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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
Judah, Territory of
( יהוּדה ,
1. The Natural Boundaries
2. The Natural Divisions of Judah
(1) The Maritime Plain
(2) The Shephelah
(3) The Hill Country of Judah
I. Geographical Data.
Although the physical conformation of Western Palestine divides this land into very definite areas running longitudinally North and South, yet all through history there has been a recognition of a further - and politically more important - division into 3 areas running transversely, known in New Testament times as Galilee, Samaria and Judea. These districts are differentiated to some extent by distinctive physical features which have in no small degree influenced the history of their inhabitants.
1. The Natural Boundaries:
The southernmost of these regions possesses on 3 sides very definite natural boundaries: to the West the Mediterranean, to the East the Dead Sea, and the Jordan, and to the South 60 miles, North to South, of practically trackless desert, a frontier as secure as sea or mountain range. On the North no such marked "scientific frontier" exists, and on this the one really accessible side, history bears witness that the frontier has been pushed backward and forward. The most ideal natural northern frontier, which only became the actual one comparatively late in Hebrew times (see JUDAEA ), is that which passes from the river
2. The Natural Divisions of Judah:
Within these boundaries lay four very different types of land - the maritime plain, the "lowland" or Shephelah, the "hill country" and, included usually with the last, the desert or Jeshimon.
(1) The Maritime Plain:
The maritime plain, the "land Judah of the Philis" (1 Samuel 6:1; 1 Samuel 27:1; 2 Kings 8:2; Zephaniah 2:5 ), was ideally though never actually, the territory of Judah (compare Joshua 15:45-47 ); it may have been included, as it is by some modern writers, as part of the Shephelah, but this is not the usual use of the word. It is a great stretch of level plain or rolling downs of very fertile soil, capable of supporting a thriving population and cities of considerable size, especially near the seacoast.
(2) The Shephelah:
The Shephelah (
This is a very important region in the history of Judah. It is a district consisting mainly of rounded hills, 500-800 ft. high, with fertile open valleys full of corn fields; caves abound, and there are abundant evidences of a once crowded population. Situated as it is between the "hill country" and the maritime plain, it was the scene of frequent skirmishes between the Hebrews and the Philistines; Judah failed to hold it against the Philistines who kept it during most of their history. The Shephelah is somewhat sharply divided off from the central mountain mass by a remarkable series of valleys running North and South. Commencing at the Vale of Ajalon and passing South, we have in succession the
(3) The Hill Country of Judah:
The hill country of Judah is by far the most characteristic part of that tribe's possessions; it was on account of the shelter of these mountain fastnesses that this people managed to hold their own against their neighbors and hide away from the conquering armies of Assyria and Egypt. No other section of the country was so secluded and protected by her natural borders. It was the environment of these bare hills and rugged valleys which did much to form the character and influence the literature of the Jews. The hill country is an area well defined, about 35 miles long and some 15 broad, and is protected on three sides by natural frontiers of great strength; on the North alone it has no "scientific frontier." On the South lay the Negeb, and beyond that the almost waterless wilderness, a barrier consisting of a series of stony hills running East and West, difficult for a caravan and almost impracticable for an army. On the West the hills rise sharply from those valleys which delimit them from the Shephelah, but they are pierced by a series of steep and rugged defiles which wind upward to the central table-land. At the northwestern corner the Bethhoron pass - part of the northern frontier line - runs upward from the wide Vale of Ajalon; this route, the most historic of all, has been associated with a succession of defeats inflicted by those holding the higher ground (see BETH-HORON ). South of this is the
These roads are: (a) The earliest historically, though now the least frequented, is the most northerly, which passes westward at the back of ancient Jericho (near (
Somewhere along these routes must have lain the "Ascent of Ziz" and the "Wilderness of Jeruel," the scene of the events of 2 Chronicles 20 . The hill country of Judah is distinguished from other parts of Palestine by certain physical characteristics. Its central part is a long plateau - or really series of plateaus-running North and South, very stony and barren and supplied with but scanty springs: "dew" is less plentiful than in the north; several of the elevated plains, e.g. about Bethlehem,
The altitude attained in this "hill country" is usually below 3,000 ft. in the north (e.g.
II. The Tribe of Judah and Its Territory.
In Numbers 26:19-22 , when the tribes of the Hebrews are enumerated "in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho" (Numbers 26:3 ), Judah is described as made up of the families of the Shelanites, the Perezites, the Zerahites, the Hezronites and the Hamulites. "These are the families of Judah according to those that were numbered of them," a total of 76,500 (Numbers 26:22 ). In Judges 1:16 we read that the Kenites united with the tribe of Judah, and from other references ( Joshua 14:6-15; Joshua 15:13-19; Judges 1:12-15 , Judges 1:20 ) we learn that the two Kenizzite clans of Caleb and Othniel also were absorbed; and it is clear from 1 Samuel 27:10; 1 Samuel 30:29 that the Jerahmeelites - closely connected with the Calebites (compare 1 Chronicles 2:42 ) - also formed a part of the tribe of Judah. The Kenizzites and Jerahmeelites were probably of Edomite origin (Genesis 36:11; compare 1 Chronicles 2:42 ), and this large admixture of foreign blood may partly account for the comparative isolation of Judah from the other tribes (e.g. she is not mentioned in Jdg 5).
The territory of the tribe of Judas is described ideally in Joshua 15 , but it never really extended over the maritime plain to the West. The natural frontiers to the West and East have already been described as the frontiers of the "hill country"; to the South the boundary is described as going "even to the wilderness of Zin southward, at the uttermost part of the south," i.e. of the Negeb (Joshua 15:1 ), and (Joshua 15:3 ) as far south as Kadesh-barnea, i.e. the oasis of
The northern boundary which separated the land of Judah from that of Benjamin requires brief mention. The various localities mentioned in Joshua 15:5-12 are dealt with in separate articles, but, omitting the very doubtful, the following, which are generally accepted, will show the general direction of the boundary line: The border went from the mouth of the Jordan to Beth-hoglah (
The territory of Judah was small; even had it included all within its ideal boundaries, it would have been no more than 2,000 square miles; actually it was nearer 1,300 square miles, of which nearly half was desert.
III. The Boundaries of the Kingdom of Judah.
These were very circumscribed. In 2 Chronicles 11:5-12 there is a list of the cities - chiefly those on the frontier - which Rehoboam fortified. On the East were Bethlehem, Etam and Tekoa; and on the West and Southwest were Beth-zur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon and Hebron. The sites of the great majority of these are known, and they are all upon the borders of the Shephelah or the hill country. It will be seen too that the military preparation then made was against an attack from the West. In the 5th year of the reign of Rehoboam the expected attack came, and Shishak (Sheshenq I) of Egypt swept over the land and not only conquered all Judah and Jerusalem, but, according to the reading of some authorities in the account of this campaign given in the great temple of Karnak, he handed over to Jeroboam of Israel certain strongholds of Judah.
The usual northern frontier between the two Hebrew kingdoms appears to have been the southernmost of the three natural lines described in I above, namely by the Valley of Ajalon on the West and the Gorge of Michmash (
After the Northern Kingdom fell, the frontier of Judah appears to have extended a little farther North, and Bethel (2 Kings 23:15-19 ) and Jericho (to judge from Ezra 2:34; Nehemiah 3:2; Nehemiah 7:36 ) also became part of the kingdom of Judah. For the further history of this district see JUDAEA .
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Judah, Territory of'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/j/judah-territory-of.html. 1915.
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19