At some point the phrase 'House of Israel' came to refer to all Jews, but much earlier it referred only to the northern kingdom of Israel, and not Judah. How long after the fall of Israel (c.722 BCE) did people of the southern kingdom of Judah come to understand the phrase as referring to themselves, and how?

Reviewing the occurrences of the phrase 'House of Israel' suggests to me that the early northern prophets, Amos and Hosea, used the phrase in the old sense as we'd expect, meaning the northern kingdom, same as it did in the early Deuteronomistic history. Even a century after Israel's fall Jeremiah very often still used it parallel to 'House of Judah', so still distinct (Micah and Zechariah also only used it as a parallel to Jacob or Judah). But it seems Ezekiel (c.580) -- and only Ezekiel -- used the phrase (a lot!) when he clearly meant Judah.

Was it a consequence of the consolidation of the religion in Exile that Judahites took on the 'House of Israel' mantle for themselves? And at what point was Ezekiel's apparent comfort with the phrase assumed by Jews more generally?

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    Originally, it referred to all of israel as it meant the Children of Israel (descendant of Jacob) - all twelve tribes. Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 23:31
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    can you source some of the statements in your question, like about Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel?
    – Baby Seal
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 17:51
  • Good suggestion -- I've added a link to a list of the occurrences of the phrase on which my impressions are based. RE @sabbahillel's comment, I'm familiar with the later tradition, but I think the textual evidence suggests Judahites did not self-identify with the phrase until, perhaps, the Exile or later. But I'm open to other historical evidence or interpretation. Thanks!
    – Schuh
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 20:15
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    Following your link. All references cited before Rechavam son of Shlomo show that the reference to House of israel, refers to the entire Bnai Yisrael. Similarly Psalms uses it to refer to everybody (since they were written by King David). Many of the prophets used it to refer to everybody with Judah as a subset. Each sentence needs to be handled individually in context. In other cases, when one group is mentioned, House of Israel is used to mean everyone else. Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 20:27
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    But several of the prophets did not use 'House of Israel' to mean everyone but only the north (eg. Hos.11:12; Jer.2; 3:18). A full answer will need to address these exceptions to the later (and perhaps earlier) rule which suggest to me a development in Judahite self-consciousness. I assume it's related to the gradual incorporation of huge numbers of Israelite refugees into Judahite culture after 722 BCE, and I'm looking for sources that might discuss it, or alternative views that also explain the exceptions.
    – Schuh
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 22:48

1 Answer 1


The term 'Children of Israel' is mentioned many times throughout the earliest Deuteronomistic parts of the Bible, so if as commonly assumed these were written during the 7th century B.C around the reign of Josiah (~650 B.C), that would give an earliest date we can give - I'm not aware of any non-biblical sources that reflect on this.

Israel Finkelstein [1] among others discusses the archaeological evidence showing that the population of Judah was much smaller prior to the influx of refugees from the North. He explains the myth of a unified monarchy as an attempt to unite the two different populations and their respective narratives in order to support Josiah's expansion plans to the North after the collapse of the Assyrian Empire.

[1] The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology's New Vision of Ancient Isreal and the Origin of Sacred Texts

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    Another source on Judah's massive population explosion after the fall of the North: Magen Broshi, 'The Expansion of Jerusalem in the Reigns of Hezekiah and Manasseh.' (Israel Exploration Society).
    – Schuh
    Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 14:48
  • @schuh - Thanks. Any other details missing from my answer? Commented Jul 2, 2017 at 14:50

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