World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Judah (biblical person)

Article Id: WHEBN0000206652
Reproduction Date:

Title: Judah (biblical person)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Jacob, Caleb, Zilpah, Matthew 1, Bilhah
Collection: Book of Genesis, Burials in Israel, Children of Jacob, Founders of Biblical Tribes
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Judah (biblical person)

Judah and Tamar by Horace Vernet

Judah (Hebrew: יְהוּדָה‎, Standard Yehuda Tiberian Yəhūḏāh) was, according to the Book of Genesis, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Judah. By extension, he is indirectly eponymous of the Kingdom of Judah, the land of Judea and the word "Jew".

According to the narrative in Genesis, Judah with Tamar is the patrilinear ancestor of the Davidic line. The Tribe of Judah figures prominently in the Deuteronomistic history, which most scholars agree was reduced to written form, although subject to exilic and post-exilic alterations and emendations, during the reign of the Judahist reformer Josiah from 641-609 BC.[1] Some biblical scholars view the biblical narrative of Judah as a postdiction providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[2]


  • Etymology 1
  • Biblical references 2
  • Textual criticism 3
    • Relationship between the Joseph and Judah narratives 3.1
    • Foreshadowing the hegemony of Judah 3.2
    • The story of Judah and Tamar in the historical context 3.3
  • Jewish tradition 4
    • Rabbinic commentaries 4.1
    • Dating the lifetime of Judah 4.2
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • References 7


The Hebrew name for Judah, Yehudah (יהודה), literally "thanksgiving" or "praise," is the noun form of the root Y-D-H (ידה), "to thank" or "to praise."[3] His birth is recorded at Gen. 29:35; upon his birth, Leah exclaims, "This time I will praise the LORD," with the Hebrew word for "I will praise," 'odeh (אודה) sharing the same root as Yehudah.

Biblical references

Judah is the fourth son of the patriarch Jacob and his first wife, Leah: his full brothers are Reuben, Simeon and Levi (all older), and Issachar and Zebulun (younger); he has six half-brothers.

Following his birth, Judah's next appearance is in Gen 37, when he and his brothers cast Joseph into a pit out of jealousy after Joseph approaches them, flaunting a coat of many colors, while they are working in the field. It is Judah who spots a caravan of Ishmaelites coming towards them, on its way to Egypt and suggests that Joseph be sold to the Ishmaelites rather than killed. (Gen. 37:26-28, "What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? ... Let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our flesh.")

Judah marries the daughter of Shua, a Canaanite. Genesis chapter 38 Judah and his wife have three children, Er, Onan, and Shelah. Er marries Tamar, but God kills him because he "was wicked in the sight of the Lord" (Gen. 38:7). Tamar becomes Onan's wife in accordance with custom, but he too is killed after he refuses to father children for his older brother's childless widow, and spills his seed instead.[4] Although Tamar should have married Shelah, the remaining brother, Judah did not consent, and in response Tamar deceives Judah into having intercourse with her by pretending to be a prostitute. When Judah discovers that Tamar is pregnant he prepares to have her killed, but recants and confesses when he finds out that he is the father (Gen. 38:24-26).[5]

Meanwhile, Joseph rises to a position of power in Egypt. Twenty years after being betrayed, he meets his brothers again without them recognizing him. The youngest brother, Benjamin, had remained in Canaan with Jacob, so Joseph takes Simeon hostage and insists that the brothers return with Benjamin.[6] Judah offers himself to Jacob as surety for Benjamin's safety, and manages to persuade Jacob to let them take Benjamin to Egypt. When the brothers return, Joseph tests them by demanding the enslavement of Benjamin.[7] Judah pleads for Benjamin's life, and Joseph reveals his true identity.[8]

