In Joshua 14-17, the tribes of Judah and Joseph (Ephraim and West Manasseh) are distributed first and together take up the majority of the land. The distribution of this land for Judah and Joseph seems altogether to be a different kind of distribution than that of the other tribes. The land left over after the distribution to Judah and Joseph was to be surveyed by members of the other tribes and was then distributed to them by lot (Joshua 18-19).

My question concerns the reason behind the prominence of Judah and Joseph in the distribution of land. Why are they set apart and dealt with differently? I'm trying to think of anything in the greater narrative that would warrant this. I also am thinking that the territories of Judah and Joseph eventually become the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel and Judah (with fluctuating boundaries) and that possibly has something to do with it.


Jacob blesses his sons in Genesis 49. The two who got the best blessings were Joseph and Judah.

Recall that Joseph had been Jacob's favorite. Also, Joseph saved them all.

Judah was the fourth oldest, but Reuben, Simeon, and Levi had all made Jacob mad. Reuben slept with Jacob's concubine (Genesis 35:22). Simeon and Levi exterminated a city and were a stench in Jacob's nostrils (Genesis 34). These were mentioned by Jacob in his blessings. So the priority of the firstborn was taken away from them and was given to Judah. Also, Reuben tries to save Joseph in Genesis 37, and he tries to save Benjamin in Genesis 42, but it is actually Judah who saves them both.

Jacob's blessing of Judah in Genesis 49 is also prophetic, looking toward the New Testament, regarding the lineage of Jesus.

You are a lion’s cub, Judah;

you return from the prey, my son.

Like a lion he crouches and lies down,

like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?

The scepter will not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,

until he to whom it belongs shall come

and the obedience of the nations shall be his.

--Genesis 49:9-10

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The Question asks whether there is anything in history that explains the lands of Joseph and Judah being set apart and dealt with differently. Biblical scholars carefully segregate the concept of 'history' and the Bible, so we need to look not only at what the Bible says, but what historians and archaeologists find in the early history of Israel.

Most scholars no longer accept the conquest model and say that the Book of Joshua does not reflect history. Wayne T. Pitard says in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, Before Israel, p55 that the ancestral narratives provide little data about the background to Israel's emergence as a nation. Their function was theological rather than historical, and while they performed that function well, caution must be used in extracting archaic memories that would illuminate historical matters. Lawrence E. Stager says (ibid, Forging an Identity: The Emergence of Ancient Israel, p102 that the evidence from language, costume, coiffure, and material remains suggest that the early Israelites were a rural subset of Canaanite culture and largely indistinguishable from Transjordanian rural cultures as well.He describes various hypotheses for the real origins of the Israelites. The consensus view is now that the Hebrew people were themselves Canaanites who migrated peacefully from the region of the rich coastal cities into the hitherto sparsely populated hinterland. Land was not distributed among the tribes as portrayed in the Bible, and history from this period tells us nothing about the reasons for the biblical prominence of Judah and Joseph in the distribution of land.

This leads to the history of the Book of Joshua itself. It has been traditionally regarded as having been written by Joshua himself, but the consensus of scholars is that it was written by an anonymous source now known as the Deuteronomist, living in the southern kingdom of Judah (see: http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780195393361/obo-9780195393361-0028.xml). The Deuteronomist was primarily interested in writing about Judah, and gave the history of Judah prominence. Joseph's legacy also received prominence because of his important role in Genesis.

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  • 1
    Perhaps I was unclear. I have changed the question above to indicate that I meant not history proper, but the greater narrative history (what has come before in the story). I have changed the question above to reflect this. I am aware of the scholarly views concerning the history of the conquest. My intent was to ask about reasons for the prominence of Judah and Joseph based on the received text. Thanks for the response, Dick. – Adria Feb 21 '14 at 18:19
  • Yes, I answered the original question, which asked about anything in their histories to explain this. – Dick Harfield Feb 22 '14 at 5:03
  • Shame to be -1'ed when I answered the original question, but it was then changed. – Dick Harfield Apr 13 '14 at 5:43
  • @DickHarfield you got a +1 from me. The OP should not bias towards those who only accept biblical inerrancy or who do not want historical accounts outside of the Biblical texts themselves. This site is the ideal setting for these kinds of answers. – Dan May 6 '14 at 17:41

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