An Introduction to the Apocrypha-Part Four




by Jared L. Olar

As Winter ends and the Springtime festivals of Passover and Pentecost draw near, Jews and Christians contemplate the wonderful acts of salvation that God performed for His People at that season. For both Jews and Christians, God's miraculous deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt during the Passover feast serves as the birthday of the Chosen People. For Christians, the miraculous deliverance of mankind by Jesus Christ during the Passover feast is the very climax of all human history. Consequently, the annual Passover season forms the foundation of the liturgical calendar in both the Synagogue and the Church. Inspired by the deep spiritual meaning of the Passover, a Jewish writer who lived perhaps over a century before the birth of Christ recorded a tale of divine intervention on behalf of Israel, in which a Gentile invasion is thwarted by a godly woman named Judith. In this installment, we turn to the dramatic story of how Judith saved her people.

Authorship and Other Literary Concerns:

The Book of Judith was probably written by a Jew living in the Holy Land sometime in the latter half of the second century B.C. Although it exists today only in Greek and Latin versions, it was written originally in Hebrew. This Hebrew version was translated into Greek and included in the Greek Septuagint edition of the Old Testament. The Greek version was later translated into Latin. An Aramaic version was also prepared from the original Hebrew. The Hebrew version is last mentioned by Origen in the third century A.D., but when St. Jerome wanted to prepare a fresh translation for the Latin Vulgate he was only able to obtain the Aramaic translation. Using the Aramaic and the Old Latin versions, St. Jerome produced the version that appears in the Latin Vulgate. The Hebrew, Aramaic, and Old Latin versions are no longer extant-only the Greek Septuagint and the Latin Vulgate versions remain.

As we shall see, for various reasons it is not easy to determine the circumstances that led to the composition of this book. However, from an examination of the story, it is possible to ascertain various lessons that the author probably meant his readers to carry away from a reading of his narrative.

Summary of the Narrative:

The first three chapters lay out the background of the story. It begins with the description of a terrible war between Nebuchadnezzar, King of Assyria, and Arpakshad, King of the Medes. In the twelfth year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar summoned the peoples of his empire to send military levies for the assault on the Medes (1:1-10). However, only the peoples of Mesopotamia and Elam sent assistance-Persia, Egypt, Syria, and the provinces along the Mediterranean ignored the summons (1:6, 11). After a five-year conflict, Nebuchadnezzar defeated Arpakshad in the seventeenth year of his reign and then returned in triumph to Nineveh (1:13-16). Determined to exact revenge on the provinces that refused to send him aid against the Medes, on the twenty-second day of the first month of the eighteenth year of his reign King Nebuchadnezzar announced his intention to attack the peoples who had ignored his summons (1:12; 2:1-3).

Nebuchadnezzar instructed his chief general Holofernes, in rank second only to the king, to assemble a massive army of 120,000 foot and 12,000 horse, with which to punish the nations who did not support him in his war against Arpakshad (2:4-9). Any nation that surrendered unconditionally was to be attacked and sent into exile. But any nation that refused to submit was to be completely exterminated (2:10-11). In addition, Holofernes was instructed to destroy the shrines, temples, and idols of the rebellious nations, and instead command that thenceforth Nebuchadnezzar alone was to be worshipped as God (2:5, 12-13; 3:8; 6:2-4).

Holofernes then led the Assyrian army against the peoples of the Anatolian peninsula, northern Mesopotamia, and northern Arabia, quickly reducing the nations living there to submission (2:14-26). He then moved against the Syrians at the time of the wheat harvest and easily brought them to heel (2:27). When news of the plundering of Syria reached the ears of the Phoenicians, Canaanites, and Philistines, they sent emissaries to sue for peace (2:28; 3:1-8). Afterwards Holofernes moved south to Jezreel near Dothan, setting up camp between Gelboe and Beth-sh'an. There he prepared to attack the tiny province of Judaea, which refused to accept Nebuchadnezzar's boast to be God (3:9-10; 4:1-2).

