Click here to get started today!
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
The Old Testament . Judah the Patriarch . Judah initially referred to the fourth son of Jacob (Israel) by his wife, Leah. Direct references to the patriarch Judah are limited to the Book of Genesis. He was born in Paddan Aram before Jacob returned to Canaan (Genesis 35:23 ). In the brotherly conspiracy to eliminate Joseph, Judah recommended selling Joseph to a passing caravan of Ishmaelites rather than killing him, and his brothers agreed (Genesis 37:26-28 ).
Later, Judah moves west to Adullam, away from the Jacob clan, where he married a Canaanite woman. She bore him three sonsEr, Onan, and Shelah. The two oldest sons died young, but not before the eldest had married Tamar. According to custom, she should have become wife of Judah's youngest son; however, Judah feared that Shelah might also die, so through a ploy Judah denied Tamar her due. Subsequently, Tamar became pregnant by Judah by means of deception, bearing him twin sons, Perez and Zerah (Genesis 38 ). David was a Judahite through Perez. The one notable descendant of Judah through Zerah was Achan, who brought calamity on the Israelites when he took booty from Jericho at the time of the conquest (Joshua 7:1,18,24 ).
Judah went to Egypt with his brothers for food in both expeditions (Genesis 42:3; 43:3-5 ). He appears to have been the leader on the second trip, for it is he who pleads with Joseph for Benjamin's release. When the extended family of Jacob immigrated to Egypt, Judah's family was in the retinue while he was in the advance party (Genesis 46:12,28 ).
The blessing of Jacob suggests the significant future role Judah's descendants were destined to play. They are to be ferocious warriors and powerful rulers in a fertile and productive land (Genesis 49:8-12 ). Judah died and was buried in Egypt (Exodus 1:6 ).
The Tribal Name . The name appears frequently in the Old Testament to identify the tribe of Judah. Bezalel, the chief artisan in beautifying the tabernacle, was of the tribe of Judah (Exodus 31:2 ). The third tribe mentioned in the census of Numbers is Judah (Numbers 1:7 ), and they possessed the largest group of fighting men (Numbers 1:26 ). The tribal contingent led by Judah was first in the line of march through the wilderness (Numbers 2:3-9 ), and Caleb of Judah joined Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim, in bringing back a good report about the trip of the twelve spies into Canaan. In the second census, Judah was still the predominant tribe (Numbers 26:22 ).
The Territorial Name . The division of the land takes the size of the tribe into account, allotting a large region to Judah. The Negeb in the south and the wilderness to the east, however, were marginal areas, not capable of sustaining agriculture. The northern boundary extended from the point where the Jordan River enters the Dead Sea westward (to the north of Jerusalem) along the Wadi Sorek to the Mediterranean Sea. Smaller tribal groups and clans within the tribal boundaries were in time absorbed into JudahKenites (Judges 1:16 ), Kenazzites (1:11-15), Simeonites (1:17), Jerahmeelites, and Othnielites.
The State Name . The tribal elements of Judah were united under the rule of David at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:4,11 ), and he subsequently united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel (2 Samuel 5:3 ). David was addressed as "king of Israel" by Michal (2 Samuel 6:20 ), but after the division of the kingdom upon the death of Solomon, Rehoboam bore the title "king of Judah" (1 Kings 14:21 ). The rulers of the southern kingdom continued to bear that title; the last to be called king of Judah was the captive Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27 ).
Israel and Judah . The title "king of Israel" was comparable to "king of Judah" during the period of the two kingdoms; however, the name "Israel" also could connote the whole people of God, including Judah. Early texts identify Israel as the people of Yahweh, the God of Israel (Exodus 5:1 ). The concept is clearly that of a religiously identifiable group.
The political distinction between Judah and Israel apparently developed early in the period of David, but following the demise of the northern kingdom, prophets and poets continued to speak of Israel, obviously including the people of Judah (Psalm 76:1; Isaiah 1:3-4; 5:7; Jeremiah 2:1-4 ). Isaiah referred to "both houses of Israel" (8:14), and Jeremiah, in prophetic speech intended for those in exile, referred to Judah as the "Virgin Israel" (31:21). Ezekiel also refers to the exiled community in Babylonia as "the house of Israel" (3:1) and as the "people of Israel" (4:13). Other postexilic writers also employed the expression "Israel" in reference to the nonpolitical, cultic community of the exiled people of Judah (Ezra 2:70; Nehemiah 7:73 ). In Babylonia, those exiled from the kingdom of Judah adapted the Israelite religion, which had been bound to territory and temple, transforming Yahwehism into a universalistic early Judaism.
