In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Archaeology and Material Culture of Judah and the Judeans (ca. 1000–586 bce)

  • Introduction
  • Brief Introductions
  • Overviews
  • Reference
  • Method
  • Negev
  • Shephelah
  • Ceramics
  • Domestic Architecture
  • Agriculture and Husbandry
  • Metallurgy
  • Economy
  • Mortuary Customs
  • History of the Discipline
  • Metacriticism and Ethics

Biblical Studies Archaeology and Material Culture of Judah and the Judeans (ca. 1000–586 bce)
Tyler Mowry, Deirdre Fulton
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0275


The kingdom of Judah was a small political state that arose in the southern Levantine hill country during the Iron Age and was eventually conquered by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BCE. While the precise boundaries of the territory of Judah are difficult to define and likely fluctuated considerably, the traditional heartland of Judah in the Iron II extended from the southern mountain range that emerged from the Jezreel Valley in the north, to the Northern Negev, located in the south. At the beginning of the Iron II period (ca. 1000 BCE), there began a steady increase in the small, unwalled settlements typical of that area in the Iron I period. The population of Judah remained relatively small throughout the 10th and early 9th centuries, but grew substantially during the late 9th century and especially the 8th century, as evinced by the proliferation of fortified settlements. At some point during this development, the political organization of these settlements coalesced into a monarchic state, but the precise nature and date of this transition is debated. Some scholars argue for the essential veracity of the biblical narratives concerning the foundation of the state under David and Solomon in the early 10th century BCE, while others argue there is little definitive and undisputed archaeological evidence pointing to a strong centralized government until the 9th century. Indeed, this complicated relationship between the biblical text and the material culture has defined the practice and prerogatives of Judahite archaeology from its inception. Modern, stratigraphic excavation in Judah began under the guidance of biblical scholars in the early 20th century and continued in this fashion through the mid-century “Biblical Archaeology” movement. In recent decades, however, the archaeology of Judah (often included within the category of Syro-Palestinian archaeology) has gained some degree of independence from the field of Biblical Studies. Following wider trends in world archaeology, scholars studying ancient Judah have begun incorporating data from ethnographic studies and archaeometric methods into the primarily tell-based excavation process that characterized Judahite archaeology in the past. Still, the influence of the biblical traditions is undeniably present in the archaeology of the Levant, and as a result, studies of Judah are often combined with those of the kingdom of Israel to the north. Readers will note that combined form “Israel/Judah” is used when little or no distinction is made between the cultures of the two kingdoms.

Brief Introductions

Due to the immense amount of data accrued over the last century of scholarship, most general overviews of Iron II Judah are several hundreds of pages in length. For those seeking a more concise summary of the field, the following sources will enable readers to quickly familiarize themselves with the histories, key discoveries, and major controversies within the field. Fritz 1994 and the much briefer Cline 2009 offer introductions to Judahite/Israelite archaeology from the perspective of Biblical Studies. Barkay 1992, Holladay 1995, Hardin 2013, and the complementary Maeir 2017 and Wright and Elliott 2017, on the other hand, are all article-length introductions focusing primarily or exclusively on the archaeological data.

  • Barkay, Gabriel. “The Iron Age II-III.” In The Archaeology of Ancient Israel. Edited by Amnon Ben-Tor, 302–373. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

    Barkay’s article on Iron Age Judah/Israel remains a classic, well-illustrated synthesis of the field. Focusing primarily on the architectural features of excavated sites, Barkay surveys Judah, Israel, and the Negev, highlighting major points of interest and topics of debate.

  • Cline, Eric H. Biblical Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. Very Short Introductions 217. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

    DOI: 10.1093/actrade/9780195342635.001.0001

    This installation of the popular-level A Very Short Introduction series covers “biblical archaeology” in two parts: a brief history of the discipline, and an overview of archaeological research related to the historical periods of the biblical narrative.

  • Fritz, Volkmar. An Introduction to Biblical Archaeology. JSOT Supplement Series 172. Sheffield, UK: JSOT Press, 1994.

    This book-length introduction includes several chapters dedicated to the history, methods, and purpose of “biblical archaeology” followed by a period-by-period summary of the major archaeological finds. The thorough, topically arranged bibliographies at the end of each chapter are a valuable resource for further research.

  • Hardin, James W. “Judah During the Iron Age II Period.” In The Oxford Handbook of the Archaeology of the Levant: c. 8000–332 BCE. Edited by Ann E. Killebrew and Margreet Steiner, 744–756. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

    Covering much of the same ground as Barkay 1992, Hardin’s well-documented introduction benefits from updated scholarship and added attention to anthropological concerns.

  • Holladay, John S. “The Kingdoms of Israel and Judah: Political and Economic Centralization in the Iron IIA-B (ca. 1000–750 BCE).” In The Archaeology of Society in the Holy Land. Edited by Thomas E. Levy. London: Leicester University Press, 1995.

    Holladay’s article is an introduction to Iron Age Israel/Judah in the vein of Americanist archaeology—predominantly anthropological in focus, and without any aid from textual (i.e., biblical) traditions.

  • Maeir, Aren M. “The Southern Kingdom of Judah: Surrounded by Enemies.” In The Old Testament in Archaeology and History. Edited by Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017.

    A compliment to Wright and Elliott 2017, this brief chapter surveys the major archaeological evidence relating to Judah from its formation until the period of Assyrian dominance.

  • Wright, J. Edward, and Mark Elliott. “Israel and Judah under Assyria’s Thumb.” In The Old Testament in Archaeology and History. Edited by Jennie Ebeling, J. Edward Wright, Mark Elliott, and Paul V. M. Flesher. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017.

    Wright and Elliott pick up where Maeir 2017 leaves off, offering an archaeological portrait of Judah from the mid-8th century until its demise in 586 BCE.

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