“The Israelites living in Judea heard of everything that Holofernes, the general of King Nebuchadnezzar of the Assyrians, had done to the nations. They heard that he had plundered and destroyed all their temples. Thus they were therefore greatly terrified at his approach. They were alarmed both for Jerusalem and for the temple of the Lord their God. They had only recently returned from exile. All the people of Judea had just now gathered together. The sacred vessels, the altar, and the temple had been consecrated after their profanation.”
This is where the history is anachronistic and confusing, as if it was simple already. This text says that they had recently returned from exile, but it was King Nebuchadnezzar who led them into exile. These would be the remaining poor or not important people, if historically correct. This author is probably referring to his own experiences here. If this was before the exile as it historically seems to be, they may be referring to the refurbishing and renewal of the Temple worship by King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BCE), about 30 years earlier. Notice that here the land is called Judea, a post-exilic expression, and not Judah, as was common before the exile.
“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 coastal people therefore sent messengers to sue for peace. They said.
‘We, the servants of Nebuchadnezzar, the Great King,
We lie prostrate before you.
Do with us whatever you will.
See! Our buildings,
All our land,
All our wheat fields,
Our flocks and herds,
And all our encampments lie before you.
Do with them as you please.
Our towns and their inhabitants are also your slaves.
Come and deal with them as you see fit.’
The men came to Holofernes and told him all this.”
The coastal people sent messengers to Holofernes to avoid any further devastation. They said that they were willing to be the servants of the king. They would prostrate before him. He could do whatever he wanted with their land, their fields, their herds, and their towns. They were willing to be his slaves. Holofernes then heard about this. Obviously the coastal people did not want to fight and just wanted to be left alone.