Chapter Three

 Judith 3:

1) So they sent messengers to him to sue for peace in these words:


COMMENTARY:  “They” refers to the communities mentioned in the last verse of the prior chapter, namely the people of the coastlands, including the people of Sidon, Tyre, Sur, Ocina, Jamina, Azotus and Ascalon.



 2) “We, the servants of Nebuchadnezzar the great king, lie prostrate before you; do with us as you will.


COMMENTARY:  The leaders here made the difficult choice of facing their own executions in exchange for the lives of their people.



3) See, our dwellings and all our land and every wheat field, our flocks and herds, and all our encampments are at your disposal; make use of them as you please.


COMMENTARY:  They know that an army the size of Holofernes’ needs a lot of provision and hope to bargain with him.  It would give him a strategic advantage to have access to wheat and meat without a fight.



4) Our cities and their inhabitants are also at your service; come and deal with them as you see fit.”


COMMENTARY:  They have decided that at least, as slaves, the people would survive.



5) After the spokesmen had reached Holofernes and given him this message, 6) he went down with his forces to the seacoast, stationed garrisons in the fortified cities, and took selected men from them as auxiliaries.


COMMENTARY:  He’s consolidating his position.  Drafting some of the men established Nebuchadnezzar as their new king.



 7) The people of these cities and all the inhabitants of the countryside received him with garlands and dancing to the sound of timbrels.


COMMENTARY:  They wanted to make sure that the message got across, that they surrendered utterly.  And they celebrated what they hoped would be mercy.



 8)  But he devastated their whole territory and cut down their sacred groves, for he was allowed to destroy all the gods of the land, so that every nation might worship only Nebuchadnezzar, and all their tongues and tribes should invoke him as a god.


COMMENTARY:  He exceeded Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, ruining the land.  For the record, no source apart from Biblical ones, in Babylon or elsewhere, show any record of Nebuchadnezzar claiming divine title.  This might have been metaphoric for his pride.  Or he might’ve literally claimed divinity; although no record has so far emerged, by the time Alexander the Great came along it had become expected.

          Or Holofernes might have come up with this all on his own, as a strategic move.  Defeating the religion of a people would leave them in despair, without faith in their ability to resist.  This technique survives to contemporary times.  Just today I learned of a woman, in the community where I live, who had been thrown in jail at the age of eleven for participating in native Lummi ceremonial dancing.

          Most important to the narrative here, the Jews had a strong motive to resist.  Not only did they see, from the fate of these cities, that the land of those who surrendered would be devastated anyway, contrary to promises made, but their very religion would come under attack.



 9) At length Holofernes reached Esdraelon in the neighborhood of Dothan the approach to the main ridge of the Judean mountains;


COMMENTARY:  Dothan is a little town in the Ephraim part of the Israel/Judea lands, north of Shechem.  Elsewhere Dotham only gets mentioned twice in the Bible, and not in the same books, but it comes up five times in Judith.  Some have speculated that it was the author’s home town.



10) he set up his camp between Geba and Scythopolis, and stayed there a whole month to replenish all the supplies of his forces.


COMMENTARY:  Nobody today knows for sure where Geba was.  Scythopolis is the only city in Judith listed by its Greek name (Its Jewish name was Beth-shean.)  It had strategic value, guarding the eastern end of an important valley.

          Despite taking along an enormous amount of supplies, Holofernes still has to pause and stock up.  That’s the crucial disadvantage of big, showy deployments; they burn up supplies at a dizzying rate.

          Mentioning this matters to a little country like Judea, so easily overshadowed by vast empires with enormous armies.  Sometimes the small and weak can get the upper hand on a giant whose strength comes so expensively.  This will come up again later.

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