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Judah, Tribe and Territory of.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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I. Historical Memoranda.

1. Judah's sons were five. Of these, three were by his Canaanitish wife Bathshua; they are all insignificant; two died early, and the third, Shelah, does not come prominently forward either in his person or his family. The other two, Pharez and Zerah twins were illegitimate sons by the widow of Er, the eldest of the former family. As is not unfrequently the case, the illegitimate sons surpassed the legitimate, and from Pharez, the elder, were descended the royal and other illustrious families of Judah. These sons were born to Judah while he was living in the same district of Palestine, which, centuries after, was repossessed by his descendants amongst villages which retain their names unaltered in the catalogues of the time of the conquest. The three sons went with their father into Egypt at the time of the final removal thither (Genesis 46:12; Exodus 1:2). (See JACOB).

2. When we again meet with the families of Judah they occupy a position among the tribes similar to that which their progenitor had taken amongst the patriarchs. At the time that the Israelites quitted Egypt, it already exhibited the elements of its future distinction in a larger population than any of the other tribes possessed (Numbers 1:26-27). It numbered 74,000 adult males, being nearly 12,000 more than Daniel the next in point of numbers, and 34,100 more than Ephraim, which in the end contested with it the superiority among the tribes. During the sojourn in the wilderness, Judah neither gained, like some tribes, nor lost like others.

Its numbers had increased to 76,500, being 12,100 more than Issachar, which had become next to it in population (Numbers 26:22). The chief of the tribe at the former census was Nahshon, the son of Amminadab (Numbers 1:7; Numbers 2:3; Numbers 7:12; Numbers 10:14), an ancestor of David (Ruth 4:20). Its representative amongst the spies, and also amongst those appointed to partition the land, was the great Caleb, the son of Jephunneh (Numbers 13:6; Numbers 34:19). During the march through the desert Judah's place was in the van of the host, on the east side of the tabernacle, with his kinsmen Issachar and Zebulun (2:3-9; 10:14). The traditional standard of the tribe was a lion's whelp, with the words, Rise up, Lord, and let thine enemies be scattered! (Targ. Pseudojon. on Numbers 2:3.)

3. During the conquest of the country the only incidents specially affecting the tribe of Judah are, (1) the misbehavior of Achan, who was of the great house of Zerah (Joshua 7:1; Joshua 7:16-18); and (2) the conquest of the mountain district of Hebron by Caleb, and of the strong city Debir, in the same locality, by his nephew and son-in-law Othniel (Joshua 14:6-15; Joshua 15:13-19). It is the only instance given of a portion of the country being expressly reserved for the person or persons who conquered it. In general the conquest seems to have been made by the whole community, and the territory allotted afterwards, without reference to the original conquerors of each locality. In this case the high character and position of Caleb, and perhaps a claim established by him at the time of the visit of the spies to "the land whereon his feet had trodden" (Joshua 14:9; comp. Numbers 14:24), may have led to the exception.

4. The history of the Judges contains fewer facts respecting this important tribe than might be expected. It seems, however, to have been usually considered that the birthright which Reuben forfeited had passed to Judah under the blessing of Jacob; and a sanction was given to this impression when, after the death of Joshua, the divine oracle nominated Judah to take precedence of the other tribes in the war against the Canaanites (Judges 1:2). It does not appear that any tribe was disposed to dispute the superior claim of Judah on its own account except Ephraim, although in doing this Ephraim had the support of other tribes. Ephraim appears to have rested its claims to the leadership of the tribes upon the ground that the house of Joseph, whose interest it represented, had received the birthright, or double portion of the eldest, by the adoption of the two sons of Joseph, who became the founders of two tribes in Israel. The existence of the sacerdotal establishment at Shiloh, in Ephraim, was doubtless' also alleged by the tribe as a ground of superiority over Judah. When; therefore, Judah assumed the scepter in the person of David, and when the sacerdotal establishment was removed to Jerusalem, Ephraim could not brook the eclipse it had sustained, and took the first opportunity of erecting a separate throne, and forming separate establishments for worship and sacrifice. Perhaps the separation of the kingdoms may thus be traced to the rivalry of Judah and Ephraim. After that separation the rivalry was between the two kingdoms, but it was still popularly considered as representing the ancient rivalry of these great tribes; for the prophet, in foretelling the repose of a coming time, describes it by saying, "The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off: Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim" (Isaiah 13:12). When the kingdom was divided under Rehoboam and Jeroboam, the history of Judah as a tribe lapsed into that of Judah as a kingdom. (See JUDAH, KINGDOM OF).

II. Geographical Data. In the first distribution of lands, the tribe of Judah received the southernmost part of Palestine to the extent of fully one third of the whole country west of the Jordan, which was to be distributed among the nine and a half tribes for which provision was to be made (Joshua 15). This oversight was discovered and rectified at the time of the second distribution, which was founded on an actual survey of the country, when Simeon received an allotment out of the territory which had before been wholly assigned to Judah (Joshua 19:9). (See SIMEON).

