“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.
“Then Judith pulled the head out of the bag. She showed it to them. She said.
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.
“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 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.
“When evening came, General Holofernes’ slaves quickly withdrew. Bagoas closed the tent from outside. He shut out the attendants from his master’s presence. They went to bed. They all were weary because the banquet had lasted so long. Judith was left alone in the tent. General Holofernes was stretched out on his bed. He was dead drunk. Now Judith had told her maid to stand outside the bedchamber. She was to wait for her to come out, as she did on the other days. She said that she would be going out for her prayers. She said the same thing to Bagoas. So everyone went out. No one, either small or great, was left in the bedchamber.”
As the evening wore on, everyone was tired. They all began to leave. Bagoas closed the tent from the outside so that no one would disturb Judith and the general who were left alone. The problem was that the good general had over indulged and simply fell asleep on his bed because he was drunk. Judith told her maid to wait outside like she had done every other night. They would be going to say prayers. She told Bagoas the same thing. Everyone was gone. There was no one left there in the bedchamber except for Judith, who was then left alone with him. The plot thickens.
“The men heard her words. They observed her face. She was in their eyes marvelously beautiful. They said to her.
‘You have saved your life by hurrying down to see our lord.
Go at once to his tent.
Some of us will escort you.
We will hand you over to him.
When you stand before him,
Have no fear in your heart.
Tell him what you have just said.
He will treat you well.’
They chose from their number a hundred men to accompany her and her maid. They brought them to the tent of General Holofernes.”
The Assyrian troops heard her words and say her face. They realized that she was beautiful. There was never a question of language or interpretation for they seem to be able to communicate with each other very easily. They told her that she had saved her life. They wanted to escort her to go to the general’s tent as 100 of the soldiers were to escort her and her maid. They told her not to fear the general because he would treat them correctly. She should just say what she had told them. So the 2 ladies set out with a 100 man escort to see General Holofernes.