The Roman Catholic Bible editions usually include seven other books that are from the Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Bible. On the other hand, many of the English Protestant Bibles, particularly the King James Bible used only the Hebrew texts. These later Greek works became known as deuterocanonical or apocryphal works of the Bible. These post-exilic books tell the stories of various Israelite figures. These seven extra books have the story of Tobit, the story of Judith, as well as the stories of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. However, they also include writings the Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus or Sirach, and Baruch.
The defeat of Nicanor (1 Macc 7:43-7:50)
“The armies met in battle on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. The army of Nicanor was crushed. He himself was the first to fall in the battle. When his army saw that Nicanor had fallen, they threw down their arms and fled. The Jews pursued them a day’s journey, from Adasa as far as Gazara. As they followed, they kept sounding the battle call on the trumpets. People came out of all the surrounding villages of Judea. They outflanked the enemy. They drove them back to their pursuers, so that they all fell by the sword. Not even one of them was left. Then the Jews seized the spoils and the plunder. They cut off Nicanor’s head and the right hand that he had so arrogantly stretched out. They brought them and displayed them just outside Jerusalem. The people rejoiced greatly and celebrated that day as a day of great gladness. They decreed that this day should be celebrated each year on the thirteenth day of Adar. So the land of Judah had rest for a few days.”
The 2 armies met on the 13th day of Adar, the same month and practically the same day as the crushing defeat in the story of Esther, chapter 9, where Purim was instituted as a feast day memorial. Nicanor was like Haman, the Jewish hater. In this case Nicanor was the first to fall. When his army saw this, they fled. This was a common occurrence. When the leader fell, the armies just took off. However, the Jews pursued them as they sounded their trumpets. Then everyone came out from the villages and towns sending the fleeing troops back to their pursuers. In the end, everyone was wiped out. The author did not give a specific number, but the reminders of 2 Kings, chapter 19 are striking. They cut off the head of Nicanor and his right hand. Then they displayed it outside of Jerusalem. This is somewhat reminiscent of Judith, chapter 13, and her beheading of General Holofernes, when she took his head to display. There was great rejoicing over this as they declared the 13th of Adar a day to be celebrated. This was another layer to the Purim festival. The author notes that there was peace in Judah for just a few days, not years.
My Understanding of Judith
This is another disputed book of the Bible. The Book of Judith can be found in the Greek Septuagint and thus in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament parts of the Bible. However, Judith is not in the Jewish Hebrew texts and therefore is considered apocrypha by the English King James Bible.
This Book of Judith contains numerous historical anachronisms, like many of the biblical stories. Thus it has been considered a parable, a historical novel, or a folklore tale with an ironic twist. Judith is the feminine form of Judah. She was like an ancient Joan of Arc. This book certainly expresses the world view of the post-exilic Jews. However, it is not clear whether the Book of Judith was originally written in Hebrew or in Greek. The oldest extant version is the Septuagint. It was likely written by a Jew during the Second Temple period, perhaps in the second century BCE, but certainly before the finished Septuagint in the late second century BCE.
The Book of Judith has a seventh century BCE setting with King Nebuchadnezzar and his army led by General Holofernes. The first part of this book described the rising threat to Israel of King Nebuchadnezzar and his General Holofernes. The second part of the book revolves around Judith, a daring and beautiful widow, who is upset with her Jewish countrymen for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors. She goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy general, Holofernes, with whom she slowly ingratiates herself, promising him a plan to defeat Israelites. Gaining his trust, she is allowed access to his tent. One night as he lies in a drunken stupor, she then decapitates him and takes his head back to her fearful countrymen. The Assyrians, now that they have lost their leader, dispersed and Israel was saved. Though she is courted by many, Judith remains unmarried for the rest of her life until her death. Judith, the heroine of the book, is the daughter of Merari, a Simeonite, and a widow. There are no indications of her as a historical figure. Thus, the great villain in this book is King Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians. However, the historical Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylonia, not Assyria. Judith’s village, Bethulia, which literally means “virginity,” is unknown and otherwise unattested to in any ancient writing. Thus it is an allegorical representation of personages and historical events. Much of this work has focused on linking King Nebuchadnezzar with various conquerors of Judea from different time periods. The only historical female leader was Queen Salome Alexandra, Judea’s only female monarch (76-67 BCE). She was the last ruler to die while Judea remained an independent kingdom. Some late 19th and early 20th century scholars have identified this King Nebuchadnezzar with King Artaxerxes III, (425–338 BC), because there was a “Holofernes” in his army.