The Development of Judaism . Nascent Judaism . The Judahites became the Jews in Babylon. Even Mordecai of the tribe of Benjamin is identified as a Jew (Esther 2:5 ), although the designation "Israel" also continued in use to identify the whole of the ethnic and cultic community (Ezra 2:70 ). The first Jews to return from the Babylonian exile to Jerusalem rebuilt the temple; however, the religious practices of the next generation did not conform to the vision of Judaism that the Babylonian Jewish community held. The reforms of Ezra, based on the Torah, which he brought to Jerusalem and read publically to its inhabitants, revived and redirected Palestinian Judaism (Nehemiah 8-10 ).
The reforms of Ezra resulted in a number of practices. There was a strict prohibition against mixed marriages. All who were of foreign descent were excluded from Israel (Nehemiah 13:3 ), including wives and children (Ezra 10 ). Thus, a Jew was one born of a Jewish mother. Adherents pledged to observe the Torah. Thereafter the Jews were identified as the people of the Book, a people committed to keeping the law of Moses. There was also strict observance of the Sabbath.
Jewish tradition holds that the shekinah , the Spirit of Divine Inspiration, departed Israel after Ezra, who was himself ranked second to Moses. With Ezra, the law of Moses was a given; there was no need for further revelation. What was needed was the transmission of the text by careful scribes and the interpretation of the text by competent scholar-teachers. These circumstances led to the ongoing interpretive expansion of the traditions into the oral law.
Despite the departure of the prophetic spirit, certain devout Jews were inspired to write religious works during the intertestamental period. These survive as the Apocrypha, works found in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint, but later denied a place in the Hebrew Bible by Jewish leaders. However, in the Roman Empire outside Palestine, the Septaugint was the Bible of Jewish communities and the early church until the end of the first century a.d. Other works similar to the Apocrypha written in the same period were never considered for inclusion in the canon. These include the pseudepigrapha and the sectarian documents of the Dead Sea Scroll community.
The noncanonical writings of the intertestamental period attest to the development of Jewish religious thought. The transcendence of God was stressed; he was remote from humankind and the world. Angels, as intermediaries between God and man, were emphasized, as well as their demonic counterparts. Jews thought much about the cause and manifestation of human sin and conflict between good and evil. Related to this problem was the development of ideas latent in Hebrew Scripture on resurrection of the body, immortality of the soul, and the concept of the afterlife. During this period the biblical concept of the Messiah took on new importance. He was to be the eschatological figure chosen by God to lead in the last great conflict between good and evil and to institute the kingdom of God that would last forever.
Ezra and Nehemiah acted under the authority of the Persian monarch. They imposed ethnic cleansing on the population within the small province named Yehud [ ] (Judea), a province that included Jerusalem and its hinterland in a radius of ten to fifteen miles. At first under Persian authority, then under the Greeks, the province was governed by high priests who were descendants of Aaron. The Maccabean revolt established an independent commonwealth under priest-kings of the Hasmonean house rather than the line of Aaron. Herod the Great married into the Hasmonean family, and he and his successors were kings under Roman authority. High priests continued to control the temple until its destruction in the first revolt of the Jews against the Romans in a.d. 70.
Early Jewish Sects . The Samaritans became the earliest Jewish sect. The ethnic division may be traced back to the eighth century b.c. (2 Kings 17:24-41 ), but the religious separation apparently became permanent due to the reforms of Ezra (Nehemiah 13:28 ). The Samaritan sect believed only in the Five Books of Moses.
Following the conquests of Alexander the Great, Greek culture predominated. Jewish leaders in Jerusalem tended to assimilate Hellenistic culture, subtly undermining the strict religious practices of the Judaism Ezra had mandated. Those opposed to Hellenization tended to stand apart from the Jerusalem hierarchy, forming a pious group of Hassideans who opposed foreign rule and culture. The Maccabean revolt against Syrian sovereignty broke out, and an extremely religious fanatical sect of Zealots supported the revolt and high priesthood of the Hasmoneans. Controversy over the high priesthood and other issues led to the fragmentation of Judaism. The Pharisees were strictly orthodox, holding to the authority of both the Torah and the oral tradition, and believing in resurrection and immortality. They conflicted with the Sadducees who believed in the Torah only, rejecting the interpre tation of the rabbis of the Pharisees. The Essenes separated themselves from much of Jewish society. The Qumran community opposed the loss of the Aaronide priesthood; they may have been associated with the Essenes. Others opposed the alliance between political power and religious authority, advocating instead lay leadership. The Qumran community apparently believed in the revealing presence of the Shekinah; the Temple Scroll is written as inspired scripture.
Christianity also began as a Jewish sect. Jesus insisted on a moral and ethical life based on love for God and love for one's neighbor, rather than the observance of a multitude of rules as advocated by the rabbis of the Pharisees. The first revolt of the Jews against the Romans deeply affected both Judaism and Christianity. The Jewish-Christian sect in Palestine was superseded by Gentile Christianity due to the missionary efforts of Paul, the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and the defensive efforts of rabbinical Judaism to separate the church and the synagogue.
