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
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
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 (-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 (; 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
(-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 (-26). He
then moved against the Syrians at the time of the wheat harvest and easily
brought them to heel (). When
news of the plundering of Syria
reached the ears of the Phoenicians, Canaanites, and Philistines, they sent
emissaries to sue for peace (;
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
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 ().
When Holofernes found the mountain passes held
against him, he became furious. He then told the peoples of Phoenicia,
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 (-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 (-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 (-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 ShelumielbenZurishaddai, 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 (-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 (-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'' (-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
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 (). 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
(-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 (;
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 (). 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 (-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 (-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 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
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 JoiakimbenJeshua
(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
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; -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
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 ), 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 -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 ).
Another suggestive parallel with Ruth (though a deliberately ironic one) may be
found in Judith (cf. Ruth ).
Then we come to the name of the heroine, Judith, which is the feminine form
of Judah (Gen.
26:34; I Chron. )-``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''
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 ). 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 FirstTemple
in 587 B.C. (4:3; cf. ) and the
possible destruction of the SecondTemple
() 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
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 -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. ).
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 Romecriticised 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 -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
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 ShebabenBikri, 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 ; 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.