The story of Judith features, unsurprisingly, Judith as its main hero. Judith, whom we are told was both very beautiful and a widow, was horrified that her fellow Jews did not trust in God to deliver them from their enemies, the Assyrians. So she went to the Assyrian camp and befriended its general, Holofernes. One night while he lay drunk in his bed, she cut off his head and took it back to her fellow Jews. This saved the Jews from the Assyrians who, without a leader, left the campaign and returned home.
Who are you to put God to the test today, and to set yourselves up in the place of God in human affairs? (Judith 8.12)
For your strength does not depend on numbers, nor your might on the powerful. But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, saviour of those without hope. (Judith 9.11)
Well Judith, the hero of the story, decapitated the general of the Assyrian army and was hailed for saving her people. It’s a great read but it does raise numerous questions.
Very little is known about the origins of the book of Judith. Scholars cannot even agree whether it was written first in Hebrew, Aramaic or in Greek (it now exists only in Greek). Some think that the author was a Jew (not a Samaritan) but the frequent references to Dothan (3.9; 4.6; 7.3; 7.18; 8.3) suggest he might have had a particular connection to Samaria, because that is where Dothan was. It is hard to date but some suggest a date at the start of the first century bc.
The book is set during the Assyrian invasion in the sixth century bc, during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. In fact the opening verse very carefully sets a date to the twelfth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign which was 594 bc.
The book of Judith lays out quite clearly what the people were feeling – they were filled with overwhelming and incapacitating fear.
2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Isaiah.
This book is widely thought to be historical fiction – set at a time in the past in order to communicate a theological point about trust in God and bravery in the face of opposition.
One of the key questions of Judith is how to face adversity – the people of Bethulia (the city in which Judith lived) were incapacitated with fear; Judith decided to act. Look out for this theme throughout the book.
The story is set as a ‘historical’ book but most scholars consider it to be fiction. See if you can work out why.
What do you do at times of overwhelming fear and terror? Reflect on your reactions and how they relate to what happened in this story.