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.

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General Holofernes sets the plan in action (Jdt 7:16-7:18)

“These words pleased General Holofernes and all his servants. He gave orders to do as they had said. So the army of the Ammonites moved forward, together with five thousand Assyrians. They encamped in the valley. They seized the water supply and the springs of the Israelites. The Edomites and the Ammonites went up and encamped in the hill country opposite Dothan. They sent some of their men toward the south and the east, toward Egrebeh, which is near Chusi beside the Wadi Mochmur. The rest of the Assyrian army encamped in the plain. They covered the whole face of the land. Their tents and supply trains spread out in great number. They formed a vast multitude.”

General Holofernes thought that seizing the water supply was a good idea. He gave orders to his army. The Ammonites with 5,000 Assyrian troops seized the water supply and the water springs. The Edomites and Ammonites encamped in the in the hill country opposite Dothan. Some went south and east to Egrebeh, Chusi, and Mochmur. All of these places are near Shechem, which would put this place further north in Manasseh territory. Meanwhile, the Assyrian army camped in the valley plain area so that they nearly covered the whole face of the earth. They had lots of tents and supplies spread out like a great large blanket.

 

The campaign against Israel (Jdt 7:1-7:5)

“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.

The preparations for the invasion (Jdt 4:4-4:8)

“The Israelites sent word to every district of Samaria, especially to Kona, Beth-horon, Belmain, Jericho, Choba, Aesora, and the valley of Salem. They immediately seized all the high hilltops. They fortified the villages on them. They stored up food in preparation for war, since their fields had recently been harvested. The high priest Joakim, who was in Jerusalem at the time, wrote to the people of Bethulia and Betomesthaim, which faces Esdraelon opposite the plain near Dothan. He ordered them to seize the mountain passes, since by them Judea could be invaded. It would be easy to stop any who tried to enter, for the approach was narrow, only wide enough for two at a time to pass. So the Israelites did as they had been ordered by the high priest Joakim and the senate of the whole people of Israel, in session at Jerusalem.”

The Israelites were aware that Holofernes was coming. They warned the people of Samaria. However, Judah was always separate from Samaria and Holofernes was already there in northern Israel. There were a series of towns in Benjamin named, some of which are difficult to locate except for Beth-horon and Jericho. The valley of Salem may refer to the area around Jerusalem since that might have been ancient name, Jeru-Salem. They took all the high places and fortified them. They stored up food since the harvest had just taken place. The 2 towns of Bethulia and Betomesthaim are difficult to find. They must have been near Dothan, which as far as any identification is possible, was north of Shechem in Manasseh territory. Their high priest Joakim is also hard to identify, since the only priest with that name was after the exile in Nehemiah, chapter 12. This would put it 200 years after King Nebuchadnezzar. There also was no Senate in Jerusalem until the 2nd century BCE. Thus the story has a lot of problematic areas when it comes to specifics about places, peoples, and events in any sort of timeframe.

The conquest of the seacoast (Jdt 3:6-3:9)

“Then Holofernes went down to the seacoast with his army. He stationed garrisons in the fortified towns. He took picked men from them as his auxiliaries. These people and all in the countryside welcomed him with garlands, dances, and tambourines. Yet he demolished all their shrines. He cut down their sacred groves. He had been commanded to destroy all the gods of the land. All the nations should worship King Nebuchadnezzar alone. All their dialects and tribes should call upon him as a god. Then he came toward Esdraelon, near Dothan, fronting the great ridge of Judea. He camped between Geba and Scythopolis. He remained for a whole month in order to collect all the supplies for his army.”

General Holofernes went down along the seacoast and set up garrisons of his troops in the fortified cities. He even picked some men from the local area to serve in his auxiliary army. They all welcomed him with garlands, dances, and tambourines as a conquering hero. Everything seemed great until he decided to tear down their shrines and sacred groves. He wanted all the local gods destroyed. The only god would be King Nebuchadnezzar. However, this is a misplaced historical event since the idea of king or ruler as a god only came with the Greeks and the Romans, not the Assyrians or Persians who were very tolerant of various religions. Besides, the unity of religious beliefs was not part of the original assignment of Holofernes. Finally, he rested a month at Esdraelon, on the border of Judah, to get more supplies for his troops. Esdraelon was on the plains of Jezreel between the coast and the Jordan River in the old Ephraim territory. Geba was actually in the Benjamin territory. So Holofernes was already in Israel, when he camped with his troops for a month.

The king of the Arameans wants to capture Elisha (2 Kings 6:11-6:14)

“The mind of the king of Aram was greatly perturbed because of this. He called his officers and said to them. ‘Now tell me who among us sides with the king of Israel?’ Then one of his officers said. ‘No one of us, my lord king, is guilty! It is Elisha, the prophet of Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.’ He said. ‘Go and find where he is. I will send and seize him.’ He was told. ‘He is in Dothan.’ So he sent horses and chariots there with a great army. ”

The king of the Arameans was perturbed that there was a spy among his officers. He wanted to know who had taken sides with the king of Israel. One of his officers said that it was not any of them, but a prophet of Israel. This Elisha knew everything that the king said, even in his bed chamber. The king then said to go and find him. Once he found out that Elisha was in Dothan, he sent horses, chariots and a great army there. Dothan was about 12 miles north of Samaria. It also was the place where Joseph was sold by his brothers in Genesis, chapter 37, on route between Egypt and Syria.