Book of Judith

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The Book of Judith is among the books of the Septuagint, the Old Testament accepted as inspired and canonical by the Orthodox Church in the Greek Orthodox Bible, and found in the books of the Old Testament of the Vulgate and included in the canon of inspired scripture by the Third Council of Carthage (397). Since the Council of Trent it is dogmatically accepted as inspired and canonical by the Catholic Church in the Catholic Bible—books of the Bible accepted as divinely inspired by the majority of Christian believers in the United States and throughout the world.[1][2]

Judith was first removed from the Old Testament and placed in the Apocrypha by Martin Luther in the 16th century. The Book of Judith is regarded as an apocryphal book of the Old Testament by less than one-third of Christian believers.[2]

See Apocrypha.

Canonical Status

The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book considered canonical by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, and is included as sacred scripture in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles, but is excluded by Jews from the Hebrew Masoretic Tanakh, and is placed by Protestants among the Apocrypha.

Although the book was recognized as part of the Septuagint Old Testament received as inspired scripture by Christians of the early church, as evidenced by its continued use since the 1st century in the Eastern Church, it was later rejected by rabbinic authorities, until the Protestant Reformation, when it was retained by Catholic and Orthodox Christians but excluded by Protestants as one of the Apocryphal books. The nation of Israel treated all of the Apocryphal books with respect, but after the establishment of Christianity never accepted them as true books of the Hebrew Bible. Even though the Book of Judith is not part of the official Jewish religious canon, it regained popularity among Jews in the medieval period and remains widely read today.

The early Christian church debated the status of parts of the Septuagint Old Testament, but the majority of Christians believed they belonged in the canon of Scripture. This is a fact established and emphasized by several synods and councils such as the Council of Hippo (393) and the Third Council of Carthage (397) which listed the Book of Judith and six other books, disputed by some scholars but received by most, in the canon of sacred scripture. This early canon of the Bible, which was not disputed by succeeding councils, local and general and ecumenical, and was the first canon to list all 27 books of the New Testament as canonical, remained unchanged for 1200 years until the 16th century. Jerome, in the 5th century, while expressing his own opinions as influenced by the Jewish rabbis with whom he had studied, opinions which were not shared by most of his scholarly peers, yielded somewhat to their voice and included the book in the body of the Old Testament of his Vulgate (A.D. 420). In the following centuries some individuals debated the status of Judith and raised questions regarding its inspiration, but they were in the minority, and the book remained in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. The canon of Damasus, and the Synods of Rome, Hippo and Carthage, was reaffirmed in the 15th century at the Council of Florence of the (briefly reunited) Church of the east and west in 1442.[3] In the 16th century Martin Luther firmly declared the book to be spurious, and he removed it from the Old Testament of his German Bible and placed it in the separated Apocrypha. The Council of Trent pronounced a definitive end to all debate over the status of this book by declaring dogmatically the canon of sacred scripture "as read in the Church", which included the Book of Judith.

The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of the Protestant Episcopal Church (Article VI: "Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation") includes the Book of Judith among "the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine".[4]

In summary, the Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, fully included in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles and accepted as sacred and inspired by the majority of Christians,[1] but is excluded by Jews and Protestants. However, although it is among the Protestant apocrypha of the Old Testament and is non-canonical for Jews it remains a popular and widely read work. The Book of Judith is regarded as apocryphal by less than one-third of Christian believers.[2]


See Judith and Holofernes.

The Book of Judith tells the story of the ignominious defeat of the Assyrians, an army bent on world domination, by the hand of a Hebrew woman (Judith 13:14). Indeed, her beheading of Holofernes, the invading Assyrian general—in his own tent, with his own sword, and surrounded by his own previously undefeated victorious army—marks her as a political savior in Israel on a par with David.

The book can be divided into five parts:

  • Assyrian Threat (1:1–3:10)
  • Siege of Bethulia (4:1–7:32)
  • Judith, Instrument of the Lord (8:1–10:10)
  • Judith Goes Out to War (10:11–13:20)
  • Victory and Thanksgiving (14:1–16:25)

Chapter summaries

Chapter 1 Nabuchodonosor king of the Assyrians overcomes Arphaxad king of the Medes.
Chapter 2 Nabuchodonosor sends Holofernes to waste the countries of the west.
Chapter 3 Many submit themselves to Holofernes. He destroys their cities, and their gods, that Nabuchodonosor only might be called God.
Chapter 4 The children of Israel prepare themselves to resist Holofernes. They cry to the Lord for help.
Chapter 5 Achior gives Holofernes an account of the people of Israel.
Chapter 6 Holofernes in great rage sendeth Achior to Bethulia, there to be slain with the Israelites.
Chapter 7 Holofernes besieges Bethulia. The distress of the besieged.
Chapter 8 The character of Judith: her discourse to the ancients.
Chapter 9 Judith’s prayer, to beg of God to fortify her in her undertaking.
Chapter 10 Judith goes out towards the camp, and is taken, and brought to Holofernes.
Chapter 11 Judith’s speech to Holofernes.
Chapter 12 Judith goes out in the night to pray: she is invited to a banquet with Holofernes.
Chapter 13 Judith cuts off the head of Holofernes, and returns to Bethulia.
Chapter 14 The Israelites assault the Assyrians, who finding their general slain, are seized with a panic fear.
Chapter 15 The Assyrians flee: the Hebrews pursue after them, and are enriched by their spoils.
Chapter 16 The canticle of Judith: her virtuous life and death.

The Story

The Book of Judith recounts the story of God providing a woman, Judith, to deliver the Jewish people in a time of great need and despair.

The story of Judith has four episodes:
1 Nebuchadnezzar's War: (1-7:32)
2 Judith, Instrument of the Lord (8:1–10:10)
3 Judith Goes Out to War (10:11–13:20)
4 Victory and Thanksgiving (14:1–16:25)

In the opening chapters, God’s divine sovereignty over Israel comes into direct conflict with Nebuchadnezzar’s political sovereignty over all the nations of the western world.

There is a military struggle underway, a war between two ancient kings, Nebuchadnezzar and Arphaxad. At the start of this war Nebuchadnezzar orders all the city states in surrounding kingdoms to send him a levy of soldiers, but they flout his command. Without their support the Persian forces begin invading the states to the west of its borders. Eventually, without their support, he wins the war, and when it is over Nebuchadnezzar has grown angry with the people of the Levant who resist his rule. He decides to take his revenge, and vows to destroy them, to teach them a lesson in respect.

Nebuchadnezzar (a Babylonian) summons Holofernes, his military commander commander-in-chief, the leader of his Assyrian armies. He assigns Holofernes to this task, and orders him to lead a vast army against those states who have ignored his original command. Holofernes sets out, leads a massive force in a punitive campaign against the western vassal nations—including Israel—who refused to send auxiliary forces against the Medes. All those who will not submit to Nebuchadnezzar are destroyed. The great army sweeps down from Mesopotamia into Syria and Lebanon toward Israel, burning, murdering and plundering as he goes. The nations in its path immediately surrender and beg for peace. Eventually he comes to the sea coast near Sidon and Tyre, and the people there send messengers, suing for peace. Holofernes spares them, but destroys all their sacred temples and shrines: they must henceforth worship Nebuchadnezzar alone.

The Israelites living in Judea know that their turn is coming. They are distraught, since they have only recently returned from exile in Assyria (2 Chronicles 33:10-19; 2 Kings 22:1–23:25; Judith 4:3) and rebuilt their Temple, which Nebuchadnezzar will of course destroy if he captures the city.

However, they devise a plan: the High Priest Joakim writes to the Israelites, among them the people of Bethulia. He orders them all to pray for deliverance, and this they do most fervently, fasting and praying to God for deliverance, and wearing sackcloth and even draping the altar in Jerusalem with sackcloth; they will retreat to the hill-tops, fortify and provision them, and wait it out. Hilltop towns in Judea guarded the roads below and had to be taken by any invader who wanted to secure the transport routes. The people of Israel block his retaliatory advancement against all the nations of the west. The little hilltop town of Bethulia (a curious name, similar to the related Hebrew word for “virgin”, “young unmarried woman”), is particularly desperate, since Bethulia strategically guards Holofernes' route of access and stands in the way of the mighty army's path to Jerusalem. (1-4) They know only too well that if their town is overrun Jerusalem and its Temple will be sacked and destroyed.

