This is a readable copy of the book of Judith and her victory over the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar. Included are geographical helps and Biblical notations.
In the 12th year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned in Nineveh, the great city, in the days of Arphaxad (about 625-585 BCE) which reigned over Medes (Persia) in Ecbatane (ancient city in Iran, modern-day Hamadan), and built in Ecbatane walls of stone 4 ½ inches broad and 9 feet long. The height of the wall was 105 feet high and the width 75 feet. (This is using 18 inches for the cubit.) And the towers built upon the gates 150 feet high and the width 54 inches. The gates themselves were 105 feet high with a width of 60 feet. These gates were used for the coming and going of his mighty armies and for the setting in array of his footmen.
In those days King Nebuchadnezzar made war with King Arphaxad in the great plain, which is the plain in the border of Ragau (from Genesis 11:18, son of Peleg, Ragau). And there came unto him all those that lived in the hill country, all those that lived by the Euphrates and the Tigris, and Hydaspes (India, modern-day Punjab) and the plain of Arioch the king of the Elymeans, and other nations of the sons of Chelod (Chaldeans), assembled themselves for battle. (King Arioch is also known as the king of Eliaser, one of the allies of Chedolaomer who invade Canaan in the days of Abraham. He participated in the battle in the valley of Sodom.)
Then Nebuchadnezzar, king of Assyria, sent a message to all the inhabitants of Persia, to all the inhabitants of the western countries, Cilicia, Damascus, Lebanon, Anti-Lebanon, to all those along the coast, to the people of Carmel (Haifa), Gilead, (northwestern Jordan), Upper Galilee (Jordan River), the great plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel Valley), to the people of Samaria (West Bank, hill country) and its outlying towns, to those beyond the Jordan, as far away as Jerusalem, Bethany, Chelous, Kadesh, the river of Egypt, Tahpanhes, Rameses and the whole territory of Goshen, beyond Tanis and Memphis, and to all the inhabitans of Egypt as far as the frontiers of Ethiopia. But, the inhabitants of these countries ignored the summons of Nebuchadnezzar king of Assyria and did not rally with him to make war. They were not afraid of him, since in their view he appeared isolated. They sent his ambassadors back with nothing achieved and in disgrace.
Nebuchadnezzar was furious with all these countries. He swore by his throne and kingdom to take revenge on all the territories of Cilicia, Damascus and Syria, of the Moabites and Ammonites (descendants of Noah and his daughters), of Judea and Egypt as far as the limits of the two seas and to ravage them with the sword.
In the 17th year, he went to war with his whole army to king Arphaxad and defeated him. He routed Arphaxad’s entire army along with his cavalry and chariots; he occupied his towns and advanced on Ecbatana. He seized its towers and plundered its market places, reducing its former magnificence to a mockery. He later captured Arphaxad in the mountains of Ragae and, thrusting him through with spears, destroyed him once and for all. He then retired with his troops and all who had joined forces with him – a vast horde of armed men. Then he and his army gave themselves up to carefree feasting for 120 days.
In the 18th year, on the 22nd day of the first month, a rumor ran through the palace that Nebuchadnezzar, king of Assyria, was to have his revenge on all the countries he had threatened. Summoning his general staff and senior officers, he held a secret conference with them, and with his own lips pronounced utter destruction on the entire area. He then decreed that everyone should be put to death who had not answered the king’s appeal.
When the council was over, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Assyria, sent for Holofernes, general-in-chief of his armies and subordinate only to himself. He said to him, “Thus speaks the Great King, lord of the whole world, ‘Go, take men of proven valor, about 120,000 foot soldiers and a strong company of horses with 12,000 calvary men; then advance against all the western lands, since these people have disregarded my call.
Tell them to them have earth and water ready, because in my rage I am about to march on them; the feet of my soldiers will cover the whole face of the earth, and I shall plunder it. The wounded will fill the valleys and the torrents, and rivers, blocked with their dead, will overflow. I shall lead them captive to the ends of the earth.
Now go! Begin by conquering this whole region for me. If they surrender to you, hold them for me until the time comes to punish them. But if they resist, look on no one with clemency, hand them over to slaughter and plunder throughout the territory entrusted to you. For by my life and by the living power of my kingdom I have spoken. All this I shall do by my power. And you, neglect none of your master’s commands, act strictly according to my orders without further delay.”
Leaving the presence of his sovereign, Holofernes immediately summoned all the marshals, generals, and officers of the Assyrian army and detailed the picked troops as his master had ordered, about 120,000 men and a further 12,000 mounted archers. He organized these in the normal battle formation. He then secured vast numbers of camels, donkeys, and mules to carry the baggage, innumerable sheep, oxen and goats for food supplies. Each man received full rations and a generous sum of gold and silver from the king’s purse.
