Kings of the Jews: Judah
After centuries of being governed by authoritative judges, and faced with mounting threats from neighboring foes, the ancient Israelites agitated for a king who would centralize power and organize a formidable force to defend the territories of Israel’s tribal confederacy. What followed were centuries of monarchy, a divided kingdom, and scores of sovereigns—most of whom were corrupted by power and unfaithful to the ways of their ancestors and the divine commandments. The merit of the judges gave way to the might of the kings, the last of whom (Bar Kokhba) lost the realm in an ultimately unsuccessful revolt against the Roman Empire. Their biographies and histories are related throughout the 19 books of the Prophets section of the Bible—especially in Samuel I & II and Kings I & II—and in the Hagiographa section’s Chronicles I & II, and retold in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities.
- Saul (r. 1020-1004 B.C.E.) – Israel’s first king, the son of Kish, from the tribe of Benjamin, who was privately anointed then popularly proclaimed at Mizpah. His capital was Givah. He was a tall warrior king who fought against Philistia, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Amalek, and others. A tragic figure, Saul’s reign is marred by his recurrent disobedience to the divine will, as communicated to him by the prophet Samuel, with whom relations grew tense. He appointed the acclaimed David as his armiger but grew increasingly jealous of him and tried repeatedly to kill him, even pursuing David to Ramah and elsewhere. In a fit of despair, Saul consulted the witch of Ein-Dor before engaging the Philistines in a doomed battle at Mount Gilboa, and then committed suicide to avoid being humiliated by his enemies. He was beheaded and had his body, along with those of his sons, hung on the walls of Bet She’an until the loyalists of Jabesh-Gilead recovered the cadavers, cremated them, and buried the ashes (these were later reinterred in Kish’s tomb at Zela).
- David (r. 1004-965 B.C.E.) – The youngest son of Yishai, from the tribe of Judah and the town of Bethlehem, and a direct descendant of Ruth the Moabite. A shepherd, musician, and poet anointed by Samuel, David proved his bravery and skill with a slingshot in a duel with the Philistine giant, Goliath of Gath. He served Saul but fled from his paranoid wrath, eventually overseeing Ziklag for the Philistine king Achish. After Saul’s death, David assumed the throne and ruled initially from Hebron for seven years before conquering Jerusalem and erecting himself a palace there. He repeatedly defeated the Philistines in battle, then brought the Ark to Jerusalem but was informed by the prophet Nathan that the Temple in which the Ark would be housed could not be built by a bloodstained warrior. David divided Israel into a dozen districts, each with its own civil, military, and religious institutions, and established Jerusalem as the secular and religious center of the country. His personal life was an utter disaster: he claimed the married Bat-sheva for himself, then had her soldier husband placed directly in harm’s way; his children committed rape and incest, rose in rebellion against him, and even drove him for a time from his throne in Jerusalem. He soon regained power and in time anointed his son (with Bat-sheva) Solomon as king.
- Solomon, a.k.a. Yedidya, Kohelet (r. 965-928 B.C.E.) – Anointed by Nathan, Solomon ascended to the throne following a purge of immediate threats to his rule. He quickly grew famous for his wisdom, which attracted foreign rulers such as the Queen of Sheba to his court. He consolidated his father’s expansive kingdom through marital alliances and reportedly had 700 wives and 300 concubines. He composed 3,000 proverbs and 1,005 songs. He wrote the Song of Songs, the Book of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Fulfilling his father’s dream, Solomon built the first Temple using wood from King Hiram of Tyre and a conscripted labor service consisting of Israelites and foreigners under his aegis. Using cedar, stone, and gold, his workers took 7 years to complete the Temple’s structure, decorations, and vessels. Solomon then dedicated the Temple in a public ceremony of prayers and offerings. He spent 13 years building his royal palace, and also built a city wall, the Millo citadel, a palace for Pharaoh’s daughter (one of his wives), and facilities for foreign traders. He erected cities for his cavalry and chariots, created storage cities, extended Jerusalem northward, and fortified cities near the mountains of Judah and Jerusalem. Solomon’s rule was challenged by the Edomites and Arameans. His wisdom left him in his later years: he took numerous foreign wives and not only allowed them to worship their gods but even built shrines for their sacrifices. He also exacted heavy taxation and troop levies on all Israelites while granting special privileges to the tribe of Judah, embittering the northern tribes. He was buried in Jerusalem.
