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JUDAH (Heb. יְהוּדָה), fourth son of Jacob and Leah. The biblical explanation of the name Judah connects it with "thanksgiving" and "praise" (Heb. אוֹדֶה, oʾdeh; Gen. 29:35). However, if one compares the names Judith (Gen. 26:34) and Jahdai (I Chron. 2:47) it is clear that this explanation is a popular etymology. According to Yeivin, the name is derived from the Arabic root whd (Heb. yhd), which yields, for example, the Arabic noun wahd, meaning "low ground." The name originated either in the tribe's connection with the land west of the hill country of Judah (the lowland; see below), or in its original lowly social status. As to the latter, the traditional placing of Judah fourth in the first group of Leah's sons should be noted, as well as his Canaanite matrimonial connections (see below). These indicate that the tribe once had a low social status, having contained more non-Israelite elements than any other tribe. It was only subsequently that Judah acquired an honorable and leading place for itself by virtue of its size and its political activity.

Judah in the Pentateuch

Apart from the sons of Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin), Judah is one of the few of Jacob's children (see *Reuben, *Simeon) about whom the traditions of the patriarchal period speak in detail. They tell first and foremost of his marriage to the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua who bore him three sons (Gen. 38). Although they reached adolescence, two of his sons (see *Onan, *Er) had no descendants, while the third, *Shelah, had many children and grandchildren (I Chron. 4:21ff.). In connection with the childless marriages of Judah's older sons, tradition recounts the affair of *Tamar who bore Judah *Perez and *Zerah, the main ancestors of the tribe of Judah. In the *Joseph stories an important role is ascribed to Judah as spokesman for the sons of Jacob (Gen. 37:26; 43:3–5, 8–10; 44:16–34). In the first census in the wilderness (Num. 1:27; 2:4), the tribe numbered 74,600 and had the largest population of the tribes of Israel. In the second census the tribe numbered five families of 76,500 souls (26:19–22), and was again the largest. In the camping and marching arrangements, "the standard [or division] of the camp of Judah," comprising Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, camped on the eastern side of the Tabernacle and marched at the head of the host (Num. 2:1–9; 10:14–16). (On Judah in the blessings of Jacob and Moses, see below.)

History of the Tribe

*Othniel son of Kenaz, a descendant of Judah, was regarded as the first judge (Judg. 3:4ff.), but this narrative is to be connected, it seems, with the end of the conquest and the settlement of Debir and its vicinity by the sons of Kenaz (cf. Judg. 1:11ff.; see *Cush, *Cushan Rishathaim, and the Book of *Joshua). If this passage be disregarded, no explicit mention of the tribe of Judah is to be found during the greater part of the period of the Judges. In the Song of Deborah the tribe of Judah is not mentioned, although ten of the tribes are enumerated. During this period of 200 years or more (c. 1250–1030 B.C.E.), the Judahite patriarchal families settled in the mountains, in the Shephelah, and in the pasture lands of the wilderness of Judah. It seems that they also had border skirmishes with the Philistines. At the beginning of the Philistine penetration of the coastal strip the Judahites were capable of inflicting local defeats upon them, apparently in concert with the pre-Israelite elements who dwelt in the Shephelah. The deeds of *Shamgar son of Anath, alluded to in two verses of the Book of Judges (3:31; 5:6), belong, as far as can be seen, to this stage of the struggle. However, once the Philistines were entrenched in the coastal strip and began to extend the area of their rule to the hinterland, they imposed their authority over the whole of the Shephelah and Wadi Sorek, as far as the approaches of the mountains (cf. Judg. 14–16); they also settled, as far as one can tell, in the northwestern part of the Negev (cf. "Negev of the Cherethites," I Sam. 30:14). On the other hand, it appears that in the course of time the Judahites succeeded in checking the advance of the Jebusite kingdom in the north and in depriving it of very extensive areas, until they were able to break through toward the northwest and to penetrate into the area in which the Danites first settled before their northward migration. Here they came into conflict with the Benjamites who also wanted to take possession of the Danite inheritance. This rivalry fanned the quarrels between Benjamin on one side and Judah and Ephraim on the other. At the close of the era of the judges (c. 1070 B.C.E.) it led to the fratricidal war between Benjamin and its two neighbors to the north and the south, who were also apparently joined by many units from some of the other tribes of Israel (see *Gibeah; *History; *Judges, Book of). As a result of the defeat of the Benjamites, the Israelite opposition to the Philistine invaders was weakened, and the latter now ruled over almost the entire mountain area of western Israel (c. 1050 B.C.E.).

It seems that while the Judeans were establishing themselves in western Canaan, the tribes of *Reuben, *Simeon, and *Levi were simultaneously spreading southward over the hill country of Judah. However, the Judahites, who where more numerous, did not allow them to settle in their midst. In the course of time, apparently after the Moabites had been defeated by *Ehud son of Gera, the Reubenites crossed eastward into Transjordan and settled the territory between the wadis Jabbok and Arnon, while the Simeonites and Levites were squeezed together on the periphery of Judah's territory in the northern Negev. The close tie with the tribe of Simeon is evidenced also by the fact that its inheritance was actually included within the borders of Judah.

