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According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Judah ( ) was one of the twelve Tribes of Israel.

Following the completion of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelite tribes after about 1200 BCE, Joshua allocated the land among the twelve tribes.

From after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in c. 1050 BCE, the Tribe of Judah was a part of a loose confederation of Israelite tribes. No central government existed, and in times of crisis the people were led by ad hoc leaders known as Judges. (see the Book of Judges) With the growth of the threat from Philistine incursions, the Israelite tribes decided to form a strong centralised monarchy to meet the challenge. The first king of this new entity was Saul, who came from the Tribe of Benjamin, ( ) which at the time was the smallest of the tribes.

After the death of Saul, all the tribes other than Judah remained loyal to the House of Saul, while Judah chose David as its king. However, after the death of Ish-bosheth, Saul's son and successor to the throne of Israel, all the other Israelite tribes made David, who was then the king of Judah, king of a re-united Kingdom of Israel. However, on the accession of Rehoboam, Solomon's son, in c. 930 BCE, the northern tribes split from the House of David to reform a Kingdom of Israel as the Northern Kingdom. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the House of David.

The main cities of the Tribe of Judah

At its height, the Tribe of Judah was the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Judah, and occupied most of the territory of the kingdom, except for a small region in the north east occupied by Benjamin, and an enclave towards the south west which was occupied by Simeon. After the reign of Solomon, the Kingdom of Israel was divided in two, the house of Joseph in the north made up of ten tribes (Gad, Zebulun, Ashur, Gad, Simon, Naphteli, Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), Dan, Reuben, Levi) and the Kingdom of Judah in the south made up of two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) . Later, Levi left the house of Joseph and came to Judah as well . The word Jew is a derivative of the word Judah referring to a descendant of the Kingdom of Judah, however a Jew could also be a descendant of Benjamin or Levi.

The size of the territory of the tribe of Judah meant that in practice it had four distinct regions:
  • The Negevmarker (Hebrew: south) - the southern portion of the land, which was highly suitable for pasture
  • The Shephelah (Hebrew: lowland) - the coastal region, between the highlands and the Mediterraneanmarker sea, which was used for agriculture, in particular for grains.
  • The wilderness - the barren region immediately next to the Dead Seamarker, and below sea level; it was wild, and barely inhabitable, to the extent that animals and people which were made unwelcome elsewhere, such as bears, leopards, and outlaws, made it their home. In biblical times, this region was further subdivided into three sections - the wilderness of En Gedi, the wilderness of Judah, and the wilderness of Maon.
  • The hill country - the elevated plateau situated between the Shephelah and the wilderness, with rocky slopes but very fertile soil. This region was used for the production of grain, olives, grapes, and other fruit, and hence produced oil and wine.

The Kingdom of Judah was conquered by Babylonmarker in c. 586 BCE and the population deported. When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, during Roman times their state was known as Judea , the Greek form of the word Judah in reference to the ancient southern kingdom of Judah. Today most Jews consider their ethnicity as a member of the modern state of Israel, however biblically after the reign of Solomon the word Israel is a reference to the house of Joseph, rather than Judah . Several prophectic events in the Bible also list Israel and Judah separately, as two entities rather than one , . Today residual tribal affiliations have been abandoned, probably because of the impossibility of reestablishing previous tribal land holdings. However the Bible does list prophetic locations where these other tribes will exist. These scriptural references have been disreguarded as invalid or in error because the current populations in each of these areas are of Arab descent. For example, Moses stated that Judah would return to where their family already exists . However the only people in the nation when they arrived were Palestinians. Ezekiel said Israel would return to the West Bank (the Mountains of Israel) also inhabited by Paletinians and Zechariah referenced that Ephraim a.k.a. Israel would return to Lebanan and Eastern Jordan (Gilead) where the Palestinian Refugee camps exist. However, the special religious roles decreed for the Levis and Kohanim were preserved, and the general population was called Israel. These designations are still followed today.


The territory of Judah appears in orange at the south on this map of the tribes.
The text is in German.

According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and of Leah; however some Biblical scholars view this as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation. With Leah as a matriarch, Biblical scholars regard the tribe as having been believed by the text's authors to have been part of the original Israelite confederation.

Like the other tribes of the kingdom of Judah, the tribe of Judah is entirely absent from the ancient Song of Deborah, rather than present but described as unwilling to assist in the battle between Israelites and their enemy. Traditionally, this has been explained as being due to the southern kingdom being too far away to be involved in the battle, but Israel Finkelstein et al. claim the alternative explanation that the southern kingdom was simply an insignificant rural backwater at the time the poem was written.


The tribe of Judah stood apart from the others as the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Judah, and from the tribe came the kingdom's rulers (though not the later Hasmonean kings of Judea, who were Levites). The regal status of Judah is seemingly prophesied in the Blessing of Jacob, which argues that the staff shall not depart from Judah, nor the sceptre from between his feet... though some textual scholars view this as postdiction, since they date the poem to a few centuries after the Song of Deborah, to roughly 800-700 BC. With the Davidic line thus being from the tribe, the tribe counted David among its members, as well as his ancestors Boaz, Obed, and Jesse. According to Jewish belief, since the Blessing appears to promise that Judah would always rule the kingdom, the Messiah has to be a member of the tribe.

Many other important leaders were also from the tribe. Some of the most important literary prophets, including Isaiah, as well as Amos, Habakkuk, Joel, Micah, Obadiah, Zechariah, and Zephaniah, hailed from Judah. Later, during the Babylonian Exile, theExilarchs (officially recognised community leaders) were from the tribe, and when the Exile ended, the tribe included Zerubbabel (the leader of the first Jews to return to what became Judeamarker), Shealtiel (a somewhat mysterious figure), and Nehemiah (one of the earliest and most prominent Achamenid-appointed governors of Judea). In the time of Roman rule, all the holders of the office of Nasi (prince) after Shemaiah, were rumoured to be from the tribe of Judah, since they were all descended from Hillel, who was rumoured to have maternal lineage from the Davidic line (in Judaism, maternal lineage is more important to ethnicity).


As part of the kingdom of Judah, the tribe of Judah survived the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians, and instead was subjected to the Babylonian captivity; when the captivity ended, the distinction between the tribes were lost in favour of a common identity. Since Simeon and Benjamin had been very much the junior partners in the Kingdom of Judah, it was Judah that gave its name to the identity - that of the Jews. Most modern-day Jews are descended from the tribe of Judah. Some are descended from converts.

See also


  1. Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
  2. 1 Samuel 24:1
  3. Judges 1:16;
  4. 1 Samuel 23:24
  5. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  6. Jewish Encyclopedia
  7. Israel Finkelstein, the Bible Unearthed
  8. Genesis 49:10
  9. Glossary of terms related to Judaism (religious studies dept., university of California - Davis)
  10. Who Is a Jew? Origins of the Words "Jew" and "Judaism" (
  11. Where does the word "Jew" come from? by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg (
  12. Biography of Judah (

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