Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms, http://www.borders.com, or http://www.christianbook.com.
Judith, a book in the Apocrypha. It is a tale of faith and horror in which Judith, the beautiful and pious widow, entices and brutally assassinates Holofernes, the Assyrian general besieging her hometown, Bethulia. The story may have been written in Hebrew in the Maccabean era and possibly reflects the defeat of the Seleucid general Nicanor by Judah the Maccabee (161 b.c.). The deliberate confusion of names and events from the Persian, Babylonian, and Assyrian eras, however, is probably a device on the part of the author to indicate that the work is intended as fiction. The name Judith means the Jewess, and like a good hero from the period of the judges she returns to her home after delivering her people from the enemy (cf. 16:21). Judah the Maccabee and his brothers, on the other hand, seek continuing political power. The story thus may be, in part, a comment by the H\asidim, the forerunners of the Pharisees and Essenes and, initially, the allies of the Maccabees, on Maccabean political ambitions.
OUTLINE OF CONTENTS
I. Holofernes invasion (chaps. 1-7)
A. The western nations, including the Jews, refuse to help Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, in defeating Arphaxad, king of the Medes (chap. 1)
B. Nebuchadnezzar commissions Holofernes to invade the western nations (chap. 2)
C. Except for the Jews, all sue for peace and are accepted as vassals (chap. 3)
D. The Jews are alarmed and cry out to God (chap. 4)
E. Holofernes prepares to invade Judea; Achior the Ammonite is turned over to the Jews; he is not to see Holofernes face again until the general has dealt with them (chaps. 5-6)
F. Holofernes besieges Bethulia, and its terrified leaders prepare to surrender (chap. 7)
II. The story of Judith (chaps. 8-16)
A. Judith is introduced as a beautiful, virtuous, and pious widow with a plan to deliver her people; she asks the leaders to postpone surrender, noting that, in addition to their town, the sanctuary in Jerusalem is in danger (chap. 8)
B. Judiths prayer (chap. 9)
C. She arrays herself in beautiful clothes, provisions herself with kosher foods, and with her maidservant seeks asylum in Holofernes camp; he is captivated by her great beauty (chaps. 10-11)
D. For three nights, Judith goes out to pray and bathe in a spring; on the fourth evening, Holofernes throws a banquet at which he plans to seduce her (chap. 12)
E. Alone in the chambers with the general, Judith decapitates him and, pretending to go out again to bathe, carries his head away to Bethulia in her food bag (chap. 13)
F. Achior looks upon Holofernes face and becomes a proselyte, as the Assyrians discover his body (chap. 14)
G. The Assyrians flee while Judith is honored by the high priest (chap. 15)
H. The song of Judith (16:1-17)
I. The spoil is dedicated to the Temple and Judith returns home (16:18-25)
Like its prototype, the story and song of Deborah (Judg. 4-5), Judith carries a message of faith in the deliverance of Gods people in the face of political and military oppression. In particular, the feminism of the book is deliberate. The point seems to be not so much that God chooses a woman to prove his strengthJudith is no weaklingbut that a woman is the appropriate instrument of a God who is the helper of the oppressed (9:11). Judith may be also a personification of Judea and, in her final song of triumph, speak as the mother of the Jewish people.
The story has had an influence on Western literature and art. It was one of the two apocryphal books with sufficient popularity in the West to convince Jerome to include it in his Vulgate translation of the Bible. For Catholics, it is one of the deuterocanonical books, while, for Protestants, it is included among the Apocrypha.
Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer