1) Then Judith
said to them: “Listen to me, my brothers and sisters. Take this head and hang it on the
parapet of your wall. 2) At daybreak, when
the sun rises on the earth, each of you seize your weapons, and let all the
able-bodied men rush out of the city under command of a captain, as if about to
go down into the valley against the Assyrian patrol, but without going down. 3) The
Assyrians will seize their weapons and hurry to their camp to awaken the
generals of the army. When they run to the tent of Holofernes and do not find
him, panic will seize them, and they will flee before you. 4) Then
you and all the other inhabitants of the whole territory of Israel will pursue
them and strike them down in their tracks.
COMMENTARY: A battle, or a war, is won when one side
seizes most of the morale of the other side.
We often think of it as won by killing lots of people or seizing lots of
land, but these are only means to the end of making the other side give up. Judith understood this and waged psychological
warfare against the Assyrians. Who needs
strength of arms if you can make your enemy despair some other way?
doing this, summon for me Achior the Ammonite, that he may see and recognize
the one who despised the house of Israel and sent him here to meet his death.”
COMMENTARY: A necessary step to make sure everybody knows
she got the right head!
6) So they
called Achior from the house of Uzziah. When he came and saw the head of
Holofernes in the hand of one of the men in the assembly of the people, he
collapsed in a faint. 7) Then, after
they lifted him up, he threw himself at the feet of Judith in homage, saying:
“Blessed are you in every tent of Judah! In every nation, all who hear your
name will be struck with terror.
COMMENTARY: A tribute for a warrior. But also a stroke for feminism. Whoever heard this story in the ancient world
would have to think twice about their assumptions about the helplessness of
8) But now,
tell me all that you did during these days.” So Judith told him, in the midst
of the people, all that she had done, from the day she left until the time she
began speaking to them. 9) When she had
finished her account, the people cheered loudly, so that the city resounded
with shouts of joy.
COMMENTARY: And that is why we have the Book of Judith
10) Now Achior,
seeing all that the God of Israel had done, believed firmly in God. He
circumcised the flesh of his foreskin and he has been united with the house of
Israel to the present day.
COMMENTARY: This may well have been the passage that got
this book excluded from the Jewish Bible, due to Deuteronomy 23: 4-5:
4) No Ammonite or Moabite may ever
come into the assembly of the LORD, nor may any of their descendants even to
the tenth generation come into the assembly of the LORD, 5) because they would not come to meet you
with food and water on your journey after you left Egypt, and because they
hired Balaam, son of Beor, from Pethor in Aram Naharaim, to curse you.
Achior was an Ammonite, and the people defining the Septuagint, after much
suffering which they believed afflicted upon them for failure to follow their
covenant faithfully, would see this as a violation of the Law.
However, we also have Isaiah 56:
3-6 to consider. Prophets like Isaiah, among
other things, fine-tuned the understanding of past scriptures, or corrected
mistaken interpretations, or revealed new covenants, as God directed.
The foreigner joined to the LORD should not say,
“The LORD will
surely exclude me from his people”;
Nor should the eunuch
“See, I am a dry
4) For thus says the LORD:
To the eunuchs who
keep my sabbaths,
who choose what
and who hold fast to
5) I will give them, in my house
and within my walls,
a monument and a name
Better than sons and
an eternal name,
which shall not be cut off, will I give them.
6) And foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him,
To love the name of
to become his
All who keep the
sabbath without profaning it
and hold fast to my
7) Them I will bring to my holy mountain
and make them joyful
in my house of prayer;
Their burnt offerings
and their sacrifices
will be acceptable on
For my house shall be
a house of prayer for
(It is in this same spirit of
prophecy as Isaiah that the present Pope has banned the death penalty, even
though the Catholic Church has previously allowed it, in a revelation of the
Holy Spirit that we have no more excuses for executions in this modern day when
we have the means to restrain a criminal until natural death, and that this is
also a pro-life stance. And yes, I
recognize the irony of saying that while discussing scripture about a woman
beheaded a man, but she had no other way to stop him, and she was also abiding
by the law as it stood before the execution of Jesus.)