He then set out for the campaign with his whole army, in advance of King Nebuchadnezzar, to overwhelm the whole western region with his chariots, his horsemen and his foot soldiers. A motley gathering followed in his rear, as numerous as locusts (Persian army in Revelation) or grains of sand on the ground; there was no counting their multitude.
They set out from Nineveh and marched for 3 days toward the Plain of Bectileth (between Nineveh and Cilicia, about 21 miles away from Atioch). From Bectileth they went on to pitch camp near the mountains that lie to the north of Upper Cilicia. From there Holofernes advanced into the highlands with his whole army, infantry, horsemen, and chariots.
He cut his way through Put (Libya) and Lud, carried away captive all the sons of Rassis and sons of Ishmael living on the verge of the desert south of Cheleon, marched along the Euphrates, crossed Mesopotamia, razed all the fortifed towns controlling the Wadi Abron and reached the Mediterranean Sea. Next he attacked the territories of Cilicia, butchering all who offered him resistance, advanced on the southern frontiers of Japheth (son of Noach), facing Arabia, completely encircled the Midianites, burned their tents and plundered their sheep-folds, made his way down to the Damascus plain at the time of the wheat harvest (June), set fire to the fields, destroyed the flocks and herds, sacked the towns, laid the countryside waste and put all the young men to the sword.
Fear and trembling seized all the coastal peoples; those of Sidon (Lebanon) and Tyre (Lebanon), those of Sur (Lebanon), Ocina and Jamnia (south of Joppa). The populations of Azotos (Ashdod) and Ascalon (Ashkelon) were panic-stricken. (Note: Ashdod and Ashkelon are southern Israeli cities that are attacked daily by the Palestinians in the Gaza strip.)
They therefore sent envoys to him to sue for peace, to say, ‘We are servants of the great King Nebuchadnezzar; we lie prostrate before you. Treat us as you think fit. Our cattle farms, all our land, all our wheat fields, our flocks and herds, all the sheep-folds in our encampments are at your disposal. Do with them as you please. Our towns and their inhabitants too are at your service; go and treat them as you think fit.’ These men came to Holofernes and delivered the message as above.
He then made his way down to the coast with his army and stationed garrisons in all the fortified towns, levying outstanding men there as auxiliaries. The people of these cities and of all the other towns in the neighborhood welcomed him, wearing garlands and dancing to the sound of tambourines.
But he demolished their shrines and cut down their sacred trees, carrying out his commission to destroy all local gods so that the nations should worship Nebuchadnezzar alone and people of every language and nationality should hail him as a god. Thus he reached the edge of Esdraelon (Jezreel Valley), in the neighborhood of Dothan, a village facing the great ridge of Judea. (Note: Dothan was where Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. It is located on the southside of the Jezreel Valley, the home of Elisha.) He pitched camp between Geba and Scythopolis and stayed there a full month to re-provision his forces.
When the Israelites living in Judea heard how Holofernes, general-in-chief of Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians, had treated the various nations, plundering their temples and destroying them, they were thoroughly alarmed at his approach and trembled for Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord their God. They had returned from captivity only a short time before, and the resettlement of the people in Judea and the reconsecration of the sacred furnishings, of the altar, and of the Temple, which had been profaned, were of recent date.
They therefore alerted the whole of Samaria (West Bank), Kona, Beth-Horon, Belmain, Jericho, Choba, Aesora and the Salem valley. They occupied the summits of the highest mountains and fortified the villages on them; they laid in supplies for the coming war, as the fields had just been harvested.
Joakim the high priest, resident in Jerusalem at the time, wrote to the inhabitants of Bethulia (Beth-el) and of Betomesthaim, two towns facing Esdraelon, towards the plain of Dothan. He ordered them to occupy the mountain passes, the only means of access to Judea, for there it would be easy for them to halt an attacking force, the narrowness of the approach not allowing men to advance more than two abreast.
The Israelites carried out the orders of Joakim the high priest and of the people’s Council of Elders in session at Jerusalem. All the men of Israel cried most fervently to God and humbled themselves before him. They, their wives, their children, their cattle, all their resident aliens, hired or slave, wrapped sackcloth round their loins. All the Israelites in Jerusalem, including women and children, lay prostrate in front of the Temple, and with ashes on their heads stretched out their hands before the Lord.
They draped the altar itself in sackcloth and fervently joined together in begging the God of Israel not to let their children be carried off, their wives distributed as booty, the towns of their heritage destroyed, the Temple profaned and desecrated for the heathen to gloat over. The Lord heard them and looked kindly on their distress. The people fasted for many days throughout Judaea as well as in Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty.