Although the text itself does not mention Hanukkah, it has become customary for a Hebrew variant of the Judith story to be read on the Shabbat of Hanukkah. Her name, which means “Jewish woman,” suggests that she represents the heroic spirit of the Jewish people. This heroic spirit, as well as her chastity, has endeared her to Christianity. Because of her unwavering religious devotion, she was able to step outside of her widow’s role. She dressed and acted in a sexually provocative manner while clearly remaining true to her ideals. The character of Judith is larger than life so that she has won a place in Jewish and Christian folklore, art, poetry and drama. Judith has become a Christian allegorical figure, the holy woman, a pre-figuration of the Virgin Mary. Her seduction and beheading of the wicked General Holofernes has been made her very attractive. Thus this account of Judith’s beheading of Holofernes has been the subject of many painters, sculptors, and plays.
The story itself centers on King Nebuchadnezzar in Nineveh with his army. His messengers did not get the response that he wanted. He attacked Ecbatana in eastern Medes. Then he planned a western campaign with General Holofernes as the head of the army. Thus a large organized army went west with General Holofernes in charge. He was so successful that most people just asked for peace. He had conquered the seacoast, so that an alert went out in Judea. Somehow the Israelites who were fasting in sack cloths feared this invasion. The Lord heard their prayers. General Holofernes heard of the Israelite from Achior the Ammonite who explained the history of Israel from their time in Egypt. Achior explained that Israel could not lose when God was on their side. General Holofernes did not like to hear this. He chastised Achior and sent him away to the Israelites, who in turn told his story to the Israelites. The Israelites prayed for help.
The campaign against Israel started with the siege of Bethulia, an unknown Israelite town, with the seizing of the spring water supply. The lack of water was a great concern to the Israelites so that they prayed to God to consider surrendering. However, their leader, Uzziah, asked them to have courage.
Then Judith arrived on the scene and called for a meeting where she gave a speech. She reminded them that they had no false gods and they should not fall into slavery. They should thank God. Then Judith prayed about her ancestor Simeon, the future, and what to do against the Assyrians. She asked for God’s help.
Judith then dressed up to go to General Holofernes. She left Bethulia with her maid to go to the tent of General Holofernes. She stunned the whole Assyrian army on her way through the camp. General Holofernes and Judith met in his tent. Judith praised the general and told him about the situation of the Israelites. She said that they had defied their God so that they were about to lose the battle. She ate some food and went out to pray. After three days she accepted the invitation of General Holofernes to have a banquet together. They drank together until he fell asleep drunk. Then she prayed before beheading General Holofernes with his own sword. She carried his head to Bethulia, where the people of Bethulia greeted her. She showed them the head of General Holofernes as the people prayed.
Judith then revealed her plan, as Achior became an Israelite. The Israelites would pretend to attack. Then the Assyrians would discover the death of General Holofernes and then flee in disarray. It worked out as she planned. They praised Judith and plundered the tent of General Holofernes. Judith and the women of Israel then danced. Judith recited a thanksgiving canticle that praised God for the intervention of Judith in this Israelite victory. They sang a new song to the Lord in Jerusalem. Judith lived a long life widowed life before her death at age 105.
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.
Sing to the Lord a new song (Jdt 16:13-16:17)
“I will sing to my God a new song!
O Lord, you are great and glorious!
Wonderful in strength!
Let all your creatures serve you!
You spoke, and they were made.
You send forth your Spirit.
It formed them.
There is none that can resist your voice.
The mountains shall be shaken to their foundations with the waters.
Before your glance,
The rocks shall melt like wax.
But to those who fear you,
You show mercy.
Every sacrifice as a fragrant offering is a small thing.
The fat of all whole burnt offerings to you is a very little thing.
But who ever fears the Lord is great forever.
Woe to the nations that rise up against my people!
The Lord Almighty will take vengeance on them
In the Day of Judgment.
He will send fire and worms into their flesh.
They shall weep in pain forever.”
Now this canticle switched back to Judith praising God. Judith was going to sing a new song to the great and glorious God who has invincible strength. Once again there was an illusion to creation as she said that all creatures got their life from God. Therefore, they should praise God, who sent forth his Spirit to form the world. No one can resist the voice of God. He controls the mountains and the rocks. Sacrifices are trifling matters before God. The most important thing is to fear God. The Lord almighty will take vengeance on anyone who rises up against his people. The Day of Judgment is coming where there will be eternal weeping as fire and worms will eat flesh and cause eternal pain. Here we see the eschatological sense of a final judgment day, a post-exilic theme.
The Israelite victory (Jdt 16:11-16:12)
“Then my oppressed people shouted.
