Holofernes/Holophernes (evidently a name of Persian origin) was the chief general of Nebuchadnezzar II in the Book of Judith. In the 17th/18th year of Nabuchodonosor/Nebuchadnezzar, 589 B.C., Nabuchodonosor sent him to take revenge on the whole territory of Cilicia, Damascus, Syria, Moab, Ammon, all Judea, and Egypt for their refusal to join him in his campaign of war against King Arphaxad, ruler of the Medes in Ecbatana. Judith 1:1–2:1. Israel was fearful as the Assyrians/Babylonians advanced. Joakim/Eliakim/Eliachim the high priest, son of Hilkiah the high priest, sent word to the leaders of Bethulia and Betomesthaim, which faces Esdraelon opposite the plain near Dothan, ordering them to seize the passes up into the hills, since by them Judea could be invaded, and it was easy to stop any who tried to enter, for the approach was narrow, only wide enough for two men at most. This was the 9th year of Zedekiah, when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Jeremiah 39:1. Zedekiah sent Zephaniah the priest to Jeremiah asking him to pray for the nation. Jeremiah 21:1-7; 37:3-21. 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. At the same time, Holophernes laid siege to the mountains of Israel, but the city of Bethulia guarding the mountain pass blocked his advance.
When Holofernes heard that the people of Israel had prepared for war and had closed the passes in the hills and had fortified all the high hilltops and set up barricades in the plains, he became angry, and called together all the princes of Moab, the commanders of Ammon, all the governors of the Mediterranean coastlands. When Achior, one of his Ammonite commanders warned him that he would never be able to destroy them because the God of the Jews, who had destroyed the Egyptians, would protect them, Holophernes had him bound and left at the foot of the pass. The Jews came down and took him in, and he related the plan of Holophernes.
When Judith in Bethulia heard that the leaders of her city, charged by the high priest with holding the mountain pass, had decided to surrender in 5 days if no help came to them from God, because starvation gripped the city, she rebuked them for a presumptuous lack of courage and faith, and formed a secret plan to save them. They agreed to allow her to go to the camp of the enemy besieging them.
She dressed in her most beautiful attire, took her maid with her, entered the camp, and declared to Holophernes that she had a plan that would allow victory in a few days. Holophernes was attentive, and agreed to what she proposed. She would depart every morning to pray, and when she had a sign that the Jews had violated the Law of Israel, she would inform him that God would then abandon them to destruction for their sin, and Holophernes would be able to overcome them.
On the fourth day, Holophernes invited her to banquet with him, and he drank himself into a stupor. Judith quietly took his sword, cut off his head, put it into her maid's food bag, and took the jeweled canopy off his bed. She departed from the camp with her maid, the guards suspecting nothing, and returned to Bethulia. She showed Holophernes' head, which Achior identified.
When the attendants in Holophernes' camp discovered he had been slain, the army fled in confusion, and the Jews came forth and pursued them.
It is a fact that 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, and it suddenly withdrew. Jeremiah 37:4-15; 46:17. It was at this time that Judith beheaded Holofernes, the Assyrian army was dismayed and they fled. Judith 14:18–15:2. The Book of Jeremiah does say the Chaldeans suddenly withdrew. Jeremiah 37:5.
From these historical facts, and the centuries-old tradition that the Book of Judith relates a genuinely historical event, it appears that the person of Judith herself can be set within this particular time of history, 589 B.C.. Historians, however, have no certainty that she existed, outside the testimony of the Bible. Artists have frequently portrayed Judith and Holophernes.
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 Bible renders Joakim as "Eliachim". Judith 4:5-6, 10; 15:9. 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 son of Hilkiah exercised religious and military authority comparable to that of Jonathan in Maccabean times (see 1 Maccabees 10:18–21) 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).
- See A Historical Commentary on the Book of Judith, by Damien Mackey, March 2003—the author identifies Holofernes with Esarhaddon.
- "Hophra", Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 781.
- Donatello. Judith and Holofernes
Judith and Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi
Franciso Goya. Judith and Holofernes
Giorgio Varasi. Judith Decapitating Holofernes
- 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.
- Holofernes/ Holophernes (jewishencyclopedia.com)