Textual criticism

Relationship between the Joseph and Judah narratives

Russian icon

Literary critics have focused on the relationship between the Judah story in chapter 38, and the Joseph story in chapters 37 and 39. Victor Hamilton notes some “intentional literary parallels” between the chapters, such as the exhortation to “identify” (38:25-26 and 37:32-33).[9] J. A. Emerton, Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Cambridge, regards the connections as evidence for including chapter 38 in the J corpus, and suggests that the J writer dovetailed the Joseph and Judah traditions.[10] Derek Kidner points out that the insertion of chapter 38 “creates suspense for the reader ,”[11] but Robert Alter goes further and suggests it is a result of the “brilliant splicing of sources by a literary artist.” He notes that the same verb “identify” will play “a crucial thematic role in the dénouement of the Joseph story when he confronts his brothers in Egypt, he recognizing them, they failing to recognize him."[12] Similarly, J. P. Fokkelman notes that the "extra attention" for Judah in chapter 38, "sets him up for his major role as the brothers' spokesman in Genesis 44."[13]

Foreshadowing the hegemony of Judah

Other than Joseph (and perhaps Benjamin), Judah receives the most favorable treatment in Genesis among Jacob's sons, which according to biblical historians is a reflection on the historical primacy that the tribe of Judah possessed throughout much of Israel's history, including as the source of the Davidic line.[14] Although Judah is only the fourth son of Leah, he is expressly depicted in Genesis as assuming a leadership role among the 10 eldest brothers, including speaking up against killing Joseph, negotiating with his father regarding Joseph's demand that Benjamin be brought down to Egypt, and pleading with Joseph after the latter secretes the silver cup into Benjamin's bag.[15]

Judah's position is further enhanced through the downfall of his older brothers: Reuben, the eldest, cedes his birthright through sexual misconduct with Jacob's concubine Bilhah (Gen. 35:22), and the bloody revenge taken by Simeon and Levi following the rape of Dinah (Gen. chap. 34).[14] disqualifies them as leaders.[15] The eternal legacy of these events are foreshadowed in the deathbed blessing of Jacob (Gen. 49:1-33), which has been attributed according to the documentary hypothesis to the pro-Judah Yahwist source.[16] In Jacob's blessing, Reuben has "not the excellency" to lead "because thou went up to thy father's bed, then defiled [it]"; meanwhile, Simeon and Levi are condemned as "cruel" and "weapons of violence [are] their kinship." (Gen. 49.:3-7.) On the other hand, Judah is praised as "a lion's whelp" whose brothers "shall bow down before thee," and "the sceptre shall not depart from Judah" , the latter a clear reference to the aspirations of the united monarchy.[17]

Archaeologist and scholar Israel Finkelstein argues that these and other pro-Judah narrative strands likely originated after the demise of the Kingdom of Israel in the 8th Century BCE: "[I]t was only after the fall of Israel that Judah grew into a fully developed state with the necessary complement of professional priests and trained scribes able to undertake such a task. When Judah suddenly faced the non-Israelite world on its own, it needed a defining and motivating text. That text was the historical core of the Bible, composed in Jerusalem in the course of the seventh century BCE. And because Judah was the birthplace of ancient Israel's central scripture, it is hardly surprising that the biblical text repeatedly stresses Judah's special status from the very beginnings of Israel's history.... [In Genesis], it was Judah, among all of Jacob's sons, whose destiny was to rule over all the other tribes in Israel."[18]

The story of Judah and Tamar in the historical context

Emerton notes that it is “widely agreed” that the story of Judah and Tamar “reflects a period after the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan.”[19] He also suggests the possibility that it contains “aetiological motifs concerned with the eponymous ancestors of the clans of Judah.”[20] Emerton notes that Dillman and Noth considered the account of the deaths of Er and Onan to “reflect the dying out of two clans of Judah bearing their names, or at least of their failure to maintain a separate existence.” However, this view was “trenchantly criticized” by Thomas L. Thompson.[20]

Jewish tradition

Rabbinic commentaries

The text of the Torah argues that the name of Judah, meaning to thank or admit, refers to Leah's intent to thank Hashem, on account of having achieved four children, and derived from odeh, meaning I will give thanks. In classical rabbinical literature, the name is interpreted as a combination of Yahweh and a dalet (the letter d); in Gematria, the dalet has the numerical value 4, which these rabbinical sources argue refers to Judah being Jacob's fourth son.[21] Since Leah was matriarch, Jewish scholars think the text's authors believed the tribe was part of the original Israelite confederation; however, it is worthy of note[22] that the tribe of Judah was not purely Israelite, but contained a large admixture of non-Israelites, with a number of Kenizzite groups, the Jerahmeelites, and the Kenites, merging into the tribe at various points.[22]

