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Judah/Yehuda (Hebrew: יְהוּדָה, Standard Yəhuda Tiberian Yəhûḏāh) was, according to the Book of Genesis, the fourth son of Jacob and Leah, and the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Judah; however some Biblical scholars view this as postdiction, an eponymous metaphor providing an aetiology of the connectedness of the tribe to others in the Israelite confederation.[1] With Leah as a matriarch, Biblical scholars regard the tribe as having been believed by the text's authors to have been part of the original Israelite confederation; however, it is worthy of note[2] 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.[3]

The text of the Torah argues that the name of Judah, meaning to praise, refers to Leah's intent to praise Yahweh, on account of having achieved four children, and derived from odeh, meaning I will give praise. In classical rabbinical literature, the name is interpreted as just being 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.[4]

When Reuben lost his firstborn right ( kingship, priesthood, and the double-portion), Joseph inherited firstborn rights instead.[5]

Births and deaths

According to Classical rabbinical literature, Judah was born on the 15th of Sivan;[2] classical sources differ on the date of death, with the Book of Jubilees advocating a death at age 119, 18 years before Levi,[6] but the midrashic Book of Jasher advocating a death at the age of 129.[7] The marriage of Judah and births of his children are described in a passage widely regarded as an abrupt change to the surrounding narrative.[8] 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,[9] and the context together with the passage itself requires the birth of the grandson of Judah and of his son's wife,[10] and the birth of that son,[11] 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[12].[2][13]

In this passage, Judah married the daughter of Shuah, a Canaanite. The Book of Jubilees argues for Bat Shua as the name of the wife,[14] the midrashic Book of Jasher argues for lllit as her name.[15] The passage goes on to state that Judah and his wife had three children between them - Er, Onan, and Shelah - and that the first married Tamar;[16] after Er died without any children, Tamar became Onan's wife in accordance with custom, but he too died without children.[17] The narrative continues by stating that Judah decided that marriage to Tamar was cursed to be fatal, and so avoided letting Shelah marry her;[18] this would have left Tamar unable to have children, so she managed to trick Judah into cohabiting with her, by pretending to be a prostitute.[19] According to the text, when Judah discovered that Tamar was pregnant, he intended to have her burnt,[20] but when he discovered that he was the father, he recanted and confessed that he had used a prostitute;[21] she was pregnant with twins, and they were Pharez and Zerah, the fourth and fifth sons of Judah.[22] 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.[23]

The main motive of the Tamar narrative, is, according to many Biblical scholars, an eponymous aetiological myth concerning the fluctuations in the constituency of the tribe of Judah; textual scholars attribute the narrative to the Yahwist, though Biblical scholars regard it as concerning the state of the clans not much earlier.[24][25] A number of scholars have proposed that the deaths of Er and Onan reflect the dying out of two clans;[26][27] Onan may represent an Edomite clan named Onam,[28] who are mentioned in an Edomite genealogy in Genesis,[29] while Er appears from a genealogy in the Book of Chronicles[30] to have later been subsumed by the Shelah clan.[31][32]

Some scholars have argued that the narrative secondarily aims to either assert the institution of levirate marriage, or present an aetiological myth for its origin, since it highlights cases of marriage for pleasure not for having children (Onan), of refusal to perform the marriage (Jacob, on behalf of Shelah), and of levirate activities with men related to the dead husband other than fraternally;[33] Emerton regards the evidence for this as inconclusive, though according to classical rabbinical writers this is the origin of levirate marriage.[34] A number of scholars, particularly in recent decades (as of 1980), have proposed that the narrative reflects an anachronistic interest in the biblical account of king David, with the character of Tamar being the same;[35][36] the proposals partly being due to the scenes of the narrative - Adullam, Chezib, and Timnah - overlapping.[37][38]

The Book of Chronicles mentions that ... a ruler came from Judah ...,[39] which classical rabbinical sources took to imply that Judah was the leader of his brothers, terming him the king.[40][41] The same part of the Book of Chronicles also describes Judah as the strongest of his brothers,[42] and rabbinical literature portrays 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.[43]

Fighting Canaanites

Classical rabbinical sources allude to a war between the Canaanites and Judah's family (which isn't mentioned in the Bible), as a result of their destruction of Shechem in revenge for the rape of Dinah[44][45][46];[47][48] 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);[2] 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.[49] 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;[50] 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).[51]