That which remained was still very large, and more proportioned to the future greatness than the actual wants of the tribe. We now also know, through the researches of recent travelers, that the extent of good land belonging to this tribe, southward, was much greater than had usually been supposed, much of that which had been laid down in maps as mere desert being actually composed of excellent pasture land, and in part of arable soil, still exhibiting some traces of ancient cultivation. Dan defended the western border against the inroads of the Philistines with a brave and well trained band of soldiers, having established, as it seems, a permanent camp on the commanding height between Zorah and Eshtaol (Judges 13:25; Judges 16:31; Judges 18:12; (See DAN) ). Simeon bore the brunt of all attacks and forays made on the southern border by the tribes of the great "Wilderness of Wandering;" and when the Edomites attempted to penetrate Judah, Simeon could always check them by an attack upon their flank. When Judah became a kingdom, the original extent of territory assigned to the tribe was more than restored or compensated, for it must have embraced the domains of Simeon, and probably also of Dan, and we know that Benjamin was likewise included in it. (See ISRAEL, KINGDOM OF).

The boundaries and contents of the territory allotted to Judah are narrated at great length, and with greater minuteness than the others, in Joshua 15:20-63. This may be due either to the fact that the lists were reduced to their present form at a later period, when the monarchy resided with Judah, and when more care would naturally be bestowed on them than on those of any other tribe, or to the fact that the territory was more important and more thickly covered with towns and villages than any other part of Palestine. The greater prominence given to the genealogies of Judah in 1 Chronicles 2:3-4, no doubt arises from the former reason. The towns are also specifically named, not only under the general divisions, but even in detailed groups. (See below.) The north boundary coincident with the south boundary of Benjamin began at the embouchure of the Jordan, entered the hills apparently at, or about the present road from Jericho, ran westward to en-Shemesh probably the present Ain-Haud, below Bethany thence over the Mount of Olives to Enrogel, in the valley beneath Jerusalem; went along the ravine of Hinnom, under the precipices of the city, climbed the hill in a northwest direction to the water of Nephtoah (probably Lifta), and thence by Kirjath-jearim (probably Kuriet el-Enab), Bethshemesh (Ain-Shems), Timnath, and Ekron to Jabneel on the sea coast. On the east the Dead Sea, and on the west the Mediterranean, formed the boundaries. The southern line is hard to determine, since it is denoted by places many of which have not been identified. It left the Dead Sea at its extreme south end, and joined the Mediterranean at the wady el- Arish; but between these two points it passed through Maaleh Acrabbim, the Wilderness of Zin, Hezron, Adar, Karkaa, and Azmon; the Wilderness of Zin the extreme south of all (Joshua 15:1-12). The country thus defined was sixty-five miles long, and averaged about fifty in breadth. But while this large tract was nominally allotted to Judah, the portion of it available for actual settlement was comparatively small, not amounting to one third of the whole. From it must also be deducted a large section. stretching entirely across from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, being the part set off to the tribe of Simeon. The actual territory of Judaea therefore extended, on an average, only about twenty-five miles from north to south, by about forty from east to west. (See TRIBE). The whole of the above extensive region was from a very early date divided into four main regions.

1. The South. the undulating pasture country which intervened between the hills, the proper possession of the tribe, and the deserts which encompass the lower part of Palestine (Joshua 15:21). It is this which is once designated as the wilderness (midbar) of Judah (Judges 1:16). It contained twenty-nine cities, with their dependent villages (Joshua 15:20-32), which, with Ether and Ashan in the mountains, were ceded to Simeon (Joshua 19:1-9). Amongst these southern cities the most familiar name is Beersheba. These southern pasturelands were the favorite camping grounds of the old patriarchs, as they still are of those nomad tribes that frequent the southern border of Palestine. (See SIMEON).

