Similar questions have been asked previously, but answers emphasized the era after the split of the tribes. Even though Judah is one of the tribes of Israel, why are Judah and Israel often distinguished BEFORE the kingdoms divided under Rehoboam?

We see this in 2 Samuel 2 where David is anointed king of Judah, while Ishbosheth is proclaimed king of Israel, and war breaks out. Later in 2 Samuel 5, we see David become king of all Israel.

  • Hi Katelyn, welcome to the site. Upvoted +1. I edited your question slightly for clarity; if you don't like the changes I can roll them back. Thanks for contributing! Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 16:49

3 Answers 3


I am not sure that "Israel" in 2 Sam 2 and 5 (ie, before the division) is the same as in Kings (after the division) for several reasons:

  • before the division of the kingdom, "Israel" simply meant all the 12 tribes of Israel; the fact that Ishbosheth was anointed king of Israel was still intended to be all Israel. The fact that the tribe of Judah refused to recognize Ishbosheth means that "Israel" means 11 tribes of Israel; and "Judah" meant just the single tribe of Judah.
  • after the division of the kingdom, "Israel" means all the tribes except the southern tribes, namely, Judah, Benjamin, Levi (who continued to serve at the temple) and Simeon whose territory was within Judah. That is, "Judah" represented essentially 4 tribes and "Israel" represented 8 tribes.

Therefore, we need to be careful with terminology: Judah vs Israel meant different things before and after the division. There is nothing strange here.

  • I agree with your argument that "Judah" & "Israel" meant different things at different times. But are you of the view that 2 Samuel 2-5 & 1 Chron. 10-12 both represent the way the terms would have been used at the time these events took place? (rather than one or the other being the way they would have been described by someone looking back on the events years later) Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 19:16
  • I suppose it's possible, though, that even among contemporaries of David, the terms were not understood by everyone in the same way by. Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 19:17
  • @HoldToTheRod - my answer is "yes"; I see no evidence that these words (in this case) were later changed from their natural meaning at the time. I agree that there is occasional evidence of later place-name changes, but this is not one.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 9, 2022 at 20:40
  • I can respect that. Though I may have a hard time reading these chapters in this way, your post is a good presentation of this view, +1 Commented Apr 10, 2022 at 17:00

There are various documentary hypotheses for the origin of Old Testament documents. Though there is disagreement among these hypotheses, a feature that they all have in common is that they believe the text--as we have it today--was compiled from earlier sources.

Whether this is true of just the Torah, most of the OT, or somewhere in between, is a topic of considerable debate.

If 2 Samuel 2, for example, was published in its current form after the kingdoms split (not an unreasonable view, since 2 Samuel offers a retrospective view and the narrative ends not many years before the split), the Judah/Israel (or Judah/Ephraim elsewhere) dichotomy may be evidence that the editor--working with material from Samuel's time--used terminology familiar to his own time.

He described the kingdoms (whether intentionally or just out of habit) the way he was accustomed to describing them, which was not necessarily the way the terms were used by contemporaries of David.

A comparable argument can be made for the various OT (and NT) statements that such-and-such "remains to this day". The editor is inserting a narratorial comment from his own time. This can be helpful in approximating when the editor lived.


Excellent question! Instead of looking at it as one unified kingdom that suddenly split, its more helpful to look at it as two distinct entities and tribal units that were further divided after the split. Israel and Judah were always separate from each other even before the days of Rehoboam. Saul was a Benjamite king, and David was a very distinctly Juadean king. We see after Absalom's rebellion the Judeans came to escort David back, and this enraged the people of Israel:

Soon all the men of Israel were coming to the king and saying to him, “Why did our brothers, the men of Judah, steal the king away and bring him and his household across the Jordan, together with all his men?”

42All the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “We did this because the king is closely related to us. Why are you angry about it? Have we eaten any of the king’s provisions? Have we taken anything for ourselves?”

43Then the men of Israel answered the men of Judah, “We have ten shares in the king; so we have a greater claim on David than you have. Why then do you treat us with contempt? Weren’t we the first to speak of bringing back our king?”

So we see that David was never truly accepted as king of Israel, he more of a Judean king that ruled over all 12 tribes, and the Israelites indeed felt inferior to the Judeans, they viewed David as a Judean king. So the split was sort of inevitable at some point. During Solomon's and Rehoboam's reign this rift between Israel and Judah widened and was further exacerbated by the actions of the kings of Judah, until Israel completely seceded.

The reason Judah always considered itself a separate entity had a lot to do with geography. Judah also had a stronger military as is evident from the book of Judges where the Israelites turn to Judah for help. Judah and Ephraim both took turns as the elite ruling tribes in the period of the judges. At one point Ephraim ruled, and at another point Judah ruled. But the point is that the split didn't happen overnight, it started hundred of years before the actual split.

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