The prayer of the people and Uzziah (Jdt 13:17-13:20)

“All the people were greatly astonished. They bowed down and worshiped God. They said with one accord.

‘Blessed are you, our God,

You have this day humiliated the enemies of your people.’

Then Uzziah said to her.

‘O daughter,

You are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth.

Blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth!

He has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies.

Your hope will never depart

From the hearts of those who remember the power of God.

May God grant this to be a perpetual honor to you!

May God reward you with blessings!

You have risked your own life

When our nation was brought low.

You averted our ruin.

You walked in the straight path before our God.’

All the people said. ‘Amen! Amen!’”

Obviously the people were astonished to see the head of General Holofernes. They immediately worshiped God as they said with one voice, that God was blessed for destroying their enemies. Then the leader of the town of Bethulia Uzziah said to Judith that she was blessed by God above all women on earth. This seems to be somewhat similar to the later popular Roman Catholic prayer, the ‘Hail Mary,’ where Mary is ‘blessed art thou among all women.’ However, the prayer quickly turns to the Lord God, who created heaven and earth, not Yahweh, or the God of Israel. God had guided Judith to cut off the general’s head. However, Judith should be blessed with a perpetual memory for risking her life when things were bad. In the canticle of Deborah and Bara, in Judges, chapter 5, Jael, who killed Sisera, was also called a blessed woman. Judith had averted the ruin of Israel and yet walked in the straight path before God. The obvious conclusion of the people is the great ‘Amen.’

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.

The death of Sisera (Judg 4:17-4:22)

“Sisera had fled on foot to the tent of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. There was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera. She said to him. ‘Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me. Have no fear.’ So he turned aside to her into the tent. She covered him with a rug. Then he said to her. ‘Please give me a little water to drink. I am thirsty.’ So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her. ‘Stand at the entrance of the tent. If anybody comes and asks you. ‘Is anyone here?’ say, No.’ But Jael the wife of Heber took a tent peg and a hammer in her hand. She went softly to him. She then drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground, as he was lying fast asleep from weariness. So he died. Then as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him. She said to him. ‘Come! I will show you the man whom you are seeking.’ So he went in to her tent. There was Sisera lying dead with the tent peg in his temple.”

This is a very colorful description of how Sisera died. Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite invited Sisera into her tent. She gave him something to drink. This is the Heber mentioned earlier in this chapter. When Sisera fell asleep, Jael drove a tent peg into his temple and killed him. Thus, the woman Jael, not the man Barak killed Sisera. She then flagged down Barak and showed him what she has done.