2. The Lowland (15:33; A.V. "valley") or, to give it its own proper and constant appellation, the Shephelah the broad belt or strip lying between the central highlands "the mountain" and the Mediterranean Sea; the lower portion of that maritime plain which extends through the whole of the seaboard of Palestine, from Sidon in the north to Rhinocolura at the south. This tract was the garden and the granary of the tribe. In it, long before the conquest of the country by Israel, the Philistines had settled themselves, never to be completely dislodged (Nehemiah 13:23-24). There, planted at equal intervals along the level coast, were their five chief cities, each with its circle of smaller dependents, overlooking, from the natural undulations of the ground, the "standing corn," "shocks," "vineyards and olives," which excited the ingenuity of Samson, and are still noticeable to modern travelers. "They are all remarkable for the beauty and profusion of the gardens which surround them the scarlet blossoms of the pomegranates, the enormous oranges which gild the green foliage if their famous groves" (Stanley, Syr. and Pal. p. 257). From the edge of the sandy tract, which fringes the immediate shore right up to the very wall of the hills of Judah, stretches the immense plain of cornfields. In those rich harvests lies the explanation of the constant contests between Israel and the Philistines (Syr. and Pal. p. 258). From them were gathered the enormous cargoes of wheat which were transmitted to Phoenicia by Solomon in exchange for the arts of Hiram, and which in the time of the Herods still "nourished" the country of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:20). There were the olive trees, the sycamore trees, and the treasures of oil, the care of which was sufficient to task the energies of two of David's special officers (1 Chronicles 27:28). The nature of this locality would seem to be reflected in the names of many of its towns if interpreted as Hebrew words: Dilean cucumbers; Gederah, Gederoth, Gederothaim, sheep folds; Zoreah, wasps; Ex-gannim, spring of gardens, etc. But we have yet to learn how far these names are Hebrew, and whether at best they are but mere Hebrew accommodations of earlier originals, and therefore not to be depended on for their significations. The number of cities in this district, without counting the smaller villages connected with them, was forty-two. Of these, however, many which belonged to the Philistines can only have been allotted to the tribe, and, if taken possession of by Judah, were only held for a time. What were the exact boundaries of the Shephelah we do not know. We are at present ignorant of the principles on which the ancient Jews drew their boundaries between one territory and another. One thing only is almost certain, that they were not determined by the natural features of the ground, or else we should not find cities enumerated as in the lowland plain whose modern representatives are found deep in the mountains. (See JARMUTH); (See JIPHTAH), etc. (The latest information regarding this district is contained in Tobler's Dritte Wanderung, 1859.)

3. The third region of the tribe the Mountain, the "hill country of Judah" though not the richest, was, if not the largest, yet the most important of the four. Beginning considerably below Hebron, it stretches northward to Jerusalem, eastward to the Dead Sea slopes, and westward to the Shefelah, and forms an elevated district or plateau, which, though thrown into considerable undulations; yet preserves a general level in both directions. It is the southern portion of that elevated hilly district of Palestine which stretches north until intersected by the plain of Esdraelon, and on which Hebron, Jerusalem, and Shechem are the chief spots. On every side the approaches to it were difficult, and the passes easily defended. The towns and villages, too, were generally perched on the tops of hills or on rocky slopes. The resources of the soil were great. The country was rich in corn, wine, oil, and fruits; and the daring shepherds were able to lead their flocks far out over the neighboring plains and through the mountains. The surface of this region, which is of limestone, is monotonous enough. Round swelling hills and hollows, of somewhat bolder proportions than those immediately north of Jerusalem, which, though in early times probably covered with forests, (See HARETH), have now, where not cultivated, no growth larger than a brushwood of dwarf oak, arbutus, and other bushes. In many places there is a good soft turf, discoverable even m the autumn, and in spring the hills are covered with flowers. The number of towns enumerated (Joshua 15:48-60) as belonging to this district is thirty- eight, but, if we may judge from the ruins which meet the eye on every side, this must have been very far below the real number. Hardly a hill which is not crowned by some fragments of stone buildings more or less considerable, those which are still inhabited surrounded by groves of olive trees, and inclosure of stone walls protecting the vineyards. Streams there are none, but wells and springs are frequent in the neighborhood of "Solomon's Pools" at Urtas most abundant ones.

4. The fourth district is the Wilderness (Midbar, which here and there only appears to be synonymous with Arabah), the sunken district immediately adjoining the Dead Sea (Joshua 15:6), averaging ten miles in breadth, a wild, barren, uninhabitable region, fit only to afford scanty pasturage for sheep and goats, and a secure home for leopards, bears, wild goats, and outlaws (1 Samuel 17:34; Mark 1:13; 1 Samuel 22. sq.). Different sections of it were called by different names, as "Wilderness of Engedi" (1 Samuel 24:1); "Wilderness of Judah" (Judges 1:16) "Wilderness of Maon", 1 Samuel 23:24; (See DESERT). It was the training ground of the shepherd warriors of Israel, "where David and his mighty men" were braced and trained for those feats of daring courage which so highly distinguished them. (See BETHLEHEM); (See DAVID). It contained only six cities, which must have been either, like Engedi, on the edge of the cliffs overhanging the sea, or else on the higher slopes of the basin. The "city of Salt" may have been on the salt plains, between the sea and the cliffs which form the southern termination to the Ghor.

Nine of the cities of Judah were allotted to the priests (Joshua 21:9-19). The Levites had no cities in the tribe, and the priests had none out of it.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Judah, Tribe and Territory of.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​j/judah-tribe-and-territory-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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