Book Of Judith

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The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint and in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but excluded by Jews and Protestants. It has been said that the book contains numerous historical anachronisms, which is why many scholars now accept it as unreliable history — it has been considered a parable or perhaps the first historical novel.

The name Judith is Hebrew (יְהוּדִית "Praised" or "Jewess", Standard Hebrew Yəhudit, Tiberian Hebrew Yəhûḏîṯ), the feminine form of Judah.

The Book of Judith has a dramatic setting that appealed to Jewish patriots and it warned of the urgency of adhering to Mosaic law, generally speaking, but what accounted for its enduring appeal was the drama of its narrative.

The subject: a daring and beautiful woman in her full maturity, dressed for the feast with all her spectacular jewels, accompanied by an apprehensive maid, succeeds in decapitating the invading general Holofernes (possibly Essarhaddon). The moral is as much about the dangers of a beautiful woman, as had been told of Delilah and Samson but here the woman was a culture-hero to the listeners.

The city called "Bethulia," (properly "Betylua") and the narrow and strategic pass into Judea that it occupies (Judith IV:7ff VIII:21-24) are believed by many to be fictional settings but some suggest that a city called Meselieh is Bethulia.

The editors of the Jewish Encyclopedia identified Holofernes' encampment with Shechem. The Assyrians, instead of attempting to force the pass, lay siege to the city and cut off its water supply. Judith, the magnificent widow, works deliverance for her city — and thus saves all the kingdom of Judea — by charming the Assyrian captain, Holofernes, then cutting off his head as he sleeps. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar's attempt to conquer Judah (which was successful and quite devastating in reality) is foiled in the narrative.

The Book of Judith was originally written in Hebrew. Though its oldest versions have been translated into Greek and have not been preserved in the original language, its Hebrew origin is revealed in details of vocabulary and phrasing. The extant Hebrew Language versions, whether identical to the Greek, or in the shorter Hebrew version which contradicts the longer version in many specific details of the story, are medieval.

Even though the Book of Judith is not part of the official Jewish religious canon, its narrative is associated by many within Orthodox Judaism who place it in the Hellenistic period when Judea battled the Seleucid monarchs. It is regarded as a story related to the events surrounding the military struggle of that time and is believed to be a true reference to the background events leading up to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. (See also 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees):

"Although the story is set in the Babylonian period, the Book of Judith is thought to have originated at the time of the Maccabees. Medieval Hebrew versions understood the story in the context of the Hasmonean revolt."


I. Name.

This apocryphal book is called after the name of its principal character Judith (יהוּדית, yehūdhīth, “a Jewess”; Ἰουδίθ, Ioudíth, Ἰουδήθ, Ioudḗth). The name occurs in Genesis 26:34 and the corresponding masculine form (יהוּדי, yehudhi], “a Jew”) in Jeremiah 36:14, Jeremiah 36:21, Jeremiah 36:23 (name of a scribe). In other great crises in Hebrew history women have played a great part (compare Deborah, Judges 5, and Esther). The Books of Ruth, Esther, Judith and Susannah are the only ones in the Bible (including the Apocrypha) called by the names of women, these women being the principal characters in each case.

II. Canonicity.

Though a tale of Jewish patriotism written originally in Hebrew, this book was never admitted into the Hebrew Canon, and the same applies to the Book of Tobit. But both Judith and Tobit were recognized as canonical by the Council of Carthage (397 AD) and by the Council of Trent (1545 AD). Though, however, all Romanists include these books in their Bible (the Vulgate), Protestant versions of the Bible, with very few exceptions, exclude the whole of the Apocrypha (see Apocrypha). In the Septuagint and Vulgate, Tobit and Judith (in that order) follow Nehemiah and precede Esther. In the English Versions of the Bible of the Apocrypha, which unfortunately for its understanding stands alone, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit and Judith occupy the first place and in the order named. In his translation of the Apocrypha, Luther, for some unexplained reason, puts Judith at the head of the apocryphal books, Wisdom taking the next place.