The next four chapters describe Judaea's preparations to defend itself, and the first Assyrian assault on the Jewish settlements. The Israelite inhabitants of the Holy Land had only recently returned from exile and reestablished the worship of God in His Temple in Jerusalem (4:3; 5:18-19), and obviously could not oppose the Assyrians in battle. Nevertheless, Joiakim the High Priest (``Eliakim'' in the Vulgate) wrote to the Israelite towns of Bethulia and Betomesthaim situated in the area near Jezreel and Beth-sh'an, and instructed them to do whatever they could to hold the strategic mountain passes against the Assyrians as long as possible (4:4-8). Every Israelite of every age then did penance, fasting and praying in sackcloth and ashes, beseeching God for Him to deliver them from their imminent destruction. The priests as well exchanged their holy vestments for sackcloth as they prayed and offered sacrifices in the Temple. Even slaves, resident aliens, and domestic animals wore sackcloth and joined with them in prayer and fasting (4:9-15). And God heard their prayers (4:13).

When Holofernes found the mountain passes held against him, he became furious. He then told the peoples of Phoenicia, Canaan, Moab, and Ammon to join his army, and to explain what sort of people the Israelites were. Achior, leader of the Ammonites, stepped forward and outlined for him the origins and history of Israel. He concluded by warning Holofernes that only if the Jews have been unfaithful to God would their attack have any chance of success (5:1-10). His advice, however, only served to enrage Holofernes and the Gentiles assembled to attack Israel. Holofernes accused Achior of disloyalty and proclaimed that Nebuchadnezzar alone was God (5:12-13; 6:1-2). Achior was then taken to Bethulia and handed over to the Israelites there, so that he might share in their fate. Once inside the town, Achior was taken to the town's elders Uzziah, Cabri, and Carmi. They assembled the inhabitants, to whom Achior related what he had said to the Assyrians. The people of Bethulia praised Achior for his testimony about Israel. Everyone then spent the whole night calling on God to save them (6:10-11).

The following day, Holofernes completely encircled Bethulia and seized their water supply. His intention was to use famine and thirst to force the Israelites to surrender, thereby opening the mountain passes to his massive army, which had increased in size to 170,000 foot and 12,000 horse (7:1-10). When the people of Bethulia began to suffer from thirst, and saw that they were surrounded with no hope of escape, they murmured against their elders and begged them to surrender the town to the Assyrians. Uzziah and the elders asked the people to wait just five more days. If by that time God had not delivered them from their enemies, they would surrender (7:13-16).

It is at this point that we are introduced to the widow Judith bat Merari, heroine of the story, a remarkably beautiful woman. She and her late husband Manasseh were both wealthy members of the Tribe of Simeon who lived in Bethulia (8:1-2, 7). Judith's own genealogy traced back to Shelumiel ben Zurishaddai, Chief of the Simeonites at the time of the Exodus (8:1; cf. Num. 1:6), and Manasseh belonged to the same Simeonite clan as his wife. He had died of sunstroke over three years earlier, while working in his fields during the barley harvest. His widow Judith then spent the next three years and four months living in a sukkah on the roof of her house, wearing only sackcloth and widow's garb. During that time, she performed fasts of penance every day of the year, except for the Sabbath, the New Moon, and the annual festivals. Judith also managed her late husband's estate. Thus, she gained a well-earned reputation for piety, godliness, and wisdom (8:2-8).

Judith was greatly disturbed when she saw the desperate plight of her town and heard that Uzziah had, in effect, given God an ultimatum of five days in which to save them. She sent the slave woman who was stewardess of her household to Uzziah to request that he and the other elders meet with her at her sukkah (8:9-10). After upbraiding the elders for issuing God an ultimatum and reassuring them that He would provide them a means of escape, she asked them to allow her to leave Bethulia that night with her stewardess (8:11-27). Chastened by her correction, they granted her request (8:28-36). Following her customary prayer at the time of the evening incense offering in the Temple, she put aside the garments of her mourning and penance and ``made herself very beautiful, to captivate the eyes of all men who should see her'' (9:1-14; 10:1-4).

Judith and her stewardess then left Bethulia and went to the Assyrian camp, taking with them food and provisions, and pretending to be defectors bringing a report for Holofernes (10:5-19). When she was brought before Holofernes, she told him that what Achior had said was true-Israel could only be defeated if they sinned against God. However, she said that because of the siege the people of Bethulia were beginning to suffer from famine. Only unclean meat was left for them to eat, and they were on the verge of violating God's commandment not to eat such food. She told Holofernes that she and her stewardess would leave the Assyrian camp every night before dawn for her customary prayer, in which she would ask God to reveal to her when the people of Bethulia had sinned. Then she would tell him, so that their attack would be guaranteed of success. Holofernes, impressed as much by her beauty as by her wisdom, agreed to her request (10:20-23; 11:1-23).