- Rehoboam (r. 928-911 B.C.E.) – The son of Solomon and Naamah of Ammon, who was coronated at Shechem. When asked by the northern Israelites to lighten the excessive burden placed on them by Solomon, Rehoboam temporized and was persuaded by his younger counselors to take a heavy-handed approach. As a result, the northern tribes elected Jeroboam I as their ruler and the northern kingdom of Israel separated from the southern kingdom of Judah. Rehoboam continually waged war against Jeroboam, hoping to reunite Israel, but in vain. He ringed his border with a series of fortresses as a defensive measure against the resurgent neighbors of Aram, Ammon, Moab, Edom, and Philistia. Pharaoh Shishak launched a campaign of conquest against both Hebrew kingdoms in the fifth year of Rehoboam’s reign, and he pillaged Jerusalem. Under Rehoboam the Judahites became infatuated with idolatry. Rehoboam’s life and times were recorded by the prophets Shemaiah and Iddo, and he was buried in Jerusalem’s royal tombs.
- Abijah, a.k.a. Abijam (r. 911-908 B.C.E.) – The son of Rehoboam and Maachah (Michaiah), who continued feuding against Jeroboam I and the northern kingdom, and won a victory in which he reclaimed Bet El and other districts in the mountains of Ephraim, though this was but a fleeting gain. He married 14 wives, sired 22 sons and 16 daughters, and was buried in Jerusalem. His doings and sayings were recorded in the lost commentary of the prophet Jedo/Iddo.
- Asa (r. 908-867 B.C.E.) – Abijah’s son, who deposed his grandmother Maachah as queen because of her idolatry. He secured help from the Aramean king Ben-Hadad I of Damascus against Baasha, king of Israel, for which he was reproved by the prophet Hanani. Enraged, Asa imprisoned Hanani. He also razed Baasha’s ruined fortress of Ramah and used the material to reconstruct Givah and Mizpah to defend Judah’s northern frontier. He additionally repelled the Ethiopian Zerah’s Egyptian army at Maresha. Heeding the advice of the prophet Azariah ben Oded, Asa spent his long reign as a religious reformer who quashed idolatry and was a wholehearted and successful ruler overall. In his old age he suffered from a foot disease. He was buried in Jerusalem.
- Jehoshaphat (r. 867-846 B.C.E.) – The son of Asa and Azubah bat Shilchi, a righteous king who followed Asa’s pious path and made peace and alliances with the northern Kingdom of Israel. His son Jehoram married Ataliah, Ahab’s daughter. He joined Ahab in battle against the Arameans at Ramot-Gilead despite the prophet Michaiah ben Imla’s warning, and later joined Jehoram of Israel versus King Mesha of Moab. Jehoshaphat also embarked on a joint shipbuilding venture with Ahaziah of Israel based in Ezion-Gever, and attempted to renew active maritime trade. He sent officers, Levites, and priests throughout Judah to teach the Torah to the people, and established a judicial administration. He received tribute from the Philistines and Arabs, and built fortresses with garrisons and storage towns. A section of the Kidron Valley—the Valley of Jehoshaphat—was named after him. He was buried in Jerusalem, and is remembered as a peacemaker who always preferred consulting prophets of the God of Israel.
- Jehoram, a.k.a. Joram (r. 846-843 B.C.E.) – A wicked king who slew his 6 brothers, perhaps under the sway of his malefic wife Ataliah, after his father King Jehoshaphat’s death. Edom successfully rebelled under Jehoram’s reign, and the Philistines assailed Judah as well. As the prophet Elijah predicted, Jehoram suffered from an incurable bowel disease for 2 years. He died loathed and unmourned by Judahites. He was buried in Jerusalem, though one account stipulates his grave was separate from the tombs of the kings.
- Ahaziah, a.k.a. Jehoahaz, Azariah (r. 843-842 B.C.E.) – The son of Jehoram and Ataliah, a wicked and short-lived king. He joined his uncle King Jehoram of Israel in battle against Hazael’s Arameans at Ramot-Gilead, and visited his wounded northern counterpart in Jezreel where both kings met with Jehu—lately anointed king of Israel by the prophet Elisha’s emissary—in Navot’s old vineyard. Through the town of Gannim (Jenin), Ahaziah fled the anti-Omride Jehu who pursued and wounded him; Ahaziah succumbed to his injuries at Megiddo and was buried with his predecessors in Jerusalem.