III. Contents.

The book opens with an account of the immense power of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh. (In the days of the real Nebuchadnezzar, Assyria had ceased to be, and its capital was destroyed.) He calls upon the peoples living in the western country, including Palestine, to help him to subdue a rival king whose power he feared - Arphaxad, king of the Medes (otherwise quite unknown). But as they refused the help he demanded, he first conquered his rival, annexing his territory, and then sent his general Holofernes to subdue the western nations and to punish them for their defiance of his authority. The Assyrian general marched at the head of an army 132,000 strong and soon took possession of the lands North and East of Palestine, demolishing their idols and sanctuaries that Nebuchadnezzar alone might be worshipped as god (Judith 1 through 3). He now directed his forces against the Jews who had recently returned from exile and newly rebuilt and rededicated their temple. Having heard of the ruin of other temples caused by the invading foe, the Jews became greatly alarmed for the safety of their own, and fortified the mountains and villages in the south, providing themselves with food to meet their needs in the event of war. At the urgent request of Joakim (“Eliakim” in the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) and Peshitta), the inhabitants of Bethulia (so the Latin, English, and other VSS, but Βετυλούα, Betuloúa is more correct according to the Greek) and of Betomestham (both places otherwise unknown) defended the adjoining mountain passes which commanded the way to Jerusalem. Holofernes at once laid siege to Bethulia, and by cutting off the water supply aimed at starving the people to submission. But he knows little of the people he is seeking to conquer, and asks the chiefs who are with him who and what these Jews are. Achior, the Ammonite chief, gives an account of the Israelites, _ cluding that when faithful to their God they were invincible, but that when they disobeyed Him they were easily overcome. Achior is for this saying expelled and handed over to the Jews. After holding out for some days, the besieged people insisted that Onias their governor should surrender. This he promises to do if no relief comes in the course of five days. A rich, devout and beautiful widow called Judith (daughter of Merari, of the tribe of Simeon (Judith 8:1)), hearing of these things, rebukes the murmurers for their lack of faith and exhorts them to trust in God. As Onias abides by his promise to the people, she resolves to attempt another mode of deliverance. She obtains consent to leave the fortress in the dead of night, accompanied by her maidservant, in order to join the Assyrian camp. First of all she prays earnestly for guidance and success; then doffing her mourning garb, she puts on her most gorgeous attire together with jewels and other ornaments. She takes with her food allowed by Jewish law, that she might have no necessity to eat the forbidden meats of the Gentiles. Passing through the gates, she soon reaches the Assyrians. First of all, the soldiers on watch take her captive, but on her assuring them that she is a fugitive from the Hebrews and desires to put Holofernes in the way of achieving a cheap and easy victory over her fellow-countrymen, she is warmly welcomed and made much of. She reiterates to Holofernes the doctrine taught by Achior that these Jews can easily be conquered when they break the laws of their Deity, and she knows the necessities of their situation would lead them to eat food prohibited in their sacred laws, and when this takes place she informs him that he might at once attack them. Holofernes listens, applauds, and is at once captured by her personal charms. He agrees to her proposal and consents that she and her maid should be allowed each night to say their prayers out in the valley near the Hebrew fortress. On the 4th night after her arrival, Holofernes arranges a banquet to which only his household servants and the two Jewesses are invited. When all is over, by a preconcerted plan the Assyrian general and the beautiful Jewish widow are left alone. He, however, is dead drunk and heavily asleep. With his own scimitar she cuts off his head, calls her maid who puts it into the provision bag, and together they leave the camp as if for their usual prayers and join their Hebrew compatriots, still frantic about the immediate future. But the sight of the head of their arch foe puts new heart into them, and next day they march upon the enemy now in panic at what had happened, and win an easy victory. Judith became ever after a heroine in Jewish romance and poetry, a Hebrew Joan of Arc, and the tale of the deliverance she wrought for her people has been told in many languages. For later and shorter forms of the tale see VII, 4 (Hebrew Midrashes).