Classical rabbinical sources refer to the passage "... a ruler came from Judah", from 1 Chronicles 5:2, to imply that Judah was the leader of his brothers, terming him the king.[23][24] This passage also describes Judah as the strongest of his brothers in which rabbinical literature portray him as having had extraordinary physical strength, able to shout for over 400 parasangs, able to crush iron into dust by his mouth, and with hair that stiffened so much, when he became angry, that it pierced his clothes.[25]

Classical rabbinical sources also allude to a war between the Canaanites and Judah's family (not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible), as a result of their destruction of Shechem in revenge for the rape of Dinah;[26][27][28][29][30] Judah features heavily as a protagonist in accounts of this war. In these accounts Judah kills Jashub, king of Tappuah, in hand-to-hand combat, after first having deposed Jashub from his horse by throwing an extremely heavy stone (60 shekels in weight) at him from a large distance away (the Midrash Wayissau states 177⅓ cubits, while other sources have only 30 cubits);[22] the accounts say that Judah was able to achieve this even though he was himself under attack, from arrows which Jashub was shooting at him with both hands.[22] The accounts go on to state that while Judah was trying to remove Jashub's armour from his corpse, nine assistants of Jashub fell upon him in combat, but after Judah killed one, he scared away the others;[22] nevertheless, Judah killed several members of Jashub's army (42 men according to the midrashic Book of Jasher, but 1000 men according to the Testament of Judah).[22]

According to some classical rabbinical sources, Jacob suspected that Judah had killed Joseph,[31] especially, according to the Midrash Tanhuma, when Judah was the one who had brought the blood stained coat to Jacob.[22]

The children of Jacob sell their brother Joseph by Konstantin Flavitsky, 1855. Judah was the one who suggested that Joseph be sold, rather than killed.

Since rabbinical sources held Judah to have been the leader of his brothers, these sources also hold him responsible for this deception, even if it was not Judah himself who brought the coat to Jacob.[22] Even if Judah had been trying to save Joseph, the classical rabbinical sources still regard him negatively for it; these sources argue that, as the leader of the brothers, Judah should have made more effort, and carried Joseph home to Jacob on his (Judah's) own shoulders.[32] These sources argue that Judah's brothers, after witnessing Jacob's grief at the loss of Joseph, deposed and excommunicated Judah, as the brothers held Judah entirely responsible, since they would have brought Joseph home if Judah had asked them to do so.[33] Divine punishment, according to such classical sources, was also inflicted on Judah in punishment; the death of Er and Onan, and of his wife, are portrayed in by such classical rabbis as being acts of divine retribution.[34]

According to classical rabbinical literature, because Judah had proposed that he should bear any blame forever, this ultimately led to his bones being rolled around his coffin without cease, while it was being carried during the Exodus, until Moses interceded with God, by arguing that Judah's confession (in regard to cohabiting with Tamar) had led to Reuben confessing his own incest.[22]

Genesis Rabbah, and particularly the midrashic book of Jasher, expand on this by describing Judah's plea as much more extensive than given in the Torah, and more vehement.[35][36]

The classical rabbinical literature argues that Judah reacted violently to the threat against Benjamin, shouting so loudly that Hushim, who was then in Canaan, was able to hear Judah ask him to travel to Egypt, to help Judah destroy it;[22] some sources have Judah angrily picking up an extremely heavy stone (400 shekels in weight), throwing it into the air, then grinding it to dust with his feet once it had landed.[37] These rabbinical sources argue that Judah had Naphtali enumerate the districts of Egypt, and after finding out that there were 12 (historically, there were actually 20 in Lower Egypt and 22 in Upper Egypt), he decided to destroy three himself, and have his brothers destroy one of the remaining districts each;[22] the threat of destroying Egypt was, according to these sources, what really motivated Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers.[22]

