1) Judith fell prostrate, put
ashes upon her head, and uncovered the sackcloth she was wearing. Just as the
evening incense was being offered in the temple of God in Jerusalem, Judith
cried loudly to the Lord:
though she told Uzziah that God would side with the Bethulians because they had
not offended against him, she engages in penitential behavior. Why?
Because she’s about to ask God to punish the pride of Holofernes, and it’s
best when making such a request to ask as humbly as possible.
Currently we misunderstand pride all too often. It’s not the same thing as self-esteem or
self-respect, and all of the “pride” movements would have been better off
calling themselves “respect” movements.
In fact, pride bubbles up in the absence of self-esteem and often drags
one far below the bar that self-respect would set.
Pride is a blister that swells up over an injury to
self-esteem rubbed raw. It is hollow,
and easily hurt by the slightest touch, and needs constantly defended. So it builds up a fantasy of entitlement that
has nothing to do with actual worth, and defends that fantasy with all the
ferocity of a starving dog defending a bone.
Self-Respect is a muscle that swells up from the exercise of self-control,
built on a foundation of self-esteem that believes oneself capable of earning
self-respect. It is solid through and
through, resistant to injury from outside sources, and strong enough to defend
Holofernes will do anything to maintain his image as a
conqueror—things that no one with true self-respect would stoop to do. And he would turn on anyone who tells him
what he needs to know rather than what he wants to hear, finding any challenge
In contrast, Judith’s frequent fasting shows her mastery
of self-control, and her refusal to give in to despair shows that she has
earned self-respect. She will not
docilely accept conquest because she has self-esteem. She humbles herself before God knowing that she
is not lessened by admitting to a power even greater than herself—something Holofernes
cannot bear to do, destroying all temples in his wake to place a mere mortal
above them all, because he can identify, vicariously with his king,
Nebuchadnezzar in the way he cannot with a god.
(People used to consider their king a compendium of themselves; hence
the habit of kings referring to themselves as “We”.)
2) “Lord, God of
my father Simeon, into whose hand you put a sword to take revenge upon the
foreigners who had defiled a virgin by violating her, shaming her by
uncovering her thighs, and dishonoring her by polluting her womb. You said,
‘This shall not be done!’ Yet they did it.
COMMENTARY: Naturally the descendants of Simeon would
have a different take on his deeds than the general Israelite public! But she also emphasizes the horror of rape—which
is exactly what women on the losing side of a battle in those days would face.
(For those who missed
the earlier commentaries, in the ancient history of the Israelites, Shechem, a man
of a powerful desert tribe, raped Dinah, the daughter of Israel, and then his
father the chieftan, Hamor, pressured Israel into agreeing to let Shechem marry
her, even though Dinah emphatically did not want this. Two of her brothers, Simeon and Levi, convinced
Shechem and Hamor that in order to marry her they and all of their men would
have to become circumcised, to which they agreed. While these men lay in bed recovering from
this painful procedure, Simeon and Levi slaughtered them. It’s controversial, because, on the one hand,
it’s right that nobody should put up with anybody raping their sister. On the other hand, they did kill a bunch of
innocent people along with the guilty; Israel was not pleased.)
you handed over their rulers to slaughter; and you handed over to bloodshed the
bed in which they lay deceived, the same bed that had felt the shame of their
own deceiving. You struck down the slaves together with their masters, and the
masters upon their thrones.
justifies her ancestor’s deception by saying that the rapist started by
deceiving their sister. Too often we
think of rape as some stranger grabbing and seizing a woman out of nowhere, but
usually it involves some deception to win a woman’s trust, get her to let her
guard down, and then betraying that trust.
This adds insult to injury because people then say, “She entered his
house willingly.” “She laughed at his
jokes and let him buy her a drink.” “She
chose to join him for a walk” and then they doubt her when she says that she
didn’t consent to sex.
So we’re getting more than just the perspective of a
descendant of Simeon on this tragedy. We’re
getting the perspective of a woman. Who
in our sisterhood hasn’t known—or been--some woman condemned for having been
deceived by her assailant? There’s a lot
of rage in Judith’s prayer.
4) Their wives you handed over to
plunder, and their daughters to captivity, and all the spoils you divided among
your favored children, who burned with zeal for you and in their abhorrence of
the defilement of their blood called on you for help. O God, my God, hear me
also, a widow.
is, granted, an unevolved perspective, to wish the women of Shechem’s family to
suffer what Dinah suffered. Eye for an
eye justice—just one eye for one eye—came long after Simeon lived and
died. Judith should have known better,
however, for by then she had the Mosaic law on the matter. But people say all kinds of things under
5) “It is you who were the
author of those events and of what preceded and followed them. The present and
the future you have also planned Whatever you devise comes into being.
believes that her ancestor did God’s will, which is not what the rest of the
Bible says. (For the record, there are
plenty of contradictory passages in the Bible without the Deuterocanonical
texts, too.) This book doesn’t actually
say that Simeon’s deed was God’s work, merely that Judith said so in her
prayer. And she is a widow, without
protection, in a cruel world at a cruel time.
More relevant to us is her trust that God’s will will be
done, at least in the long run.
6) The things you
decide come forward and say, ‘Here we are!’ All your ways are in readiness, and
your judgment is made with foreknowledge.
asserts her faith that God already has plans for what she needs, even before
7) “Here are the
Assyrians, a vast force, priding themselves on horse and chariot, boasting of
the power of their infantry, trusting in shield and spear, bow and sling.