My weak people cried out.
The enemy trembled.
They lifted up their voices.
The enemy was turned back.
Sons of slave girls pierced them through.
They were wounded like the children of fugitives.
They perished before the army of my Lord.”
The victory chant came last. The weak people got courage. Now the enemy trembled at the Israelite shout. The sons of slave girls defeated the trained soldiers. This may be an illusion to the fact that some of the people of the land may have been involved in this attack. The enemy was like fugitive wounded children dying before the great army of the Lord.
Israelites plunder the tent of General Holofernes (Jdt 15:11-15:11)
“All the people plundered the camp for thirty days. They gave Judith the tent of General Holofernes and all his silver dinnerware, his beds, his bowls, and all his furniture. She took them. She loaded her mules and hitched up her carts. She piled the things on them.”
The people of Bethulia and the other Israelites plundered the camp for 30 days. I guess they had a lot of stuff there. They gave Judith the tent of General Holofernes and practically everything that was in it. She got his silverware, beds, bowls, and furniture. She then loaded them on mules and carts. She had no problem taking all the things of the man that she had killed.
The Assyrians flee (Jdt 15:1-15:7)
“When the men in the tents heard it, they were amazed at what had happened. Overcome with fear and trembling, they did not wait for one another. With one impulse, all rushed out. They fled by every path across the plain and through the hill country. Those who had camped in the hills around Bethulia also took flight. Then the Israelites, everyone that was a soldier, rushed out upon them. Uzziah sent men to Betomesthaim, Choba, and Kola, and to all the frontiers of Israel, to tell them what had taken place. He urged all the Israelites to rush out upon their enemies to destroy them. When the Israelites heard it, with one accord they fell upon the enemy. They cut them down as far as Choba. Those in Jerusalem and all the hill country also came. They were told what had happened in the camp of the enemy. The men of Gilead and in Galilee outflanked them with great slaughter, even beyond Damascus and its borders. The rest of the people of Bethulia fell upon the Assyrian camp and plundered it, acquiring great riches. The Israelites, when they returned from the slaughter, took possession of what remained. Even the villages and towns in the hill country and in the plain got a great amount of booty, since there was a vast quantity of it.”
When all the foot soldiers in the camp heard what had happened, they were overcome with fear and trembling. Many of them rushed to the various paths to get out of the area. With all this going on, the Israelite soldiers rushed the camp. Meanwhile Uzziah, the lead elder in Bethulia, sent word out by messengers about what had happened there. He sent people to Betomesthaim, Choba, and Kola, but unfortunately no one has been able to pinpoint where these places are, but they probably were close to Dothan. He wanted the men at the frontiers to destroy their enemy as he was escaping. He sent word to Jerusalem and the hill country. Apparently, he was more successful in the northern areas of Galilee and Gilead, as they chased the enemy as far as Damascus. The men of Bethulia attacked the Assyrian camp killing the confused soldiers and taking their stuff as booty, since there were many supplies there for this famished town.
The Assyrians discover the death of General Holofernes (Jdt 14:14-14:19)
“Bagoas went in as he knocked at the entry of the tent. He assumed that General Holofernes was sleeping with Judith. But when no one answered, he opened it. Then he went into the bedchamber. There he found General Holofernes sprawled on the floor dead, with his head missing. He cried out with a loud voice. He wept, groaned and shouted. He tore his clothes. Then he went to the tent where Judith had stayed. When he did not find her, he rushed out to the people and shouted.
‘The slaves have tricked us!
One Hebrew woman has brought disgrace
On the house of King Nebuchadnezzar!
General Holofernes is lying on the ground!
His head is missing!’
When the leaders of the Assyrian army heard this, they tore their tunics. They were greatly dismayed. Their loud cries and shouts rose up throughout the camp.”
Bagoas was the chief personal steward of General Holofernes. He politely knocked at the entry way to the general’s tent. He thought that the general was sleeping with Judith and did not want to disturb him. However, when no one answered, he entered the bedchamber. There he found the general sprawled out on the floor beheaded. He was really upset. He wept, groaned, and shouted as he tore his clothes. When people were upset they would tear their clothes. Then he went to the tent of Judith to see how she was. However, she was gone. Then he realized what had happened. He ran out of the tent shouting that they had been tricked by the slaves. This Hebrew woman had brought disgrace to the house of King Nebuchadnezzar. The general was dead with his head missing. When the Assyrian army leaders heard this, they tore their clothes as they too were dismayed. Thus there were loud shouts throughout the camp. Strangely enough, there was no second in command to take over things.