalize, without dominant centers. In the highlands of Judah some eighteen settlements appear (45/27 acres) in which the main site is Hebron. These sites are not very small, but their economic preferences tend toward horticulture. Northward, the same appears to be true for western Benjamin; it is uncertain, however, whether the eastern sites here antedate the tenth century BCE. In Iron I/IIA, the name Judah first appears, designating only the highlands of Judah. Looking westward, the settlers saw the hill country, which they referred to as “the lowland” (Heb., shephelah). That region was then completely abandoned, and the Philistine culture was emerging to the west. A few large villages appeared in the Negev: Tel Masos, Naḥal Yattir, and probably Beersheba, whose material culture was connected to the coast. [See Masos, Tel; Beersheba.]

The population in the central highlands seems to have been composed of northern groups emigrating from the crumbling Hittite Empire; local elements, such as the ḫapriu; and other settling pastoralists, called Proto-Israelites. Local centers were reestablished in Jerusalem by the Jebusites, in Hebron, and perhaps at other sites, such as Gibeon. [See Gibeon.]

Iron Age IC–IIA (c. 1050–800 BCE).

The process of settlement accelerated in new directions in the Iron IC–IIA. The desert fringe became densely inhabited for the first time. Probably most of the tribal-pastoral elements that were to become the core of the Judahites only now began to settle. The Judean highlands were settled through a continuous process, changing once and for all from a fringe area to an integral part of the inhabited land. In the highlands of Judah, there are thirty-three known Iron IIA sites (85/50 acres altogether) and eighty-six Iron IIB sites (137/95 acres). The estimated total inhabited area toward 800 BCE was 237 acres; in Benjamin and the area surrounding Jerusalem, 187 acres; Jerusalem, 75 acres; the Shephelah, about 237 acres; and the Negev, 12 acres.

The continuous settlement increased integration among the settled groups, and foreign occupation by the Philistines accelerated the process. An Israelite national kingdom was established in all of the central highlands under King Saul, whose expansion may have stimulated the rise of other ethnic entities in the region. The most important event in the history of Judah, however, was the rise of King David, first in Hebron and then in Jerusalem, where he established the capital of his dynasty. David and his son Solomon built Jerusalem as their kingdom's impressive center. Judah first appeared as a unified entity extending over all of Judah in the schism following Solomon's death. The entity was then in transition from a city-state to a national kingdom, a process completed two centuries later.

Iron Age IIB (c. 800–701 BCE).

The climax of Judah's settlement, in Iron IIB, is matched only in the later Byzantine period. In the highlands of Judah, 122 sites were surveyed (232/215 acres); in Benjamin, about 100 sites (225 acres); in the Shephelah about 340 sites (about 500 acres). The estimated total inhabited area in the highlands of Judah is 388 acres; in Benjamin, 300 acres; in the Shephelah, 625 acres; in the Negev, 20 acres; in the desert, 10 acres; and in Jerusalem about 150 acres. The total is about 1,500 acres, or 120,000–150,000 inhabitants (using traditional estimates). The Ceramic Intensity Index is much higher than for other periods (40 percent higher than in the Byzantine period), so figures should perhaps be higher. It seems that Judah became a fully integrated nation only toward this stage, which ended in catastrophe. In 701 BCE, the Assyrians, under Sennacherib, marched on Judah to suppress the revolt of King Hezekiah. They destroyed the country and killed or exiled most of the inhabitants of the Shephelah and about 50–70 percent of those inland. Only Jerusalem resisted.

Iron Age IIC–Iron III (c. 701–538 BCE).

Following the Assyrian destruction Judah's recovery began in the highlands and then spread partially to the Shephelah. The Negev and the desert flourished. Toward the end of the seventh century BCE, the inhabited area is estimated as follows: the highlands of Judah, 300 acres (mostly in the north); Benjamin, 225 acres; the Shephelah, 225 acres (±75); the Negev, 37 acres; and the desert, 25 acres. Jerusalem (still 150 acres) was more central, materially and spiritually. The Deuteronomic ideology flourished, heralding the coming transition to Judaism.

The recovery was disrupted by the events that led to the destruction of the First Temple and the termination of the kingdom by the Babylonians under Nebuchadrezzar. The destruction in the countryside was less severe than previously, but long-term processes led the Shephelah, Negev, and highlands of Hebron into continuous impoverishment. They were separated from Judah and incorporated in Edom (later Idumea). [See Edom.]

Persian Period (c. 538–332 BCE).