They do not know that you are the Lord who crushes wars;
COMMENTARY: This contrasts with the materialistic
Holofernes’ disregard for the metaphysical reliance of the Bethulians on their
deity when he’s got the physical tactical advantage. But God doesn’t need vast troops and advanced
weaponry to win, and she’s about to prove it.
is your name. Shatter their strength in your might, and crush their force in
your wrath. For they have resolved to profane your sanctuary, to defile
the tent where your glorious name resides, and to break off the horns of your
altar with the sword.
COMMENTARY: She uses the same verb, “defile”, for
Holofernes’ planned desecration of the temple as she did for the rape of
Dinah. She’s appealing to God to feel
the threat of what she fears, herself.
9) See their pride, and send forth your fury upon their heads.
Give me, a widow, a strong hand to execute my plan.
COMMENTARY: To a bully, the worst possible blow is to
have his pride taken down by someone he thinks ought to be his victim.
the deceit of my lips, strike down slave together with ruler, and ruler
together with attendant. Crush their arrogance by the hand of a female.
COMMENTARY: This short
verse brings up three long points:
1—Judith justifies her plan to deceive by her earlier invocation of her
ancestor Simeon. From her point of view,
Holofernes is himself deceitful (promising mercies that he doesn’t deliver to
those who surrender without battle) and therefore does not deserve honesty. I have mixed feelings about that.
A few years ago I was shocked by an accusation against
Catholics that we allegedly believe that lying is not a sin. I have since then found out where that comes
from. There is indeed an exception that
one may lie in order to save lives, as in the case of those priests who signed
fake baptismal certificates to save Jews during the Third Reich, or indeed in
any case whenever deceptions hide anyone from those who intend murder.
However, in some communities, a folk-misunderstanding did
arise where they thought that they could lie whenever they thought any sort of
good outcome at all might arise, and it was called “heavenly deception”. This is not
sanctioned by the Catholic Church, but some people tell themselves that it is. Priests will vehemently tell you otherwise if
they catch you at it.
We easily deceive ourselves before anyone else when we
talk ourselves into thinking that good can come of a lie, and make up all
manner of noble-sounding rationalizations for deceptions that in fact serve
ourselves first and foremost—for instance, “My husband will be so much happier
if he never finds out about my affair”, or “If I get the money for drugs I will
be easier to live with for all concerned.”
But these lies only complicate life needlessly and often horribly. The line needs clearly drawn at the point of
grave danger of death. In this case
Judith hopes to prevent a massacre in Bethuliah.
2—Judith wants Holofernes crushed “By the hands of a
female.” She doesn’t use the word for
woman, but female in general.
I read commentators saying that this would be the worst
possible humiliation for a proud warrior of a patriarchal people, but I
personally see a different slant to it, instead or in addition. Her invocation of Simeon avenging Dinah says
to me that she is sick and tired of the rapists of the world, and by extension
rapers of nations, who invade and desecrate entire populations and religions
just to show off that they can. It seems
just that retribution should come from a female. By not limiting this to adult women, but
including girls as well, she invokes all of the vulnerable rising up against
those who would attack them for no better reason than their vulnerability.
3—She asks God to strike down slaves along with their
ruler because these “slaves” are former neighbors who have collaborated with
evil in order to save their own necks at the expense of others. Anyone who sells out their own values sells
11) “Your strength is not in numbers, nor does your might depend
upon the powerful. You are God of the lowly, helper of those of little account,
supporter of the weak, protector of those in despair, savior of those without
some archaeological evidence that the God of Israel might have been originally
a God of Freedom, deliverer of slaves.
All of the cities that the Israelites supposedly massacred, in order to
seize the Promised Land, show evidence indeed of being overthrown, but only the
innermost circle (dwelling-place of kings and their nobles) show the burnt
stones and charred timbers of war. The
evidence suggests that the only “citizens” killed were the enfranchised few,
and that the slaves and peasantry joined up with the Israelites to overthrow
their masters. A recent DNA study also
showed the Canaanites having descendants today, by no means being wiped out. And the first village that escaped slaves
from Egypt would reach worshiped a God of Freedom with a name very similar to
All of those embarrassing, seemingly-racist rants against marrying outside of
the twelve tribes of Israel don’t actually apply to race. They apply to non-converts. We can see this earlier in Judith when the
Bethulians welcomed Achior, and it also shows in the Book of Ruth: the story of
a convert woman. I still have issues
with this, but at least it’s based on choices rather than accidents of birth.
Now, if we were to take this book as fiction, which many
scholars do, this verse would divulge the entire point of the Book of Judith as
a morality tale. If “Judith” is indeed a metaphor for “the Jews”, then this
addresses their standing as a tiny nation among great empires, widowed of her
kingly line yet able to rely on God to defend her. The story says that you don’t need to be big,
strong, and well-armed to come out on top.
please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Master of heaven and
earth, Creator of the waters, King of all you have created, hear my prayer!
COMMENTARY: Most of these titles have no precedent
outside of the Deuterocanonical texts.
They clearly draw the connection between Creator and Creation,
dignifying the latter in a way pertinent to our modern discussions of the
ecology. This is a small part of why
Catholics and Protestants have disagreed as to whether the Pope’s environmental
encyclical, “Laudato Si”, is scriptural.
(The references get even clearer in later parts of the Deuterocanonical
my deceitful words wound and bruise those who have planned dire things
against your covenant, your holy temple, Mount Zion, and the house your
gives a final pitch to God to allow her to protect Judaism itself from those
who would destroy it. It goes without
saying that much bloodshed would accompany such an attack.
14) Make every nation and every
tribe know clearly that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that
there is no other who shields the people of Israel but you alone.”
of you who belong to non-Abramic religions might understandably feel
uncomfortable with Judith’s final sales-pitch as to why her deity should help
her. Be that as it may, at this point,
historically, she still sees Him as specific to Israel.