Chapter One


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 certain holidays.



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.

Tobit 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.

One 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 civilization.

            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 in formation.


COMMENTARY:  In 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 foundations.

         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 , 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.

Alternately, 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.

You 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.



 6) Rallying 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 and disgraced.


COMMENTARY:  Then, as now, those who think that they’re in the more powerful position ignore treaties at will.



 12) Then 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. 

Nothing 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.

However, 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 [him, ......]

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.


COMMENTARY:  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.

            All of this sets the stage.  We need this backstory to understand Judith’s world.

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