With the return of the exiles, following the edict of King Cyrus, Judaism definitively replaced the old Judahite/Israelite national identity. It centered in the Yehud district (Heb., medinah), including Benjamin and part of the highlands of Judah. Half of the highlands sites (eighty-seven sites; 120/90 acres) are in that northern one-quarter of the district. The Second Temple was built and was regarded by the Jewish community as the only legitimate sanctuary. The western part of Idumea was inhabited by urban, Hellenized Phoenicians and the inland part by a rural society with autochthonous roots. With the tide of history turning, the old polis regime reappeared.

Hellenistic Period (c. 332–37 BCE).

Both Jewish and Hellenistic culture flourished between 332 and 37 BCE throughout the highlands of Judah (ninety-eight sites; 132/75 acres), first under Ptolemaic and then under Seleucid kings. The Maccabean Revolt, beginning in 167 BCE, ended with the consolidation of the Hasmonean kingdom of Judah. At its zenith, under Alexander Jannaeus, it covered the whole land of Israel, including most of Transjordan and the Golan. When Pompey established Roman hegemony in 63 BCE, Judah was reduced to the mostly Jewish-populated areas in the highlands, parts of Transjordan, and the Galilee. [See Ptolemies; Seleucids; Hasmoneans.]

Roman I Period (c. 37–135 BCE).

The kingdom of Judah reached its maximum expansion and wealth in the time of Herod the Great (40/37–4 BCE). Jerusalem, “most famous among [Near] Eastern cities” (Pliny), again became the center of a great kingdom. The Second Temple, rebuilt by Herod, was the period's outstanding monument, and Judah prospered (the highlands of Judah included ninety known sites, extending to 245/115 acres). The kingdom did not survive Herod, however, and Judah became the Roman province of Judea. Later, the great revolt of the Jews (66–70 CE) led to the country's destruction by the Romans under Vespasian and Titus. Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed in 70 CE, as well as many other Judean sites (the last stronghold, Masada, is the most famous and most excavated). Following the destruction, Judea became the garrison of the Roman Tenth Legion. [See Masada.]

The period (Roman I) was one of great unrest. The main archaeological evidence comes from the Judean Desert sites, including Qumran. The canonization of the Hebrew Bible was completed; the Pharisees achieved hegemony in Judaism; the Saducees and Essenes disappeared; and Christianity emerged. Messianic yearnings led to the Bar Kokhba Revolt against the Roman emperor Hadrian, ending with the massive destruction of Judea in 135 CE and the end of its Jewish identity until the modern era. [See Judean Desert Caves; Qumran; Essenes; and Bar Kokhba Revolt.]

Roman II Period (c. 135–324 BCE).

Following the destruction by Hadrian, the name Judea was changed to Syria-Palaestina (Philistia) and then to Palaestina Prima, in order to erase the memory of Judah (hence the name Palestine, which lasted until modern times). The Land of Judah never had a specific name after that. Jerusalem was rebuilt as Aelia Capitolina. In about 200 CE, Emperor Septimius Severus established Eleutheropolis (Beth-Guvrin), which dominated most of Judah, except for Aelia and its surroundings. In the highlands of Judah, ninety-five sites are known (150/90 acres). Its southern part remained predominantly Jewish (Heb., dromah, “southern”) and the rest was mostly pagan.

Byzantine Period (c. 324–638 BCE).

The Byzantine period is generally assumed to be the most heavily populated of the ancient periods in Israel. In the highlands of Judah 273 sites (425/350 acres) are known. However, the Ceramic Intensity Index is only about 70 percent Iron IIB, which is consistent with the settlements' uncrowded character. Christianity became the official religion in the Byzantine period and the society was composed mainly of religious communities: Christians, Jews, Samaritans, and pagans.

“Medieval Period” (c. 638–1516 BCE).

In archaeological and especially in ceramic terms, the period between 638 and 1516 is not well known. It will only be discussed briefly here.

Early Arab period (c. 638–1099 CE).

Following the Arab conquest in 638 CE, the Jund Philastin inherited Palaestina Prima. Judah was included within three subdistricts (Ar., achwar): Aelia (Jerusalem), Beit Jibrin, and the Dead Sea. Under the Umayyad, ῾Abbasid, and Fatimid dynasties, part of the population became Muslim, and some Arab bedouin tribes settled in the Land of Judah, mainly on the desert fringes. Ramla became the capital of Philastin. The al-Aqṣa mosque and the Dome of the Rock were built in Jerusalem, which became Islam's third important pilgrimage site. [See Umayyad Dynasty; ῾Abbasid Dynasty; Fatimid Dynasty; and Ramla.]