Holofernes is told that the mountain passes have been closed and the hilltop villages fortified. He is outraged and calls a meeting of all the princes of the Moabite and Ammonite city states. Who are these hilltop ragamuffins to flout him? He is, after all, Nebuchadnezzar's top general. Holoferenes is amazed that the Israelites have the courage to resist him. One of the princes, Achior, the leader of all the Ammonites, steps forward and tells him about the Israelites, and briefs the commander-in-chief on Israel's sacred history - their origins and history, including the stories of their flight from Egypt and exile in Babylon. He praises them as a people, and begs Holofernes to pass them by without harming them, and declares that Israel will be invincible unless it sins against God. Holofernes does not respond well to this plea, and responds, "Who is God except Nebuchadnezzar?" Holefernes reasons that sheer strength of numbers will guarantee him success in any battle, and that the Israelite settlements will be easy prey: "we the king's servants will destroy them as one man. We will overwhelm them; their mountains will be drunk with their blood, and their fields will be full of their dead. Not even their footprints will survive our attack; they will utterly perish." He is not pleased with Achior: if Achior likes these Israelites so much, he might as well join them, and die with them. He orders Achior bound and taken to Bethulia, where he can share the Israelites' fate. Achior is seized, taken to Bethulia and left, tied up, outside the walls of the town. The townspeople retrieve him and take him inside the walls of Bethulia. The Ammonite leader is treated with hospitality by the citizens of the city, where Uzziah, the chief magistrate of the town, pumps him for information. Achior tells him about Holofernes and his intentions, and the grateful townspeople reassure him and welcome him into their assembly. Holofernes arrays his troops for battle, but the Edomites in his coalition convince him to lay siege to the city instead, by taking control of its water supply, which lies outside the city walls. Holofernes decides that the best tactic is to lay siege to the town. Despite the warning of Achior the Ammonite that the Jews cannot be conquered unless they sin against their God, Holofernes lays siege to Bethulia, cutting off its water supply. Holofernes then musters his entire army. The figures given, 170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry indicate that the mountain town is vastly outnumbered. While Nebuchadnezzar's army, led by Holofernes, besieges Bethulia, on the other hand the walls of Bethulia are strong, and so there is, for the moment, stalemate.

The Assyrians have cut off the water supply of Bethulia, the town at the entrance of the narrow corridor leading to Jerusalem (Judith 7:7, 4:7). For thirty-four days the people of Bethulia hold out, until every water container in the town is dry and even the underground cisterns are almost empty. The siege has made the people fractious, thirsty, and bitter (Judith 7:20, 29). The children are listless and the people begin fainting, collapsing in the streets. After thirty-four days, a little more than a month, the exhausted people of Bethulia are ready to surrender, even though it will mean worship of Nebuchadnezzar (3:8). The townspeople think that God has abandoned them. They blame Uzziah for not submitting to Holofernes in the first place, and saving them from death. True, they would have had to abandon worship of יהוה YHVH or YHWH JaHVeH " I AM " Yahweh, the LORD, and pray to Nebuchadnezzar instead, but this now seems preferable to death by thirst.

They urge Uzziah to surrender the town to Holofernes, and beg their leaders to surrender. But the leading citizen of their town, the magistrate Uzziah, their mayor, urges a compromise. Playing for time, he urges them to hold out for five more days. He suggests they pray, asking God for a further five days, to give God five additional days to deliver them, temporarily postponing what seems inevitable apostasy, slavery, and destruction of the Jerusalem sanctuary. Uzziah and the town’s other magistrates, succumbing to the townspeople’s demands, say they will surrender to the Assyrians in five days—unless the Lord takes pity (Judith 7:29-30). It will mean slavery for them, but at least they will be spared from seeing their children die of thirst. If God has not saved them by then, and does not deliver them by the fortieth day of the siege, Uzziah and the magistrates vow to accede to their wishes, and he promises that if God does not deliver them in this time, they will surrender, and the town will be handed over to Holofernes' forces. (5-7) He finally convinces them to hold out for five more days.

Part 2 (8:1–16:25)

2 Judith and the Elders: (Book of Judith 8:1-9.14)

It is only now at this stage in the story, during the final stages of an Assyrian siege which has convinced her city of Bethulia to surrender, that the lovely Judith, a pious widow of Bethulia, appears on the scene and makes her entrance.

The whole story revolves around God and Judith, a daring widow - this is important to the story, because she must be highly moral but also sexually experienced. The beautiful and respected Judith is a woman of impeccable background and character, a great beauty, and wise. Her husband died three years previously of sunstroke, but has left her financially independent, a wealthy widow of Bethulia, In the story Judith lives in the town of Bethulia. Despite her wealth, she lives a simple, almost Spartan life in a shelter on the rooftop of her house, fasting and praying most of the time. Judith is of course aware of what is going on around her in the town of Bethulia. Through her maid Judith learns of Uzziah's promise to surrender the town after five days if God has not saved it. On hearing this, she becomes incensed with her town elders. Once she takes the stage, she surrenders it to no other character, figuring in every scene until the book’s end. Judith comes forward to challenge the five-day compromise that has imposed conditions on God’s sovereignty. Instead of going to Bethulia’s leaders, she summons them to her home (Judith 8:10). She sends her maid to summon the elders, the town magistrates, including Uzziah, Chabris, and Charmis to her house, and when they come to her in her rooftop room she confronts the town leaders, remonstrates with them. When they “test” God rather than trust Him and they decide to capitulate to King Nebuchadnezzar’s top general, Holofernes, to surrender if God does not save them in five days, their plan, she says, is not the right course of action.

The most important part of the story lies here, What follows is one of the great statements about what God is and is not (8:12-17). where she talks about the nature of God: what God is and is not.

Chiding and upbraiding them for testing God (Judith 8:11-12), for putting themselves in the place of God (8:12), she argues that God is simply testing them, and has the power to help them at any time (8:15). She urges, “Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading” (8:16). God is not a human being to be bargained with, or put to the test, nor can we ever hope to understand God's mind. We do not know what the person beside us is thinking, even if it is someone we love - just as they do not really know what we are thinking. How then can we expect to know what is in the mind of God? Judith, as a prophet of God, unequivocally states that giving God such a deadline is arrogant and inappropriate in the extreme. Judith proposes that they wait for deliverance and together call upon God who will listen, if so disposed (8:17). She insists that God will not disdain Israel, because they know no other god, and that capture by the Assyrians will mean the desolation of the temple as well as their way of life. Judith counsels, “Let us set an example for our kindred” (8:24).

She prophetically proclaims that to surrender to Holofernes' would be sin. "If we are captured, all Judea will be captured and our sanctuary will be plundered; and he (God) will exact of us the penalty for its desecration," she argues. Anticipating the gruesome outcome of the 34-day Assyrian siege against Bethulia, Judith describes it this way: “The slaughter of our kindred and the captivity of the land and the desolation of our inheritance” (Judith 8:22). If the little town at the gateway to Jerusalem falls, Jerusalem will be exposed and the sanctuary looted. Uzziah brushes off her advice. She is after all only a woman, so he tells her that the best thing she can do is pray, leaving decision-making to the men. Judith, in turn, calmly brushes off his advice. Uzziah responds that all she has said is true and that this is not the first time her wisdom has been shown (8:28–29). But, the people were thirsty; the magistrates made an oath; and she can best help by praying for rain. Surely in answer to her prayers, the Lord will fill the cisterns and the people will no longer faint from thirst (8:31). Thus he saves himself from losing face by a violation of the law of Moses by rescinding his foolish vow to hand over the town to the Assyrians in five days if God does not act (7:30–31), blaming the people who forced him to this oath, victimizing the victims as Jephthah did his daughter (Judges 11:35). Judith prophetically declares that she herself will become God's agent of deliverance.

Giving up the idea that she and the town officials can set an example together, Judith decides to act independently, on her own initiative. She herself has a secret plan, which she begins to put into action. She declares to the elders she has a plan to save Bethulia, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the people, and must leave the city for it to be successful, but she does not tell them what she plans to do. Declining to reveal it, she nonetheless proclaims her deed will “go down through all generations of our descendants” (Judith 8:32). She refuses to divulge any details, to tell them exactly what she is about to do (8:33–34). Explaining that she will do something all the generations will remember, she tells them and Uzziah to meet her at the town gate that evening so that she and her maid may leave the town that night. She demands that the gates be opened and that she and her maid be let out of the city (Judith 8:33, 10:9). She and her maid will go out, and before the five days of their compromise are gone, she pledges prophetically “the Lord will deliver Israel by my hand” (Judith 8:33). Not only do the leaders listen without interruption, they also acclaim her for her wisdom and do her bidding (Judith 8:28-29).

