This Day in Jewish History

1565 BCE: Judah Is Born, Will Found a Mighty Kingdom

Did Judah really exist? Archaeological evidence is scanty but what there is can support biblical tales of migrations and travails.

On God's command Abraham leaves Haran (Genesis 13:1-2). Formerly interpreted as the exodus from Egypt. A train of people and animals go through a gate. In the middle a woman rides a white horse in between sheep, a dog, a goat and a donkey. On the foreground all sorts of household goods, pots and pans. From the sky God is looking down.
Francesco da Ponte Bassano/Wikimedia Commons

On this day the 15th of Sivan, which falls on June 21 this year, Jacob and Leah had their fourth and last son, Judah, according to Chabad. The birth took place in the year 2916 from creation, by Chabad's reckoning (1565 BCE).

According to tradition, Judah would go on to father the great leaders of Jewish history, including the line of King David (whose existence remains to be categorically proven, though in 1993-4, a stele from 830 BCE bearing the earliest known reference to the House of David was found at Tel Dan). 

Judah was born in Haran, which was also the purported hometown of Terah, the father of patriarch Abraham, according to the bible. His name literally means "thanks," attesting to his mother Leah's gratitude to the Lord at helping her gain the affection of her husband Jacob by enabling her to quicken, while her rival wife Rachel remained barren: "Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb And she conceived again, and bare a son: and she said, Now will I praise the LORD: therefore she called his name Judah " (Genesis 29:31-35). He would be her last son.

The very word "Jew" itself arose from Judah's name, which is the origin of the name of the original Israelite nation. Its first ex-biblical mention is in a clay tablet found in Nimrud (the ancient Assyrian capital flattened by ISIS). The tablet, from about 733 BCE, describes the King Tiglath-Pileser III of Assyria's military exploits – which include crushing the king “Jehoahaz of the land Judah.”

The capture of the city of Astartu by the Assyrian king Tiglath-Pileser III about 730–727 B.C., as depicted on a palace relief now kept on display at the British Museum.
Mary G90/Wikimedia Commons

Born in the cradle of civilization

Haran was an inland city in Upper Mesopotamia, today part of southern Turkey, near the city of Şanlurfa. Many believe that regions now in Turkey and Iraq were the cradle of modern civilization, the place where man shifted from a hunting-gathering, nomadic existence and began to settle.

According to the biblical lore, Rebeccah had sent Jacob to Haran, also the hometown of her brother Laban, to protect him from the infuriated Esau. It was in Haran that Jacob saw and fell in love with his cousin Rachel, only to be tricked into marrying her sister Leah first.

(Haran is also startlingly near Gobekli Tepe, a site dating back some 12,000 years featuring gigantic, elaborate stone cultic monuments, which has been baffling archaeologists since its discovery.)

Tali Mayer

The account of Judah being born in the Anatolian mountain region of southern Turkey or Iraq, and eventually dying 119 years later – on this very same day, the 15th of Sivan – in Egypt, is certainly plausible from the perspective of travel at the time. Archaeologists now know that Judah's era, some 3500 to 3600 years ago, was marked by brisk trading and cultural relations not only between the peoples living on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, but between the Levant and Europe, all the way to the northernmost reaches of Scandinavia.

Did he exist?

For all Judah's colorful stories – which include magnanimously orchestrating the sale of Joseph by the jealous brothers to the Egyptians rather than killing him, being anointed leader of the house of Israel by his father Jacob, and having five sons including Ur and Onan – some scholars suspect his existence is a figment of rewritten history, to explain in retrospect why the tribe of Judah became ascendant over the other 11.

Half a century after King Solomon's death in 797 BCE, the Israelites had split into two kingdoms. Ten tribes united in the Kingdom of Israel in the north but were crushed by Assyria, apparently around 740 BCE, and were exiled, scattered and lost forever more. Though not a few peoples around the world claim to be their descendants, none have been proven so.

Old Jerusalem Jewish Quarter, street Mosaic of symbols of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel.
Djampa

The other two, the leading tribe of Judah and the smaller tribe of Benjamin, stayed local to the Solomonic line and formed the Kingdom of Judah in the south, with its capital in Jerusalem. However, in the 6th century BCE they too were vanquished and exiled, to Babylon, but would eventually return and rebuild Jerusalem. And to this day, the descendants of these people, augmented with bloodlines acquired around the world, are known by the name of Judah, or Jews.

Judah would also die on this day, the 15th of Sivan, in 1446 BCE, according to Chabad - at the age of 119.