Crusader and Ayyubid period (c. 1099–1291 CE).

Most of the Crusader remains known in Judah are in Jerusalem, although forts and fortified properties were built in the countryside as well. Between 1099 and 1291, the Frankish element of the society played an important role within the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Judah was the first royal domain, and then Hebron and Beth-Guvrin became independent principalities. Following the kingdom's end (in 1191 CE), Judah became predominantly Muslim.

Late Arab period (c. 1291–1516 CE).

Under the Mamluks, the coastal plain was intentionally depopulated, turning it into a fringe area, while the population of the highlands increased. Judah was divided first between the districts of Jerusalem and Hebron (as a province of Damascus) and then the province of Gaza. The deterioration of the land reached its peak during this period. In 1376, Jerusalem became the seat of a minor governor.

Ottoman Period (1516–1917 CE).

Following the Ottoman conquest in 1516, most of Judah was unified within the district of Jerusalem, including the city's subdistricts and Hebron. Parts of the Shephelah fell within the Ramla subdistrict. The land flourished in the sixteenth century, and Jerusalem was refortified with the wall that still encircles it. Ottoman administrative documents (Tk., defteri) give the best information on the economics of the land's traditional society. In the following centuries Judah sank into decline, while Jerusalem's position was strengthened, heralding the political and cultural importance it would know in the twentieth century.

[See also Jerusalem; Negev; Northern Samaria, Survey of; Shephelah; and Southern Samaria, Survey of. In addition, the following sites not previously cross-referenced above are the subject of independent entries: ῾Aro῾er; Beit Mirsim, Tell; Beth-Shemesh; Beth-Zur; Esdar, Tel; Ful, Tell el-; Giloh; Herodium; ῾Ira, Tel; Mareshah; Naṣbeh, Tell en-; Ramat Raḥel; Susiya; and Yarmut, Tel.]


  • Bar-Adon, Pessah. Excavations in the Judean Desert. ῾Atiqot, Hebrew Series, vol. 9. Jerusalem, 1989.
    Reports on the author's excavations; English summaries.
  • Dagan, Yehudah. “The Shephelah during the Period of the Monarchy in Light of Archaeological Excavations and Survey.” M.A. thesis, Tel Aviv University, 1992.
    Until recently, the only publication of the author's comprehensive survey. Presents a list of 276 Iron Age sites, although the data and conclusions may be disputable. In Hebrew with English summary; may be obtained from Tel Aviv University
  • Finkelstein, Israel, and Yizhak Magen. Archaeological Survey of the Hill Country of Benjamin. Jerusalem, 1993.
    Survey results
  • Kochavi, Moshe, ed. Judea, Samaria, and the Golan: Archaeological Survey, 1967–1968 (in Hebrew). Jerusalem, 1972.
    Report of selective surveys, including of Judah (but only of the highlands and the margins of the Shephelah), the Judean Desert, and the Land of Benjamin
  • Ofer, Avi. “The Highland of Judah during the Biblical Period.” Ph.D. diss., Tel Aviv University, 1993.
    Complete report of the survey in the area, with a detailed analysis of evaluation methods and historical data about biblical Judah. In Hebrew with English summary
  • Ofer, Avi. “The Highland of Judah: A Fringe Area Becoming a Prosperous Kingdom.” In From Nomadism to Monarchy: Archaeological and Historical Aspects of Early Israel, edited by Israel Finkelstein and Nadav Na'aman (in press).
    Archaeological and historical discussion of the Iron Age I in Judah, including survey methods and some information about other periods (especially the Bronze Age and Iron Age II). Based on the author's dissertation (see above)

The Atlas of Israel, 3d ed. (Tel Aviv, 1985) contains geographic data relevant to the region. Detailed maps of Judah from ancient to Byzantine periods can be found in the second edition of The Macmillan Bible Atlas by Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah (New York, 1993). The earliest (and still best) modern systematic description of ancient ruins in Judah is provided in Claude R. Conder and H. H. Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine, vol. 3, Judaea (London, 1883); see sheets 17–26. The dating is unreliable, however. Geographic histories include Yohanan Aharoni, The Land of the Bible, 2d ed. (Philadelphia, 1979), for biblical Israel and Judah, and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Holy Land: From the Persian to the Arab Conquest, 536 B.C. to A.D. 640, 2d ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1977), for the classical periods. Aharoni's text is somewhat out of date and differs from this entry on many points.

For archaeological scholarship and excavation reports, the reader should consult the following:

Avi Ofer