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Kingdom of Judea: History & Explanation

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the history and significance of this ancient Israeli kingdom, also called Mamlekhet Yehuda, and test your understanding about the ancient world and the history of the Jewish people.

Shalom: Introduction to Jewish History

The area we call the Middle East has an incredibly complex and fascinating history. With a beautiful climate, access to abundant land and sea resources, and space to grow, the region was full of many cultures competing, cooperating, and coexisting with each other.

Map of kingdoms in the Levant region (the Kingdom of Judea is in pink)
Map

The Kingdom of Judea, often called the Kingdom of Judah or Mamlekhet Yehuda in Hebrew, was one of those cultures in the region called the Levant. It was a kingdom in the Iron Age of the Middle East, the era after the Bronze Age characterized by the use of iron tools and more advanced agriculture. The Kingdom of Judea sat near present-day Israel between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea.

Background

Between roughly 1050 BC and 930 BC the Israelites lived in a state called the United Monarchy, a kingdom under the reigns of the prominent Israeli kings Saul, David, and Solomon. This was a golden age in Israeli history when the power and wealth of the Israeli kingdom reached its peak.

After the death of King Solomon around 926 BC, tensions flared between the ten tribes of the north and the southern tribes in Jerusalem. Solomon's successor, Rehoboam, ignored economic complaints from the northern tribes, and the kingdom split apart. The northern tribes formed the Kingdom of Israel, which lasted until being defeated by the Assyrian Empire in 722 BC. The southern tribes became the Kingdom of Judah (or Judea).

The Kingdom of Judea

After the United Monarchy split into the two kingdoms, there was a brief period of war as Judea tried to reunite with Israel. Rehoboam built fortifications around the major cities of Judea and these areas grew in size and strength. According to the Hebrew Bible, the kings of Judea stopped worshipping the Hebrew God, Yahweh, as the sole God and worshipped gods from other religions as well. This is given as the reason that Jerusalem fell.

Asa of Judea
Asa

Judea passed in and out of other empires. Under Rehoboam, Judea was a vassal state controlled by Egypt. His grandson, Asa, was able to restore true Israeli power in Judea and prevented the return of Egyptian and Ethiopian empires. In the 7th century BC, Judea entered into an alliance with the Assyrian Empire, who wanted to make Judea a vassal under its protection. In this time, Judea prospered and grew, and the capital was moved to Jerusalem, which became one of the largest cities in the region.

Depiction of Jerusalem with Temple in center
Jerusalem

Around 610 BC, the Assyrian Empire fell to internal weakness and powerful enemies. Egypt regained control of the Kingdom of Judea for a short time, but in 605 BC the king of Judea, Jehoiakim, started paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in the hopes that Babylon would defeat Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Egypt but failed to overthrow the pharaoh, and Judea went back to paying tribute as a vassal to Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar, enraged at the betrayal, laid siege to Jerusalem in 599 BC.

Nebuchadnezzar II
Nebuchadnezzar

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