When the magistrates have departed, Judith prostrates herself on the floor, and makes a prayer and cries out to God, begging the strength to be like Simeon, who took vengeance against the Shechemites who violated his virgin sister, Dinah. She urges God to break their power by putting strength instead into the hands of a widow, herself. Then she presents the present predicament of the townspeople, helpless prey to the Assyrians. She implores God to hear her widow’s prayer (9:4), crediting God with full knowledge of past, present, and future (9:5–6). Judith asks God to see the pride of the enemy, to send fury on their heads, to give her—a widow—a strong hand, to strike down the enemy “by the deceit” of her lips (9:10), and to “crush their arrogance by the hand of a woman” (9:10). In an androcentric setting, there is no greater dishonor for a male warrior than to die at the hand of a female (see Judges 9:53–54; 2 Samuel 11:21). She audaciously asks God to make her a good liar - the only such prayer in the Bible. She prays desperately to God to allow her to use "deceitful words" to defeat the Assyrians. It is important here to keep in mind that deceit was a recognized and admired strategy in ancient warfare. She describes the terrible things that have happened to women during war, and says she does not pretend to understand them, but accepts that they are somehow part of God's ultimate design and plan.

Seduction and murder (Book of Judith 10:1 - 13:20)

When she has finished her prayer of petition (Judith 9:14), she rises from the floor and calls her maid. Together they begin to prepare to carry out the plan. Judith knows her power over men (Judith 10:7, 14, 19, 23). Wisely appealing to their senses of sight and smell, her weapons of warfare are sensual and material.

For her adventure, she removes her sackcloth and widow’s dress. She bathes her whole body - either a terrible waste of precious water, or more likely a use of fine olive oil laved over her skin and wiped away - and then richly perfumes herself. Judith then dresses carefully, attiring herself beautifully, knowing the success of her ruse and assassination plan depend upon her ability to entice. Dressing glamorously in a way “to entice the eyes of all the men who might see her” (Judith 10:4), she grooms herself so that she is alluringly beautiful. She selects a festival dress, fixes her hair, and puts on one of the extravagant robes she wore when her husband was alive, then dresses her hair with a tiara as her battle garb’s finishing touch (Judith 10:3). Then she decks herself with jewelry - she accessorizes her outfit with rings, bracelets, anklets, earrings, and other assorted pieces of jewelry, and attractive sandals (Judith 10:4). After that, she and her maid gather an assortment of ritually pure foods to eat and put it all in a large bag (10:5).

Thus prepared, Judith and her maid set forth at night and made their way through the darkness to the town gate, where Uzziah and the elders are waiting. The town gates are opened, and she and her maid leave, receiving the praise of the people of Bethulia as she, together with her maid, departs through the gate, and leaves the city. She travels out and down the valley heading towards the Assyrian camp of the enemy general Holofernes intending to be captured.

3 Judith and Holofernes:

Almost immediately she and her maid are stopped by an Assyrian perimeter patrol who challenge them. She is immediately arrested, but convinces them that she has useful information for Holofernes. She tells the soldiers she is fleeing from the townspeople in Bethulia, and will give Holofernes secret information that will help him capture the town without losing a single soldier, and tells her first lie when she says, “I am a daughter of the Hebrews, but I am fleeing from them, for they are about to be handed over to you to be devoured. I am on my way to see Holofernes the commander of your army, to give him a true report” (10:12–13). Her words and beauty greatly excite the soldiers who are astonished by her beauty, and the beauty of her maid. amidst great excitement on account of her unrivaled beauty. (8-10) They immediately choose one hundred men from their ranks to assist her and she enters Holofernes’s camp on the pretext of providing him help to defeat her fellow Jews. She is consequently taken to him, escorted by 100 men directly to the tent of Holofernes. (Judith 10:14–17). The general is resting on his luxurious bed, but he comes to the front of the tent and greets her.

Judith meets and overwhelms the enemy general. She seductively ingratiates herself to Holofernes, and prostrates herself before him. Both of them then begin telling a sequence of lies - Holofernes who first tells her his first lie, assures Judith that she will not be harmed if she is willing to serve his master, Nebuchadnezzar. he starts off by saying that she has nothing to fear, since he has never hurt anyone who serves Nebuchadnezzar. saying he has never hurt anyone who chose to serve Nebuchadnezzar (11:2; conveniently omitting how he destroyed the shrines and sacred places of seacoast peoples after they had surrendered in 3:1–8). Equal to the encounter, and playful with her use of the address “lord,” which Holofernes hears as deference to him, but Judith means as reference to God, Judith promises to tell him nothing false (11:5), and responds by saying how much she admires Nebuchadnezzar and Holofernes, and how much she has heard about his wisdom and clever military strategies. She readily relates a tale that contains just enough fact to be believed. She confirms the report of Achior the Ammonite regarding the Israelites' invincibility. However, she reports that the people of both Bethulia and Jerusalem have been so hard pressed by the siege that they are about to sin grievously by consuming sacred food items dedicated to God. She explains that this very situation is what prompted her own decision to come over to the Assyrian side, rather than to share in the now certain doom of the Israelites. She promises to act as Holofernes' agent to tell him when these sins have been committed, and thus when it is safe for him to attack. She refers to her 'lord'; the reader knows she is speaking about God, while Nebuchadmezzar assumes she is referring to him. Claiming to have direct access to God, she tells him that she will pray each evening, and that God will let her know when it is the right moment to strike. She explains she will go out into the valley and pray to God each night and God will tell her when the Bethulians have sinned by eating sacrifices, so that Holofernes can safely attack Bethulia (11:16–19). She in turn will give this information to Holofernes. She promises to guide Holofernes and his whole army through the hill country to Jerusalem without the loss of life or so much as a dog growling at them (Judith 10:13, 11:19). Her words delight the general and his attendants (Judith 11:20).

Well-pleased, Holofernes agrees to the plan, praising her beauty and wise speech, and he tells her that he has never met a woman who is as beautiful in appearance and wise in speech as she is, pledging, “If you do as you have said, your God shall be my God, and you shall live in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar” (11:23; compare Ruth 1:16). Holofernes is mesmerized by her beauty and takes her into his camp and company. Her voluptuousness and wiles attract him, and lust blinds him to her deceit. Beguiled, he plans to seduce her, but she turns the tables on him. He welcomes her to the camp and grants her request to travel through the camp at night to bathe at a spring and pray (Judith 12:5-7). He offers her a sumptuous meal, but she piously declines to eat the non-kosher food. He then tells his servants to set out food for her and let her use his own silver dinnerware. She delicately declines, pointing to the food she has brought, and the reader is thus aware that she is a pious Jew who will not eat ritually unclean food. She has brought her own supplies in a bag, and survives on this while she stays in the camp for three days, leaving each night to pray, supposedly for God's revelation as to the propitious time for Assyria to attack. Thus this unprotected and unexpected guest in the Assyrian camp dangles herself alluringly as bait and waits for three days for a chance to strike and save Israel.

After eating, she sleeps until midnight, then, accompanied by a guard, she goes to the nearby spring to wash herself and pray. During each of the three days she is in the camp she stays in the tent during daylight hours, and eats her own food each evening.

Four uneventful days pass in the enemy camp. On the fourth day, Holofernes determines that he must have his way sexually with the alluring Judith. He sends his personal attendant Bagoas to invite Judith to an informal banquet in his tent (Judith 12:10–12). He observes to his servant that it would be a disgrace to let her go without seducing her. Judith now accepts his invitation to eat with him and "become like one of the the daughters of the Assyrians." She dresses in all her best finery (12:14–15) and presents herself at his tent. When Judith comes into the tent, Holofernes, seeing her, is ravished, “for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her” (12:16). In the intimate seduction scene set in Holofernes’ tent, Judith simply reclines where her maid has laid Judith's sheepskin bedding on the ground in front of Holofernes and lies on the lambskins, reclining seductively before him. He offers her something to drink from the lavish banquet dinner but she drinks only the wine given to her by her maid. Holofernes, on the other hand, gets down to some serious drinking. She drinks and eats what her maid prepares (12:18–19), nibbling her food brought from Bethulia, and flatters the general by telling him “today is the greatest day of my whole life” (Judith 12:15-20). She presents such a pretty picture that the gullible, lustful Holofernes, overjoyed and beset with lust, becomes so aroused that he consumes a huge quantity of wine in anticipation of possessing Judith, and drinks himself into senseless, fatal oblivion (Judith 12:16, 20). (11-12) Holofernes is besotted. He drinks “much more than he had ever drunk in any one day since he was born” (12:20).