So it went day after day and night after night, as the time approached when Uzziah promised to surrender. To avoid rendering herself ritually unclean, Judith would eat only the food that she had brought with her from Bethulia. Each night when she left the Assyrian camp, she would bathe in a nearby spring to purify herself from contact with Gentiles, to sanctify herself ritually for prayer (12:1-2). On the fourth day since Judith's arrival, Holofernes held a banquet in his tent, inviting Judith to the festivities with the hope that he might get her drunk and commit fornication with her. As the night wore on, however, Holofernes drank far more than Judith-``more than he had ever drunk on one single day in his life'' (12:10-11). His servants knew what he intended to do with her, and left them alone together. When Holofernes, drunk from wine, had fallen into unconsciousness, Judith took his sword and, praying to God for strength, in two blows cut off his head (13:1-8).

She and her stewardess then hid the head in their food pouch, left the camp at the time they normally departed for prayer, and returned to Bethulia in triumph (13:9-20). When Achior the Ammonite saw the head of Holofernes-evidence of God's intervention on behalf of Israel-he fainted in utter astonishment. After hearing from Judith the account of her deeds in the Assyrian camp, Achior asked to become a proselyte and was circumcised (14:1-10).

As dawn came on the day that Uzziah had promised to surrender, the people of Bethulia hung the head of Holofernes from the wall of their town. Then the men of Bethulia took up arms and went out to face the Assyrian army (14:11). When the Assyrians saw the Israelites taking up positions for battle, they went to the tent of Holofernes to awaken him. Assuming that he and Judith were sleeping together, his servant Bagoas at first knocked at the entrance. When there was no answer, Bagoas entered the bedroom and found the headless body of Holofernes (14:12-18). Now leaderless, and stricken with fear and astonishment, the Assyrian army scattered in total disarray. Uzziah sent word to the other Israelite settlements in the region so that they could assist in the destruction of the fleeing remnants of the Gentile army. They pursued the Assyrians beyond Damascus before returning in victory to their homes (14:19; 15:1-7).

Afterwards all of Israel celebrated the amazing victory that God had accomplished for them through Judith. Joiakim the High Priest and the elders of Jerusalem came to Bethulia to praise her (15:8-10). The Israelites spent thirty days carrying off the plunder of the Assyrians, giving the possessions of Holofernes to Judith (15:11). The women of Israel gathered to see Judith and give her praise, and she led all of the assembled people of Israel in a new hymn of praise to God (15:12-14; 16:1-17). Afterwards they went to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to God in the Temple. Judith gave all of her part of the spoils as an offering to God. After three months of celebration in Jerusalem, she returned to Bethulia, where she lived out the rest of her days in peace and holiness, taking a vow of perpetual celibacy. She died at the age of one hundred and five, and in her will she divided her possessions among the relatives of her deceased husband Manasseh and her own relatives, and gave her stewardess her freedom. All of Israel mourned her death for seven days (16:18-25).

This story is without a doubt a well-told tale, inspiring and devout like other similar tales in the Old Testament. However, as we shall see, it seems that the events recounted in the Book of Judith never happened.

Geographical and Historical Problems in The Book of Judith:

In attempting to locate the events of this book in the geography and history of the ancient Middle East, we encounter several difficulties. To begin with, in a description of Holofernes' attack on the peoples of Anatolia, Judith 2:23 mentions the nations of ``Put and Lud.'' The Old Testament prophets often mention these two peoples together-not because they were neighbors, but for poetic assonance, ``foreignness'' of custom and language, and geographical remoteness. Lud refers to the Lydians in western Asia Minor, which agrees with the geographical context. Put, however, refers to Libya in Africa-more specifically, Cyrenaica (known as Putaya to the Persians). Such a geographical error is not to be expected in an ancient work of Israelite history. We can also mention the town of ``Bethulia,'' which is mentioned nowhere else but in the Book of Judith. Traditionally that town has been identified as Safed near the Sea of Galilee, but many scholars suspect that there never was such a place as Bethulia.

Next, elsewhere in the Old Testament we find many references to Nebuchadnezzar II, King of Babylon, who conquered the Kingdom of Judah, destroyed Solomon's Temple in 587 B.C., and carried the Jews into captivity. In Judith, however, we find a Nebuchadnezzar, King of Assyria, reigning at some unspecified time subsequent to the return of the Jews from captivity in 539 B.C. The discrepancy between Babylon and Assyria is not as serious as it may appear at first-Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon was also the King of Assyria. Similarly, in Ezra 6:22 the King of Persia is referred to by his lesser title of King of Assyria. If we consider only the royal titles, the Nebuchadnezzar of this book could theoretically be the same as the famous Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.

