The life and death of Judith (Jdt 16:21-16:25)

“After this, they all returned home to their own inheritances. Judith went to Bethulia. She remained on her estate for the rest of her life. She was honored throughout the whole country. Many desired to marry her. However, she gave herself to no man all the days of her life after her husband Manasseh died. She was gathered to his people. She became more and more famous. She grew old in her husband’s house, reaching the age of one hundred five years old. She set her maid free. She died in Bethulia. They buried her in the cave of her husband Manasseh. The house of Israel mourned her for seven days. Before she died she distributed her property to all those who were next of kin to her husband Manasseh, and to her own nearest kindred. No one ever again spread terror among the Israelites during the lifetime of Judith, or for a long time after her death.”

Judith returned to her home estate. She was honored throughout her life. A lot of men wanted to marry her, but she never remarried. She grew old gracefully as a widow until she died at the age of 105. She seemed to live like the ancient pre-historic patriarchs. She set her maid free and distributed her estate to her family and that of her late husband as set out in the Mosaic Law. There was never any mention of children. During her lifetime, no one tried to attack Israel.  So ends the saga of the saintly Judith, the general killer.

 

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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 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 carries the head of General Holofernes to Bethulia (Jdt 13:10-13:11)

“Then Judith with her maid went out together, as they were accustomed to do for prayer. They passed through the camp. They circled around the valley. Then they went up the mountain to Bethulia. They came to its gates. From a distance, Judith called out to the sentries at the gates.

‘Open, open the gate!

God, our God,

Is still with us.

He shows his power in Israel.

He shows his strength against our enemies,

As he has done today!’”

After the killing, Judith and her maid walked out together as they had the previous 3 nights. They went through the camp as if to pray. However, then they circled around the valley and went up the mountain to their town of Bethulia. As they approached the gate, she cried out to the sentries so that they would not be attacked. She wanted them to open the gates. She proclaimed that God was still with the people of Israel since he had shown his strength against their enemies that day.

Judith reveals the situation of the Israelites (Jdt 11:9-11:15)

“As for Achior’s speech in your council,

We have heard his words.

The people of Bethulia spared him.

He told them all he had said to you.

Therefore, lord and master, do not disregard what he said.

Keep it in your mind.

It is true.

Indeed, our nation cannot be punished.

The sword cannot prevail against them,

Unless they sin against their God.

Now, in order that my lord may not be defeated

That his purpose may not be frustrated,

Death will fall upon them.

A sin has overtaken them,

By which they are about to provoke their God to anger,

When they do what is wrong.

Since their food supply is exhausted,

Their water has almost given out,

They have planned to kill their livestock.

They have determined to use all

That God by his laws has forbidden them to eat.

They have decided to consume

The first fruits of the grain,

The tithes of the wine and oil,

That they had consecrated.

They had set aside for the priests

Who minister in the presence of our God in Jerusalem.

These are things not lawful for any of the people,

Even to touch with their hands.

Since even the people in Jerusalem have been doing this,

They have sent messengers there,

To bring back permission from the council of the elders.

When the response reaches them

They will act upon it.

On that very day,

They will be handed over to you to be destroyed.”

Judith revealed that the people of Bethulia knew everything that Achior had said to him. What he said was true. Only God can defeat them if they sin. However, because of the famine and thirst, they are about to sin. They were going to eat the forbidden foods. They are going to take the first fruits and tithes of wine and oil that had been set aside for the priests, and consume it. They are going to break the law of God. It was forbidden to even touch these things. Now they have sent messengers to Jerusalem to get permission from the elders there. As soon as their response reaches them, they will act on it and destroy themselves.

Judith (Jdt 8:1-8:8)

“Now in those days, Judith heard about these things. She was the daughter of Merari son of Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel, son of Elkiah, son of Ananias, son of Gideon, son of Raphaim, son of Ahitub, son of Elijah, son of Hilkiah, son of Eliab, son of Nathanael, son of Salamiel, son of Sarasadai, son of Israel. Her husband Manasseh, who belonged to her tribe and family, had died during the barley harvest. As he stood overseeing those who were binding sheaves in the field, he was overcome by the burning heat. He took to his bed and died in his town Bethulia. So they buried him with his ancestors in the field between Dothan and Balamon. Judith had remained as a widow for three years and four months at home where she set up a tent for herself on the roof of her house. She put sackcloth about her waist and dressed in widow’s clothing. She fasted all the days of her widowhood, except the day before the Sabbath and the Sabbath itself, the day before the new moon and the day of the new moon, and the festivals and days of rejoicing of the house of Israel. She was beautiful in appearance. She was very lovely to behold. Her husband Manasseh had left her gold and silver, men and women slaves, livestock, and fields. She maintained this estate. No one spoke ill of her. She feared God with great devotion.”

Now the main protagonist of this book appears on the scene, almost half way through this book. We learn about Judith’s rich genealogical background that includes many important people. What can we tell from her genealogy? She was the daughter of Merari, which is a Levite name. Joseph was a common name also. The names of Oziel and Elkiah are unique to her. The other names associated with famous people were Gideon, Elijah, and Hilkiah, but there was no attempt to associate those men with these men mentioned here. Many of the other names are hard to connect with anyone. Her husband, of the same tribe and family, died of sunstroke overseeing his workers. I wonder what happened to the workers. She was a well to do widow for over 3 years. She was very upright in all that she did.   Her name, Judith, literally means female Jew. She had a tent on her roof and wore sackcloth. She fasted all the time except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath, the new moons, and the other Jewish festivals. New moons keep appearing as a day to celebrate. She was beautiful, of course. On top of that, she was rich, inheriting her husband’s estate of gold, silver, slaves, livestock, and fields. There is no mention of her children if there were any. No one spoke ill of her because she feared God with a great devotion. This is the kind of description that many medieval female Christian saints enjoyed. She heard about what was going on in town.

The lack of water is a great concern to the Israelites (Jdt 7:19-7:22)

“The Israelites cried out to the Lord their God. Their courage failed. All their enemies had surrounded them. There was no way of escape from them. The whole Assyrian army, their infantry, chariots, and cavalry, surrounded them for thirty-four days. All the water containers of every inhabitant of Bethulia were empty. Their cisterns were going dry. On no day did they have enough water to drink because their drinking water was rationed. Their children were listless. The women and young men fainted from thirst. They were collapsing in the streets of the town and in the gateways. They no longer had any strength left in them.”

The Israelites cried out to God. Their courage was failing. Their enemies, the great Assyrian army, surrounded them with no way to escape during 34 days. All the water containers were empty. What water they had was rationed. The children were listless. People were fainting all over the place, collapsing in the streets. They had no strength left. This is somewhat similar to the story in 2 Kings, chapters 6-7, where the prophet Elisha and King Jehoram (852-842 BCE) were surrounded by the Arameans in Samaria.