IV. Fact or Fiction?

The majority of theologians down to the 19th century regarded the story of Judith as pure history; but with the exception of O. Wolf (1861) and yon Gumpach, Protestant scholars in recent times are practically agreed that the Book of Judith is a historical novel with a purpose similar to Daniel, Esther and Tobit. Schurer classes it with “parenetic narratives” (paranetische Erzahlung). The Hebrew novel is perhaps the earliest of all novels, but it is always a didactic novel written to enforce some principle or principles. Roman Catholic scholars defend the literal historicity of the book, though they allow that the proper names are more or less disguised. But the book abounds with anachronisms, inconsistencies and impossibilities, and was evidently written for the lesson it teaches: obey God and trust Him, and all will be well. The author had no intention to teach history. Torrey, however, goes too far when he says (see Jewish Encyclopedia, “Book of Judith”) that the writer aimed at nothing more than to write a tale that would amuse. A tone of religious fervor and of intense patriotism runs through the narrative, and no opportunity of enforcing the claims of the Jewish law is lost. Note especially what is taught in the speeches of Achior (Judith 5:12-21) and Judith (8:17-24; compare Judith 11:10), that, trusting in God and keeping His commandments, the nation is invulnerable.

According to the narrative Nebuchadnezzar has been for 12 years king of Assyria and has his capital at Nineveh, though we know he never was or could be king of Assyria. He became king of Babylon in 604 BC, upon the death of his father Nabopolassar, who in 608 had destroyed Assyria. The Jews had but recently returned from exile (Judith 4:3; Judith 5:19), but were independent, and Holofernes knew nothing about them (Judith 5:3). Nebuchadnezzar died in 561 BC and the Jews returned under Cyrus in 538. Bethulia to which Holofernes lay siege was otherwise quite unknown: it is probably a disguised form of Bēth 'Ēlōhīm or Bēth ‛Elōah, “house of God,” and means the place where God is with His people. The detailed description of the site is but part of the writer's art; it was the place which every army must pass on its way to Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, there is no such position in Palestine, and least of all Shechem, which Torrey identified with Bethulia. We know nothing besides what Judith 1 tells us of “Arphaxad who reigned over the Medes in Ecbatana”; on the contrary, in every other mention of the name it stands for a country or a race (see Genesis 10:22, Genesis 10:24; Genesis 11:10-13).

V. Date.

1. Probably During the Maccabean Age:

It is evident that this religious romance was prompted by some severe persecution in which the faith of the Jews was sorely tried, and the writer's dominant aim is identical with that of the author of Daniel, namely, to encourage those suffering for their religion by giving instances of Divine deliverance in the darkest hour. “Only trust and keep the law; then deliverance will unfailingly come” - that is the teaching. Judith might well have been written during the persecution of the Maccabean age, as was almost certainly the Book of Daniel. We have in this book that zeal for orthodox Judaism which marked the age of the Maccabees, and the same strong belief that the war in which the nation was engaged was a holy one. The high priest is head of the state (see Judith 4:6), as suiting a period when the religious interest is uppermost and politics are merged in religion, though some say wrongly that John Hyrcanus (135-106 BC) was the first to combine priestly and princely dignities. We have another support for a Maccabean date in the fact that Onias was high priest during the siege of Bethulia (Judith 4:6), the name being suggested almost certainly by Onias III, who became high priest in 195 (or 198) BC, and who died in 171 after consistently opposing the Hellenizing policy of the Syrians and their Jewish allies.