Eventually evening comes and the servants all discreetly withdraw from the tent, leaving Holofernes and Judith alone to have some privacy, and Judith is left alone in the tent with Holofernes. He immediately falls asleep in a drunken stupor, stretched out on his bed, now dead drunk (13:2). Judith’s maid waits outside, as instructed..

She waits until he is drunk Soon, alone with him late at night in his tent, as he lies in a drunken stupor, sleeping, the moment has come for Judith to act. But first she prays, asking God to give her strength for what she must do. (Judith prays twice for God’s help, 13:4–5, 7) Seeing her opportunity, and praying beforehand, Judith takes Holofernes' Holofernes' taking Holofernes’ own gleaming sword, sword, sword from where it hangs hanging in its sheath from the bedpost, above his bed. then lifts it down. She then prays to God for strength, braces herself, raises it high above her head. beheads him with two strokes to the neck from his own famous sword (Judith 13:4-7). Judith strikes once with all her strength, and then strikes again (13:8). With this, his head falls away from his body. She then rolls the headless body off the bed and pulls down the luxurious bed curtains, bundling them up so they can be carried. Judith acts for the common good. She assassinates Holofernes, the enemy of Israel, a world-class bully who slaughtered his way through Put, Lud, the lands of the Rassisites and the Ishmaelites, the walled towns along Wadi Abron, and Cilicia; he set fire to the tents of the Midiantites and the fields of Damascus (Judith 2:23-27). Pausing for a moment to gather her strength, she picks up the twitching head and takes it out to her maid. Summoning her maid, she gives Holofernes' head to her, and they put his head in Judith's food bag. The two women then go out of the camp, as was their nightly habit to pray, except this night they return to Bethulia (13:10) and make good their escape, a feat made easy by Judith's authorized nightly prayer vigils outside the camp. Without arousing suspicion, the two of them pass through the camp as they have done on the previous nights, but instead of heading towards the spring they circle up the mountain towards Bethulia.

Then returning, she and her faithful maid take his head back to Bethulia. Once there, they call to the guards to open the gates and let them in. Inside the safety of the walls, the people run to welcome Judith and her maid, She proclaims in front of all her people, her maid standing with her, that she has not been defiled by Holofernes because the Lord protected her; telling how God protected her so that no sin was committed to defile or shame her (13:15–16). Her face tricked Holofernes and brought his downfall (Judith 13:16). Judith pulls the grisly contents out of the bag and produces Holofernes' head. She displays the head of Holofernes for all to see, and shows it to the people, to the great joy of the Israelites, her grateful countrymen, who are astounded by what she has done. Displaying his head, and no doubt unfolding the jeweled canopy, her story is believable. The people bless God (13:17), and Uzziah hails her as “blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth” (13:18). Judith then instructs the people to wait until daybreak and then attack the Assyrians (14:1–4). When Achior the Ammonite is brought to verify that the head belongs to Holofernes, he faints (see Esther 15:7). He confirms the identity of the head, and blesses Judith, and is so impressed by God's miraculous work through Judith that he believes firmly in God. Achior the Ammonite accepts circumcision and is circumcised, and becomes a Jew (14:6–10).

4 A national heroine (Book of Judith 14-16)

Judith knows the battle is not won. She tells the people to hang Holofernes' head in full view on the battlements, and they hang it on the outer walls of the town. Then she gives them instructions for the next morning. At dawn they are to make a loud noise with their weapons as if they are about to attack. She knows the Assyrians in the valley below will run to alert Holofernes. Of course, they will find only his headless body and this, she hopes, will create a panic among the Assyrian soldiers, who will flee.

This is exactly what happens. The Assyrians, meanwhile, having discovered Judith's treachery, are thrown into disarray. When the enemy troops realize they have lost their leader they panic. Following Judith's advice, the men of Bethulia attack, mustering their fellow Israelites. The Assyrians are then routed. In the ensuing hours the disordered Assyrian army is easy prey for the Israelite troops, who are familiar with the terrain and wage guerilla warfare on the hapless, leaderless soldiers. The Israelites successfully rout the Assyrians and plunder their camp and drive the enemy back even beyond Damascus, and Israel is saved.

Aftermath, and the Song of Judith:

Judith becomes a national heroine, Judith has saved her people, receives high honors and adulation. and is hailed as a national heroine. lauded by everyone; even Jerusalem's high priest Joakim comes Joakim, the high priest of Jerusalem, Joakim, the high priest of Jerusalem, comes to Bethulia to arrives to celebrate the victory to pay his homage to this extraordinary woman.

In the final scene of the story, Judith leads a dancing procession of women, singing a hymn of praise to God, towards Jerusalem. The lavish bed curtains from Holofernes' tent are given as an offering in the Temple. A triumphant procession of the women and the men, with Judith in the lead singing a hymn of praise like that of Miriam and Moses in Exodus 15, makes its way to Jerusalem where all worship God for three months (16:1–20). With one voice they call Judith the glory of Jerusalem, the great pride of Israel, and the boast of the nation (Judith 15:9). The people concur with Amen (Judith 15:10).

When they have all worshipped there for three months they return. Judith then retires and goes back to her estate to her home in Bethulia. She lives there, still much loved, until she is very old. She never remarries. Though she is courted by many, despite many offers of marriage, Judith remains quietly unmarried for the rest of her life, and lives the rest of her life as a widow. “Many desired to marry her, but she gave herself to no man all the days of her life after her husband Manasseh” (16:22). At one hundred five years of age, she frees her faithful maid, and distributes her property to all those who were next of kin to her husband (compare Num 27:1–11; 36:1–11; Tob 6:11–13). This dispersal of her estate supports the unexpressed fact that Judith is a childless widow. Judith eventually dies at the age of one hundred and five buried in the tomb of her husband. (13-16)

Judith: God's instrument of war

Judith, the truly remarkable heroine of the Book of Judith, is introduced as a devout, shapely, beautiful and wealthy widow (Judith 8:4, 7). She exhibits characteristics showing her the equal of Israel’s finest warriors. Consider these characteristics: Judith commands, plans, leads, strategizes. Indeed, her beheading of Holofernes, the invading Assyrian general—in his own tent, with his own sword, and surrounded by his own heretofore victorious army—marks her as a political savior in Israel on a par with David.

Her song, containing many distinctively feminine insights, details her preparation for war—how she anointed her face with perfume and fixed her hair. Judith’s song speaks of her sandals, her renowned beauty, her exquisite tiara and the deliberate action of putting on a linen gown, knowing it would beguile her intended prey, Holofernes (Judith 16:7-8). These were her weapons, as important and deadly as Sisera’s 900 chariots in Deborah’s war (Judges 4:3). Judith triumphantly proclaims “the Persians shuddered at her audacity and the Medes were daunted by her daring” (Judith 16:10).

Judith displays extraordinary courage. Unlike the Bethulian magistrates who cry to the Lord for rain and hope for deliverance from the Assyrians (Judith 8:31, 7:30), Judith acts. Correcting their theology, she proclaims the siege as a test from God, like the one he put to Abraham and Isaac, and thanks God for it (Judith 8:25-26)! Everyone knows that the Bethulian men, while brave, present no match for the Assyrian’s 170,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry (Judith 7:2). But Judith, unarmed, alone but for her accompanying maid, steps forward (Judith 8:33).

Judith and her maid. A silent, anonymous maid accompanies Judith throughout her mission and shares equally in it. Both are members of the covenant community; the maid observes Judith’s lifestyle of prayer and fasting. The text hints at a deep bond between Judith and her maid and the deep faith they share. And although the text does not say that the maid knew Judith’s complete plan or was asked to accompany her, Judith’s character indicates she would not order someone to come with her on what could be a death mission. She has a warrior's unhesitating confidence in a trustworthy commander. In modern terms, both were enemy agents bent on the destruction of Israel’s foe. Both are heroines. The maid is also beautiful, for the awestruck Assyrians marvel, “Who can despise these people when they have women like this among them?” (Judith 10:19). The maid attends to the logistics of their mission, to the physical needs of her mistress—her food and clothing—and acts as chaperone and attendant, adding to the mystique and credibility of a great lady claiming that she flees in distress from her doomed countrymen to the Assyrians because the Hebrews “are about to be devoured” (Judith 10:12).

Judith’s heritage. Judith is introduced with a lineage virtually unparalleled in the Biblical text (Judith 8:1-2). A descendant of Simeon, her genealogy includes 16 progenitors and still does not complete the list of all of them back to Simeon! The genealogy, a significant textual marker, establishes her as a formidable literary character. In an interesting psychological insight, her prayer for help with her plan to save Israel and assassinate Holofernes, the besieging Assyrian general, begins with a remembrance of Dinah’s shame (Genesis 34:2; Judith 9:2-4). Judith, by her upcoming valor and good deed, expresses determination to erase this early, but still remembered, defamation by flesh-minded Gentiles hostile to God.