The New Testament . The word "Jew" (Gk. Ioudaios [ Matthew 1:2-3; Luke 3:30,33; Hebrews 7:14 ), twice to the territory (Matthew 2:6; Luke 1:39 ), and three times to the tribe (Hebrews 8:8; Revelation 5:5; 7:5 ). References to Judah are contained in quotations from or references to the Old Testament, frequently related to Jesus as the fulfillment of ideas or statements in the Hebrew Bible.
References to Jews and Judaism, however, bear a range of negative, neutral, and positive connotations. For example, John's Gospel contains sixty-three references to the Jews, of which approximately 60 percent are negative in nature, with another 20 percent neutral and a group of 20 percent that reflect a positive image. When Luke refers to Jews in Acts, the references tend toward anti-Judaism. Overall, when Jews are mentioned in the New Testament, the connotation usually is negative, reflecting the developing rift between the church and the synagogue. Unfortunately, this became the seed that in time would mature into modern, ungodly, anti-Semitism.
Theology . Genesis provides hardly a hint that Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, would providentially become the conduit through which God would fulfill his promises to Abraham. The biblical biography of Judah is not pleasant reading. He helped pillage the Shechemites after his brothers, Simon and Levi, had slain the men of the city (Genesis 34:27 ). He moved away from his kindred into Canaanite territory and married a Canaanite woman (Genesis 38:2 ). He failed to bring his sons up in the way of the Lord (Genesis 38:7,10 ), and he failed to do right by his daughter-in-law, Tamar (Genesis 38:11-26 ). Yet it was through Perez, one of the twin sons born to Tamar and fathered by Judah, that David's lineage is traced, and ultimately that of Jesus, the Messiah (Matthew 1:3-6 ). Only the Blessing of Jacob hints at not only the dynasty of David but the enigmatic "Shiloh, " which has traditionally been interpreted as a prophetic reference to Christ (Genesis 49:10 ). The story of Jacob illustrates how unsearchable are God's judgments (Romans 11:33 ).
The dynasty of David and the kingdom of Judah survived intact for over four centuries before it succumbed to the destructive power of Nebuchadnezzar's army. The history of that kingdom was marred and largely inglorious, despite the reforms of devout kings such as Hezekiah and Josiah. The demise of the kingdom and the deportation into exile of its leaders and much of its population was the direct result of ill-conceived international politics, domestic inequities and injustice, and religious deviation (2 Chronicles 36:13-20 ). Yet among the deportees was the remnant of the faithful who saved the precious scrolls that comprise the bulk of Bible and carried them into exile with them. And in exile the people of Judah became the Jews, the people of the Book, transforming the territorial temple-centered religion of their forefathers into a uNIVersal religion devoted to the worship of the one true God. Prophetic promises and messianic hope based on the study of God's Word among those in exile made possible the remnant that returned to rebuild temple and town, as God had promised through the prophet Jeremiah (25:11; 29:10-14). The establishment of nascent Judaism and the return and rebuilding of Jerusalem testify to the graciousness of God and his faithfulness in all generations.
The intertestamental period established the Jewish matrix into which Jesus of Nazareth was born at the turn of the era. In that period various currents of thought in Judaism resulted in the development of the oral law, the writing of the Apocrypha, and the fragmentation into factions such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, and the Dead Sea Scroll sect. This environment stimulated Jews to develop ideas that would be important in the rise of Christianity. These ideas included messianic stirring, interest in the eschaton (the end of days), the resurrection from the dead, and the rule of God. The Jewish soil in which the church sprouted and grew reflects the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4 ).
R. David Rightmire
Bibliography . J. Collins, The Apocalyptic Imagination; Encyclopedia Judaica, 10:21-25,383-97; J. Gager, The Origins of Anti-Semitism: Attitudes Toward Judaism in Pagan and Christian Antiquity; H. R. Greenstein, JudaismAn Eternal Covenant; N. P. Lemche, Early Israel; M. Mansoor, Jewish History and Thought: An Introduction; E. M. Meyers and J. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity: The Social and Historical Setting of Palestinian Judaism and Christianity; H. A. Oberman, The Roots of Anti-Semitism in the Age of Renaissance and Reformation; M. Shermis, Jewish-Christian Relations: An Annotated Bibliography and Resource Guide; M. H. Tanenbaum, M. R. Wilson, and A. J. Rudin, eds., Evangelicals and Jews in Conversation; R. de Vaux, Translating and Understanding the Old Testament .
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Book House Company, PO Box 6287, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49516-6287.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.
For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.
Elwell, Walter A. Entry for 'Jews, Judaism'. Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/bed/j/jews-judaism.html. 1996.
the Sixth Week after Easter