When the Benjamites recovered from their defeat at the hands of the Judahites and took the leading position in the struggle against the domination of the Philistines, Judah participated

Territory of the tribe of Judah. After Y. Aharoni in Lexicon Biblicum, Dvir, Tel Aviv, 1965. Territory of the tribe of Judah. After Y. Aharoni in Lexicon Biblicum, Dvir, Tel Aviv, 1965.

actively in this war. With the ascendancy of David, the main initiative passed into Judahite hands, a situation reflected in the blessing of Jacob: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet" (Gen. 49:10). This blessing also extols the economic and political status of the tribe (49:8ff.). This text has apparently to be assigned to the time of the united kingdom. Since Levi's office is not mentioned it can be dated to the second half of David's reign (see *Gad, *David), but before the appointment of the Levites to their religious administrative offices (see *Levi). The blessing of Moses, on the other hand, attaches no particular importance to Judah who is alluded to being outside the circle of the other tribes of Israel (Deut. 33:7). This seems to describe the situation from the Israelite point of view in the first years of the reign of *Jeroboam son of Nebat.

Land of Judah

The use of the expression "land of Judah" (Heb. אֶרֶץ יְהוּדָה, Ereẓ Yehudah) is not uniform in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 34:2 it serves to indicate the southern part of the hill country west of the Jordan – in contrast to Galilee, the hill country of Ephraim, and the *Negev – and includes the whole area between the plain of the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea. In other passages it seems to indicate only the tribal territory of Judah (cf. I Sam. 22:5; Ruth 1:7). From the dissolution of the union between Israel and Judah to the fall of the latter, "Judah" designates the kingdom of Judah (cf. I Kings 19:3 with 12:17), and after the return to Zion it signifies the province of Judah (cf. Zech. 2:4; for the political transformations of the expression, see *Israel, Names of). The territory of the tribe is delineated in Joshua 15:1–12. The southern boundary passed from the southern end of the Dead Sea in the Arabah by way of the ascent of Akrabbim, skirted the oasis of *Kadesh-Barnea, and ran with the Wadi of Egypt to the Mediterranean Sea. This line corresponds to the southern boundary of the land of Canaan (cf. Num. 34:3–5). The eastern boundary ran along the shore of the Dead Sea from its southern tip to the mouth of the Jordan. The northern boundary was so drawn as to include within Judah Beth-Hoglah and Beth-Arabah in the western plain of the Jordan. From here it ascended by way of the valley of *Achor and the ascent of Adummim to *En-Rogel, passed through the valley of Ben-Hinnom up to the northern extremity of the valley of *Rephaim, and, progressing by way of the waters of Nephtoah, extended through *Kiriath-Je'arim, Chislon, and *Beth-Shemesh to *Timnah through the Wadi *Sorek, continuing along the southern edge of the wadi until it emptied into the Mediterranean Sea. The western border was the seashore between Wadi Sorek (Wādi Rūbīn) and the Brook of Egypt (Wadi el-Arish). From the enumeration of the Judahite towns (Josh. 15:21–61), which follows the delineation of the boundaries, it would seem that the list was drawn up in the reign of King *Jehoshaphat and expanded in the wake of the conquests of King *Uzziah (Azariah). The last verse (Josh. 15:63) appears to be a gloss by a later editor made to correlate the record before him with the situation at the time of the Judges. This list of cities comprises only ten compact groups, if verses 45 to 47 are excluded. These verses are exceptional in that they do not give a complete enumeration of towns, but merely indicate city-territories (in Philistia), and the usual total at the end is missing. In the enumeration of the towns of Benjamin (Josh. 18:21–28), on the other hand, we have two further compact groups of towns (18:21–24, 25–28). Clearly these combined compact enumerations of Judahite and Benjamite towns are simply an exact marking of the twelve administrative divisions of the kingdom of Judah which included the territories of the tribes of Judah, Simeon (cf. Josh. 19:3–7 with 15:27–32), and Benjamin. Attempts have been made to assign the list to the time of Josiah or Hezekiah, but it would seem that the area described can correspond only to the situation in the time of Jehoshaphat. The area ruled by Josiah extended north of the border described in this list and included only part of the addition recorded in verses 42 to 47. In the time of Hezekiah, too, the situation differed both on the northern border and on the west. Moreover, in the Septuagint, there is an additional verse between verses 59 and 60 that enumerates another group of 11 towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem, i.e., it includes an additional administrative division, which was necessary for the economy of the country in a leap year (verse 59a). Some time after the conquests of Uzziah (apparently in the time of *Hezekiah) a later editor, it seems, added verses 45 to 47, listing the king's conquests in the lowland.

The geographical area from south to north included (1) part of the Negev region (cf. also Judg. 1:15 and parallel passages) and the region of Geshur north of it; from west to east (changing according to political circumstances) parts of the coastal plain, the *Shephelah, and the hill country of Judah, which has a Mediterranean climate; (2) and the wilderness of Judah, small areas of the Jordan plain (north of the Dead Sea), and the Arabah (south of the Dead Sea), whose climate is partly arid. The livelihood of the inhabitants of the different regions varied accordingly (rain agriculture, some irrigated agriculture, horticulture; cattle rearing, some exploitation of the natural resources).

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica]

In the Aggadah

Judah was honored more than all his brothers in that all descendants of Jacob are called Yehudim ("Jews," lit. "Judahites"; see *Jew; Gen. R. 98:6). His superiority was recognized by his brothers who appointed him their king (Gen. R. 84:17). Judah earned these distinctions for saving Joseph's life, for his candor in confessing his relationship with *Tamar (Gen. 38:1–27), and for his admirable traits of character. Although it was at his suggestion that *Joseph was sold rather than put to death, Judah should nevertheless have returned him to their father (Gen. R. 85:3). Indeed, his brothers later blamed him for their crime, since they claimed they would have obeyed him had he suggested it (Tanḥ. B., Gen. 181). The subsequent death of his wife and two sons (Gen. 38:7–12) was divine retribution for the suffering he caused his father by selling Joseph (Tanḥ. B., Gen. 209). Judah was sent on ahead of his father to Egypt (Gen. 46:28) to erect a bet midrash in Goshen so that Jacob might begin instructing his sons at once after his arrival. This honorable task was a compensation for the wrongful suspicion that he had slain Joseph which Jacob had previously harbored against him (Gen. R. 95:2).

Judah would never have sinned with Tamar, but God sent the "angel of desire" to entice him, for kings and redeemers were destined to issue from this union (Gen. R. 85:8). Judah's father, grandfather, and brothers wished to condemn Tamar, since they felt that she may have found the signet, cord, and staff (Ex. R. 30:19). At first, Judah also wanted to deny his guilt, but he was moved by Tamar's plea that he "acknowledge his Creator and hide not his eyes from her" (Gen. R. 85:11). Judah never separated himself from Tamar after this incident. Because he rescued Tamar and her two sons from death by burning, three of his descendants, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, were later to be delivered from the fiery furnace (Sot. 10b). Judah was the first to institute the levirate marriage when he insisted that Onan marry Er's widow (Gen. R. 85:5).

Judah revealed his profound wisdom when he induced his father to send Benjamin to Egypt. He reasoned that it was doubtful whether Benjamin would be seized, whereas it was certain that without grain they would all die (Gen. R. 91:10). His wisdom is also displayed by his not responding to Joseph's inquiries until he fully perceived Joseph's intentions (Gen. R. 93:4). Judah also possessed remarkable physical strength. When he became angry, the hairs on his chest became so stiff that they pierced his clothes, and he could chew iron bars into dust and powder (Gen. R. 93:6). His voice traveled 400 parasangs when he shouted so that his conversation with Joseph in Egypt was heard in Ereẓ Israel (Gen. R. 93:7). Judah was the key warrior during the battles which the children of Jacob had to fight after Simeon and Levi destroyed Shechem. When the enemy warriors caught sight of Judah's lion-like face and teeth (cf. Gen. 49:9) and heard his powerful voice, they were terrified, and Judah without difficulty slew thousands of them (Midrash publ. by S. Schechter from Ms. in Semitic Studies in Memory of A. Kohut, 490–1; Sefer ha-Yashar, Va-Yishlaḥ). Judah's pledge to ban himself from the community if he did not return Benjamin to his father (Gen. 43:9) is regarded as proof that a conditional ban, even if the condition is not fulfilled, still takes effect. As a result of this vow, his bones rolled about in his coffin without rest during the 40 years the Children of Israel wandered in the wilderness. Moses finally secured rest for his remains when he prayed to God, arguing that the example of Judah's confession had induced Reuben likewise to confess his sin with Bilhah (Sot. 7b).


Th. J. Meek, Hebrew Origins (1936), 31–50, 112–20; S. Klein, Ereẓ Yehudah (1939); B. Maisler (Mazar), ToledotEreẓ Yisrael (1938), 39ff., 220ff., 278ff.; H.H. Rowley, From Joseph to Joshua (1948), 4–7, 44–45, 101–41 (incl. bibl.); F.N. Cross and E. Cross, in: jbl 75 (1956), 202ff.; Y. Aharoni, Yehudah vi-Yrushalayim (1957), 46ff.; idem, Ereẓ Yisrael bi-Tekufat ha-Mikra (1963); S. Yeivin, in: EM, 3 (1958), 487–508 (incl. bibl.); idem, Meḥkarim (1960), 178ff.; idem, in: A. Malamat (ed.), Bi-Ymei Bayit Rishon (1962), 54. JUDAH IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (19422), 401–11; 2 (19466), 31–37, 89–94, 103–10.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.