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.”
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
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.”
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.
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.
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”
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.
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.”
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
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
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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