“Lysias chose Ptolemy son of Dorymenes, Nicanor, and Gorgias, able men among the friends of the king, as leaders. He sent them with forty thousand infantry and seven thousand cavalry into the land of Judah to destroy it, as the king had commanded. Thus they set out with their entire force. When they arrived, they encamped near Emmaus in the plain. When the traders of the region heard what was said to them, they took silver and gold in immense amounts. They went to the camp to get the Israelites for slaves. Forces from Syria and the land of the Philistines joined with them.”
Lysias, who was in charge now that the king had left for Persia, named 3 people to lead the charge in Judah, Ptolemy, not the king of Egypt, Nicanor, and Gorgias. These 3 friends of the king had 40,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry to destroy Judah. They camped near Emmaus, about 25 miles west of Jerusalem. Somehow the traders wanted to get Israelite slaves. This Syrian force had other Syrians and those pesky Philistines with them also.
“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.
“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!
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.
“On the fourth day, General Holofernes held a banquet for his personal attendants only. He did not invite any of his officers. He said to Bagoas, the eunuch, who had charge of his personal affairs.
‘Go and persuade the Hebrew woman.
As she is in your care
To join us
And to drink with us.
It would be a disgrace
If we let such a woman go,
Without having intercourse with her.
If we do not seduce her,
She will laugh at us.’”
The plan of General Holofernes was very clear. He was having a banquet with only his own personal attendants and no officers. Bagoas, who was the eunuch in charge of the general’s personal affairs, was to invite Judith and persuade her to come to the banquet. Apparently there was a real Persian eunuch named Bagoas, who lived in the 4th century BCE, about 200 years after the supposed setting of this story. Eunuchs were men who were castrated or sometimes just impotent or celibate. They were not interested in sex or marriage so that leaders felt safe having them take care of their personal matters for them, particularly their women. General Holofernes felt it would be a disgrace to him if he did not have sex with Judith before she left camp. If he did not seduce her, she would probably laugh at him.
“There was great excitement in the whole camp. Her arrival was reported from tent to tent. They came and gathered around her as she stood outside the tent of General Holofernes. She waited until they told him about her. They marveled at her beauty. They admired the Israelites, judging them by her. They said to one another.
‘Who can despise these people?
Who have women like this among them?
It is not wise to leave one of their men alive.
If we let them go,
They will be able to beguile the whole world!’”
Judith was like a USO star arriving at an army camp. Everyone wanted to see her. The news spread quickly as they gathered around her as she waited outside the general’s tent. They all marveled at her beauty. With women this good looking, they wanted to kill all the Israelite men. She appeared to be too beguiling, and in fact, she was.
“The next day General Holofernes ordered his whole army, and all the allies who had joined him, to break camp. They were to move against Bethulia. They were to seize the passes up into the hill country. They were going to make war on the Israelites. All their warriors marched out that day. Their fighting forces numbered one hundred seventy thousand infantry and twelve thousand cavalry, not counting the baggage and the foot soldiers handling it, a very great multitude. They encamped in the valley near Bethulia, beside the spring. They spread out in breadth over Dothan as far as Balbaim, and in length from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces Esdraelon. When the Israelites saw their vast numbers they were greatly terrified. They said to one another.
‘They will now strip clean the whole land.
Neither the high mountains, the valleys, nor the hills
Will bear their weight.’
Yet they all seized their weapons. When they had kindled fires on their towers, they remained on guard all that night.”
The very day after they got rid of Achior, General Holofernes ordered his army to break camp. They were going to invade Bethulia. They were going to seize the mountain passes and make war on the Israelites. This huge fighting army marched out. They had 170,000 foot soldiers, 12,000 cavalry, plus foot soldiers to take care of their baggage. They camped near Bethulia, close to Dothan with Esdraelon at their back. When the Israelites finally saw how big the army was, they were terrified. However, they lit fires in their towers to stand watch that night.
“Then General Holofernes ordered his slaves, who waited on him in his tent, to seize Achior. He wanted them to take him to Bethulia. There they would hand Achior over to the men of Israel. Thus the slaves took him. They led him out of the camp into the plain. From the plain, they went up into the hill country. They came to the springs below Bethulia. When the men of the town saw them, they seized their weapons. They ran out of the town to the top of the hill. All the slingers kept them from coming up by throwing stones at them. The slaves of Holofernes took shelter below the hill. They then bound Achior. They left him lying at the foot of the hill. Finally, they returned to their master.”
General Holofernes ordered his slaves to take Achior to Bethulia. Unfortunately we are unable to pinpoint where Bethulia might be since it is only mentioned in this book. It must have been fairly close to Dothan or near current day Jenin. Some have seen this as a veiled reference to Jerusalem. They left Achior at the bottom of the mountain, because the people of Bethulia came out with weapons when they saw the troops of General Holofernes coming towards them. They started slinging stones at them. The men of Holofernes then left Achior at the foot of the hill, after binding him up. They then returned to Holofernes.