Joakim the high priest and all who stood before the Lord, the Lord’s priests and ministers, wore sackcloth round their loins as they offered the perpetual burnt offering and the votive and voluntary offerings of the people. With ashes on their turbans they earnestly called on the Lord to look kindly on the House of Israel.
(Note: This chapter is quite detailed about how faithful the Jewish people are to protect their Temple. They obeyed their high priest, Yoakim. They prayed and fasted. God found favor with them.)
Holofernes, general-in-chief of the Assyrian army, received the intelligence that the Israelites were preparing for war, that they had closed the mountain passes, fortified all the high peaks and laid obstructions in the plains. Holofernes was furious. He summoned all the princes of Moab, all the generals of Ammon and all the satraps of the coastal regions.
‘Men of Canaan,’ he said, ‘tell me: what people is this that occupies the hill-country? What towns does it inhabit? How large is its army? What are the sources of its power and strength? Who is the king who rules it and commands its army? Why have they disdained to wait on me, as all the western peoples have?’
Achior, leader of all the Ammonites, replied, ‘May my lord be pleased to listen to what your servant is going to say. I shall give you the facts about these mountain folk whose home lies close to you. You will hear no lie from the mouth of your servant.
Note: Achior relates the true history of the Israelites.
These people are descended from the Chaldaeans (descendants of Abraham). They once came to live in Mesopotamia, because they did not want to follow the gods of their ancestors who lived in Chaldaea. They abandoned the way of their ancestors to worship the God of heaven, the God they learned to acknowledge. Banished from the presence of their own gods, they fled to Mesopotamia where they lived for a long time. When God told them to leave their home and set out for Canaan, they settled there and accumulated gold and silver and great herds of cattle.
Next, famine having overwhelmed the land of Canaan, they went down to Egypt where they stayed till they were well nourished. There they became a great multitude, a race beyond counting. But the king of Egypt turned against them and exploited them by forcing them to make bricks; he degraded them, reducing them to slavery.
They cried to their God, who struck the entire land of Egypt with incurable plagues, and the Egyptians expelled them. God dried up the Red Sea before them and led them forward by way of Sinai and Kadesh-Barnea. Having driven off all the inhabitants of the desert, they settled in the land of the Amorites and in their strength exterminated the entire population of Heshbon (modern-day Jordan, east of the Jordan River). Then, having crossed the Jordan, they took possession of all the hill-country, driving out the Canaanites before them and the Perizzites, Jebusites, Shechemites and all the Girgashites, and lived there for many years.
All the while they did not sin before their God, prosperity was theirs, for they have a God who hates wickedness. But when they turned from the path he had marked out for them some were exterminated in a series of battles, others were taken captive to a foreign land. The Temple of their God was razed to the ground and their towns were seized by their enemies.
Then having turned once again to their God, they came back from the places to which they had been dispersed and scattered, regained possession of Jerusalem, where they have their Temple, and reoccupied the hill-country which had been left deserted. So, now, master and lord, if this people has committed any fault, if they have sinned against their God, let us first be sure that they really have this reason to fail, then advance and attack them. But if their nation is guiltless, my lord would do better to abstain, for fear that their Lord and God should protect them. We should then become the laughing-stock of the whole world.’
When Achior had ended this speech, all the people crowding round the tent began protesting. Holofernes’ own senior officers, as well as all the coastal peoples and the Moabites, threatened to tear him limb from limb. ‘Why should we be afraid of the Israelites? They are a weak and powerless people, quite unable to stand a stiff attack. Forward! Advance! Your army, Holofernes our master, will swallow them in one mouthful!’
When the uproar of those crowding round the council had subsided, Holofernes, general-in-chief of the Assyrian army, reprimanded Achior in front of the whole crowd of foreigners and Ammonites. ‘Achior, who do you think you are, you and the Ephraimite (Ephraim, a tribe of Israel) mercenaries, playing the prophet like this with us today, and trying to dissuade us from making war on the people of Israel? You claim their God will protect them. And who is God if not Nebuchadnezzar? He himself will display his power and wipe them off the face of the earth, and their God will certainly not save them. But we, his servants, shall destroy them as easily as a single individual. They can never resist the strength of our cavalry.
