The Kingdom of Judah (Hebrew: מַמְלֶכֶת יְהוּדָה, Mamlekhet Yehuda) was a state established in the Southern Levant during the Iron Age, after the split of the United Monarchy. It is often referred to as the "Southern Kingdom" to distinguish it from the northernKingdom of Israel.
Judah emerged as a state probably no earlier than the 9th century BCE, although there are differences of opinion as to the dating. In the 7th century BCE, Jerusalem became the capital of the kingdom and a city with a population many times greater than before and would dominate the state and its neighbours, probably as the result of a cooperative arrangement with theAssyrians, who wished to establish Judah as a pro-Assyrian vassal state controlling the valuable olive industry. Judah prospered under Assyrian vassalage, (despite Hezekiah's revolt against the Assyrian king Sennacherib), but in 605 the Assyrian Empire was defeated, and the ensuing competition between the Twenty-sixth Dynasty of Egypt and the Neo-Babylonian Empire for control of theEastern Mediterranean led to the destruction of the kingdom in a series of campaigns between 597 and 582, the deportation of the elite of the community, and the incorporation of Judah into a province of the Neo-Babylonian Empire.
Significant academic debate exists around the character of the Kingdom of Judah. Little archaeological evidence of an extensive, powerful Kingdom of Judah before the late 8th century BCE has been found; Nimrud Tablet K.3751, dated c.733 BCE, is the earliest known record of the name Judah (written in Assyrian cuneiform as Yaudaya or KUR.ia-ú-da-a-a).
Archaeologists of the minimalist school doubt the extent of the Kingdom of Judah as depicted in the Bible. Around 1990–2010, an important group of archaeologists and biblical scholars formed the view that the actual Kingdom of Judah bore little resemblance to the biblical portrait of a powerful monarchy. These scholars say the kingdom was no more than a small tribal entity. 
However, others maintain that recent findings support the biblical story. Yosef Garfinkel has written in a preliminary report published by the Israeli Antiquities Authority that finds at the Khirbet Qeiyafa site support the notion that an urban society already existed in Judah in the late 11th century BCE. Other archaeologists say that the identification of Khirbet Qeiyafa as a Jewish settlement is uncertain.
Main article: History of ancient Israel and Judah
According to the Bible, the kingdom of Judah resulted from the break-up of the United kingdom of Israel(1020 to about 930 BCE) after the northern tribes refused to accept Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, as their king. At first, only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David, but soon after the tribe of Benjamin joined Judah. The two kingdoms, Judah in the south and Israel in the north, co-existed uneasily after the split, until the destruction of Israel by the Assyrians in c.722/721 left Judah as the sole remaining kingdom.
The major theme of the Hebrew Bible's narrative is the loyalty of Judah, and especially its kings, toYahweh, which it states is the God of Israel. Accordingly, all the kings of Israel and almost all the kings of Judah were "bad", which in terms of Biblical narrative means that they failed to enforce worship of Yahweh alone. Of the "good" kings, Hezekiah (727–698 BCE) is noted for his efforts at stamping out idolatry (in this case, the worship of Baal and Asherah, among other traditional Near Eastern divinities), but his successors, Manasseh of Judah(698–642 BCE) and Amon (642–640 BCE), revived idolatry, drawing down on the kingdom the anger of Yahweh. King Josiah (640–609 BCE) returned to the worship of Yahweh alone, but his efforts were too late and Israel's unfaithfulness caused God to permit the kingdom's destruction by the Babylonians in c.587/586 BCE.
After Hezekiah became sole ruler in c. 715 BC, he formed alliances with Ashkelon and Egypt, and made a stand against Assyria by refusing to pay tribute. (Isaiah 30-31; 36:6-9) In response, Sennacherib of Assyria attacked the fortified cities of Judah. (2 Kings 18:13) Hezekiah paid three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold to Assyria — requiring him to empty the temple and royal treasury of silver and strip the gold from the doorposts of Solomon's Temple. (2 Kings 18:14-16) However, Sennacherib besieged Jerusalem(2 Kings 18:17) in 701 BC, though the city was never taken.
During the long reign of Manasseh (c. 687/686 - 643/642 BC), Judah was a vassal of Assyrian rulers - Sennacherib and his successors,Esarhaddon and Ashurbanipal after 669 BC. Manasseh is listed as being required to provide materials for Esarhaddon's building projects, and as one of a number of vassals who assisted Ashurbanipal's campaign against Egypt.
When Josiah became king of Judah in c. 641/640 BC, the international situation was in flux. To the east, the Assyrian Empire was beginning to disintegrate, the Babylonian Empire had not yet risen to replace it, and Egypt to the west was still recovering from Assyrian rule. In this power vacuum, Judah was able to govern itself for the time being without foreign intervention. However, in the spring of 609 BC,Pharaoh Necho II personally led a sizable army up to the Euphrates to aid the Assyrians. Taking the coast route Via Maris into Syria at the head of a large army, Necho passed the low tracts of Philistia and Sharon. However, the passage over the ridge of hills which shuts in on the south of the great Jezreel Valley was blocked by the Judean army led by Josiah, who may have considered that the Assyrians and Egyptians were weakened by the death of the pharaoh Psamtik I only a year earlier (610 BC). Presumably in an attempt to help the Babylonians, Josiah attempted to block the advance at Megiddo, where a fierce battle was fought and where Josiah was killed. Necho then joined forces with the Assyrian Ashur-uballit II and together they crossed the Euphrates and lay siege to Harran. The combined forces failed to capture the city, and Necho retreated back to northern Syria. The event also marked the disintegration of the Assyrian Empire.
On his return march to Egypt in 608 BC, Necho found that Jehoahaz had been selected to succeed his father, Josiah. Necho deposed Jehoahaz, who had been king for only three months, and replaced him with his older brother, Jehoiakim. Necho imposed on Judah a levy of a hundred talents of silver (about 33⁄4 tons or about 3.4 metric tons) and a talent of gold (about 34 kilograms (75 lb)). Necho then took Jehoahaz back to Egypt as his prisoner, never to return.
Jehoiakim ruled originally as a vassal of the Egyptians, paying a heavy tribute. However, when the Egyptians were defeated by the Babylonians at Carchemish in 605 BC, Jehoiakim changed allegiances, paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. In 601 BC, in the fourth year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar unsuccessfully attempted to invade Egypt and was repulsed with heavy losses. This failure led to numerous rebellions among the states of the Levant which owed allegiance to Babylon. Jehoiakim also stopped paying tribute to Nebuchadnezzar and took a pro-Egyptian position. Nebuchadnezzar soon dealt with these rebellions. According to the Babylonian Chronicles, after invading "the land of Hatti (Syria/Palestine)" in 599 BC, he lay siege to Jerusalem. Jehoiakim died in 598 BC during the siege, and was succeeded by his son Jeconiah at an age of either eight or eighteen. The city fell about three months later, on 2 Adar (March 16) 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar pillaged both Jerusalem and the Temple, carting all his spoils to Babylon. Jeconiah and his court and other prominent citizens and craftsmen, along with a sizable portion of the Jewish population of Judah, numbering about 10,000 were deported from the land and dispersed throughout the Babylonian Empire. (2 Kings 24:14) Among them was Ezekiel. Nebuchadnezzar appointed Zedekiah, Jehoiakim's brother, king of the reduced kingdom, who was made a tributary of Babylon.
Destruction and dispersion
Despite the strong remonstrances of Jeremiah and others, Zedekiah revolted against Nebuchadnezzar, ceasing to pay tribute to him and entered into an alliance with PharaohHophra of Egypt. In 589 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II returned to Judah and again besieged Jerusalem. During this period, many Jews fled to surrounding Moab, Ammon, Edom and other countries to seek refuge. The city fell after an eighteen month siege and Nebuchadnezzar again pillaged both Jerusalem and the Temple, after which he destroyed them both. After killing all of Zedekiah's sons, Nebuchadnezzar took Zedekiah to Babylon, putting an end to the independent Kingdom of Judah. In addition to those killed during the siege, over time, some 4,600 Jews were deported after the fall of Judah. By 586 BCE much of Judah was devastated, and the former kingdom suffered a steep decline of both economy and population.
Jerusalem apparently remained uninhabited for much of the 6th century, and the centre of gravity shifted to Benjamin, the relatively unscathed northern section of the kingdom, where the town of Mizpah became the capital of the new Babylonian province of Yehud medinata for the remnant of the Jewish population in a part of the former kingdom. This was standard Babylonian practice: when the Philistine city of Ashkalon was conquered in 604 BCE, the political, religious and economic elite (but not the bulk of the population) was banished and the administrative centre shifted to a new location.
Gedaliah was appointed governor of the Yehud province, supported by a Chaldean guard. The administrative centre of the province was Mizpah, and not Jerusalem. On hearing of the appointment, the Jews that had taken refuge in surrounding countries returned to Judah. (Jeremiah 40:11-12) However, before long Gedaliah was assassinated by a member of the royal house, and the Chaldean soldiers killed. The population that was left in the land and those that had returned fled to Egypt fearing a Babylonian reprisal, under the leadership of Johanan, son of Kareah, ignoring the urging of the prophet Jeremiah against the move. (2 Kings 25:26, Jeremiah 43:5-7) In Egypt, the refugees settled inMigdol, Tahpanhes, Noph, and Pathros, (Jeremiah 44:1) and Jeremiah went with them as moral guardian.
The numbers that were deported to Babylon and those who made their way to Egypt and the remnant that remained in the land and in surrounding countries is subject to academic debate. The Book of Jeremiah reports that a total of 4,600 were exiled to Babylon. The Books of Kings suggest that it was ten thousand, and then eight thousand.
Re-establishment under Persian rule
In 539 BCE the Persians conquered Babylon and allowed the exiled Jews to return to Yehud and rebuild the Temple, which was completed in the sixth year of Darius (515 BCE) (Ezra 6:15) under Zerubbabel, the grandson of the second to last king of Judah, Jehoiachin. Yehud province was a peaceful part of the Achaemenid Persian Empire until the fall of the Empire in c. 333 BCE to Alexander the Great.