- Jehoash, a.k.a. Joash (r. 836-798 B.C.E.) – Ahaziah’s youngest son (with Zibiah of Beersheba), Joash was hidden by the high priest Jehoiada from his bloodthirsty grandmother Ataliah for 6 years in the Temple. He acceded to the throne with great ceremony and a covenantal renewal. Under Joash, Judah was cleansed of idolatrous worship and the Temple was repaired. After his mentor Jehoiada’s death, Joash allowed himself to be worshiped and in an act of great ingratitude had Jehoiada’s son Zechariah killed for rebuking his behavior. Joash was killed by servants in revenge for the killing of Zechariah. Like his grandfather Jehoram, he was buried in Jerusalem but one account stipulates that it was not among his royal predecessors.
- Amaziah (r. 798-769 B.C.E.) – The son of Joash and Jehoaddan of Jerusalem, who soon slew his father’s murderers. As with his father, Amaziah’s long reign initially seemed quite promising. Amaziah prepared an army to reconquer Edom, which had successfully revolted against his great-grandfather Jehoram. He triumphed over the Edomites near the Dead Sea and slew 10,000-20,000 of them, while also importing their objects of worship into Judah. The proud victor then set his sights northward: Amaziah challenged King Jehoash of Israel to combat, and then hastened into a calamitous battle against him at Bet Shemesh. He was captured, Jerusalem was looted, and hostages were carried north to Samaria. Once again, like his father, Amaziah fell prey to a conspiracy, fleeing to Lachish where he was felled by assassins keen to dispense with the disastrous monarch. He was buried among his ancestors in Jerusalem.
- Uzziah, a.k.a. Azariah (r. 769-733 B.C.E.) – The son of Amaziah and Jecoliah of Jerusalem, who was crowned at the age of 16. The long-reigning Uzziah conquered the Philistines and certain Arabs, and received gifts from the Ammonites. He built the town Eloth, fortified towers in Jerusalem, refortified the wilderness against raiding bands, reorganized and reequipped his army, and engaged lovingly in agrarian husbandry. At his urging, ingeniously-devised war engines were placed atop Jerusalem’s wall corners and towers. In 739, the Assyrian ruler Tiglath-Pileser III conquered 19 districts in northern Syria which had belonged to Uzziah. Uzziah’s downfall came when he attempted to usurp the power of the priesthood by burning incense on the Temple’s altar. He was confronted by the Temple’s priests and for his presumption he was afflicted with leprosy on his forehead and thereafter forced to live in a house set apart until he died. Jotham, his son, ruled during the period of his father’s illness. Uzziah’s acts were documented by the prophet Isaiah in a regnal history no longer extant. As a leper, Uzziah was interred in Jerusalem in a burial ground neighboring the tomb of the kings.
- Jotham (r. 758-743 B.C.E.) – Uzziah’s son with Jerusha bat Zadok, who was known for his piety and familial fealty. He served almost fourteen years as regent of Judah, and inherited an efficient administration from his father. Continuing in Uzziah’s mode, Jotham built the Temple’s upper gate and expanded upon the Ophel wall. He constructed towns across Judah’s mountains and in its forests built forts and towers. Jotham was victorious over the Ammonites, who rendered much tribute. Unlike their sovereign, however, the Judahites were corrupt in this era, as evinced by the writings of the prophets Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea. Jotham was buried in Jerusalem in the royal tombs.
- Ahaz (r. 733-727 B.C.E.) – Abruptly departing from the ways of his father Jotham and grandfather Uzziah, Ahaz was an abominable king who made molten images of Baal and in the Ben Hinnom Valley sacrificed several of his sons to the flames to appease Moloch. Early in his reign, Ahaz was confronted by allied foes Rezin of Aram and Pekah of Israel who wished to co-opt Judah into an alliance against Assyria. The kings besieged Ahaz and Jerusalem without success. The Arameans did take Eilat, however, expelling the Judahites. The Edomites also attacked Judah, as did the Philistines, who seized several towns and districts. Despite the opposition of the prophet Isaiah, who had counseled calm and faith in the God of Israel, Ahaz bribed Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria to rescue him from his enemies, which the latter did, capturing Damascus circa 732, sending its populace into captivity, and slaying Rezin, as well as conquering northern Transjordan, Gilead, and Galilee and deporting their populations to Assyria. A thankful Ahaz submitted to the Assyrian ruler at Damascus and beheld the altar there, which he ordered copied by Uriyah the priest for use in Jerusalem’s Temple. Like Uzziah, Ahaz usurped some priestly functions, and also had the Temple stripped of certain adornments to preserve them from Assyrian hands. Still, Judah became a vassal state and furnished Assyria with auxiliaries. Ahaz eventually shuttered the Temple and promoted idolatry throughout Judah. He was buried in Jerusalem, and one account specifies this was done apart from the royal tombs.
- Hezekiah (r. 727-698 B.C.E.) – The son of Ahaz and Abijah (Abi) bat Zechariah instituted comprehensive religious reforms and implemented substantive policy changes. Hezekiah restored the worship of the God of Israel after a prolonged period in which idolatry had taken root. He had the Temple cleansed in 8 days and rededicated, and dismantled the pagan shrines, pillars, and the Nechushtan serpent that Moses had made (which was being worshiped). He rebelled against Assyrian influence and sought support from Egypt, prompting Sennacherib of Assyria to conquer Judah and besiege Jerusalem. The siege was lifted and 185,000 Assyrians were slain, either by a miraculous angel, widespread plague, or the intervention of the Nubian Pharaoh Taharqa of Egypt. He diverted water via a rock-cut tunnel from the Gihon spring just outside the city proper to the pool of Siloam within the city walls. Hezekiah also revived the traditional Passover pilgrimage and invited all Israelites to attend. His prayers while deathly ill earned him a divine reprieve. He is singled out as the preeminent king of Judah for his loyalty to the God of Israel and to the ways of his ancestors. He was buried in Jerusalem in the best of the royal sepulchers.
- Manasseh (r. 698-642 B.C.E.) – The son of Hezekiah and Hephzibah, and the longest serving king in either Judah or Israel, who reigned as a vassal under the Assyrian rulers Esarhaddon and his son Ashurbanipal. Like Ahaz, Manasseh sacrificed his sons in the flames in the Ben Hinnom Valley. He erected altars to Baal and Asherah, reintroduced idolatry into the Temple, and was responsible for much bloodshed of innocents in Jerusalem. In a stark about-face, the evil monarch eventually changed his ways: at one point Manasseh was carried away as a prisoner to Babylon by Assyrian officers, but he humbled himself, repented, and prayed for his restoration to the throne, which later ensued. He reversed his idolatrous practices, erected an outer wall for the city by the Gihon spring, raised the Ophel bulwark, and placed captains in Judah’s forts. The remarkable Manasseh was buried in the garden of Uzza (Uzziah) at the royal palace.
- Amon (r. 641-640 B.C.E.) – The son of Manasseh and Mishullemet bat Harutz of Yotvah. Amon carried on his father’s wicked ways, without any later repentance. Though enjoying popular support, Amon was murdered by his conspiring servants in the royal palace, and buried in the garden of Uzza near his father.
- Josiah (r. 639-609 B.C.E.) – The son of Amon and Jedidah bat Adaya of Bozkat. Josiah was a righteous reformer who, in his 18th regnal year, arranged for the Temple’s repair which prompted the rediscovery of the Book of Deuteronomy at the bottom of a treasury coin chest. When its contents were read to him, the tender-hearted Josiah tore his clothes and wept at his predecessors’ trespasses. At once he dispatched Hilkiah the high priest, Shaphan the scribe, and others to consult Hulda the prophetess. She advised Josiah of Judah’s doom, but noted that the king himself would be spared the sight of his kingdom’s downfall. Josiah read Deuteronomy before the people and ordered idolatrous vessels burned in the Kidron Valley. He had idolatrous sites destroyed and defiled the Tophet firepit in the Ben Hinnom Valley where children were burned in the rite of Moloch. He disrupted pagan rites to the sun, Ashtoret, Chemosh, and Milcom, and broke down the altars and high places of sacrifice throughout Judah and the Samaria region. Josiah restored the Passover festival, a celebration outdoing even that of his forerunner Hezekiah. He also founded the balsam plantation at Ein Gedi. When Pharaoh Neco II of Egypt led his forces toward the Euphrates River to fight the Assyrians, the disguised Josiah tried to intercept him at Megiddo but was soon slain by enemy archers. He was conveyed back to Jerusalem by chariot and buried in the royal tombs, deeply lamented by all, including his friend the prophet Jeremiah.