Unfortunately, the chronology does not agree with such an identification. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon died in 561 B.C., long before the Jews returned from exile (539 B.C.), whereas the events of Judith are supposed to have happened after the Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt (515 B.C.). Also, the Jewish High Priest in Judith is named Joiakim. That is in perfect chronological agreement with Neh. 12:10, where Joiakim appears as the son and successor of Jeshua, who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon in 539 B.C. and lived to see the Temple completely rebuilt. However, there was no Nebuchadnezzar in the days of Joiakim ben Jeshua (circa 500 B.C. and early 400s B.C.). Around the year 521 B.C. there was a Babylonian prince named Nidintu-Bel, whom some scholars identify as Nebuchadnezzar III, perhaps a younger brother of Belshazzar, Prince-Regent of Babylon. The Babylonian prince who was executed 24 Oct. 519 B.C. on the order of Darius I, King of Persia, was possibly Nidintu-Bel's son and heir. That prince's name is unknown, but it may also have been Nebuchadnezzar (IV). But these Babylonian princes lived too early to fit the purported time of the events in Judith.

Even if we could find a Nebuchadnezzar living in the time of Joiakim the High Priest, there is no record in history of the terrible wars mentioned in Judith. Nor is there any trace in the historical record of Arpakshad, King of the Medes. Because Judith 1:2-4 describes Arpakshad's major construction work at Ecbatana, ancient capital of Media, some have identified Arpakshad as Deioces (Daiaukku), who according to Herodotus was the founder of Ecbatana. But Deioces lived well before the Fall of Judah in 587 B.C., whereas we are looking for a Median king who lived circa 500 B.C. In any event, Arpakshad is only said to have enlarged and strengthened the fortifications of Ecbatana, so there is no reason to equate him with Deioces. At the time that the events of this book are said to have happened, the Medes were ruled by the Kings of Persia. The conclusion is inescapable that Arpakshad never existed. His name was drawn from Abraham's genealogy in Gen. 10:22, 24; 11:10-13. (Similarly, Judith 1:6 mentions an otherwise unknown Arioch, King of Elam-cf. Gen. 14:1. The Elamites were also ruled by the Persian kings at this time in history.)

Judith as a Work of Historical Fiction:

With geographical inconsistencies, fictitious Median and Elamite kings, and an unidentifiable Assyrian king, it becomes clear that this book is not a work of history at all.  As we shall see, there may well have been a genuinely historical kernel on which this tale was constructed, but it is not a historical narrative.  Rather, it is an example of ancient Jewish historical fiction, written to have the appearance of the historical works in the Old Testament.  To construct his tale, the author drew on several themes, places, proper names, customs, and beliefs that often appear in the history of ancient Israel. The threat of Assyrian invasion, so prominent in Judith, appears throughout the books of history and prophecy in the Old Testament. The choice of the name Nebuchadnezzar for the tyrant who threatens to destroy God's People was a natural one. The miraculous deliverance of Israel through a woman reminds us of the stories of Esther and Jael-and the use of cunning and deceit reminds us of Rahab. Just as Jael kills Sisera in his sleep by fastening his head to the floor with a tent spike (Judges 4:21), Judith kills Holofernes in his sleep by chopping off his head. Wise Judith's advice to the elders of Bethulia reminds us of the counsel and instruction of Huldah or Deborah (Judith 8:9-27; cf. Judges 4:4-9; II Kings 22:11-20), and Judith's song reminds us of the songs of Deborah and Miriam (Judith 15:12-14, 16:1-17; cf. Judges 5, Ex. 15:20-21). Also, like the story of Ruth, the events of this book are associated with the season of the Spring harvests (Judith 2:1, 27; 8:2-3; cf. Ruth 1:22). Another suggestive parallel with Ruth (though a deliberately ironic one) may be found in Judith 11:23 (cf. Ruth 1:17).

