1) On hearing what had happened, those still in their
tents were horrified. 2)
Overcome with fear and dread, no one kept ranks any
longer. They scattered in all directions, and fled along every path, both
through the valley and in the hill country.
COMMENTARY: So here we see the Assyrian Army lose their
heads in response to Holofernes losing his.
Two things can go bad with a cult of personality: That the center of the cult can fail to live
up to it, or that he can succeed.
Holofernes managed to make himself irreplaceable, but not immortal—a bad
combination for those depending on him.
message here is not just about Israel winning a victory at a woman’s hand
(although I like that one!) but also a counterpoint warning about the danger of
relying too much on any one person, and thus abdicating responsibility. As great as Judith was, she did not achieve
her victory alone, but by listening to God—and could therefore be replaced, if
necessary, by another mystic doing likewise.
Holofernes, on the other hand, relied only on himself, and when he was gone,
his leadership went with him. Judith
made no secret of her avenue to greatness, so that others could follow her
example. The only way that chaos could
follow Holofernes’ death was if he had kept his strategy to himself, jealously
guarding his specialness.
3) Those who were stationed in the hill country around
Bethulia also took to flight. Then the Israelites, every warrior among them,
came charging down upon them.
these were the folks guarding the spring.
Now the Israelites had water!
4) Uzziah sent messengers to
Betomasthaim, to Choba and Kona, and to the whole territory of Israel to report
what had happened and to urge them all to attack the enemy and destroy them. 5) On hearing this, all the Israelites,
with one accord, attacked them and cut them down as far as Choba. Even those
from Jerusalem and the rest of the hill country took part in this, for they too
had been notified of the happenings in the camp of their enemy. The Gileadites
and the Galileans struck the enemy’s flanks with great slaughter, even beyond Damascus
and its borders. 6) The remaining
people of Bethulia swept down on the camp of the Assyrians, plundered it, and
acquired great riches.
COMMENTARY: Domino effect in action. How often do we think, “What can one person
do? What good is any effort of mine?” But small deeds can avalanche into great ones
unexpectedly. And most of the time we
don’t actually see the end result of our deeds, good or bad. A key word to a child can change the course
of that human being’s entire life, and it might well be in a way that causes
this one to impact uncounted other lives, who then impact uncountable
others. We all cause ripples, and the
combination of our ripples can become a tsunami—let us choose to make it an
overwhelming flood of goodness, rather than the reverse. It’s our call.
7) The Israelites, when they returned from the slaughter,
took possession of what was left. Even the towns and villages in the hill
country and on the plain got an enormous quantity of spoils, for there was a
tremendous amount of it.
here all they had been hoping for, from Judith’s prayers, was for a little
splash of rain!
8) Then the high priest Joakim and the
senate of the Israelites who lived in Jerusalem came to see for themselves the
good things that the Lord had done for Israel, and to meet and congratulate
COMMENTARY: This was a really big deal. Keep in mind that, before the Romans,
pavement rarely extended beyond the walls of major cities, and most towns did
without. But as they also poor
infrastructure for cross-country communication, making the effort for
face-to-face contact mattered nonetheless.
9) When they came to her, all with one accord blessed
“You are the glory of Jerusalem!
You are the great pride of
You are the great boast of
COMMENTARY: Women did not normally get such accolades in
the ancient world. In Rome, in fact, it
was said that the ideal woman was one of whom nothing was said, either in
praise or in blame—because praising her would mean that she had stepped out of
her anonymity. So to boast of Judith defied the patriarchy of
all surrounding nations. And it set a
delightfully dangerous precedent.
10) By your own hand you have done all this.
You have done good things
and God is pleased with
May the Almighty Lord
bless you forever!”
And all the people said,
this “By your own hand” which pleases God, versus the god-defying “By my own
hand” of Nebuchadnezzar and Holofernes.
The balance here matters. Judith
received advice from God, but she chose to ask for that advice, listen to it,
and act upon it. She had great native
intelligence, but she turned thought into action—a particularly hard thing for
women to do when we think of ourselves as second-class citizens. Judith was no mere pawn, nor did she
aggrandize herself, but moved as an active collaborator in the working of God’s
11) For thirty days all the people plundered the camp, giving Judith the
tent of Holofernes, with all his silver, his beds, his dishes, and all his
furniture. She took them and loaded her mule, hitched her carts, and loaded
these things on them.
Bethulians had endured their siege for thirty-four days when Judith came up
with her plan. She spent four days in
the enemy camp, and then sprung her trap.
So we have thirty-four days of despair, and thirty-four days of hope to
12) All the women of Israel gathered to
see her, and they blessed her and performed a dance in her honor. She took branches in her hands and distributed them
to the women around her,
how she does not keep the glory jealously to herself, but honors all the women
of Israel. Clearly this counts not just
as Judith’s victory, but as womanhood’s vindication. The Book of Judith does not treat her as a
freak, a woman who “thinks like a man” (for her idea had nothing in common with
the standard male thinking of the day) and therefore an anomaly which does not
apply to others, but as one firmly rooted in her femininity, and in that position worth listening
to. There is no reason to include this
detail about distributing the branches to the other women except to remind men
of the importance of listening to women—especially important advice for exiles
surrounded by cultures who don’t.
13) and she and the other women crowned
themselves with olive leaves. Then, at the head of all the people, she led the
women in the dance, while the men of Israel followed, bearing their weapons,
wearing garlands and singing songs of praise.
the Greek Olympics, one olive crown per event was granted to a single
victor. By giving them a wreath instead
of gold or silver, it showed respect that they vied for the sake of “virtue”
rather than for gain.
This might have been another reason for excluding this
book from the Septuagint, as it shows foreign influence. The Greeks said that they learned this custom
This parade deliberately reverses gender-roles. After most military victories, the men went
first and the women followed after, the women bedecking themselves in floral
garlands and singing the praises of the men.
(It’s a pity I couldn’t find a painting of this! It would make a great subject for art!)
14) Judith led all Israel in this song of thanksgiving, and the people
loudly sang this hymn of praise:
You will have to wait till next week for this song, but it is patterned
on the song of Miriam (Moses and Aaron’s sister) for the delivery of Israel
from Egypt. This matters because Miriam
was later disgraced for objecting to Moses having an African wife, her
punishment being that God turned her into a “snow-white leper”. Some scholars, in fact, have said that this
story was meant to discredit women having a role in theology or politics. For Judith to sing a hymn with parallels to
Miriam makes her rise the answer to Miriam’s fall, and a restoration of dignity
and respect to the Feminine.
It is in this same spirit that Catholics think of Mary as the answer to Eve. For just as we believe that Eve consented to
let sin into the world, we believe that Mary consented to let salvation into
the world. When St. Paul refers to the
stain of Eve on women, he says in the next breath that they will be spared this
by the pangs of childbirth. Since this
same man recommended the benefits of a woman staying a virgin so that no
husband’s authority might stand in the way of her following God as the spirit
moves her, we Catholics assume that he refers to the labor of Mary.