- Jehoahaz, a.k.a. Joahaz, Shallum (r. 609 B.C.E.) – The son of Josiah and Hamutal bat Yirmiyahu of Libnah. Younger than his half-brother Jehoiakim, Shallum had his name changed to Jehoahaz upon his accession to the throne. Jehoahaz was pro-Assyrian and reigned only 3 months before he was taken captive to Riblah by the Orontes River and deposed by Pharaoh Neco II in favor of Jehoiakim. Jehoahaz was transferred to Egypt where he died in captivity. He was elegized by the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.
- Jehoiakim, a.k.a. Eliakim (r. 609-598 B.C.E.) – The son of Josiah and Zevudah bat Pedaya of Rumah, who had his named changed from Eliakim to Jehoiakim when Pharaoh Neco promoted him to Judah’s throne (as Joseph similarly had had his name changed by the contemporary pharaoh when promoted to prime minister of Egypt). Like Manasseh, Jehoiakim filled Jerusalem with innocent blood. He had the prophet Uriyah killed and burned Jeremiah’s scroll after it was read to him. After 3 years of vassalage to Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon, and against Jeremiah’s admonitions, Jehoiakim rebelled and Judah was soon invaded by Babylonian forces and subjugated anew. Jehoiakim was taken captive or killed and, according to Jeremiah, given the burial of an ass. One account claims he was buried with his fathers.
- Jehoiachin, a.k.a. Jeconiah, Coniah (r. 597 B.C.E.) – The son of Jehoiakim and Nechushta bat Elnatan of Jerusalem, who reigned for only 3 months like his uncle Jehoahaz before him. After Jerusalem was besieged, Jehoiachin soon surrendered and was taken prisoner by Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylon and carried off with 10,000 of Judah’s nobles into captivity. In time he was freed by Nebuchadrezzar’s son Amel-Marduk (Evil-Merodach) and given a place at the imperial table. He died in Babylon.
- Zedekiah, a.k.a. Mattaniah (r. 597-586 B.C.E.) – The son of Josiah and Hamutal bat Yirmiyahu of Libnah, and full brother to Jehoahaz. At his accession, Mattaniah had his name changed to Zedekiah by Nebuchadrezzar II. Like Jehoiakim, Zedekiah was antagonized by Jeremiah who counseled submission to the Babylonians in the hope of averting the impending disaster, yet Zedekiah mostly ignored him and even imprisoned him in the royal palace’s court of the guard. After Zedekiah broke his oath of allegiance and inclined toward Pharaoh Hophra of Egypt, Nebuchadrezzar besieged Jerusalem anew and this time destroyed the Temple, royal palace, city walls, and much of the capital. All the Temple vessels and treasures were carted off to Babylonia, as were most of the surviving Judahites taken captive and deported to Melah, Harsha, and Aviv (by the Chebar Canal). Zedekiah tried to escape but was ultimately overtaken by Babylonians at Jericho and brought to Riblah before Nebuchadrezzar, who had Zedekiah’s sons slain and the king blinded. Zedekiah was dragged in fetters to Babylon where he died in a dungeon.
After the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the First Commonwealth in 586 B.C.E., Israel ceased to exist as a political entity for 70 years until after the Cyrus Proclamation of 539/538 B.C.E. and a substantial Judahite return from Babylonian captivity under Sheshbazzar, Zerubbabel, and Joshua the high priest. The Jerusalem Temple was modestly rebuilt in 516 B.C.E., rededicated after the Maccabean Revolt in 164 B.C.E., and significantly aggrandized under King Herod the Great around 20 B.C.E. In all, the Second Temple stood for 586 years until 70 C.E. when it was destroyed by the Romans under Titus, bringing a tragic end to the Second Commonwealth and commencing the bimillenial exile of a people known ever after as Jews.