Chapter Fifteen


 Judith 15:

1) On hearing what had happened, those still in their tents were horrified. 2) Overcome with fear and dread, no one kept ranks any longer. They scattered in all directions, and fled along every path, both through the valley and in the hill country.


COMMENTARY:  So here we see the Assyrian Army lose their heads in response to Holofernes losing his.  Two things can go bad with a cult of personality:  That the center of the cult can fail to live up to it, or that he can succeed.  Holofernes managed to make himself irreplaceable, but not immortal—a bad combination for those depending on him. 


The message here is not just about Israel winning a victory at a woman’s hand (although I like that one!) but also a counterpoint warning about the danger of relying too much on any one person, and thus abdicating responsibility.  As great as Judith was, she did not achieve her victory alone, but by listening to God—and could therefore be replaced, if necessary, by another mystic doing likewise.  Holofernes, on the other hand, relied only on himself, and when he was gone, his leadership went with him.  Judith made no secret of her avenue to greatness, so that others could follow her example.  The only way that chaos could follow Holofernes’ death was if he had kept his strategy to himself, jealously guarding his specialness.



3) Those who were stationed in the hill country around Bethulia also took to flight. Then the Israelites, every warrior among them, came charging down upon them.


COMMENTARY:  Remember, these were the folks guarding the spring.  Now the Israelites had water!



4) Uzziah sent messengers to Betomasthaim, to Choba and Kona, and to the whole territory of Israel to report what had happened and to urge them all to attack the enemy and destroy them. 5) On hearing this, all the Israelites, with one accord, attacked them and cut them down as far as Choba. Even those from Jerusalem and the rest of the hill country took part in this, for they too had been notified of the happenings in the camp of their enemy. The Gileadites and the Galileans struck the enemy’s flanks with great slaughter, even beyond Damascus and its borders. 6) The remaining people of Bethulia swept down on the camp of the Assyrians, plundered it, and acquired great riches.


COMMENTARY:  Domino effect in action.  How often do we think, “What can one person do?  What good is any effort of mine?”  But small deeds can avalanche into great ones unexpectedly.  And most of the time we don’t actually see the end result of our deeds, good or bad.  A key word to a child can change the course of that human being’s entire life, and it might well be in a way that causes this one to impact uncounted other lives, who then impact uncountable others.  We all cause ripples, and the combination of our ripples can become a tsunami—let us choose to make it an overwhelming flood of goodness, rather than the reverse.  It’s our call.



7) The Israelites, when they returned from the slaughter, took possession of what was left. Even the towns and villages in the hill country and on the plain got an enormous quantity of spoils, for there was a tremendous amount of it.


COMMENTARY:  And here all they had been hoping for, from Judith’s prayers, was for a little splash of rain!



8) Then the high priest Joakim and the senate of the Israelites who lived in Jerusalem came to see for themselves the good things that the Lord had done for Israel, and to meet and congratulate Judith.


COMMENTARY:  This was a really big deal.  Keep in mind that, before the Romans, pavement rarely extended beyond the walls of major cities, and most towns did without.  But as they also poor infrastructure for cross-country communication, making the effort for face-to-face contact mattered nonetheless.



9) When they came to her, all with one accord blessed her, saying:

“You are the glory of Jerusalem!

You are the great pride of Israel!

You are the great boast of our nation!


COMMENTARY:  Women did not normally get such accolades in the ancient world.  In Rome, in fact, it was said that the ideal woman was one of whom nothing was said, either in praise or in blame—because praising her would mean that she had stepped out of her anonymity.  So to boast of Judith defied the patriarchy of all surrounding nations.  And it set a delightfully dangerous precedent.



10) By your own hand you have done all this.

You have done good things for Israel,

and God is pleased with them.

May the Almighty Lord bless you forever!”

And all the people said, “Amen!”


COMMENTARY:  Contrast this “By your own hand” which pleases God, versus the god-defying “By my own hand” of Nebuchadnezzar and Holofernes.  The balance here matters.  Judith received advice from God, but she chose to ask for that advice, listen to it, and act upon it.  She had great native intelligence, but she turned thought into action—a particularly hard thing for women to do when we think of ourselves as second-class citizens.  Judith was no mere pawn, nor did she aggrandize herself, but moved as an active collaborator in the working of God’s will.



11) For thirty days all the people plundered the camp, giving Judith the tent of Holofernes, with all his silver, his beds, his dishes, and all his furniture. She took them and loaded her mule, hitched her carts, and loaded these things on them.


COMMENTARY:  The Bethulians had endured their siege for thirty-four days when Judith came up with her plan.  She spent four days in the enemy camp, and then sprung her trap.  So we have thirty-four days of despair, and thirty-four days of hope to answer it.



12) All the women of Israel gathered to see her, and they blessed her and performed a dance in her honor. She took branches in her hands and distributed them to the women around her,


COMMENTARY:  Notice how she does not keep the glory jealously to herself, but honors all the women of Israel.  Clearly this counts not just as Judith’s victory, but as womanhood’s vindication.  The Book of Judith does not treat her as a freak, a woman who “thinks like a man” (for her idea had nothing in common with the standard male thinking of the day) and therefore an anomaly which does not apply to others, but as one firmly rooted in her femininity, and in that position worth listening to.  There is no reason to include this detail about distributing the branches to the other women except to remind men of the importance of listening to women—especially important advice for exiles surrounded by cultures who don’t.



13) and she and the other women crowned themselves with olive leaves. Then, at the head of all the people, she led the women in the dance, while the men of Israel followed, bearing their weapons, wearing garlands and singing songs of praise.


COMMENTARY:  In the Greek Olympics, one olive crown per event was granted to a single victor.  By giving them a wreath instead of gold or silver, it showed respect that they vied for the sake of “virtue” rather than for gain.


This might have been another reason for excluding this book from the Septuagint, as it shows foreign influence.  The Greeks said that they learned this custom from Zeus.


This parade deliberately reverses gender-roles.  After most military victories, the men went first and the women followed after, the women bedecking themselves in floral garlands and singing the praises of the men.  (It’s a pity I couldn’t find a painting of this!  It would make a great subject for art!)


14) Judith led all Israel in this song of thanksgiving, and the people loudly sang this hymn of praise:

OMMENTARY:  You will have to wait till next week for this song, but it is patterned on the song of Miriam (Moses and Aaron’s sister) for the delivery of Israel from Egypt.  This matters because Miriam was later disgraced for objecting to Moses having an African wife, her punishment being that God turned her into a “snow-white leper”.  Some scholars, in fact, have said that this story was meant to discredit women having a role in theology or politics.  For Judith to sing a hymn with parallels to Miriam makes her rise the answer to Miriam’s fall, and a restoration of dignity and respect to the Feminine. 

It is in this same spirit that Catholics think of Mary as the answer to Eve.  For just as we believe that Eve consented to let sin into the world, we believe that Mary consented to let salvation into the world.  When St. Paul refers to the stain of Eve on women, he says in the next breath that they will be spared this by the pangs of childbirth.  Since this same man recommended the benefits of a woman staying a virgin so that no husband’s authority might stand in the way of her following God as the spirit moves her, we Catholics assume that he refers to the labor of Mary.

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