We divide The Bible into the old and new testament books. The Old Testament books were written before the birth of Jesus Christ and the New Testament describes the political, economical and spiritual situation after his birth.
The Bible got its name by a diminutive of a Greek word for a book “he biblos”.
Biblos used to be an old Phoenician port that was placed near today’s Beirut in Lebanon. In its time it was the main Phoenician trading centre and the Phoenician were mostly middleman in selling writing tools and they started the alphabet. It is no wonder that the Greek called their parchment that had written words on it by that port, that is probably the epicenter of our literacy.
The Biblical texts are more than just a literary work and historical writings about life of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia and Egypt. Many people believe it contains the word of God and guidelines for a moral, righteous life. Also, the Bible is a memorial to humanity and the base of the European culture and civilization.
The biblical motives have been an inspiration to many artists. One of them is he motive of the beautiful widow Judith that makes a great sacrifice to save and defend her people from the army that invaded their town. The motive of an innocent victim and her victory through suffering was a great inspiration to artists.
It is important to mention that only the Catholic Old Testament contains in its canon the Book of Judith because the Jews only consider the book written in Aramaic and Greek to be holy. Those are the book written before the birth of Jesus. Those books, since they contain the first God’s orders, are called Protocanonical. Deuterocanonical books (Greek deuter – second) are the books of the Old Testament written in Greek.
Even though the Book of Judith and the Book of Tobit were written in Hebrew they do not make the part of the Protocanonical books because their original scriptures were lost and only translations to Greek were discovered.
Except the Book of Judith, other Deuterocanonical books are the First and Second Maccabees, seven books Tobit, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch and some parts of Esther and Daniel that make the part of the Catholic Old Testament but not the Hebrew.
The Old Testament contains 46 books and it is divided into 5 larger groups. They are: Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), The Historical Books (Joshua, Judges, Ruth, First Samuel, Second Samuel, First Kings, Second Kings, First Chronicles, Second Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther), Psalm, Wisdom books (The Book of Wisdom, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Eccleasiastes, Song of Songs, Sirach), The Prophetic Books (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
The Book of Judith is one of the Historical Books and the historians consider it to be the first moral story or parable. Even though it describes the time when king Nabuchodonosor ruled, it is historically imprecise, so it is valued for its allegorical and moral content.
Judith is a Jew and a beautiful widow that decides to seduce the soldier of the army called Holofernes and in that way save the Jewish people who, because of lack of faith, stopped resisting the army. She realized they were discouraged so she decided to make a sacrifice for her people. With her decision to sacrifice herself she allegorically justifies her name, that in Hebrew means “praised Jew”, and becomes the rescuer of the Jews, the symbol of resistance and firm faith in God and for that she is praised.
To completely understand the meaning of the work we have to take into consideration the time span in which it was written. It was written during the Jewish struggle against Hellenization between the 2nd and 1st century B.C. Because of the never-ending wars, lack of food and water, many diseases the Jewish people were weak and is facing a constant threat of being banished. That is the reason why the glorification of the Jewish history line was needed.
That’s how the story of this woman that morally undefiled, loyal and ready to make a sacrifice, even though its cost was her honor, came to life. With her courage she sets an example to the Jews and restores their strength and power to fight.
The story has a happy ending when the Jews beat their opponents. It symbolically represents the victory of monotheism practiced by Jews over polytheism that was, in that time, one of the widest spread religion.
This parable is divided to:
- Holofernes’s military invasion
- Betulia’s blockade
- Judith and Holoferens
Holofernes’s military invasion
In the beginning we find out that the plot is happening during the 12th year of Nabuchodonosor dominion over the people of Assyria. He decided to take his revenge upon all Jews for being disobedient when he called them to fight with him against his enemy. In the Bible it states: “Then Nabuchodonosor king of the Assyrians sent unto all that dwelt in Persia, and to all that dwelt westward, and to those that dwelt in Cilicia, and Damascus, and Libanus, and Antilibanus, and to all that dwelt upon the sea coast, and to those among the nations that were of Carmel, and Galaad, and the higher Galilee, and the great plain of Esdrelom, and to all that were in Samaria and the cities thereof, and beyond Jordan unto Jerusalem, and Betane, and Chelus, and Kades, and the river of Egypt, and Taphnes, and Ramesse, and all the land of Gesem, until ye come beyond Tanis and Memphis, and to all the inhabitants of Egypt, until ye come to the borders of Ethiopia.”
Since for the habitants of the west lands, Nabuchodonosor was just a regular man, they did not consider him to be a god so they ignored his demand and sent away his messengers empty handed, without showing them any respect. Nabuchodonosor was furious because of the disrespect so he decided to invade their territory.
Ecbatane, the capital of Medes, was invaded and Nabuchodonosor banished all of the enemy army away and gave an order to, whoever finds Arphaxad first, needs to kill him and he was captured in the mountains while he was trying to run away.
After the victory, alongside with his soldiers, NAbuchodonosor lived in between the walls of Ecbatane for 120 days and they did nothing.
He was very satisfied with his victory so he started to plot his revenge upon the west lands. He called one of his finest generals, named Holofernes, and he told him to be in charge of the military invasion and she sent him towards the west lands with many soldiers. Camels, donkeys and other animals carried their possessions whichi included the gold and the food they took.
NAbuchodonosor told Holofernes to have no mercy upon the people they shall capture and that they should ravage their city. When the people of the west lands saw the cruelty of the army led by Holofernes they decided to send their messengers to bow down to Holofernes and they put their lives and properties at his service.