Then we come to the name of the heroine, Judith, which is the feminine form of Judah (Gen. 26:34; I Chron. 4:19)-``Judith'' refers to ``a Jewess.'' As such, she would appear to be something of a female personification of the Jewish people. But it also seems likely that this story was written against the background of the Maccabean conflict. If so, it could be that ``Judith'' is a fictionalised female counterpart to Judas Maccabaeus. Like Judith, Judas won the victory against overwhelming odds through divine intervention. Like Judith, Judas faced the chief general of a mighty Gentile king rather than the Gentile king himself (compare the role played by Holofernes to that played by Lysias or Nicanor). Like Judith, Judas beheaded the enemy general and suspended his head from the wall (I Macc. 7:47; II Macc. 15:30-35). Like Judith, Judas saved his people from a powerful Gentile king who was nothing but a self-deifying madman-Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucidae. The comparison between Antiochus and the earlier Assyrian invaders of Israel was a natural and inevitable one. Indeed, the war between Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria and ``Arpakshad'' of Media reminds us of the historical wars between the Seleucidae, who controlled Assyria, and the ``Arsacidae'' of Parthia to the east of Media. ``Arpakshad'' could be an anagram of ``Arshaka'' (Arsaces), regnal name of the Kings of Parthia.

One might also note that Judas Maccabaeus was a descendant of Levi, while Judith is a descendant of Simeon. The author apparently intended his readers to think of the story of Dinah (Gen. 34; cf. Judith 9:2-4), when Simeon and Levi displayed valor in their hotheaded and brutal defense of the honor of their sister. Both Judas and Judith might be said to have inherited their forefathers' zeal to protect the integrity of Israel from Gentile assault and Gentile pollution (while still welcoming proselytes-Judith 14:10). That also points to Judith as a fictional female counterpart of Judas Maccabaeus.

Of course, just because the character of Judith and the events recounted in this book have been fictionalised, that doesn't mean there couldn't be some kernel of historical truth on which the story was based.  In a Jewish text that apparently dates to the 900s or 1000s A.D., a summary of the story of Judith appears that includes some noteworthy features suggesting that the Book of Judith is a literary amplification and embellishment of possibly historical events.  In this shorter version, Judith is a virgin, not a widow, and Nebuchadnezzar, Holofernes, Achior, and the town of Bethulia are not mentioned at all.  Instead, the enemy king is Seleucus, King of Syria, and the Jewish city under attack is not Bethulia but Jerusalem itself.  Most interesting is the similarity between "Bethulia" and the Hebrew word for "virgin" -- bethulah.  The existence of this alternate version of the tale of Judith raises the possibility, no matter how remote, that during the time of the Seleucidae or around the time of the Maccabees, there really was a Jewish woman named Judith who saved her people from a Gentile attack, and that the Book of Judith was a fictionalised retelling of that young woman's achievement.  If that is true, it would help explain the parallels between the events recounted in the Book of Judith and the deeds of Judas Maccabaeus.

If it is true that our author has the Maccabean conflict in mind, that would account for his reference to both the destruction of the First Temple in 587 B.C. (4:3; cf. 5:18) and the possible destruction of the Second Temple (8:21) as ``profanation.'' The Temple was profaned by Antiochus Epiphanes, but not destroyed. Interestingly, in chapter 4:3 the Temple is said to have been ``purified'' rather than ``rebuilt''-just as Judas and his supporters purified the Temple in 164 B.C. from the pollution of pagan sacrifice and sexual perversion. Another parallel between Judith and the Maccabean conflict is the emphasis on the commandments pertaining to unclean meat and ritual impurity-the Holy Maccabees willingly went to their deaths rather than eat pork. Taken together, all of these clues make it very likely that the Book of Judith is something of an extended biblical parable, drawing moral and doctrinal lessons from the crisis of the Maccabean uprising.

The Lessons of Judith:

The author obviously wanted to convey the great importance of faithfulness to the God of Israel. In the face of Gentile kings vaunting themselves as gods, Israel had a duty to uphold the worship of the One True God-to remain faithful to the Covenant even in the face of death. Israel should not allow the threats of pagans to frighten them into apostasy, for the God of Israel is the Lord of History (Judith 9:5-6) and would not allow the wicked to frustrate His Plans. Jews living in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes would have drawn an especially practical lesson from this story. When Holofernes attacked the Jews, God thwarted the attack because His Chosen People were faithful to God (Judith 5:20-21). In contrast, the assaults and ravages of Antiochus Epiphanes came at a time of mass apostasy among the Jews, who thereby forfeited divine protection (cf. II Macc. 5:17).