That the persecutions of Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 BC) supply as good a background for this book as any other event in Jewish history is the least that can be said; but one may not be dogmatic on the matter, as similar conditions recurred in the nation's history, and there is no external or internal evidence that fixes the date definitely. The following scholars decide for a date in the Maccabean age: Fritzsche, Ewald, Hilgenfeld, Schurer, Ball, Cornill and Lohr. The author was certainly a resident in Palestine, as his local knowledge and interests show; and from his punctilious regard for the law one may judge that he belonged to the Hasidean (hăṣīdhīm) party. Since he so often mentions Dothan (Greek Dothae, Dothaim) (Judith 3:9; Judith 4:6; Judith 7:3, Judith 7:18; Judith 8:3), it is probable that he belonged to that neighborhood. Though, however, the author wrote in the time of the Maccabees, he seems to set his history in a framework that is some 200 years earlier, as Noldeke (Die alttest. Lit., 1868, 96; Aufsatze zur persischen Geschichte, 1887, 78) and Schurer (GJV, III, 323 ff) show. In 350 BC, Artaxerxes Ochus (361-338 BC) invaded Phoenicia and Egypt, his chief generals being Holofernes (Judith 2:4, etc.) and Bagoas (Judith 12:11), both of whom are in Judith officials of King Nebuchadnezzar and take part in the expedition against the Jews. This was intended probably to disarm the criticism of enemies who might resent any writing in which they were painted in unfavorable colors.

2. Other Opinions:

(1) Invasion of Pompey.

That it was the invasion of Pompey which gave rise to the book is the opinion held by Gaster. If this were so, Judith and the Psalms of Solomon arose under the pressure of the same circumstances (see Ryle and James, The Psalms of Solomon, XL, and J. Rendel Harris, The Odes and Psalms of Solomon, XIII) But in the Psalms of Solomon the supreme ruler is a king (17:22), not a high priest (Judith 4:6). Besides, anyone who reads the Psalm of Solomon and Judith will feel that in the former he has to do with a different and later age.

(2) Insurrection Under Bar Cochba.

Hitzig (who held that the insurrection under Bar Cochba, 132 AD, is the event referred to), Volkmar and Graetz date this book in the days of the emperor Trajan (or Hadrian?). Volkmar gives himself much trouble in his attempt to prove that the campaigns of Nebuchadnezzar stand really for those of Trajan. But it is a sufficient refutation of this opinion that the book is quoted by Clement of Rome (55), who died in 100 AD, and whose reference to the book shows that it was regarded in his day as authoritative and even as canonical, so that it must have been written long before.

VI. Original Language.

That a Hebrew or (less likely) an Aramaic original once existed is the opinion of almost all modern scholars, and the evidence for this seems conclusive. There are many Hebraisms in the book, e.g. ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις, en taīs hēmérais (“in the days of,” Judith 1:7, and 9 t besides); the frequent use of σφόδρα, sphódra, in the sense of the Hebrew מאד, me'ōdh, and even its repetition (also a Hebraism, Judith 4:8); compare ἐπὶ τολὺ σφόδρα, epī polū sphódra (Judith 5:18) and, πλῆθος πολὺ σφόδρα, plḗthos polū sphódra (Judith 2:17). Note further the following: “Let not thy eye spare” etc. (Judith 2:11; compare Ezekiel 5:11, etc.); “as I live” (in an oath, Judith 2:12); “God of heaven” (Judith 5:8; Judith 11:17); “son of man,” parallel with “man,” and in the same sense (Judith 8:16); “and it came to pass when she had ceased crying,” etc. (Judith 10:1); “the priests who serve in Jerusalem before the face of our God” (Judith 11:13). In Judith 16:3 we have the words: “For a god that shatters battle is (the) Lord.” Now “Lord” without the article can be only the Hebrew “YHWH,” read always 'ǎdhōnāy, “Lord.” But the phrase, “to shatter battle,” is not good Greek or good sense. The Hebrew words shābhath (“to rest”; compare shabbāth, “Sabbath”) and shābhar (“to break”) are written much alike, and in the original Hebrew we must have had the causative form of the first vb.: “A God that makes war cease is (the) Lord” (see Psalm 46:9). Moreover, the Hebrew idiom which strengthens a finite verb by placing a cognate (absolute) infinitive before it is represented in the Greek of this book in the usual form in which it occurs in the Septuagint (and in Welsh), namely, a participle followed by a finite verb (see Judith 2:13). The present writer has noted other examples, but is prevented by lack of space from adding them here. That the original book was Hebrew and not Aramaic is made extremely likely by the fact that the above examples of Hebrew idiom are peculiar to this language. Note especially the idiom, “and it came to pass that,” etc. (Judith 2:4), with the implied “waw consecutive,” and what is said above about Judith 11:13, where the senseless Greek arose through the confusion of two similarly written Hebrew (not Aramaic) words. There are cases also of mistakes in the Greek text due to wrong translation from the Hebrew, as in Judith 1:8 (where for “nations” read “cities” or “mountains”); Judith 2:2 (where for “concluded,” Hebrew ייכל, wa-yekhal, read “revealed,” ייגל, wa-ye-ghal); Judith 3:1, 9, 10 (see Fritzsche, under the word), etc.