As he walked into the cities, the people bowed down in front of him and called Nabuchodonosor their God. They’ve let them tear down all of their temples and religious statues.
The news of Holofernes’s victory and the cruelty of his army travelled fast and some of the people started to get prepared to resist the army. All of those people were just saved out of Egypt and now they were preparing for another war.
They started building up fortresses, camps, they were gathering food and a priest, which was settled in Jerusalem, sent their messengers to Betulia to tell the people they should block the mountain crossings in order to stop the army. The crossing was so small that only two people could walk through it at one.
In the meantime they started to spiritually prepare for the trouble that was coming upon them.
The religious habitants started to fast, spilled ashes on themselves and they called their God’s name and asked him to look down at his people and doesn’t let them be imprisoned.
The Israel’s preparation to fight back came fast to Holofernes. He was very curious to find out who are those people who dare resist him.
His servant Achior tells him the story of the people who denied their father’s gods and started respecting the God of the above. He also advised him to check out if they live on good terms with their God, because while they respect him they are blessed but when they turn their back on him they encounter disgrace, slavery and many other misfortunes.
Holofernes is furious about Achior’s advice because he believed no God can save the Israelis from his army. He punished him by leaving him under the hills to the mercy of the Israelis.
Instead of killing him the Israelis take him to their superiors to tell them all about Holoferne’s plans. When they found out what is waiting for them, they fell on their knees and started asking for God’s help.
Soon after sunrise Holofernes took his army to punish the people who dared to stand against him.
Instead of attacking their town, Holofernes took his counselors advice, and cut off their only access to clean water and all of the town exits so that the people would come out starved and thirsty.
The citizens of Betulia managed to survive 34 days of being captive and then the children and the women started fainting due to starvation and weakness.
The people sent their representatives to talk to the superiors and tell them to give the town up to Holoferne’s army because it’s better to be a slave than to watch their children and women die suffering.
The head of the people asked them to stay strong for 5 more days. They told them to ask their merciful God for help, and if he doesn’t help them, then they’ll give up their town.
Judith was a God-fearing women and a descendant of an Israeli bloodline that spent three years and 4 days as a widow. Since her husband Manasseh died she lived in fast and celibate.
According to the statements of the historians Judith’s bloodline is the biggest Jew bloodline mentioned in the Bible: “Now at that time Judith heard thereof, which was the daughter of Merari, the son of Ox, the son of Joseph, the son of Ozel, the son of Elcia, the son of Ananias, the son of Gedeon, the son of Raphaim, the son of Acitho, the son of Eliu, the son of Eliab, the son of Nathanael, the son of Samael, the son of Salasadal, the son of Israel.”
After she heard what had been promised to the people she decided to stop the town from giving up. She believed that they, like Abraham, were placed on a trial and that they will come across a hard destiny if they deny their God. She asked the people to be patient and she headed for Holoferne’s tent with her maid.
On her way she prayed the whole time and asked God to give her strength to keep up with her plan.
Judith and Holofernes
After the prayer, Judith took of her widow dress and placed on an elegant dress. She placed her sandals and jewelry on to impress the people. She gave her maid some wine and food to carry to Holoferne’s tent.
She announced herself as the daughter of Hebrew, the people who will give in to Holofernes’s army. She wanted to let him now that the people has no strength left and that she wants to help him in his war.
The soldiers were amazed with her beauty so they just let her into Holofernes’s tent. Judith won his heart over with lies and empty promises. She said all the best about Holofernes and Nabuchodonosor and all the worse about the people who dared to fight against Holoferenes’s army. She even said they infuriated their God by eating meat God forbid them to eat.
Holofernes loved everything she told him so he ordered his servants to give her food and shelter. She got the permission to leave every night with her servant for a prayer.
In order to increase moral amongst his soldiers Holofernes ordered a diner to be prepared and he invited Judith and her servant. During the dinner he enjoyed her company and later on he fainted from drinking too much wine, more than ever in his life.
The dinner was long and one by one, the participants went to sleep. Judith was left alone with Holofernes, which was sound asleep due to the alcohol.
Judith told her servant to wait for her on their place where their pray. When she was completely alone with Holofernes she asked God for help and with two strong hits she cut Holofernes head off.
She gave his head to her maid and then they headed to their daily prayer. But instead of their prayer they go to Betulia carrying their enemies head.
When she came to the city she started praising God and told the people to praise him too. With Judith’s hand he defeated their enemy.
The people fell on their knees and started to praise God.
Genre: moral parable
Time: around the 2nd century B.C.
Place: Ecbatana, Betulia
Characters: Judith, Holofernes, Nabuchodnosor, maid, Jews
Judith with in Hebrew means “praised” is a beautiful Jew and a widow of Manasseh. She decided to seduce Holofernes, the general of the enemies army, and kill him. She wanted to bring back the faith to her people because they became apathetic and stopped resisting their enemies.
Judith was brave and without any doubt she placed the faith of her people in front of her own. She not only risked death but also risked being called a woman of low morals.
She was God-fearful and lived in celibate for 3 years and 4 days. Also she is the descendant of one of the most famous and biggest Jew bloodlines.
Holofernes was one of Nabuchodonosor’s generals and he was well known for his cruelty. His roughness was broken down by Judith’s sweet talking and beauty. He didn’t see an enemy in her so he let his guards down and it cost him his life. He died completely drunk when Judith cut his head off.
Nabuchodonosor started to conquer the west because they disobeyed him. He defeated armies and killed people. Many crimes fell on his conscious. He justified his deeds by calling himself the great, the god of sun and the one that is worthy of all of that destruction