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A Brief Article on Judith

Introduction:

Judith was likely written by a Jew around Judea, perhaps during or shortly after the Maccabean revolt.[1] One likely suggestion is that the work was composes perhaps during the reign of John Hyrcanus, but it should be noted that Judith composition is quite hard to date. [2] The work itself seems to have been written by a single author due to the unity of the plot.[3] It has been suggested that the author was likely a Pharisaic (perhaps more correctly Proto-Pharisaic) Jew, as noted from Judea.[4]

Judith’s tale must have been quite popular when it had been written, for we find now at least three slightly different forms in Greek, two Latin ones, a Syriac, and several late Hebrew (Rabbinic) versions.[5] (The Latin and Syriac texts show themselves to be based upon the Greek text).[6] That the book was quite likely written in Hebrew or Aramaic, is rather likely, as the Greek texts, shows itself to be translation as it is full of Hebraism and Jerome mentions translating from an Aramaic text.[7] Still, it should be noted that no early Hebrew versions have been found.[8]

In its early history, Judith would be accepted more in the Western Church, and fewer people in the Eastern Church.[9] The first writer to mention of Judith that we find is that of Clement of Rome.[10] Where he writes:

“Many women also, being strengthened by the grace of God, have performed numerous manly exploits. The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, asked of the elders permission to go forth into the camp of the strangers; and, exposing herself to danger, she went out for the love which she bare to her country and people then besieged; and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman.”[11]

Though not accepted as canonical by Jews, by the Middle Ages, Judith tale would even become part of the Hanukah celebration.[12] With the Protestant Reformation, the question of Judith canonicity would again be open, with most Protestants following the Jews, setting it outside the canon and with Catholic reaffirming it into their canon at the Council of Trent.  Though in the earlier view of Protestants, it was still useful for edification and was used in preaching.[13]

To most Protestants and Jews, the story of Judith is pure fiction, filled with an array of various faulty details.[14] It should be noted in the past, that it was not only Catholic scholars, but also some Protestant tried to defend its historicalness (in part due to its biblical character).[15] Now, however most (Catholic included) do not see the story as historic, but instead a Didactic tale, though some have suggested other things such as Haggada, Midrash, Apocalypse fusion, or even a parable.[16]

Judith has often in the past been compared (and said to have been based on) various Biblical characters, notably Jael and Deborah, but also Esther, Abraham and others. [17] Though it could also be noted that she may simple had been based on Judas Maccabeus, (Judith is feminine form of Judah, literally Jewess), in any case she is likely fictional.[18]

The Story

The book of Judith can be split into two parts, part one 1-7 tells of Assyria’s war against Judah and part II 8-16 tells of Judith’s deliverance from them.[19] The story of Judith begins with Nebuchadnezzar, ruler of Assyria from his capital in Ninevah, waging a war against King Arphaxad.  He asks, for help from the Western region, containing mainly biblical lands, which end up refusing him (1.7-11).  This naturally angers, the king and eventually declares that he will destroy the nations of this region, eventually he chooses Holofernes to do this task (2.4).  In a rather quick fashion, Holofernes defeats the nations who had opposed Nebuchadnezzar, all save those who dwelt in Judea.  Naturally Israel becomes afraid, and thus cry out to Yahweh (4.1-3, 9-10, 13).

During this time Holofenes will hold a council as to what do with the Israelites,  Achior, the leader of the Ammonites will at this time tells the history of Israel and tells Holfernes his only hope in defeating them is if they have sinned grievously (5.20-21).  Achior’s advice is not taken well and he’s thrown over into the hands of the Israelites, and at the same time, Bethulia is siege, things are looking grim.  In enters Judith, who says, naturally that God will save them…

Judith eventually leaves the town and meets with Holofernes, the general finds himself charmed by her beauty (10.20-23).   For three days afterwards she would stay at the camp, going out only at night to purify herself.  It is on the fourth day, that Judith makes her move, the guards not suspecting a thing, due to the schedule she has kept prior.  Easily Judith beheads the Holofernes while he is in a drunkand stupor (13.8-10).  She then returns to Bethulia before the guard notice and show the people her deed, as well having Achior confirm it is the general.   Achior sees that Judith has killed Holofernes and converts (14.10).  After this, the Israelites takes out the rest of the army with the book naturally ending with the people praising Yahweh for his faithfulness (Judith 15.14; 16.20).  Judith eventually returns to her home in Bethulia and dies, but noting she lived a life pleasing to God.

Theology of the Book

For the author of Judith, as Metzger puts it “for the Jews patriotism and religion are one.”[20] Religion is essence takes center stage in the book, and author seems to pose the question of who holds true power, God, or some foreign enemy.[21]

God will protect the nation if they as a whole follow the Torah, but if they choose to go their own way than Yahweh will let their enemies win. [22] Craghan points outs that the author of Judith seemed to try and rally his readers to follow Yahweh in, an Orthodox sense and to avoid Hellenism at all cost, in many way akin to the Maccbean revolts.[23]

When some look at the picture of God in the book of Judith, they don’t see any new picture or theology, Yahweh fits in book of Judith, as we would any piece of the Old Testament.[24] For example, God is the God of heaven (5.8; 6.19), Creator and Ruler (9.12; 13.18), Champion for the Weak (9.11), Merciful (16.15), Defeats Israel’s enemies (13.15; 16.5), etc..[25] Besides having a “mundane God,” the work also shows many traditional religious actions, i.e. prayer, fasting (8.5-6), obedience to dietary laws.[26] Also, Judith sees that on the Day of Judgment, the wicked will be tormented by fire and worms for ever (16.17).[27]

When Israel sins, then troubles appear (5.17-18; 11.10), but troubles disappear when one follows God, which is seen through following the Torah.[28] Judith is shown as an example to follow, as she shows great concern as to being purified and what meats she eats.[29] Most of all though in her “strict observance of the Law.”[30] In many ways she the model person in the story, she is one who shows “right relationship with God.”[31] Judith may stand in as an example of the “Individual’s” courage and piety.[32]

Israel’s faith in God is one which is based on historical fact, and thus there is “hope and encouragement” for following this same faith, even in turbulent times.[33]


[1] Bruce M Metzger, An Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957), 43.

[2] Toni Craven, “Judith,” in The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, ed. Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1990),  573.

[3] NOAB, 32.

[4] Craven, 573.

[5] Metzger, 53.

[6] Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, First Division, Vol. I. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1890), 5:36.

[7] Schürer, 5:35

[8] Craven, 572.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Metzger, 53.

[11] 1 Clements 55.3-5, cf. Judith 8.30

[12] Metzger, 53.

[13] A.E. Cowley, “Judith,” in The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English, ed. Robert Henry Charles (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 1:247.

[14] Metzger, 50.

[15] Schürer, 5:34

[16] Craven, 573.

[17] NOAB,  32

[18] Ibid.

[19] Metzger, 43-44.

[20] Metzger, 43.

[21] NOAB, 32.

[22] Metzger, 43.

[23] Craghan, 72.

[24] Benedikt Otzen, Tobit and Judith (London; New York: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), 98.

[25] Craven, 573.

[26] NOAB, 32.

[27] Cowley, 1:247

[28] Ibid.

[29] Schürer, 5:34

[30] Cowley, 1:247.

[31] Craven, 573.

[32] Ozten, 102.

[33] Craghan, 73.

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