Judith and her countrywomen. The women of her faith community admirably express no hint of jealousy toward her beauty, wealth, piety, and accomplishments; indeed, she inspires them. Judith relates well to other women. They identify with her and sing her praises and dance in her honor (Judith 15:12). Judith and the women crown themselves with garlands (Judith 15:13). Judith then leads the women first, with the men following, in a celebratory victory dance, just as Miriam the prophetess led the women after the victory at the Sea of Reeds (Exodus 15:20-21). In both stories, a mighty foe, bent on the destruction of God’s covenant people, falls. A heroine knows no greater honor than to have been the humble and forthright instrument through whom God saves his people. She said, "Who am I, to refuse my Lord? Surely whatever pleases him I will do at once, and it will be a joy to me until the day of my death!" (Judith 12:14). Judith, like Esther, is a type of the virgin Mary who said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."

Judith as prophetess

Her prophetic utterances

The text does not explicitly say Judith is a prophetess, but her words and actions offer evidence that she indeed is a prophetess. She ranks along with Deborah (Judges 5), the wife of Manoa (Judges 13:23), Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10), Naomi (Ruth 1:20-21), Abigail (1 Samuel 23-31) and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20), all of them theologians and prophets in the Old Testament, in the sense that they all declare God’s character and actions. Judith credits God for the victory over the Assyrians and the killing of Holofernes (Judith 16:5-6). Her theology includes solidarity and identity with her community and shows her leadership. In her closing prayer, she sings of my territory, my young men, my infants, my children, and my maidens (Judith 16:3-4), words of God himself through Isaiah (2 Kings 19:20-28; Isaiah 3:12-15; 5:3-7; 14:24-25; see also Moses, Exodus 15:17-18; Deuteronomy 32:36 and 33:3; and David, Psalm 148:11-14). Upbraiding Uzziah and the Bethulian magistrates for putting themselves in the place of God (8:12), she reveals that God is simply testing them, and has the power to help them at any time (8:15). She urges, “Do not try to bind the purposes of the Lord our God; for God is not like a human being, to be threatened, or like a mere mortal, to be won over by pleading” (8:16). Judith tells them that giving God such a deadline is arrogant and inappropriate in the extreme. Judith proposes that they wait for deliverance and together call upon God who will listen, if so disposed (8:17). She insists that God will not disdain Israel, because they know no other god, and that capture by the Assyrians will mean the desolation of the temple as well as their way of life. Judith counsels, “Let us set an example for our kindred” (8:24).

She prophetically proclaims that to surrender to Holofernes' would be sin. "If we are captured, all Judea will be captured and our sanctuary will be plundered; and he (God) will exact of us the penalty for its desecration," she argues.The first indication is when she asserts to Uzziah and the Bethulian magistrates that “I am about to do something that will go down through all generations of our descendants.” (Judith 8:32). She does (and it has gone down through all generations to this day).

Consider these other instances: At the start of her adventure, she (and her maid) are blessed by Uzziah. Uzziah asks God’s favor on the mission and charges Judith to fulfill her plans “so that the Israelites may glory and Jerusalem may be exulted!” (Judith 10:8). Judith responds that she “will go out and accomplish the things you have just said to me” (Judith 10:9). She does.

While a “guest” of the Assyrians, she accepts the invitation to attend a banquet in Holofernes’ tent with this double-meaning response and a pun on the word lord: “Who am I to refuse my lord? Whatever pleases him I will do at once” (Judith 12:14). She does—but for her lord. She proclaims that the banquet “will be a joy to me until the day of my death” (Judith 12:14). It is. While Judith encourages Holofernes' fantasies by agreeing that “today is the greatest day of my whole life” (Judith 12:18). It is. Clearly, Judith’s adventure progresses according to the plan she devised and prayed about.

Back in Bethulia, she tells her townspeople that once the Assyrians find Holofernes’ headless corpse, “panic will come over them, and they will flee before you” at the advance of the Bethulians who will cut the enemy down “in their tracks” (Judith 14:3-4). Judith's word is proved true.

Judith’s theology

Her covenant heritage combines prayer and action. She calls on God to break the world-renowned pride of the Assyrians “by the hand of a woman” (Judith 9:10), thus causing them ongoing, international shame. She calls on God, in his anger, to bring down the strength of the Assyrians (Judith 9:8). She urgently petitions God to demonstrate throughout the world that “there is no other who protects the people of Israel but you alone” (Judith 9:14). She beseeches God to grant her, a widow, the strength she needs and to hear her prayer (Judith 9:9, 12). She asks that “my deceitful words bring wound and bruise on those who have planned cruel things” against the covenant people (Judith 9:13). Then, with Holofernes’ neck exposed for the deadly blow, she prays for strength to accomplish her plan, her prayer is granted and she speedily slashes through his neck with two blows (Judith 13:5, 7-8; 16:9).

Other women whose speeches are recorded in detail in the Biblical text are Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 8-9), Abigail (1 Samuel 25:23-31), Deborah (Judges 5), and the Beloved in Song of Songs. Judith tops them all with two long statements—first to Uzziah and the other Bethulian magistrates (Judith 8:11-27), and the second to Holofernes and the Assyrian forces crowding around to gaze at her beautiful face (Judith 11:5-19). She prays thrice—once before her adventure starts (Judith 9), then for strength to behead Holofernes (Judith 13:4-7) and finally in a public song at the national celebrations honoring her deed and the slaughter of the Assyrians (Judith 16:1-17).

Uzziah proclaims Judith is blessed “by the Most High God above all other women on earth” (Judith 13:18). This verse, an echo of Deborah’s vindication of Jael’s similar, direct assassination of Sisera (Judges 4:21, 5:24-26), is pivotal in Roman Catholic theology, for it also is spoken of Mary (Luke 1:42, 48).

Main themes in Judith's story

The nature of God. In Chapter 8 Judith rebukes the town officials for trying to make God in their own image It's a remarkable description of what God is and is not.

Judith was not a soldier, but she killed a fearsome warrior of the ancient world. She did this by using the gifts she had: beauty, intelligence, and ruthless cunning.

Ingenuity (and faith in God) are better than brute strength. Judith's story is a variant on the David and Goliath story, where a seemingly weak person triumphs over a person of superior strength. She is a symbol of the Jewish people, who relied on God's help and their own abilities to overcome their enemies. They were surrounded throughout their history by huge and fearsome kingdoms, but God stood by them when they called on his help.

Her song lauds the kind of upset the Biblical text loves: that of the underdog winning against the mighty, proud foe; of the enemy cowering in fear and screaming and running; of mere boys slaying seasoned Assyrian warriors (Judith 16:11-12).

The Book of Judith is an illustration of the inspired teaching found in Psalm 2:1-5:

"Why do the heathen rage,
and the people imagine a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying,
Let us break their bands asunder,
and cast away their cords from us.
He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh:
the LORD shall have them in derision.
Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath,
and vex them in his sore displeasure." (KJV)

A charge of glorifying deceit and murder

Judith is the only biblical woman who asks God to make her a good liar. In Judith 9:10 and again in 9:13, she petitions God for “deceitful words” that will wound those who have planned cruelties against the Jerusalem Temple and their homeland.

Judith is part of a larger company of women in the Bible who practice deceits that have positive national and personal consequences, including Rebekah who tricks her husband, Isaac, for the sake of their son Jacob (Genesis 27); Tamar who steals the next generation by tricking her father-in-law Judah into impregnating her (Genesis 38); the midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who lie to the king of Egypt about why they have not killed the Hebrew males at birth (Exod 1:19); Moses’s sister Miriam who offers to call a nurse for the daughter of Pharaoh, but calls the baby’s own mother, (Exod 2:7–8); the daughter of the Pharaoh who adopts and names the child Moses, in direct violation of her father’s instruction (Exod 2:10); Rahab, who preserves the lives of Joshua’s spies by lying to the king of Jericho (Joshua 2); and Jael, a Kenite, who smashes the skull of the enemy general seeking the hospitality of her tent after assuring him "Turn aside, my lord; turn aside to me; have no fear." (Judges 4–5).

The prophet Micaiah, after lying to the king as he was counselled to do, then testified to King Ahab the king of Israel that the LORD himself "has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets; the LORD has spoken evil concerning you." (1 Kings 22:19-23)

Queen Esther, together with Mordecai, as authorized by the king, issued an edict in the king's name commanding the Jews to gather and defend their lives by destroying, slaying, and annihilating any armed force of any people or province that might attack them, together with their children and women, and to plunder their goods, on one day. She then requested of the king that the Jews be allowed to repeat this a second day, and he granted her request.

