The next Deuterocanonical text, the Book of Judith, is generally
believed to be fictional (along with the Book of Job and the Book of Jonah,
both in the Bible as accepted by both Protestant and Catholics) for it does not
accurately match other histories or, for that matter, archaeology, at least so
far. However, one must always remember
that ancient historical standards did not resemble ours at all, even under the
best of circumstances, and one may always suspect a grain of truth.
Be that as it may, like the other
non-historical books, it has value as a parable. Indeed, the very name of its heroine is a
feminization of “Judea”, “Judah”, or “Jewish People” which casts her in an
allegorical role. Even so, we cannot
rule out a real Judith having once lived.
Also of note is that even though the Jews don’t list this (or other
exile-written books) as canonical, the story it tells is often celebrated on
1) It was the twelfth
year of the reign of
Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh. At
that time Arphaxad was ruling over the Medes in Ecbatana.
COMMENTARY: Historically, this means during the reign of
Zedekiah, King of Judah (the last outpost of Judaism after the fall of Israel)
whom Nebuchadnezzar II had put into office after dethroning his brother—a Babylonian
puppet king. This would also be the year
that Zedekiah broke his promise to Nebuchadnezzar and allied with the
Egyptians, which led to an attack by the Chaldeans (AKA Babylonians—Babylon was
the capital of Chaldea) trashing the country.
This in turn led to the dissolution of Judah and deportation of its
citizens by Babylon, AKA the Babylonian Captivity, not to mention Zedekiah
being forced to watch the murder of his children (and hence destruction of his
line) after which his captors gouged out his eyes, so that it would be the last
thing he remembered seeing for the rest of his life, spent in chains in Babylon. This made him the last King of Judah. Wikipedia give a much more thorough view of
Zedekiah, combining Biblical, Egyptian, and other sources.
However, this did not mean that the line of King David
itself died out. David had hundreds of
wives and concubines, and children by all of them. Most of their descendants eventually
dissipated into the general population, but many kept records, including,
centuries later, both Mary and Joseph of Nazareth.
dealt earlier with the fall of Israel to Assyria, and now Judah has
fallen. The Bible attributes the fall of
first Israel and then Judah as the fruit of idolatry and infidelity to the God
of Israel, with Israel going first because they became heretical even before
they ceased to follow JVWH.
of the reasons for viewing this account as fictional was that Nebuchadnezzar
ruled over the Chaldeans, not Assyria, which had fallen a century, give or
take, before. But sometimes ancient
people did refer to all bad guys as Assyrians, so much so that many scholars
believed them to be mythical bogeymen, until the invention of archaeology
proved that they did indeed exist. This
triggered the rise of Fundamentalism, as many scriptures previously taken as
symbolic-only turned out to have a literal basis. The Assyrians invented all of the darkest
features of governance that we now take for granted, such as official government
lies, propaganda, political prisoners, torture for information, standing armies full of career-warriors, and
conquest without any pretense of having any right to the land. These things erupted in other parts of the
world, too, of course, but Assyrians introduced them to more-or-less Western
In any case, even without a great Assyrian empire, people
still lived there, and the account later has Nebuchadnezzar taking down the
region’s leader, so this does not seem at all seem implausible to me.
2) Around Ecbatana he built a wall of hewn stones, three cubits
thick and six cubits long. He made the walls seventy cubits high and fifty
cubits wide. 3) At its gates he raised
towers one hundred cubits high with foundations sixty cubits wide. 4) He made its gates seventy cubits high
and forty cubits wide to allow passage of his mighty forces, with his infantry
other words, it’s BIG. So big that
archaeologists have never found anything like it, though not for lack of
looking. Which gives plenty of
justification to those who declare this book fictional—except that numbers in
the Bible are almost never literal, and instead have cabalistic symbolism. Regretfully, I know nothing about Kabbala,
having no gift for numbers.
However, people much more clever with numbers than me
have translated this passage into modern American measurements—which still mean
nothing to me, but probably would help you visualize what proportions we’re
talking about. A cubit is the measure
from elbow to fingertip which, for working purposes they’re calling 18 inches,
give or take. That would make the wall
around Ecbatana 105 feet tall and 75 feet thick (at least at the base, which
must always spread wider than the top in stone walls) with each stone averaging
four and a half feet thick and nine feet long.
The tower gates would stand 150 feet high and 60 feet thick at the
Now those look to me like rounded-off numbers, so to
make it metric for our readers in the rest of the planet, we must make an
approximation (metric system) of an approximation (American system rounded out)
of an approximation (rough estimate of a cubit.) Or, instead, we could go to http://www.onlineconversion.com/ , my very favorite site for measurement conversions
of any kind, and even though they also must approximate the cubit, they can cut
out the intermediate layers. Oh dear—I must
choose between the Egyptian, Royal Egyptian, Roman, or English cubit. I’ll go with Egyptian. So, in metric measure, roughly, the stones
were 1.36 meters thick by 2.7 meters long.
The walls stood 31.5 meters high with foundations 27 meters thick, with
towers 67.5 meters tall and 27 meters thick at their bases.
Anyway, the point is not the measurements, but that
Nebuchadnezzar had the power to command massive public works, the engineers and
other experts to pull it off, and that he devoted considerable resources, time
and effort to the defense budget. This
was not somebody you wanted to mess with.
5) At that time King Nebuchadnezzar waged
war against King Arphaxad in the vast plain that borders Ragau.
