The future of Jerusalem (Isa 4:4-4:6)

“When Yahweh has washed away

The filth of the daughters of Zion,

When he has cleansed

The bloodstains of Jerusalem

From its midst

By a spirit of judgment,

When the cleansing

By a spirit of burning

Is complete,

Then Yahweh will create

Over the whole site of Mount Zion.

He will create over its places of assembly

A cloud by day with smoke,

By night the shining of a flaming fire.

Indeed over all the glory

There will be a canopy.

It will serve as a pavilion.

It will be a shade by day

From the heat.

It will be a refuge from storms.

It will be a shelter from rain.”

Many of these oracles of Isaiah may come from the period of the exile, when there was the hope for a future Jerusalem. Once all the filth of the daughters of Zion and all the bloodshed in Jerusalem had been cleared out by judgment and burning, then Yahweh could create a whole new site at Zion. This new place for a religious assembly at Jerusalem would have a cloud or smoke during the day. At night, there would be a bright burning flame. Over all this glory, there would be a canopy that would act as a pavilion to provide shade from the heat and shelter from storms and rain. This was obviously a less ostentatious undertaking than a whole new temple.

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The worship in Jerusalem (Jdt 16:18-16:20)

“When they arrived at Jerusalem, they worshiped God. As soon as the people were purified, they offered their burnt offerings, their freewill offerings, and their gifts. Judith also dedicated to God all the possessions of General Holofernes, which the people had given her. The canopy that she taken for herself from his bedchamber she gave as a votive offering. For three months, the people continued fasting in Jerusalem before the sanctuary. Judith remained with them.”

When they went down to Jerusalem, they worshipped God as they offered burnt offerings and freewill offerings. Judith then took all the possession of General Holofernes that she had taken and gave it to the Temple as a votive offering. The people of Bethulia stayed in Jerusalem for 3 months fasting.

Judith beheads General Holofernes (Jdt 13:6-13:10)

“Judith went up to the bedpost near General Holofernes’ head. She took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed. She took hold of the hair of his head. She said.

‘Give me strength today,

O Lord God of Israel!’

Then she struck his neck twice with all her might. She cut off his head. Next she rolled his body off the bed. She pulled down the canopy from the posts. Soon afterward she went out. She gave General Holofernes’ head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag.”

Well, there it is, the high point of this book. The beautiful Hebrew widow chops off the head of the great general of the great army. She even used his own sword and prayed to God before she did it. This dynamic action made her part of medieval European literature in homilies, biblical paraphrases, histories, and poetry. She was the brave warrior and yet an exemplar of pious chastity. Judith found her way into the works of Dante, and Chaucer. In popular stories, the enemy was always General Holofernes. Painters and sculptors like Donatello, Caravaggio, Botticelli, Goya, and Michelangelo, as well as stained glass windows used this account of Judith’s beheading of Holofernes as an artistic subject. Within the biblical context there are overtones of this in Judges, chapter 4, when Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite drove a tent peg into the temple of Sisera, after giving him something to drink.   Another similar but unsuccessful event was when King Saul tired to kill David with a spear while he was playing the lyre, in 1 Samuel, chapter 18.

Judith meets General Holofernes (Jdt 10:20-10:23)

“Then the guards of General Holofernes and all his servants came out. They led her into the tent. General Holofernes was resting on his bed, under a canopy which was woven with purple and gold, emeralds, and other precious stones. When they told him of her, he came to the front of the tent, with silver lamps carried before him. When Judith came into the presence of General Holofernes and his servants, they all marveled at the beauty of her face. She prostrated herself and did obeisance to him. However, his slaves raised her up.”

The guards and slaves of the general took her into the tent. General Holofernes was lying on his bed that had a canopy of purple, gold, emeralds, and other precious stones. He came out to greet her with sliver lamps. Everyone marveled at her beauty. She then presented herself prostrate, giving him the proper obedience. However, the general’s slaves picked her up.