#19 Book of Judith

Judith means ‘Jewess’
  • This book of the Apocrypha is about a plan executed by a woman to save her people.
  • Plot of the story of Judith: Judith, a widow, uses her beauty and charm to get in and kill an Assyrian general in his tent. Thus, she saves Jerusalem from attack and siege by the Assyrian army. 
  • The book is found in fragments of the Septuagint Bible which dates it to the 1st or 2nd century BC (not to the Middle Ages as some have said).  But it is not found in later versions of the Septuagint Bible.
  • It actually refers to an event which took place in 161 BC, but the history is deliberately obscured in order to protect the author’s life.  The real event involved the Syrian army and General Nicanor’s siege of Jerusalem.  After their leader has been decapitated (whether at the hands of a woman in his tent or on the battle field), the Syrian army flee back to Syria and Jerusalem is saved (1 Maccabees 7:33-50).
  • Author and date?  It was written shortly after 161 BC by someone who knew all the details of Judith’s exploits.  It was not written by Judas or Simon Maccabeus as their version of events differs to this one.  It was probably written or dictated to a scribe by Judith herself as she was a pretty feisty woman who was not going to lose her place in history.
  • Genre: Story of bravery shown by a woman. It reads like a historical novel or film script.
What is the Value of the Book of Judith?

The book of Judith describes how a Jewess used her beauty and charm to trick an Assyrian general into inviting her into his tent as he laid siege to Jerusalem.  The story goes that she takes the opportunity of being alone with him to take his sword and cut off his head.  She puts his head in her picnic bag that she uses for kosher food and escapes with her maidservant back to Jerusalem.  The head is put on display and she gained great respect for her bravery.  Thus, according to this book, it was a woman who saved Jerusalem from attack on this occasion.

The book of Judith appears to say that this story took place at the time of Nebuchadnezzar and that he was King of Assyria.  This is not true, as Nebuchadnezzar was King of Babylon not Assyria.  It also says that the chief of the Assyrian army was called Holofernes.  This is also a dissimulation.  Thus, certain historical details are not right.

The true event is described in 1 Maccabees chapter 7 and it took place in 161 BC.

1 Maccabees chapter 7 describes how Demetrius became King of the Seleucid Empire of Syria.  King Demetrius sent Nicanor who had been governor of Cyprus, but was now a general of his army to Jerusalem to attack it. 

The army of General Nicanor was opposed by Judas Maccabeus and his Jewish army.  Nicanor sent false messages to Judas pretending to seek friendship.  1 Maccabees 7:33-50 describes how the two armies were camped near to each other.  They met in battle and Nicanor’s army were defeated and fled. 

The Maccabees story tells that Nicanor fell in the battle field and they later cut off his head and displayed it outside the walls of Jerusalem.  The story of Judith tells how the night before the battle she entered the Syrian camp and his tent, and cut off his head, taking the head back to the city.  Maybe the army of Nicanor went into battle against Judas and the Jewish army with their leader already dead?

It seems to be true that the Syrian army did suddenly cease their attack on Jerusalem and flee back home, even though up to that point they had been winning.  Jerusalem was miraculously saved either by General Nicanor falling on the battle field and being beheaded or by a brave woman beheading him and making a mockery of him.

The false history and changed names was a deliberate dissimulation by the author to avoid retribution by the Syrian attackers of the Jews during the Maccabean period.  The Jewish author may even have been exiled in Syria. 

Although having a woman hero and protagonist of the plot is welcome, it is better to leave this book out of the Bible as it leads to confusion about historical details.

Published by clarevmerry

Christian - Bible - Catholic belief reassessment website. How does Catholic belief relate to the Bible? An even-handed approach by the author who has been a Catholic as long as she has been an Evangelical.

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