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Where am I?
Judith follows the book of Tobit and precedes the book of Esther in the OT.
It’s a story that will sound familiar to many Christians: a Jewish people threatened by their enemies, and then saved by the courage of one woman willing to be used by God. If your first thought was ‘Esther’, you may have been raised with a Christian background, or at least familiar with one of the films. If your answer was ‘Judith’, you are probably an art fan or have a Catholic background.
I’d never heard of Judith until my first art history class where Artemisia Gentileschi’s portrayal of Judith is recognized as a symbol of the sex and violence the artist experienced in her own tragic rape at the hands of someone she knew. But that doesn’t really do the book of Judith justice.
The book of Judith opens with King Nebuchadnezzar waging a war campaign against the Medes. After sending his messengers to the neighboring countries with a summons (it’s unclear to me what the summons was meant to do, but in the context, I assume it was to rouse troops), his messengers are ignored and spurned. Driven into a rage, King Nebuchadnezzar vows to lay waste to them all and exile the survivors. He sends his best Assyrian general, Holofernes, to do his will and with a very large force, they carry out Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath.
When Israel hears of it, the whole country is greatly afraid, but they, as a nation, repent and pray and mourn, and are led to take some defensive measures to stop the advancing armies to enter into Jerusalem and destroy the temple. Holofernes hears of their impudence to resist and summons Achior, a general of the Ammonites, to get intel on Israel.
I love Achior’s speech (5:5-24). Even as a non-Israelite, he has grown up with the knowledge of how the Jewish people have been saved, time and time again, by their God, and punished, time and time again, when they’ve turned their backs on their God. I think it must have taken a great deal of courage to give the response to Holofernes that he does, and for that, he’s imprisoned to await his death, AFTER Holofernes conquers Israel.
Holofernes lays seige to the town of Bethulia, which he must take in order to march his troops through the mountain passes to Jerusalem, and affter many days, the elders of the town are ready to surrender, until Judith arrives to speak with them.
The book of Judith is separated into two parts: the first part (chapters 1-7) talk about all of the backstory that I’ve already mentioned, and the second part (chapters 8-16) details Judith’s part to play in the narrative.
I love Judith, I mean, she is awesome! A widow, she’s strikingly beautiful, intelligent, financially independent, faithful to God, and she honors the memory of her husband all the days of her life. This is a good, God-fearing woman right here.
Judith convinces the elders to hold off the surrender of the town for just a little bit longer for she knows, like Achior, that the Israelites have not disobeyed God in recent generations (by worshiping idols) and she believes that God will deliver them from their enemies.
And if you’d like to read and see how it ends, you can jump right into reading chapter eight here.
I don’t think that there’s any one passage that particularly struck me as my favorite in this book. Certainly, I love Achior’s courage as an outsider, to stand up for the Israelites. It reminds me of Rahab, aiding the spies. Holofernes’ decision regarding Achior’s punishment is so OT, it feels like something out of a Cecil B. DeMille film. Or maybe, I have it backwards and DeMille was inspired by the book of Judith? Clearly, DeMille knows his Bible, even if he embellishes on it from time to time.
The whole scheme of Judith’s to save Israel is awesome, well-worth the read (or re-read) Offhand, I can’t think of any films that have ever been made on the life of Judith, which is weird. Beauty, war, sexual intrigue, guile, a seige…are you listening yet, Hollywood producers?
Coming up next in the Journey Through the Word, I’ll be tackling another courageous beauty in the OT, Esther. If you’re enjoying the series, please check back, or leave a comment to share your favorite things about Judith (no spoilers!)
*The Bible version I am studying is the New American Bible, Fireside Personal Study Edition, (2006-2007 edition) by Fireside Catholic Publishing. Some of my paraphrases are based on the NIV and NASB versions which I grew up with. Links provided to Bible chapters are from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website, which has an online edition of the New American Bible, Revised Edition (NABRE).