COMMENTARY: Arphaxad allegedly reigned as King over the
Medes in Ecbatana, although no other account mentions him. The Medes currently owned what used to be
Assyria, near as I can gather.
considering the ruination of Assyria, I wouldn’t be surprised if Arphaxad had
been a hill bandit with aspirations of grandeur. It would not be the first time that such
declared himself king of all he saw.
Kings tended to aggrandize those they conquered in order to make their
accomplishments look greater. This
would, to me, explain why Arphaxad did not enter in the lists of Medean Kings. (After all, an upstart general named
Maximillian, from Spain, tried and failed to challenge Rome, but long after his
death made his way into English history books for generations as a Roman
emperor.) But of course I have no
archaeological proof of this possibility; it is only armchair speculation.
will recall from Tobit that Assyria had earlier conquered Israel, which might
explain Zedekiah’s reluctance to wage war on them. Israel got passed around from empire to
empire once they fell from grace.
to him were all who lived in the hill country, all who lived along the
Euphrates, the Tigris, and the Hydaspes, as well as Arioch, king of the
Elamites, in the plains. Thus many nations joined the ranks of the Chelodites.
COMMENTARY: Scholars believe “Chelodites” to be a variant
of “Chaldeans”, but since nobody’s quite sure, they leave it as is. Anyway, the point is that Nebuchadnezzar had
lots of allies.
7) Then Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, contacted
all the inhabitants of Persia and
all who lived in the west, the inhabitants of Cilicia and Damascus, Lebanon and
Antilebanon, and all who lived along the seacoast, 8) the peoples of Carmel, Gilead, Upper Galilee, and the vast
plain of Esdraelon, 9) and all in
Samaria and its cities, and west of the Jordan as far as Jerusalem, Bethany,
Chelous, Kadesh, and the river of Egypt; Tahpanhes, Raamses, all the land
of Goshen, 10Tanis, Memphis and
beyond, and all the inhabitants of Egypt as far as the borders of Ethiopia.
COMMENTARY: All of these nations and states had sworn
allegiance or alliance with or to Chaldea.
11) But all the inhabitants of the whole land made light of the summons of Nebuchadnezzar, king of
the Assyrians, and would not join him in the war. They were not afraid of him,
since he was only a single opponent. So they sent back his envoys empty-handed
COMMENTARY: Then, as now, those who think that they’re in
the more powerful position ignore treaties at will.
Nebuchadnezzar fell into a violent rage against all the land, and swore by his
throne and his kingdom that he would take revenge on all the territories of
Cilicia, Damascus, and Syria, and would destroy with his sword all the
inhabitants of Moab, Ammon, the whole of Judea, and all those living in Egypt
as far as the coasts of the two seas.
COMMENTARY: In most instances a commentator would stop
with “waxed wroth” or “got angry” or something similar, with no mention of
violence. But Nebuchadnezzar, however
brilliant a strategist, also allegedly suffered from mental illness, and his “violent
rage” could mean a spectacularly bad day at court. In later years, according to Biblical sources
elsewhere, he eventually fell under the delusion that he had become a cow, and
for seven years ran on all fours naked, eating grass.
in Babylonian sources corroborated this precise delusion—but why would
they? After all, Egyptians depicted
their Pharaohs as mighty warriors, but their mummies show them up as incest-ruined
genetic disasters with multiple defects and disorders, who could barely walk.
a fraction of a Babylonian tablet, translated by A.K. Grayson in 1975, does
show the following interesting text, translated from cuneiform (the bracketed
elipses indicate missing parts, and the parentheses show the insertion of
English words to make it more comprehensible to the modern reader.)
2 [Nebu]chadnezzar considered
3 His life appeared of no value to
5 And (the) Babylon(ian) speaks bad
counsel to Evil-merodach [....]
6 Then he gives an entirely different
order but [. . .]
7 He does not heed the word from his
lips, the cour[tier(s) - - -]
11 He does not show love to son and
daughter [. . .]
12 ... family and clan do not exist
[. . .]
14 His attention was not directed
towards promoting the welfare of Esagil [and Babylon]
16 He prays to the lord of lords, he
raised [his hands (in supplication) (. . .)]
17 He weeps bitterly to Marduk, the
g[reat] gods [......]
18 His prayers go forth to [......]
Although not as dramatic as crawling around like a
cow, it does appear to show a man in serious psychological straits. One could argue for other possible
interpretations as well, but this one does make the account of Nebuchadnezzar’s
madness in the Book of Daniel seem more plausible.
13) In the seventeenth year he mustered his forces against King Arphaxad and was
victorious in his campaign. He routed the whole force of Arphaxad, his entire
cavalry, and all his chariots, 14) and
took possession of his cities. He pressed on to Ecbatana, took its towers,
sacked its marketplaces, and turned its glory into shame. 15) He captured Arphaxad in the mountains of Ragau, ran him
through with spears, and utterly destroyed him once and for all.
Proving victorious on his threat against Arphaxad does not bode well for
those who bet on him coming out the loser.
16) Then he returned to Nineveh with all
his consolidated forces, a very great multitude of warriors; and there he and
his forces relaxed and feasted for one hundred and twenty days.
COMMENTARY: Ancient readers would consider a week-long
feast perfectly reasonable for a special occasion, a two-week feast fitting for
an especially good event, and maybe even a month for outrageously good fortune,
but they would consider an entire season of feasting excessive, even downright
shocking. It would also cause a great
burden for the average citizen supporting all of that feasting, and would
probably mean some people going hungry to feed the feasting warriors. Whether in anger or celebration,
Nebuchadnezzar inclines to extremes.
of this sets the stage. We need this
backstory to understand Judith’s world.