Tribe of Judah
|Tribes of Israel|
From after the conquest of the land by Joshua until the formation of the first Kingdom of Israel in c. 1050 BC, 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 (1 Samuel 9:1-2), 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 BC, the northern tribes under the leadership of Jeroboam from the Tribe of Ephraim 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. These tribes formed the Kingdom of Judah, which existed until Judah was conquered by Babylon in c. 586 BC and the population deported.
When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, residual tribal affiliations were abandoned, probably because of the impossibility of reestablishing previous tribal land holdings. 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 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, Issachar, Simeon, Naphtali, Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh), Dan, Reuben, Levi) and the Kingdom of Judah in the south made up of two tribes (Judah and Benjamin) (1 Kings 11:29-39). Later, Levi left the house of Joseph and came to Judah as well (2 Chronicles 11:14). The word Jew is a derivative of the word Judah, referring to a descendant of the Kingdom of Judah, though 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 Negev (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 Mediterranean sea, which was used for agriculture, in particular for grains.
- The wilderness - the barren region immediately next to the Dead Sea, 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.
According to the Torah, the tribe consisted of descendants of Judah, the fourth son of Jacob and of Leah. Some Biblical scholars view this as an etiological myth created in hindsight to explain the tribe's name and connect it to the other tribes 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 was the leading tribe of the Kingdom of Judah. David and the royal line belonged to the tribe, and the line continued after the fall of the Kingdom of Judah in the Exilarchs. The traditional Jewish belief was that the (Jewish) Messiah would be of the Davidic line, based on the LORD's promise to David of an everlasting throne for his offspring (Isaiah 9:6-7, Jeremiah 33:15-21, 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Psalms 89:35-37).
Many important Jewish leaders have belonged to the tribe of Judah. For example the literary prophets Isaiah, Amos, Habakkuk, Joel, Micah, Obadiah, Zechariah, and Zephaniah, belonged to the tribe. Later, during the Babylonian Exile, the Exilarchs (officially recognised community leaders) claimed Davidic lineage, and when the Exile ended, Zerubbabel (the leader of the first Jews to return to Yehud province) was also of the Davidic line, as were Shealtiel (a somewhat mysterious figure) and Nehemiah (one of the earliest and most prominent Achamenid-appointed governors of Yehud). In the time of Roman rule, all the holders of the office of Nasi (prince) after Shemaiah, claimed Davidic lineage, through Hillel, who was rumoured have maternal lineage from the Davidic line.
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. Some Jews are descended from converts.
Ethiopia's traditions, recorded and elaborated in a 13th century treatise, the "Kebre Negest", assert descent from a retinue of Israelites who returned with the Queen of Sheba from her visit to King Solomon in Jerusalem, by whom she had conceived the Solomonic dynasty's founder, Menelik I. Both Christian and Jewish Ethiopian tradition has it that these immigrants were mostly of the Tribes of Dan and Judah; hence the Ge'ez motto Mo`a 'Anbessa Ze'imnegede Yihuda ("The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered"), included among the titles of the Emperor (King of Kings) throughout the Solomonic Dynasty. The phrase "The Lion of the Tribe of Judah has conquered" is also found in the Book of Revelation.
Other groups, like the Black Hebrew Israelites, claim to be descended from the tribe.
See also 
- Kitchen, Kenneth A. (2003), "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Grand Rapids, Michigan. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company)(ISBN 0-8028-4960-1)
- 1 Samuel 24:1
- Judges 1:16; Matthew 3:1
- 1 Samuel 23:24
- Peake's commentary on the Bible
- Jewish Encyclopedia
- Israel Finkelstein, the Bible Unearthed
- Glossary of terms related to Judaism (religious studies dept., university of California - Davis)
- Who Is a Jew? Origins of the Words "Jew" and "Judaism" (jewfaq.org)
- Where does the word "Jew" come from? by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg (askmoses.com)
- Biography of Judah (Chabad.org)