Holofernes hears of the Israelite preparations (Jdt 5:1-5:4)

“It was reported to Holofernes, the general of the Assyrian army, that the people of Israel had prepared for war. They had closed the mountain passes. They had fortified all the high hilltops. They had set up barricades in the plains. He was very angry. He called together all the princes of Moab, the commanders of Ammon, and all the governors of the coastland. He said to them.

‘Tell me, you Canaanites,

What people is this that lives in the hill country?

What towns do they inhabit?

How large is their army?

What does their power or strength consist of?

Who rules over them as king?

Who leads their army?

Why have they alone,

Of all who live in the west,

Refused to come out and meet me?’”

When General Holofernes heard that the Israelites were preparing for war, he called all the local princes and commanders of the coastland, Moab, and Ammon together. Moab and Ammon were east of Israel on the other side of the Jordan. The Moabites and Ammonites were the traditional enemies to the east of Judah. Why had the Israelites closed the mountain passes, fortified the hilltops, and set up barricades? Who are they guys? He wanted to know about them. How big was their army? Who was their leader? Why were they the only ones resisting in the Canaanite territory, when everyone else had come out to meet and greet him?

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.