God is not racist, who created
all races. The ban did not apply to
ethnicity but to practices. Those who
did not renounce the selfishness of the Ammonites and Moabites, even ten
generations later, were excluded, but those who loved the God of the Israelites
As a mixed-blood woman with both
Native American ancestors and White ancestors who embraced or honored Native
ways, I can understand this. I don’t
want to hear White people with insolence in their hearts say, “Aw, come on,
that was all in the past—forget it already!” when Native people still suffer
from what had been done to them by the ancestors of these folks who shrug it off
(and who in fact suffer from wrongs done to this day.) But White people who sincerely respect Native
ways, who wish to set things right, honor the ancestors of both by expiating
the sins of their forebears.
We now know that the epigenetic
damage which trauma inflicts upon people can continue on for generations. Yet acknowledging the injustice of it and
dealing with that injustice can actually rewrite your genes again, for the
COMMENTARY: They rise to the bait.
14) So Bagoas
went in and knocked at the entry of the tent, presuming that Holofernes was
sleeping with Judith.
COMMENTARY: It was the court eunuch’s job to handle
delicate situations like this. His
mutilation not only made him acceptable as a servant to women, but also made
him nonthreatening to powerful men at their most intimate moments.
On a different topic, I just read
some historians speculating that court eunuchs (but not lesser eunuchs) might
indeed have been renamed Bagoas or variations thereof upon receiving their
office. There’s just way too many royal
Eunuchs, over a span of centuries and in multiple countries within the Middle
East, all with the same name. So my
speculation has some basis!
15) When no one
answered, he parted the curtains, entered the bedchamber, and found him thrown
on the floor dead, with his head gone! 16) He cried out loudly, weeping,
groaning, and howling, and tore his garments. 17) Then he entered the
tent where Judith had her quarters; and, not finding her, he rushed out to the
troops and cried: 18) “The slaves
have duped us! One Hebrew woman has brought shame on the house of King
Nebuchadnezzar. Look! Holofernes on the ground—without a head!”
COMMENTARY: That must have been quite a shock,
considering what he expected to find.
Again the emphasis on this being done by “One Hebrew woman”.
If this is
fiction, then Judith represents Judea herself.
In which case the message is that the nation of Israel doesn’t have to
be big or strong to survive, just capable of outsmarting an opponent or a
situation. And that intelligence,
knowledge and wisdom are the gifts of God.
The Jews of Judith’s day would be utterly mystified by the cult of
ignorance that so many ascribe to today, imagining that logic, science, and
scholarship are somehow enemies to someone they themselves considered the God
of Wisdom. In fact, they wrote the Book
of Wisdom as a tribute to God (Another of the Deuterocanonical books that I
hope to get to eventually. In fact it’s
that and Sirach that I look forward to exploring the most.)
lightningbolt did not strike Holofernes.
Nothing that we would call a miracle today happened. And yet the listeners to this story perceived
it as an example of God in action, this capacity to reason out a plan greater
than the obstacles. This does not mean
lack of faith in miracles, but an understanding that God works through many
means besides miracles.
leaders of the Assyrian forces heard these words, they tore their tunics and
were overcome with great distress. Their loud cries and shouts were heard
throughout the camp.
COMMENTARY: Not only did Holofernes lose his head, so did
the Assyrian Army. In those hierarchical
times people didn’t always have a clear-cut line of military succession to take
over the reins with an officer down, as the officers often held their posts
through hereditary appointment.
One of the great Greek stories, Xenophon’s Anabasis, is about a band of
mercenaries making it back to Greece alive after winning a battle only to lose
their officers in an act of treachery, miles deep in enemy territory. Not knowing what else to do, they voted to
have Xenophon, a philosopher (a student of Socrates, along for observation and
experience against Socrates’s advice) lead them home. None of them had any training in how to be an
officer, but he at least had training on how to learn. He got every man of them home. (I’d love to see that tale made into a
miniseries!) Apparently the Assyrians
had no philosopher handy to leap into the gap.