Samuel told Saul to go and smite Amalek for what they had done to Israel, and utterly destroy all that they had; not to spare them, but to kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass. (1 Samuel 15:2-3). When Saul failed to completely fulfill this order, he was rejected by God, and Samuel cut King Agag, a prisoner, to pieces for his murders. (1 Samuel 15:32-33)

David, when he and his men dwelt with Achish king of Gath, and were given the city of Ziklag, made raids on the Geshurites, Girzites, and Amalekites in his land. Whenever Achish asked David about whom he had raided, David, the "man after God's own heart", lied to him, saying, "Against the Negeb of Judah", or, "Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites", or, "Against the Negeb of the Kenites", and he left no one alive to come to Achish and tell him what David had done. Achish trusted David, and when David with his men accompanied Achish when the Philistines went forth to war against Israel and King Saul, the Philistine commanders insisted that David would turn and fight against them for Saul. When Achish reluctantly dismissed him, David said with double meaning, "What have you found in your servant from the day I entered your service until now, that I may not go and fight against the enemies of my lord the king." (1 Samuel 27:5-12; 29:2-8) David himself had said, "Who can put forth his hand against the LORD's anointed, and be guiltless?" (1 Samuel 26:9)

The critics of the Book of Judith who say it cannot be canonical scripture because it contains murder and deceit [5] have taken the acts of Judith out of the traditional context of executing the guilty wicked and defending the people of God against their murderous foes, the same inspired context of those books of the Bible which they do accept as canonical. It is interesting that those persons in the Bible who were deceived, and even killed, as Holofernes was killed, had first made themselves enemies of God and murderers, had stubbornly refused to receive the truth, and in true justice, as punishment, were given lies (and death) instead. This is consistent with the judgment against the guilty who plot against the innocent:
"You shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother; so you shall purge the evil from the midst of you. And the rest shall hear, and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you." Deuternonomy 19:19-20.
"When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened...Who changed the truth of God into a lie...And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind." Romans 1:21, 25, 28.

Historical-grammatical text analysis: historical setting

"Nebuchadnezzar ruled over the Assyrians in Nineveh"

Judith 1:1-6. "In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh, in the days of Arphaxad, who ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana..."

It has been said by some Higher Critics that this is historically impossible, since Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian king who ruled in Babylon. However, historically, Nabopolassar the father of Nebuchadnezzar, conquered Nineveh in 612 B.C., and the Assyrian Empire in 609 B.C., and Nebuchadnezzar after him ruled from Babylon over Nineveh, and over the Assyrians who lived there. The text does not say that Nebuchanezzar ruled in Nineveh, it says he ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. And although Nineveh had been taken from the rulers of the Assyrians, among them Cyaxares/Arphaxad king of the Medes,[6][7] the people still retained their ethnic identity as Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It was not unusual for conquerors to conscript the armed forces of conquered territories, as did the Babylonians, and the Assyrians before them, and after them Alexander, and Rome at the time of the Republic and the Empire.
"About the seventh century B.C., Elam and the Elamites, whose capital was Susa, a people which possessed a tradition and civilization at least as old as the Sumerian, suddenly vanish from history. We do not know what happened. They seem to have been overrun and the population absorbed by the conquerors."[8]
The military forces of that Assyrian region, the conscripted Assyrian armies, were under the rule of Nebuchadnezzar, and were most certainly "the Assyrian armies of Nebuchadnezzar". His commander-in-chief Holofernes even had a Persian name. Taking the text of the Book of Judith as an historical account set within the historical context of the 12th year of Nebuchadnezzar, the statement, "Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh", is not historically impossible.

Catholics with very few exceptions accept the book of Judith as a narrative of facts, not as an allegory.[9]

  • 612. The 28th year of Josiah (612). Nineveh the Assyrian capital fell to Nabopolassar and Cyaxares.[10] Under Cyaxares the Medes captured Nineveh in 612 B.C.; they were the first people subject to Assyria to secure their freedom.[6] Nahum 2.

Nebuchadnezzar's 12th year 594 B.C.

  • 594. The 4th year of Zedekiah king of Judah, the 12th year of the reign of Nabuchodonosor/Nebuchadnezzar over the Assyrians in Nineveh.[11][12]
    Nabuchodonosor/Nebuchadnezzar made war against King Arphaxad/Cyaxares who ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana. Book of Judith 1:1-6.
  • 593. The 5th year of Zedekiah king of Judah, the 5th year of the exile of Jehoiachin/Jeconiah/Coniah.
    "in the 5th year at the time when the Chaldeans took Jerusalem and burned it with fire", Baruch read to Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim "this book" (Book of Baruch).[13]
    Baruch took the vessels that had been carried away from the Temple to return them to the land of Judah. Offerings could still be made on the "altar of the Lord our God", and prayer "for Nabuchodonosor king of Babylon, and for the life of Balthasar his son / for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and for the life of Belshazzar his son". Baruch 1:1-12.
    See Pseudepigrapha.
    Paraleipomena Jeremiou Things Left Out of Jeremiah (4 Baruch)
    Ezekiel's vision of the LORD and his call at the age of 30, the age priests normally were inducted into office (593).[14] Ezekiel 1:1; Numbers 4:30.
  • 592. The 6th year of Zedekiah king of Judah, the 6th year of Jehoiachin (592).
    Ezekiel's vision of the appearance of a man clothed in linen. Ezekiel 8:1.
  • 591. The 7th year, the word of the LORD when the elders came to Ezekiel to inquire of the LORD. Ezekiel 20:1.
    3,023 persons were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah 52:28.
    Nabuchodonosor/Nebuchadnezzar overthrew and utterly destroyed Arphaxad, and plundered Ecbatana. He captured Arphaxad and stuck him down with hunting spears. Judith 1:13-16.
    The 17th/18th year of Nabuchodonosor.
    Nabuchodonosor/Nebuchadnezzar sent his general Holofernes/ Holophernes (evidently a name of Persian origin) [7] to take revenge on the whole territory of Cilicia, Damascus, Syria, Moab, Ammon, all Judea, and Egypt. Judith 2:1.
    The Jews had only recently returned from the captivity (2 Chronicles 34-35),[15] and all the people of Judea were newly gathered together, and the sacred vessels and the altar had been newly consecrated after their profanation.
    Judith 4:1-3. Baruch 1:8-9
    Joakim/Eliakim son of Hilkiah was high priest in Jerusalem. Judith 4:6; Baruch 1:7.[16]
    He was the brother of Azariah, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, son of Zadok the high priest. Azariah was the father of Seraiah, the father of Jozadak/Jehozadak the father of Jeshua, who was high priest in the days of Zerubbabel after the Exile.
    1 Chronicles 6:13-15; Ezra 3:2
  • 589. The 9th year, 10th month, 10th day. "The king of Babylon has this day laid siege to Jerusalem." 2 Kings 23:31–24:1; Ezekiel 24:1-2.
    The 9th year of Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Jeremiah 39:1.
    589. last siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. 607, 599, 587 (?).
    Zephaniah was the priest whom Zedekiah sent to Jeremiah asking him to pray for the nation.[17] Jeremiah 21:1-7; 37:3-21.
    Judith beheaded Holofernes, the Assyrian army was dismayed and they fled. Judith 14:18–15:2. "no one ever again spread terror among the people of Israel in the days of Judith or for a long time after her death." Judith 16:25.
    Jeremiah does say the Chaldeans suddenly withdrew. Jeremiah 37:5.

Pharaoh Hophra / Apries 589 B.C. "The army fled"

  • In 589 Pharaoh Hophra / Apries began his 19-year reign in Egypt (589–570 B.C.). At the beginning of his reign he tried to drive the Babylonian army away from its siege of Jerusalem,[18] and it suddenly withdrew. Jeremiah 37:4-15; 46:17. It was at this time, during the period when the Babylonian army had retreated, and the Assyrian army had been routed (Judith 15:2-5), that Jeremiah was imprisoned.

Identification of the town of Bethulia

The site in Israel which most nearly matches the description of the site of Bethulia is that of Sanur.[19]
See Satellite View of Sanur - صانور , Jinin-جنين

Historical-critical textual analysis

The Book of Judith relates the story of God’s deliverance of the Jewish people. This was accomplished “by the hand of a female”—a constant motif (cf. 8:33; 9:9, 10; 12:4; 13:4, 14, 15; 15:10; 16:5) meant to recall the “hand” of God in the Exodus narrative (cf. Ex 15:6). The name Judith (יְהוּדִית—Yehudit) is the feminine form of Judah. She resembles several other biblical women, most obviously Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite (Judges 4:5), who lures the enemy commander Sisera to fall asleep in her tent, where she assassinates him. Judith may also be seen as a type of Delilah on God's side.

