Chapter Twelve


 Judith 12:

1) Then he ordered them to lead her into the room where his silver dinnerware was kept, and ordered them to set a table for her with his own delicacies to eat and his own wine to drink.  2) But Judith said, “I cannot eat any of them, because it would be a scandal.  Besides, I will have enough with the things I brought with me.”


COMMENTARY:  Three levels, here.  One, obviously, is that as a devout Jew she cannot risk his food violating her dietary laws.  And she has cleverly fashioned her apparent betrayal of her people as a religious decision, so Holofernes understands that.


The second level is that sharing a meal together would symbolize sharing a life.  Holofernes is hoping to get there.  The fact that her alleged plan to give him an easy victory requires her to voluntarily supplicate God for the right timing means that he can’t just take her by force.


The third level, which Holofernes doesn’t get at all, is that it’s taboo in the Middle East and parts of the Far East to seriously harm anyone you have shared food with, not even your worst enemy.  (Osama bin Ladin, in fact, made a point of sharing meals with people he suspected felt tempted to betray him.)  That is the real “scandal” that she refers to.



3) Holofernes asked her, “But if your provisions give out, where can we get more of the same to provide for you? None of your people are with us.”


COMMENTARY:  This says something about the rest of the Judean community, that nobody has defected except for (in appearance at least) Judith and her maid.



4) Judith answered him, “As surely as you live, my lord, your servant will not use up her supplies before the Lord accomplishes by my hand what he has determined.”


COMMENTARY:  He really should beware her when she speaks the truth!  But what does he know?



5) Then the attendants of Holofernes led her to her tent, where she slept until the middle of the night. Toward the early morning watch, she rose 6) and sent this message to Holofernes, “Give orders, my lord, to let your servant go out for prayer.” 7) So Holofernes ordered his guards not to hinder her. Thus she stayed in the camp three days. Each night she went out to the valley of Bethulia, where she bathed herself at the spring of the camp.


COMMENTARY:  Two layers to this.  One is that she must ritually purify herself nightly for all of her contact, during the day, with Gentiles.  He gets that.  He’s done his homework.  What he doesn’t get is that this also establishes a pattern of her harmlessly leaving the camp every night and coming back, till people assume that she will come back every time.



8) After bathing, she prayed to the Lord, the God of Israel, to direct her way for the triumph of her people. 9) Then she returned purified to the tent and remained there until her food was brought to her toward evening.


COMMENTARY:  So she really does mean that she’s going out for prayer, just not as he envisions it.  Really, the only lie she has told so far is saying that her people have offended or are about to offend God.  And notice that the text specifies “her” food.



10) On the fourth day Holofernes gave a banquet for his servants alone, to which he did not invite any of the officers.


COMMENTARY:  A smart master lets his servants know that he appreciates them every now and then.  Many a prominent person has died or otherwise come to ruin by taking for granted the servants who know all their secrets and have intimate contact with them.  And when his newest “servant” is a gorgeous woman, all the better!


The problem is (for Holofernes) is that this also guarantees the absence of warriors and advisors at the meal.



11) And he said to Bagoas, the eunuch in charge of his personal affairs, “Go and persuade the Hebrew woman in your care to come and to eat and drink with us.


COMMENTARY:  Almost every politically important eunuch I’ve read about in the history of the region has been named Bagoas.  I never read of anybody named Bagoas who was not a eunuch.  No one I’ve read ever commented on this.  Was it really their name—for all of them—by some weird cosmic coincidence, or just their office?  In Russia, when people can’t recall a prostitute’s name, they call her Natasha.  Maybe it was something like that. 

Or maybe, because Alexander the Great romanced a Persian court-eunuch named Bagoas, that name got transferred to all of his brethren in the same situation.  This story predates Alexander’s brief empire, but subsequent tellings might have added the name on after the original eunuch went unnamed for generations.



12)  It would bring shame on us to be with such a woman without enjoying her. If we do not seduce her, she will laugh at us.



COMMENTARY:  I remember, in my teens, my grandfather, Buddy, explaining to me what he called “the complimentary pass”.  He said that boys often feel under pressure to make a pass at a girl as a compliment to her, and might feel secretly relieved when she turns them down.  Knowing this freed me to turn them down without guilt, nor lie awake at night worrying about how I might have given the wrong impression.

But too many men really don’t know how women think!  I have never met a woman who laughed at a man for not attempting to seduce her!  And all too often the pass spoils the friendship, making it tense; the woman now has to become constrained in showing warmth to the man, lest she “encourage” him to expect what she’s not prepared to offer.



13) So Bagoas left the presence of Holofernes, and came to Judith and said, “So lovely a maidservant should not be reluctant to come to my lord to be honored by him, to enjoy drinking wine with us, and to act today like one of the Assyrian women who serve in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.”


COMMENTARY:  Bagoas, long acquainted with harems, understands women better.  “Girl, you’ve got to learn how to fit in if you’re going to survive life at court!”  But naturally he says it much more diplomatically than that—he’s got to fit in, too.



14) Judith replied, “Who am I to refuse my lord? Whatever is pleasing to him I will promptly do. This will be a joy for me until the day of my death.”


COMMENTARY:  Ah, the irony!  And every word is true, except about a different lord from the one they assume.  Nor do they have a clue as to what would bring Judith joy.



15) So she proceeded to put on her festive garments and all her finery. Meanwhile her servant went ahead and spread out on the ground opposite Holofernes the fleece Bagoas had furnished for her daily use in reclining while eating.


COMMENTARY:  This adds whole new meaning to the phrase, “dressed to kill”.



16) Then Judith came in and reclined. The heart of Holofernes was in rapture over her and his passion was aroused. He was burning with the desire to possess her, for he had been biding his time to seduce her from the day he saw her.


COMMENTARY:  But who is seducing who?



17) Holofernes said to her, “Drink and be happy with us!” 18) Judith replied, “I will gladly drink, my lord, for today is the greatest day of my whole life.”


COMMENTARY:  Irony, irony, irony!



19) She then took the things her servant had prepared and ate and drank in his presence. 20) Holofernes, charmed by her, drank a great quantity of wine, more than he had ever drunk on any day since he was born.


COMMENTARY:  Well, that answers the question of who’s seducing who.  Interesting, that Holofernes was normally a temperate man.  But it only takes one night of indiscretion to lose your head, so to speak.


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