We shall burn them all. Their mountains will be drunk with their blood and their plains filled with their corpses. Far from being able to resist us, every one of them will die; thus says King Nebuchadnezzar, lord of the whole world. For he has spoken, and his words will not prove empty. As for you, Achior, you Ammonite mercenary, who in a rash moment said these words, you will not see my face again until the day when I have taken my revenge on this brood from Egypt. And then the swords of my soldiers and the spears of my officers will pierce your sides. You will fall among their wounded, the moment I turn on Israel. My servants will now take you into the hill-country and leave you near one of the towns in the passes; you will not die, until you share their ruin. No need to look so sad if you cherish the secret hope that they will not be captured! I have spoken; none of my words will prove idle.’
Holofernes commanded his tent-orderlies to seize Achior, to take him to Bethulia (Hebrew, Beth-el, House of God) and to hand him over to the Israelites. They escorted him out of the camp and across the plain, and then, making for the hill-country, reached the springs below Bethulia.
As soon as the men of the town sighted them, they snatched up their weapons, left the town and made for the mountain tops, while all the slingers pelted them with stones to prevent them from coming up. However, they managed to take cover at the foot of the slope, where they bound Achior and left him lying at the bottom of the mountain and returned to their master.
The Israelites then came down from their town, stopped by him, unbound him and took him to Bethulia, where they brought him before the chief men of the town, who at that time were Uzziah son of Micah of the tribe of Simeon, Chabris son of Gothoniel and Charmis son of Melchiel. These summoned all the elders of the town. The young men and the women also hurried to the assembly. Achior was made to stand with all the people surrounding him, and Uzziah questioned him about what had happened.
He answered by telling them what had been said at Holofernes’ council, and what he himself had said in the presence of the Assyrian leaders, and how Holofernes had bragged of what he would do to the House of Israel. At this the people fell to the ground and worshipped God.
‘Lord God of heaven,’ they cried, ‘take notice of their arrogance and have pity on the humiliation of our race. Look kindly today on those who are consecrated to you.’
They then spoke reassuringly to Achior and praised him warmly. After the assembly Uzziah took him home and gave a banquet for the elders; all that night they called on the God of Israel for help.
The following day Holofernes issued orders to his whole army and to the whole host of auxiliaries who had joined him, to break camp and march on Bethulia, to occupy the mountain passes and so open the campaign against the Israelites.
The troops broke camp that same day. The actual fighting force numbered 120,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, not to mention the baggage train with the vast number of men on foot concerned with that. They penetrated the valley in the neighborhood of Bethulia, near the spring, and deployed on a wide front from Dothan to Balbaim, a village nearby and, in depth, from Bethulia to Cyamon, which faces Esdraelon, the Jezreel Valley.
When the Israelites saw this horde, they were all appalled and said to each other, ‘Now they will lick the whole country clean. Not even the loftiest peaks, the gorges or the hills will be able to stand the weight of them.’
Each man snatched up his arms; they lit beacons on their towers and spent the whole night on watch.
On the second day Holofernes deployed his entire cavalry in sight of the Israelites in Bethulia. He reconnoitered the slopes leading up to the town, located the water-points, seized them and posted pickets over them and returned to the main body.
The tribal leaders of the sons of Esau (Jacob’s brother’s descendants), all the leaders of the Moabites and the generals of the coastal district then came to him and said, ‘If our master will be pleased to listen to us, his forces will not sustain a single wound. These Israelites do not rely so much on their spears as on the height of the mountains where they live. And admittedly it is not at all easy to scale these heights of theirs. This being the case, master, avoid engaging them in a pitched battle and then you will not lose a single man. Stay in camp, keep all your troops there too, while your servants seize the spring which rises at the foot of the mountain, since that is what provides the population of Bethulia with their water supply. Thirst will then force them to surrender their town. Meanwhile, we and our men will climb the nearest mountain tops and form advance posts there to prevent anyone from leaving the town. Hunger will waste them, with their wives and children, and before the sword can reach them they will already be lying in the streets outside their houses. And you will make them pay dearly for their defiance and their refusal to meet you peaceably.’
Their words pleased Holofernes as well as all his officers, and he decided to do as they suggested. Accordingly, a troop of Moabites moved forward with a further 5,000 Assyrians. They penetrated the valley and seized the Israelites’ water-points and springs.
Meanwhile the Edomites (descendants of Esau) and Ammonites went and took up positions in the highlands opposite Dothan, sending some of their men to the south-east opposite Egrebel near Chous on the Wadi Mochmur. The rest of the Assyrian army took up positions in the plain, covering every inch of the ground; their tents and equipment made an immense encampment, so vast were their numbers.
The Israelites called on the Lord their God, dispirited because the enemy had surrounded them and cut all line of retreat. For 34 days the Assyrian army, infantry, chariots, cavalrymen, had them surrounded. Every water-jar the inhabitants of Bethulia had was empty, their storage-wells were drying up; on no day could a man drink his fill, since their water was rationed. Their little children pined away, the women and young men grew weak with thirst; they collapsed in the streets and gateways of the town; they had no strength left.