The Book of Judith's scenes are enlivened and given immediacy by their vivid setting in the midst of a battle in which Israel and Jerusalem are about to be overwhelmed by Assyria. Many literary critics clearly believe the book contains numerous historical anachronisms and although artfully constructed, they think it must be considered a work of pious fiction. Many historical-critical scholars say that the Book of Judith was never actually intended by the author to be read as factual history - that it is more like fiction with a theological message. Many of the historical details appear to them to be incorrect - for example, Nebuchadnezzar was a Babylonian, but the story presents him as ruler of the Assyrians. It has inspired numerous works of art, music, and drama. Rather than a work of sacred history, however, they suggest that it is best understood as a pious historical novel, similar to Tobit and Esther. The mighty ruler Nebuchadnezzar—the "Assyrian" ruler in the Book of Judith who (according to their reading of the text) reigned in Nineveh—was actually the ruler of the later Babylonian Empire, as every educated Jew knew perfectly well. Nor was his army ever driven back by the Israelites as the result of the assassination of his commander. (They retreated at the approach of the army of Pharaoh Hophra; but the conscripted forces of Nebuchadnezzar's Assyrian army were not his Babylonian forces.) The historical Nebuchadnezzar was entirely successful in his campaign to subjugate Judea. In fact, with regard to Nebuchadnezzar, the prophet Jeremiah argued against precisely the policy of resistance which the Book of Judith glorifies. For Jeremiah and later Judaism, the sin of Judah was already beyond forgiveness, and Nebuchadnezzar was God's agent of chastisement who must be supported, not rebelled against or resisted. (However the vicious commanding-general Holofernes is not King Nebuchadnezzar, and he is not besieging Jerusalem, but Bethulia.) According to the Jewish Encyclopedia the opening lines, "In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned over the Assyrians in Nineveh," is the ancient Hebrew equivalent of "once upon a time in the land of make believe." This is the currently accepted general view.

The work may have been written around 100 B.C., but its historical range is extraordinary. Within the reign of Nebuchadnezzar (1:1; 2:1), it telescopes five centuries of historical and geographical information with imaginary details. According to many Higher Critics, there are references to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital destroyed in 612 B.C., to Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler not of Assyria but of Babylon (605/604–562), to Holofernes, commander-in-chief of the Assyrian armies of Nebuchadnezzar (which, of course, according to their reading of the text, is impossible historically since Nebuchadnezzar is a Babylonian!), and to the second Temple, built around 515. (In response to this last observation it must be noted that the temple, before the 12th year of Nebuchadnezzar, was extensively repaired and reconsecrated under Josiah.) The Bible says that at the siege of Jerusalem Sennacherib's officer, taunting the Jews who stood on the city wall, assured them that they were doomed to 'eat their own faeces and drink their own piss' (2 Kings 18:27). This seems mild compared with the fate described in inscriptions at Nineveh.

According to the Higher Criticism, the postexilic period is presumed (e.g., governance by the High Priest; this is assumed only because the king of Judah is not mentioned). The Persian period is represented by the names of two characters, Holofernes and Bagoas, who appear together in the military campaigns of Artaxerxes III Ochus (358–338); there seem to be allusions to the second-century Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Several mysteries remain: Judith herself, Arphaxad (most likely Cyaxares), and others are otherwise unknown. The geographical details, such as the narrow defile into Bethulia (an unidentified town which gives access to the heart of the land), are judged to be fanciful. The simple conclusion from these and other details, according to the Higher Criticism, is that the work is historical fiction, written to exalt God as Israel’s deliverer from foreign might, not by an army, but by means of a simple widow.

The story's geographical setting in a city called "Bethulia," a possible pun on the Hebrew word for "virgin," is also believed by many to be fictional. However, some suggest that Bethulia might actually be either Shechem or the village of Meselieh, both of which occupied a location north of Jerusalem and would have been of possible strategic significance to an invading army aimed at Jerusalem. Another possibility is Sanur, near Jinin.

Scholars believe the book reflects the cultural literature of the Hasmonean dynasty, when stories of heroic opposition to Gentile kingdoms were popular. The book has a distinctly religious trend, and is calculated to inspire both patriotism and piety. The most likely date of the book is probably sometime in the later second century B.C., believed to be written in the late second century or early first century B.C..

If the Book of Judith was an historical account written by Joakim/Eliakim the high priest son of Hilkiah and brother of Azariah son of Hilkiah the high priest in the 6th century, according to the views represented in the 19th century prefatory notes to Judith in the Douay-Rheims Bible (1899), the last line of the book may have been added or appended to an edition of the story published in Judea after the high priesthood of Simon or John Hycanus I in honor of the victories of Judas Maccabeus, who beheaded Nicanor. Alternatively, Joakim may have died before the return of Nebuchadnezzar's army, under the impression or belief that after their retreat in 589 B.C. they would not return for a long time, with his ending of the book of Judith actually prophetically foreshadowing the victory of Judas Maccabeus over Nicanor (who also was beheaded) and the rise of the Hasmonean Dynasty in an independent Judea (142 B.C. through 63 B.C.).

"no one ever again spread terror among the people of Israel in the days of Judith or for a long time after her death."
(reading "Judith = Judas Maccabeus") Judith 16:25.

On the fifth day of Hanukah, Jews eat cheese and other dairy products to remember Judith's great deed which parallels the Maccabees' in 167 B.C.[20]

Original language

The Book of Judith was almost certainly written in Hebrew. However the oldest versions of its actual text are Greek translations included in the Septuagint version of the Hebrew Bible.

There are four Greek recensions of Judith (Septuagint codices Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus, and Basiliano-Vaticanus), four ancient translations (Old Latin, Syriac, Sahidic, and Ethiopic), and some late Hebrew versions, apparently translated from the Vulgate. Despite Jerome’s claim to have translated an Aramaic text, no ancient Aramaic or Hebrew manuscripts have been found. The oldest extant text of Judith is the preservation of 15:1–7 inscribed on a third-century A.D. potsherd. Whatever the reasons, the rabbis did not count Judith among their scriptures, and the Reformation adopted that position. The early Church, however, held this book in high honor. The first-century Pope, St. Clement of Rome, proposes Judith as an example of courageous love (1 Corinthians 55). St. Jerome holds her up as an example of a holy widow and a type of the Church (To Salvina: Letter 79, par. 10; see also To Furia: Letter 54, par. 16) and, in another place, describes Mary as a new Judith (To Eustochium: Letter 22, par. 21). The Council of Trent (1546) included Judith in the canon; thus it is one of the seven deuterocanonical books. Inner-biblical references are noteworthy: as God acted through Moses’ hand (Ex 10:21–22; 14:27–30), so God delivers “by the hand of a female,” Judith. Like Jael, who drove a tent peg through the head of Sisera (Jgs 4), Judith kills an enemy general. Like Deborah (Jgs 4–5), Judith “judges” Israel in the time of military crisis. Like Sarah, the mother of Israel’s future (Gn 17:6), Judith’s beauty deceives foreigners, with the result that blessings redound to Israel (Gn 12:11–20). Her Hebrew name means “Jewish woman.” Her exploits captured the imagination of liturgists, artists, and writers through the centuries. The book is filled with double entendres and ironic situations, e.g., Judith’s conversation with Holofernes in 11:5–8, 19, where “my lord” is ambiguous, and her declaration to Holofernes that she will lead him through Judea to Jerusalem (his head goes on such a journey).

Judith means ‘the Jewess’, female form of Judah or Judas (Maccabeus)
Holofernes means 'stinking in hell'
Nebuchadnezzar means 'may the god Nebu protect you and your possessions'
Uzziah means 'the Lord is my strength'
Achior means 'brother of light'

This Book of Judith was believed to be written first in Hebrew, but the Septuagint scripture crafted in Koine Greek was accepted by the Catholic Church for its Bible. Jerome, a Catholic priest and apologist (c. A.D. 347 – 420), was said to produce a text of Judith in Latin from a secondary Aramaic text.

As with other books in the Apocrypha, there are seeming anachronisms, most notably the claim that Nebuchadnezzar ruled over the Assyrian Empire from Nineveh. He actually ruled over Babylonia. Plus, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, had destroyed Nineveh years earlier, making this story’s history suspect for many. However, many view this account as a variation of the Exodus story, where faith in God and reliance on Him for deliverance from fear and protection from harm and evil is what believers must always do. This book is regarded as an appropriate reflection during the Passover celebration.

