931 BC – 586 BC
I would call this and the last country I covered rather similar, to the chagrin of the author of Kings who would probably tell me that the Lord is going to blast me from the sky, although he was certainly not above ragging on Judea, the smaller and more compact successor to the United Kingdom of Israel, ruled by the descendants of Solomon rather than a different set of tribes from the north. Though like the previous Kingdom and the earlier parts of Samaria, Judah is disputed in size and power, by the later part of the timeline we have evidence for it being as densely populated and powerful as Samaria, except tightened into a smaller space, a vassal of Assyria rather than being destroyed by it, and lasting a bit longer.
Located just to the south of Samaria, still all within the borders of Israel in the modern day, Judah consisted of the tribal lands of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, with the only other major tribal grouping being the Levites who were assigned to this part of the country. It contained Jerusalem, as well as other famous Israelite places like Bethlehem, Hebron and the southern city of Beersheba. Jericho was on the northern border.
Rehoboam was the son of Solomon and he was the king that caused the united monarchy to fall apart when Jeroboam (for both of these guys it’s BOH-AM, by the way) took the north away from him, because Rehoboam was nothing like his father, according to Kings, he wanted to differentiate himself from his father and on the advice of his advisors, treated the people harshly, so no wonder they rebelled. He reigned for 17 years, then his son Abijah reigned for 2, so this is very much like the pattern that plagued the northern kingdom. This time though, it wasn’t taken by another house, Abijah was just unlucky to not last so long, and his son Asa followed him.
Asa was a good king according to Kings as he was such a religious fanatic, rooting out all forms of idolatry, not yet heresy at this early stage of history, idolatry and golden calves were the things to watch for. For much of his reign the realm was peaceful and besides a few clashes with Egypt and the north, Asa ran his kingdom rather well.
His son, (Jumping) Jehoshaphat succeeded him and would have a reign of 25 years – he seems to have had a good and prosperous reign, and even, like the rulers of empires far bigger than him, had time to go on successful campaigns against the small fry of Moab to the east. His name lives on as an acceptable euphemism for Jehovah and Jesus. His son was Jehoram or Joram, and he came to power at the same time as King Joram in the north was also ruling – so if you’re keeping track, we’re already past Ahab and the golden era of Samaria (as well as the lifetime of the prophet Elijah), and also, having two kings of neighbouring rival countries with the same names at the same time is very confusing.
Ahaziah, the next king, was possibly a grandson of Ahab as well as being the son of Joram, according to the Kings author, his mother influenced him into being EVIL, by which I mean he didn’t worship YHWH like the Yahweh cult thought he should. He ruled for a year before he died in an assassination success by Jehu of the north, who killed King Joram (north, not Joram his father) at the same time and ruled over the north. So his mother Athaliah took over and the Kings’ author died of a heart attack because of the NORTHERN FILTH ruling the land. Or something. But she was apparently a bit of a femme fatale, she executed all the other claimants to the throne and acted as the last bastion of the Omri dynasty in a foreign land as Jehu did the same to all her relatives up north. She then died after six years.
‘Miraculously’, a claimant of the House of David was found alive, a grandson of Athaliah and son of Ahaziah, Jehoash took the throne and ruled well but was eventually assassinated by his servants. His son Amaziah killed the assassins but was honourable in his judgement of their families, sitting right with the religious authorities, but he ruled for 29 years and became lax, giving himself over to idols and eventually this led to his own downfall. But this led to the most prosperous and long-lasting king since Solomon. Uzziah took the throne at the age of 16, as a co-regent with his father for the first 24 years, the most ideal age for any ruler to take the throne if they are wise, for they have a long stable reign ahead of them and they are not so young that they can easily fall to assassins, and after both his father and grandfather did, Uzziah was wary. The Bible stories have him entering the temple to burn incense, an act reserved for the priests, so he got struck with leprosy. I doubt the veracity of that but clearly he instigated a bit of a religious scandal at one point in his reign and he had plenty of time to.
By now, Assyria was on the northern border and influences started to seep down, rivalries with Israel to the north were put aside for perhaps defensive alliance. Jotham, the next king, was deposed by pro-Assyrian forces that set up Ahaz, his son, as an ‘evil king’, or more likely, just pro-Assyrian. But then he did contribute to the destruction of the northern kingdom by betraying them when they called for aid and instead aligning himself with the Assyrians. He even swore homage to Assyrian gods so it was likely he wasn’t all that popular.
Hezekiah, his son was far more so, considered a righteous king in the Bible despite naturally being submissive to Assyria, enough that he was one of Sennacherib’s main targets during his reign, and he presided over an invasion of Jerusalem by that Assyrian king, though Hezekiah himself is remembered as one of the best kings to hold Judah, such that he probably delayed its destruction for another hundred years through canny political moves between Assyria and Egypt, latching on to whoever was strongest at the time and paying them tribute. Importantly, we actually have a number of non-Biblical sources for his reign that corroborate a lot of what is said in the Bible, that Judah was surprisingly powerful given its size (partly due to northern Israelites fleeing to Judah) and able to hold its own against Assyria, Hezekiah constructed walls and did the best with what he could against the tide, ensuring safety for his people above all else.
Manasseh came to power as co-regent of Hezekiah and while Judah was now a vassal of Assyria, was reasonably independent from it. He sucked up to Assyria a lot, built buildings on the overlord’s answers and while he may have been pragmatic, this was not looked on as favourably as his father, partly because of his support for polytheism which did not sit well with the worshippers of Yahweh, who by this point was almost fully morphed into the monotheistic god of the universe that he would become, and yes, this was most likely a process of over several centuries that Yahweh became so exclusive, he would have started out just as another god just like everywhere else. He was followed by Amon for a year but then we get to the last capable king of Judah, Josiah.
Josiah is remembered as a warrior king and a learned one, with reforms to the scriptures compiled by him, and conflicting reports of his death in battle. Sadly there are no non-Biblical sources about him so Josiah is one we have to rely on religious texts for, which portray him positively even though he was the last king to have much control over Judah. The sons of Josiah ended up being captured by Egypt and Babylon and their inability to hold the kingdom together meant the end of Judah, it was destroyed by Babylon, which had overtaken Assyria as the major power in the region and this once independent region would go under foreign rule for much of the next millennium and beyond.