Selling Joseph

In the Torah's Joseph narrative, when his brothers are jealous of Joseph and contemplate murdering him, Judah suggests that the brothers should sell Joseph to some passing Ishmaelites;[52] it is unclear from the narrative whether Judah's motives were to save Joseph, or to harm him but keep him alive but does clearly state that he sold him for 20 pieces of silver saying "how can we profit from conselling our brothers blood". The narrative goes on to state that the brothers dipped Joseph's coat in fresh goat's blood, and showed it to Jacob, after Joseph had gone, so that he would think that Joseph was dead; according to some classical rabbinical sources, Jacob suspected that Judah had killed Joseph,[53] especially, according to the Midrash Tanhuma, when Judah was the one who had brought the blood stained coat to Jacob.[2]

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.[54] 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.[55] 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.[56] 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.[57]

Protecting Benjamin

The Biblical Joseph narrative eventually describes Joseph as meeting his brothers again, while he is in a position of power, and without his brothers recognising him; in this latter part of the narrative, Benjamin initially remains in Canaan, and so Joseph takes Simeon hostage, and insists that the brothers return with their younger brother (Benjamin) to prove they aren't spies.[58] The narrative goes on to state that Judah offers himself to Jacob as surety for Benjamin's safety, and manages to persuade him to let them take Benjamin to Egypt; 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.[2]

When, in the Joseph narrative, the brothers return with Benjamin to Joseph, Joseph tests whether the brothers have reformed by tricking them into a situation where he can demand the enslavement of Benjamin.[59] The narrative describes Judah as making an impassioned plea against enslaving Benjamin, ultimately making Joseph recant and reveal his identity;[60] the 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.[61][62]

The classical rabbinical literature goes on to argue 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;[2] 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.[63] 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;[2] the threat of destroying Egypt was, according to these sources, what really motivated Joseph to reveal himself to his brothers.[64]

See also

Children of Jacob by wife in order of birth (D = Daughter)
Leah Reuben (1) Simeon (2) Levi (3) Judah (4) Issachar (9) Zebulun (10) Dinah (D)
Rachel Joseph (11) Benjamin (12)
Bilhah (Rachel's servant) Dan (5) Naphtali (6)
Zilpah (Leah's servant) Gad (7) Asher (8)


  1. Peake's commentary on the Bible
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Jewish Encyclopedia
  3. ibid
  4. Sotah 10b
  5. 1 Chronicles 5:2
  6. Jubilees 28:15
  7. Sefer haYashar (midrashic), Shemot
  8. Template:BibleVerse
  9. 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 ...)
  10. Genesis 46:12 ( ... sons of Pharez ... )
  11. Genesis 38:3 (... gave birth to Er ...)
  12. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  13. Richard Elliott Friedman, Who wrote the Bible?
  14. Jubilees 34:20
  15. Sefer haYasher (midrashic), Vayeshev
  16. Template:BibleVerse
  17. Template:BibleVerse
  18. Template:BibleVerse
  19. Template:BibleVerse
  20. Template:BibleVerse
  21. Template:BibleVerse
  22. Template:BibleVerse
  23. Sotah 7b
  24. J. A. Emerton, Judah And Tamar
  25. This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
  26. J. A. Emerton, Judah And Tamar
  27. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  28. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  29. Genesis 36:23
  30. 1 Chronicles 4:21
  31. J. A. Emerton, Judah And Tamar
  32. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  33. J. A. Emerton, Judah And Tamar
  34. Genesis Rabbah 85:6
  35. J. A. Emerton, Judah And Tamar
  36. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Tamar, 1911 edition
  37. J. A. Emerton, Judah And Tamar
  38. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Tamar, 1911 edition
  39. Template:BibleVerse
  40. Genesis Rabbah 84:16
  41. Testament of Judah 1
  42. Template:BibleVerse
  43. Genesis Rabbah 93:6–7
  44. in great detail in the midrashic Book of Jasher, Vayishlah
  45. Pseudo-Jonathan (on Template:BibleVerse)
  46. Midrash Vayissa'u
  47. Book of Jubilees 34:1-9
  48. Testament of Judah 3-7
  49. ibid
  50. ibid
  51. ibid
  52. Template:BibleVerse
  53. Midrash Genesis Rabbah 95:1; Midrash Tanhuma
  54. ibid
  55. Genesis Rabbah 85:4
  56. Exodus Rabbah 42:2; Tanhumah, Vayeshev, 12
  57. Tanhuma, Vayiggash 10
  58. Template:BibleVerse, Template:BibleVerse-nb
  59. Template:BibleVerse
  60. Template:BibleVerse
  61. Sefer haYashar (midrashic), Vayiggash
  62. Genesis Rabbah 93:7
  63. Sefer haYashar
  64. ibid


  • Winckler, Geschichte Israels (Berlin, 1895)
  • Ed. Meyer, Die Israeliten und ihre Nachbarstämme (Halle, 1906)
  • Haupt, in Studien ... Welthausen gewidmet (Giessen, 1914)

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Judah (Bible). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.