Dating the lifetime of Judah

Tomb attributed to Judah in Yehud, Israel

According to Classical rabbinical literature, Judah was born on 15 Sivan;[22] classical sources differ on the date of death, with the Book of Jubilees advocating a death at age 119, 18 years before Levi,[38] but the midrashic Book of Jasher advocating a death at the age of 129.[39] The marriage of Judah and births of his children are described in a passage widely regarded as an abrupt change to the surrounding narrative.[40] The passage is often regarded as presenting a significant chronological issue, as the surrounding context appears to constrain the events of the passage to happening within 22 years,[41] and the context together with the passage itself requires the birth of the grandson of Judah and of his son's wife,[42] and the birth of that son,[43] to have happened within this time (to be consistent, this requires an average of less than 8 years gap per generation).

According to textual scholars, the reason for the abrupt interruption this passage causes to the surrounding narrative, and the chronological anomaly it seems to present, is that it derives from the Jahwist source, while the immediately surrounding narrative is from the Elohist.[22][44][45]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Peake's commentary on the Bible
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ According to the Talmud, Judah's confession atoned for some of his prior faults, and itself resulted in him being divinely rewarded by a share in the future world (Sotah 7b) that he had used a prostitute. Tamar's sons by her father-in-law were the twins Pharez and Zerah, the fourth and fifth sons of Judah. Pharez in turn was an ancestor of David. (Genesis 38:1-30)
  6. ^ Genesis 42:24, 42:34
  7. ^ Genesis 44:1-17
  8. ^ Genesis 44:18-34
  9. ^ Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50 (NICOT; Eerdmans, 1995), 431-432.
  10. ^ J. A. Emerton, "Some problems,” 349. Emerton also suggests (p. 360) that in J, this story “never stood anywhere but between the accounts of the selling of Joseph into slavery and the doings of Joseph in Egypt.”
  11. ^ Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (IVP, 2008 ), 187.
  12. ^ Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (Basic Books, 1981), 10.
  13. ^ J. P. Fokkelman, Reading Biblical Narrative (Leiderdorp: Deo, 1999), 81.
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ a b
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ J. A. Emerton, "Some problems in Genesis xxxviii", Vetus Testamentum 25 (1975), 345.
  20. ^ a b J. A. Emerton, “Judah and Tamar,” Vetus Testamentum 29 [1979], 405.
  21. ^ Sotah 10b
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Jewish Encyclopedia
  23. ^ Genesis Rabbah 84:16
  24. ^ Testament of Judah 1
  25. ^ Genesis Rabbah 93:6–7
  26. ^ in great detail in the midrashic Book of Jasher, Vayishlah
  27. ^ Pseudo-Jonathan (on Genesis 48:22)
  28. ^ Midrash Vayissa'u
  29. ^ Book of Jubilees 34:1-9
  30. ^ Testament of Judah 3-7
  31. ^ Midrash Genesis Rabbah 95:1; Midrash Tanhuma
  32. ^ Genesis Rabbah 85:4
  33. ^ Exodus Rabbah 42:2; Tanhumah, Vayeshev, 12
  34. ^ Tanhuma, Vayiggash 10
  35. ^ Sefer haYashar (midrashic), Vayiggash
  36. ^ Genesis Rabbah 93:7
  37. ^ Sefer haYashar
  38. ^ Jubilees 28:15
  39. ^ Sefer haYashar (midrashic), Shemot
  40. ^ Genesis 38
  41. ^ compare Genesis 37:2 (... young man of 17 ...) - with Genesis 41:46 (... was 30 years old ...), 41:53 (... 7 years ...), and 45:6 (... for 2 years ...)
  42. ^ Genesis 46:12 ( ... sons of Pharez ... )
  43. ^ Genesis 38:3 (... gave birth to Er ...)
  44. ^ Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  45. ^ Richard Elliott Friedman, Who wrote the Bible?


  • Winckler, Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1895)
  • Ed. Meyer, Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstämme (Halle, 1906)
  • Haupt, in Studien ... Welthausen gewidmet (Giessen, 1914)
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.