VII. Versions.

1. Greek:

The Greek text appears in three forms:

(1) that of the principal Greek uncials (A, B, agreeing closely), which is followed in printed editions of the Septuagint (Septuagint);

(2) that of codices 19, 108 (Lucian's text), an evident revision of (1);

(3) codex 58 which closely resembles (2) and with which the Old Latin and Peshitta agree in most points.

2. Syriac:

There are two extant Syriac VSS, both of them dependent on the Greek text (3) noted above. The Peshitta is given in Walton's Polyglot and in a critically revised form in Lagarde, Lib. Vet. Test Apocrypha Syriac, 104-26. The so-called Hexaplar Syriac text was made by Paul of Tella in the 6th century.

3. Latin:

(1) The Old Latin seems to have been made from the Greek text, codex 58 (see above).

(2) Jerome made his Latin version (with which the Vulgate (Jerome's Latin Bible, 390-405 AD) is identical) from a lost Chaldee version. That this last is not the original text of the book is certain, because neither Origen nor his Jewish teachers knew anything of a Hebrew or Aramaic text of Judith.

4. Hebrew:

Several late Hebrew versions of the book have been found, no one of them with strong claims to be considered the original text, though Caster (see EB, II, col 2, 642) does make such a claim for the manuscript found, edited and translated by him (see PSBA, XVI, 156-63). The Heb midrashes were made to be read in Jewish homes and vary according to the circumstances of their origin. But they agree in these points: Proper names are often omitted. Jerusalem is the scene of action, the wars being those of the Maccabees. Judith is a Jewish maiden and daughter of Ahitah, according to the Gaster MS, and she belongs apparently to the Maccabean family. It is Nicanor who is beheaded, the occasion being the Feast of Dedication; in the Gaster manuscript it is the king who is killed. Translations of these midrashes may be seen in Jellinck, Beth Hammidrash, I, 130-41; II, 12 f; Lepsius, Zeitschr. fur wiss. Theologie, 1867, 337 ff; Ball, Speaker's Apocrypha, I, 25 ff; Scholz, Comm.2, Anhange I and II; Gaster, in the work quoted Gaster argues that the much shorter form of the tale in his manuscript is older than the longer version. But if a writer were to expand a short story, he would hardly be likely to invent several proper names and to change others. It is probable that Judith came to be represented as a pure maiden (a virgin) under the influence of the low conception of marriage fostered in the medieval Christian church.


For the editions of the Greek text and for commentaries on the Apocrypha, see under Apocryphal Literature. But on Judith note in particular the commentaries by Fritzsche and Ball, the latter containing elaborate bibliography. But the following must in addition be mentioned: Scholz, Commentar uber das Buch Judith und uber Bel und Drache, 1896; a 2nd edition has appeared; A.S. Weissmann, Das Buch Judith historisch-kritisch beleuchtet, Wien, 1891; Schurer, GJV4, III, 230-37, with full bibliography; compare HJP, II, iii, 32-37; Pentin, The Apocrypha in English Lit., Judith, 1908; and the relevant articles in the Bible dicts., especially that by F. C. Porter in HDB.

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