Book of Judith: Wikis


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Judith with the Head of Holophernes, by Cristofano Allori, 1613 (Royal Collection, London)

The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint, and in the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but excluded by Pharisaic-Rabbinical Jews and Protestants. It has been said that the book contains numerous historical anachronisms, which is why many scholars now accept it as ahistorical; it has been considered a parable or perhaps the first historical novel.[1]

The name Judith (Hebrew: יְהוּדִית, Modern Yehudit Tiberian Yəhûḏîṯ ; "Praised" or "Jewess") is the feminine form of Judah.


In the Deuterocanon

The Book of Judith has a tragic 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 story revolves on Judith, a daring and beautiful widow, who is upset with her Jewish countrymen for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors. She goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy general, Holofernes, to whom she slowly ingratiates herself, promising him information on the Israelites. Gaining his trust, she is allowed access to his tent one night as he lies in a drunken stupor. She decapitates him, then takes his head back to her fearful countrymen. The Assyrians, having lost their leader, disperse, and Israel is saved. Though she is courted by many, she remains unmarried for the rest of her life.

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, are medieval. The Hebrew versions names important figures directly such as the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes, thus placing the events in the Hellenistic period when the Maccabees battled the Seleucid monarchs. The Greek version uses deliberately cryptic and anachronistic references such as "Nebuchadrezzar", a "King of Assyria," who "reigns in Nineveh," for the same king. Roman Catholic scholar Vigoroux found out that the similarity between "Arphaxad king of the Medes" and "Phraortes king of the Medes" and the historical setting of the book help us identify Judith's Nebuchadnezzar with Assur-bani-pal, the last great king of Assyria and Nineveh, thus setting the story around 650 BCE [2].

Even though the Book of Judith is not considered a part of the official Jewish religious canon, many within Orthodox Judaism regard it as true reference to the background events relating to military struggle leading up to the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. (See also 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees).

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[citation needed], but some suggest that a city called Meselieh is Bethulia. [3]

Later artistic renditions

In literature

The Anglo-Saxon abbot Ælfric wrote a homily about Judith. A poem Judith in Old English also treats the beheading of Holofernes, as do lines 122 to 124 of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Merchant (from The Canterbury Tales).

In Renaissance literature, painting and sculpture, the story of Judith became an exemplum of the courage of local people against tyrannical rule from afar. The Dalmatian humanist Marko Marulić (1450-1524) reworked the Judith story in his Renaissance literary work, Judita. His inspiration came from the contemporary heroic struggle of the Croats against the Ottomans in Europe.

In painting and sculpture

The account of Judith's beheading Holofernes has been treated by several painters and sculptors, most notably Donatello and Caravaggio, as well as Sandro Botticelli, Andrea Mantegna, Giorgione, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Titian, Horace Vernet, Gustav Klimt, Artemisia Gentileschi, Jan Sanders van Hemessen, Trophime Bigot, Francisco Goya, Francesco Cairo and Hermann-Paul. Also, Michelangelo depicts the scene in multiple aspects in one of the Pendentives, or four spandrels on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

In music and theatre

The famous 40-voice motet, Spem in alium by English composer Thomas Tallis, is a setting of a text from the Book of Judith.

The story also inspired a play by Abraham Goldfaden, oratorios by Antonio Vivaldi, and W. A. Mozart, and an operetta by Jacob Pavlovitch Adler.

Alessandro Scarlatti wrote an oratorio in 1693, La Giuditta, as did the Portuguese composer Francisco António de Almeida in 1726; Juditha triumphans was written in 1716 by Antonio Vivaldi; Mozart composed in 1771 La Betulia Liberata (KV 118), to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio. An operatic treatment, Judith, exists by Russian composer Alexander Serov.

In 1841, Friedrich Hebbel published his closet drama Judith, but in the English language, blanket censorship of all biblical subjects on the stage set the theme off-limits until the twentieth century,[citation needed] when the English playwright Howard Barker examined the Judith story and its aftermath, first in the scene "The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act," as part of his collection of vignettes, The Possibilities. Barker later expanded the scene into a short play Judith.


  1. ^ See, for example, the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, which though committed to the historicity of the book, admits and lists "very serious difficulties": [1]
  2. ^ Vigoroux, Les Livres Saints et La Critique Rationaliste, iv, 4th ed.
  3. ^ "Beside Sânûr, Mithilîyeh, or Misilîyeh, Tell Kheibar and Beit-Ilfa, which have divided opinion for some time, Haraiq el-Mallah, Khirbet Sheikh Shibel, el-Bârid and Sichem (Bethulia being considered a pseudonym) have recently been proposed as sites of Bethulia" <[[2]]>.

External links

Preceded by
R.Catholic & Orthodox
Books of the Bible
See Deuterocanon
Succeeded by

Simple English

Redirecting to Judith

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