Judith and the women of Israel (Jdt 15:12-15:13)

“All the women of Israel gathered to see her. They blessed her. Some of them performed a dance in her honor. Judith took ivy-wreathed wands in her hands. She distributed them to the women who were with her. She, and those who were with her, crowned themselves with olive wreaths. She went before all the people in the dance, leading all the women, while all the men of Israel followed, bearing their arms, wearing garlands, and singing hymns.”

Obviously not all the women of Israel gathered to see her. Let’s just say a lot of women gathered around her. They blessed her, like everyone else. It is worth noting that this is like a woman’s only event, until the last line. Some of these women performed a dance for her. Judith has some ivy wands and gave it to the women who were with her. Then they all crowned themselves with olive wreaths. This is a clear indication that this writing was done in the Hellenistic era, because this olive wreaths was a Greek and not a Jewish custom. Then she led all the women in a dance. Notice that the women came first and then the men followed. These men of Israel danced, bore their arms, wore garlands, and sang hymns. They were showing their feminine side.

Israelites plunder the tent of General Holofernes (Jdt 15:11-15:11)

“All the people plundered the camp for thirty days. They gave Judith the tent of General Holofernes and all his silver dinnerware, his beds, his bowls, and all his furniture. She took them. She loaded her mules and hitched up her carts. She piled the things on them.”

The people of Bethulia and the other Israelites plundered the camp for 30 days. I guess they had a lot of stuff there. They gave Judith the tent of General Holofernes and practically everything that was in it. She got his silverware, beds, bowls, and furniture. She then loaded them on mules and carts. She had no problem taking all the things of the man that she had killed.

The praise for Judith (Jdt 15:8-15:10)

“Then the high priest Joakim, and the elders of the Israelites who lived in Jerusalem, came to witness the good things that the Lord had done for Israel. They wanted to see Judith and wish her well. When they met her, they all blessed her with one accord. They said to her.

‘You are the glory of Jerusalem!

You are the great boast of Israel!

You are the great pride of our nation!

You have done all this with your own hand.

You have done great good to Israel.

God is well pleased with it.

May the Almighty Lord bless you forever!’

All the people said. ‘Amen.’”

The high priest Joakim and the Israelite elders came to see Judith and wish her well. They blessed her. They called her, the glory of Jerusalem, the great boast of Israel, the pride of their nation. She did all this by herself. God was well pleased with her. She should be blessed forever. Of course, all the people chimed in with ‘Amen.’ This praise rests heavily on Judith rather than God.

The Assyrians flee (Jdt 15:1-15:7)

“When the men in the tents heard it, they were amazed at what had happened. Overcome with fear and trembling, they did not wait for one another. With one impulse, all rushed out. They fled by every path across the plain and through the hill country. Those who had camped in the hills around Bethulia also took flight. Then the Israelites, everyone that was a soldier, rushed out upon them. Uzziah sent men to Betomesthaim, Choba, and Kola, and to all the frontiers of Israel, to tell them what had taken place. He urged all the Israelites to rush out upon their enemies to destroy them. When the Israelites heard it, with one accord they fell upon the enemy. They cut them down as far as Choba. Those in Jerusalem and all the hill country also came. They were told what had happened in the camp of the enemy. The men of Gilead and in Galilee outflanked them with great slaughter, even beyond Damascus and its borders. The rest of the people of Bethulia fell upon the Assyrian camp and plundered it, acquiring great riches. The Israelites, when they returned from the slaughter, took possession of what remained. Even the villages and towns in the hill country and in the plain got a great amount of booty, since there was a vast quantity of it.”

When all the foot soldiers in the camp heard what had happened, they were overcome with fear and trembling. Many of them rushed to the various paths to get out of the area. With all this going on, the Israelite soldiers rushed the camp. Meanwhile Uzziah, the lead elder in Bethulia, sent word out by messengers about what had happened there. He sent people to Betomesthaim, Choba, and Kola, but unfortunately no one has been able to pinpoint where these places are, but they probably were close to Dothan. He wanted the men at the frontiers to destroy their enemy as he was escaping. He sent word to Jerusalem and the hill country. Apparently, he was more successful in the northern areas of Galilee and Gilead, as they chased the enemy as far as Damascus. The men of Bethulia attacked the Assyrian camp killing the confused soldiers and taking their stuff as booty, since there were many supplies there for this famished town.

 

The Assyrians discover the death of General Holofernes (Jdt 14:14-14:19)

“Bagoas went in as he knocked at the entry of the tent. He assumed that General Holofernes was sleeping with Judith. But when no one answered, he opened it. Then he went into the bedchamber. There he found General Holofernes sprawled on the floor dead, with his head missing. He cried out with a loud voice. He wept, groaned and shouted. He tore his clothes. Then he went to the tent where Judith had stayed. When he did not find her, he rushed out to the people and shouted.

‘The slaves have tricked us!

One Hebrew woman has brought disgrace

On the house of King Nebuchadnezzar!

Look!

General Holofernes is lying on the ground!

His head is missing!’

When the leaders of the Assyrian army heard this, they tore their tunics. They were greatly dismayed. Their loud cries and shouts rose up throughout the camp.”

Bagoas was the chief personal steward of General Holofernes. He politely knocked at the entry way to the general’s tent. He thought that the general was sleeping with Judith and did not want to disturb him. However, when no one answered, he entered the bedchamber.   There he found the general sprawled out on the floor beheaded. He was really upset. He wept, groaned, and shouted as he tore his clothes. When people were upset they would tear their clothes. Then he went to the tent of Judith to see how she was. However, she was gone. Then he realized what had happened. He ran out of the tent shouting that they had been tricked by the slaves. This Hebrew woman had brought disgrace to the house of King Nebuchadnezzar. The general was dead with his head missing. When the Assyrian army leaders heard this, they tore their clothes as they too were dismayed. Thus there were loud shouts throughout the camp. Strangely enough, there was no second in command to take over things.

Achior becomes an Israelite (Jdt 14:6-14:10)

“They summoned Achior from the house of Uzziah. When he came, he saw the head of General Holofernes in the hand of one of the men in the assembly of the people. He fell down on his face in a faint. When they raised him up, he threw himself at Judith’s feet. He did obeisance to her. He said.

‘Blessed are you in every tent of Judah!

In every nation those who hear your name will be alarmed.

Now tell me what you have done during these days.’

Then Judith told him in the presence of the people all that she had done, from the day she left until the moment she began speaking to them. When she had finished, the people raised a great shout. They made a joyful noise in their town. When Achior saw all that the God of Israel had done, he believed firmly in God. So then he was circumcised. He joined the house of Israel, remaining so to this day.”

Achior had been staying with Uzziah, the chief of his town, so they brought him to Judith. He was the one who had told the Assyrian general that they could not defeat the Israelites because of their God. He was then sent to the Israelites, who instead of killing him, listened to his story. However, when Achior saw one of the men holding the head of General Holofernes, he fainted. As they raised him up, he threw himself at the feet of Judith. He called her blessed and wanted to know what had happened. Then Judith in the presence of everyone told her story of what had happened to her. When she finished, the people of the town gave out a great joyous shout. This might have scared the Assyrians also. On top of that Achior, the Ammonite, decided to become an Israelite. He was circumcised that day. The author points out that Achior remained an Israelite until this day, as if he was contemporary. The problem, of course, is that Ammonites were not allowed to be in the assembly of Yahweh, among the Israelites down to the 10th generation, according to Deuteronomy, chapter 23. This may be why some Jewish people have not accepted this book as canonical.

Judith makes plans (Jdt 14:1-14:5)

“Then Judith said to them.

‘Listen to me!

My friends,

Take this head!

Hang it upon the parapet of your wall!

As soon as day breaks,

When the sun rises on the earth,

Each of you take up your weapons!

Let every able-bodied man go out of the town.

Set a captain over them,

As if you were going down to the plain

Against the Assyrian outpost.

Only do not go down.

Then they will seize their arms.

They will go into the camp.

They will rouse the officers of the Assyrian army.

They will rush into the tent of Holofernes.

They will not find him.

Then panic will come over them.

They will flee before you.

Then you,

And all who live within the borders of Israel,

Will pursue them.

You will cut them down in their tracks!

But before you do all this,

Bring Achior the Ammonite to me.

Let him see and recognize the man

Who despised the house of Israel,

And sent him to us as if to his death.’”

Judith then has a further plan on what to do next. First, they are going to put the head of General Holofernes on the wall. Then at sunrise, all the able bodied men would take their weapons and form a line as if to attack the Assyrians. This will then force the Assyrians to tell their commanders what was happening. When they would go to tell General Holofernes what happened, they will panic because they will find out that he is dead. There will be general disorder so that we can then attack and pursue them. All of this was based on the assumption that without their general they would simply panic and run away. Israel would then pursue them and kill them. However, Judith still wanted to talk to Achior the Ammonite before they began this exploit.

The prayer of the people and Uzziah (Jdt 13:17-13:20)

“All the people were greatly astonished. They bowed down and worshiped God. They said with one accord.

‘Blessed are you, our God,

You have this day humiliated the enemies of your people.’

Then Uzziah said to her.

‘O daughter,

You are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth.

Blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth!

He has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies.

Your hope will never depart

From the hearts of those who remember the power of God.

May God grant this to be a perpetual honor to you!

May God reward you with blessings!

You have risked your own life

When our nation was brought low.

You averted our ruin.

You walked in the straight path before our God.’

All the people said. ‘Amen! Amen!’”

Obviously the people were astonished to see the head of General Holofernes. They immediately worshiped God as they said with one voice, that God was blessed for destroying their enemies. Then the leader of the town of Bethulia Uzziah said to Judith that she was blessed by God above all women on earth. This seems to be somewhat similar to the later popular Roman Catholic prayer, the ‘Hail Mary,’ where Mary is ‘blessed art thou among all women.’ However, the prayer quickly turns to the Lord God, who created heaven and earth, not Yahweh, or the God of Israel. God had guided Judith to cut off the general’s head. However, Judith should be blessed with a perpetual memory for risking her life when things were bad. In the canticle of Deborah and Bara, in Judges, chapter 5, Jael, who killed Sisera, was also called a blessed woman. Judith had averted the ruin of Israel and yet walked in the straight path before God. The obvious conclusion of the people is the great ‘Amen.’

Judith shows them the head of General Holofernes (Jdt 13:15-13:16)

“Then Judith pulled the head out of the bag. She showed it to them. She said.

‘See here.

The head of General Holofernes,

The commander of the Assyrian army.

Here is the canopy beneath which he lay in his drunken stupor.

The Lord has struck him down by the hand of a woman.

As the Lord lives,

He has protected me in the way I went.

I swear that it was my face

That seduced him to his destruction.

He committed no act of sin with me.

He did not defile and shame me.’”

Then Judith took the head out of the food bag that her maid had with her. She showed his head to them. She then told them that this was the head of General Holofernes, the commander of the Assyrian army. The bed canopy that wrapped his head came from his tent. She killed him while he was in a drunken stupor. The Lord gave her strength to strike him down so that he died at the hand of a woman. The Lord protected her as she seduced him with her facial appearance that led to his own destruction. However, no sin was committed since he did not defile or shame her.