The Book of Judith (second or early first century B.C.) appears to many to be an imaginative, highly fictionalized, romance that entertains as it edifies. From a literary perspective, the book is an artistic masterpiece, constructed in two parts (1:1–7:32, 8:1–16:25), with each internally ordered by a threefold chiastic pattern.[21] Numerous correspondences between the two halves of the story provide elegant compositional symmetries. The Book of Judith is a story of balance and counterbalance that makes the point that God’s people have all they need to survive if they rely wholeheartedly on the covenant.

Judith is conventional in upholding inheritance and purity rights, in prayer and fasting, in her ideas about God’s providence. She is unconventional in upbraiding the male leaders of her town for what they have said about God, though she does this within the privacy of her own home. No other woman in the Bible has another woman in charge of her estate; no other childless woman refuses to marry. On her account, “No one ever again spread terror among the Israelites during the lifetime of Judith, or for a long time after her death” (16:25).

The irony of the Book of Judith is hard for some to accept: Judith is a virtuous woman but also a murderess and assassin, and for many readers the basic message of her story is that the end justifies the means. Others see the basic message of her story as the sovereign power of God who casts down the proud, wicked destroyer and saves his people threatened with death by means of the weakest and most humble of his servants, such as Judith and Esther, and Mary, the handmaid of the LORD and the mother of Jesus.

Judith in the arts

The dramatic story of Judith's assassination of Holofernes has inspired a great number of paintings, sculptures, musical pieces, and works of drama.

Bible Paintings: Judith and Holofernes (
Artble: Donatello sculpture: Judith and Holofernes (
Images for Bible Art: Judith and Holofernes (
Bible Odyssey: Judith in Art, by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona (
Art and the Bible: Judith 13 (
Women in the Judith: her story (features famous works of art) (
New World Encyclopedia: Book of Judith (

Martin Luther's judgment of the Book of Judith

"The Book of Judith is not a history. It accords not with geography. I believe it is a poem, like the legends of the saints, composed by some good man, to the end he might show how Judith, a personification of the Jews, as God-fearing people, by whom God is known and confessed, overcame and vanquished Holofernes—that is, all the kingdoms of the world." [22]


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian body comprised of several distinct "Rites". The Catholic Church (Latin Rite) is the largest religious body in the United States, with over 60 million adherents (4 times as large as the second largest church, the Orthodox).
    “The Global Catholic Population,” © 2011, Pew Research Center.
    The Largest Catholic Communities
    The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially called the Orthodox Catholic Church, and also referred to as the Orthodox Church and Orthodoxy, is the second largest Christian church in the world, with an estimated 225–300 million adherents, most of whom live in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Russia.
    The Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Of America (1983). Retrieved on 7 May 2014.
    Christianity:Basics:Eastern Orthodox Church Denomination. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
    Christianity. Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents. Retrieved on 22 May 2014.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 See Percentage of Christians in Protestant Denominations (29.5%).
  3. Saturday, October 26, 2013. The Council of Florence on the Pope, the Church and the Bible
    Catholic Encyclopedia (1915) Canon of the Old Testament "During the deliberations of the Council [of Trent] there never was any real question as to the reception of all the traditional Scripture. Neither--and this is remarkable--in the proceedings is there manifest any serious doubt of the canonicity of the disputed writings. In the mind of the Tridentine Fathers they had been virtually canonized, by the same decree of Florence, and the same Fathers felt especially bound by the action of the preceding ecumenical synod" [of Florence]."
    Christian Classics Ethereal Library. History of the Church, Vol. 6: § 18. The Council of Ferrara-Florence. 1438–1445.
    Canons of the ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF FLORENCE (1438-1445) (Basel/Ferrara/Florence/Rome)
  4. Anglicans Online: Articles of Religion. As established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, in Convention, on the twelfth day of September, in the Year of our Lord, 1801.
  5. Refuting an Attack on the Deuterocanonicals. A Response to 11 ‘reasons’ that the Deuterocanonicals Should be Thrown Out of the Bible, By Matt1618. Introduction.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kingdom of the Medes. See the following articles:
  7. 7.0 7.1 A Historical Commentary on the Book of Judith, by Damien Mackey, March 2003—the author identifies Holofernes with Esarhaddon.
  8. H. G. Wells. The Outline of History, Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind by H. G. Wells, revised and brought up to date by Raymond Postgate, Vol. I (1961), page 242. Garden City Books, Garden City, New York. Copyright, 1920, 1931, 1940, by H. G. Wells. Copyright ©, 1949, 1956, 1961, by Doubleday & Company, Inc.
    The Egyptians also, under the Hyksos rulers. Egypt: The World of the Pharaohs, edited by Regine Schulz and Matthias Scidel. (published) h.f.ullmann. "The Military", Manfred Gutgesell. page 365. ISBN 978-3-8331-4671-8.
  9. Catholic Encyclopedia: Book of Judith
  10. "Nabopolassar", Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 1167.
  11. See Catholic Encyclopedia: Nabuchodonosor
  12. Nabuchodonor, Book of Judith (DR) is placed here according to a letterist reading of the text which uncritically takes "Nabuchodonosor" as one of the forms of the name of Nebuchadnezzar II (as noted in the Douay-Rheims preface to Judith, and as used in Baruch 1:11-12 Douay-Rheims), also called Nebuchadrezzar in the books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel; just as Tiglath-pileser is also called Tiglath-pilneser and Pul, and Azariah king of Judah is also called Uzziah, and Jehozadak the high priest is called Jozedech and Jozadak in 1 Chronicles (6:14-15), Ezra and Nehemiah. —Source: articles "Jehozadak", "Tiglath-Pileser", "Uzziah", Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, pp. 879, 1595, 1644.
  13. See also United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: Baruch — introduction
  14. "Ezekiel", Daniel I. Block, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, pp. 536–537.
  15. The earlier Assyrian captivity. Hebrew Tales: The Story of Judith, University of California (
  16. The prefatory introduction to the Book of Judith in the Douay-Rheims Bible says that the sacred writer of the book is generally believed to be the high priest Eliachim, also called Joachim (Joakim). The text of Judith in the Douay-Rheims renders Joakim as "Eliachim". Judith 4:5-6, 10; 15:9. See multiple versions of Judith 4:5/4:6:
    CEB Joakim,
    DR Eliachim,
    KJV 1611 Ioacim,
    KJV 1769 Joacim,
    NABRE Joakim,
    NRSV Joakim,
    RSV Jo'akim,
    RSVCE Jo'akim,
    Vulgate ch. 4 (see v.5) Eliachim,
    Septuagint (LXX) ch. 4 scroll down (see v.6) Joacim.
    It is not impossible that Joakim/Eliakim/Eliachim the high priest, son of Hilkiah the high priest, as a high-ranking member of the court of Judah, should be appointed by God to also function as master of the palace, steward and prime minister of the country, chief among those charged with overseeing and directing the welfare of the people. He did not need to issue orders in the name of the king or consult with him for permission to act. It is not strange that the ineffective and vacillating King Zedekiah is never mentioned in the Book of Judith. See Isaiah 22:15-25., Zechariah 3:1-7, and Zechariah 6:9-14.
    Joakim exercised religious and military authority comparable to that of Jonathan in Maccabean times (see 1 Maccabees 10:18–21)
  17. "Zephaniah 2.", "Zephaniah, book of", Paul L. Redditt and E. Ray Clendenen, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, pp. 1706-1707.
  18. "Hophra", Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 781.
  19. Topical Bible. Bethulia.
  20. The Story of Judith: Art History Stories from Sacred Texts, By Beth Gersh-Nesic
  21. Clear Answers for Common Questions. What is a Chiastic Structure?
    Chiastic Structuring: An Introduction
    Chiasms in the Bible
  22. Martin Luther's Table Talk (1599). page 11
    The Truth About Martin Luther (

Craven, Toni. Artistry and Faith in the Book of Judith. California: 1983.

Craven, Toni. “Women Who Lied for the Faith.” In Justice and the Holy: Essays in Honor of Walter Harrelson, edited by Douglas A. Knight and Peter J. Paris, 35–49. Atlanta: 1989.

Hopkins, Denise Dombkowski. “Judith.” Women’s Bible Commentary, edited by Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, 279–285. Kentucky: expanded edition, 1998.

Meyers, Carol, General Editor. Women in Scripture. New York: 2000.

Moore, Carey A. Judith: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Garden City, NY: 1985.

See also

External links