Because God is Almighty, He is just as capable of accomplishing victory through weakness as He is through strength. That is why the author chose a woman to be the instrument of God's deliverance-and not only a woman, but a widow (Judith 9:9-11), for widows were among the most defenseless and lowest in status in the ancient world. The false gods of human invention, however, always need the strength of human numbers and human force in order for the will of their worshippers to come to pass.

Many have been troubled by Judith's deliberate use of deceit to save her people. It seems most inappropriate to find God presented as making use of lies to effect the deliverance of His People, or to see cunning and deception rewarded with the praise of ``blessed'' (Judith 15:9-10, 12). However, it would be a grave mistake to interpret Judith's actions as a justification for lying. We encounter the same kind of moral dilemma with the actions of Rahab, who hid the Israelite spies and lied about their whereabouts in order to save their lives (Joshua 2:1-21).  Rahab's intention was to save lives and to aid God's People, not to flout one of God's commandments. The same is true of Judith's conduct. As St. Augustine of Hippo wrote, ``Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.''

Another lesson to be drawn from the Book of Judith comes from one of the earliest non-biblical Christian documents. Writing to the Corinthian church in the 90s A.D., St. Clement of Rome criticised the tumult and dissension at Corinth. Whereas the Corinthian Christians were tearing themselves apart through factious lust for power, other Christians had made terrible sacrifices to save their brethren, following the examples of Judith and Esther, who risked their lives to save God's People. ``The blessed Judith,'' St. Clement wrote, ``when her city was besieged, asked the elders to permit her to go into the camp of their enemies; and she went out, exposing herself to danger for the love she bore for her country and her people who were besieged-and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman.''

Finally, Christians have seen Judith as a foreshadowing of the Virgin Mary. With both Judith and Mary, we see women deeply devoted to God being used as the prime instrument whereby deliverance comes to God's People. Both Judith and Mary humbly recognise their lowly status. One can also compare Judith's vow of celibacy in her widowhood to that of Hannah the Prophetess in Luke 2:36-37-compare also the virginity of Mary. And it is natural to draw comparisons between Judith 15:9-10, 12 and Luke 1:41-48-``You are the glory of Jerusalem, the surpassing joy of Israel! You are the splendid boast of our people! . . . May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty forever and ever!''-``Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! . . . Behold, from now on every generation will call me blessed.''

A further illustration of this very point can be drawn from the image of the enemy of God's People. Just as Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria, a literary precursor of Antichrist, presumed to exalt himself above the God of heaven, so too Satan constantly attempts to do the same (cf. Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:1-17)-and both Nebuchadnezzar and Satan seek to obliterate the People of God. However, from the very beginning God foretold that victory over the Devil would come to the Woman and her Seed, a victory accomplished by a mortal blow to the Serpent's head (Gen. 3:15). Christ's victory over Satan, in which Mary shared, was foreshadowed by Jael's deathblow to Sisera's head. We see something similar in Judges 9:53, where a woman casts part of a millstone down onto the head of wicked Abimelech, causing his death and putting an end to the civil war that he had started. Again, in I Sam. 20:14-22 a wise woman of Abel-beth-maachah saves her city by counseling her neighbors to behead the rebel Sheba ben Bikri, thereby convincing Joab to lift the siege. It is fitting, then, that Judith also brings deliverance to Israel through a blow to Holofernes' head.

In this light, it is very interesting that the Cross of Christ was erected atop a place called Golgotha, the Skull. Jesus Christ, born of a woman, is the ultimate deliverance of those who are oppressed by the enemies of God. The victory of Judith over Nebuchadnezzar and Holofernes calls to mind both the final damnation of the wicked (Judith 16:17; cf. Isa. 66:24; Matt. 25:41, 46; Rev. 20:10) as well as the joys of eternal life (Judith 16:16; Matt.13:41-43; Rev. 21:3-5).

Thus, even though it is a work of historical fiction, the Book of Judith is thoroughly consistent with the Judaeo-Christian tradition's central focus on the Messiah of Israel. This agrees with the Book of Judith's setting during the general season of Passover (Judith 2:1, 27)-bringing to mind the deliverance of Israel at the very first Passover and the deliverance of mankind at the Passover of Christ. We can see, then, why Christians of every age have found this story to be so edifying and so inspiring. What we find in the tale of Judith on a smaller scale is something of an anticipation of what we find in the Gospel on the grandest scale of all.

Part Five of this series

Issue 11


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