Young men, women, children, the whole people thronged clamoring round Uzziah and the chief men of the town, shouting in the presence of the assembled elders, ‘May God be judge between you and us! For you have done us great harm, by not suing for peace with the Assyrians. And now there is no one to help us. God has delivered us into their hands to be prostrated before them in thirst and utter helplessness. Call them in at once; hand the whole town over to be sacked by Holofernes’ men and all his army.
After all, we should be much better off as their booty than we are now; no doubt we shall be enslaved, but at least we shall be alive and not see our little ones dying before our eyes or our wives and children perishing. By heaven and earth and by our God, the Lord of our fathers, who is punishing us for our sins and the sins of our ancestors, we implore you to take this course now, today. Bitter lamentations rose from the whole assembly, and they all cried loudly to the Lord God.
Then Uzziah spoke to them, ‘Take heart, brothers! Let us hold out five days more. By then the Lord our God will take pity on us, for he will not desert us altogether. At the end of this time, if no help is forthcoming, I shall do as you have said.’ With that he dismissed the people to their various quarters. The men went to man the walls and towers of the town, sending the women and children home. The town was full of despondency.
Judith was informed at the time of what had happened. She was the daughter of Merari son of Ox, son of Joseph, son of Oziel, son of Elkiah, son of Ananias, son of Gideon, son of Raphaim, son of Ahitub, son of Elijah, son of Hilkiah, son of Eliab, son of Nathanael, son of Salamiel, son of Sarasadai, son of Israel. Her husband Manasseh, of her own tribe and family, had died at the time of the barley harvest (April/May). He was supervising the men as they bound up the sheaves in the field when he caught sunstroke and had to take to his bed. He died in Bethulia, his home town, and was buried with his ancestors in the field that lies between Dothan and Balamon (Baal-Hamon, Song of Solomon, vineyard, Tribe of Asher).
As a widow, Judith stayed inside her home for 3 years and 4 months. She had an upper room built for herself on the roof. She wore sackcloth next to the skin and dressed in widow’s weeds. She fasted every day of her widowhood except for the Sabbath eve, the Sabbath itself, the eve of New Moon, the feast of New Moon and the joyful festivals of the House of Israel (Leviticus 23).
Now she was very beautiful, charming to see. Her husband Manasseh had left her gold and silver, menservants and maidservants, herds and land; and she lived among all her possessions without anyone finding a word to say against her, so devoutly did she fear God.
Hearing how the water shortage had demoralized the people and how they had complained bitterly to the headman of the town, and being also told what Uzziah had said to them and how he had given them his oath to surrender the town to the Assyrians in five days’ time, Judith immediately sent the serving-woman who ran her household to summon Chabris and Charmis, two elders of the town.
When these came in she said: ‘Listen to me, leaders of the people of Bethulia. You were wrong to speak to the people as you did today and to bind yourself by oath, in defiance of God, to surrender the town to our enemies if the Lord did not come to your help within a set number of days. Who are you, to put God to the test today, you, of all people, to set yourselves above him? You put the Lord Almighty to the test! You do not understand anything, and never will. If you cannot sound the depths of the human heart or unravel the arguments of the human mind, how can you fathom the God who made all things, or sound his mind or unravel his purposes? No, brothers, do not provoke the anger of the Lord our God.
‘Although it may not be his will to help us within the next five days, he has the power to protect us for as many days as he pleases, just as he has the power to destroy us before our enemies. But you have no right to demand guarantees where the designs of the Lord our God are concerned. For God is not to be threatened as a human being is, nor is he, like a mere human, to be cajoled. Rather, as we wait patiently for him to save, let us plead with him to help us. He will hear our voice if such is his good pleasure.
‘And indeed of recent times and still today there is not one tribe of ours, or family, or village, or town that has worshipped gods made by human hand, as once was done, which was the reason why our ancestors were delivered over to sword and sack, and perished in misery at the hands of our enemies. We for our part acknowledge no other God but him; and so we may hope he will not look on us disdainfully or desert our nation.
‘If indeed they capture us, as you expect, then all Judea will be captured too, and our holy places plundered, and we shall answer with our blood for their profanation. The slaughter of our brothers, the captivity of our country, the unpeopling of our heritage, will recoil on our own heads among the nations whose slaves we shall become, and our new masters will look down on us as an outrage and a disgrace; for our surrender will not reinstate us in their favor; no, the Lord our God will make it a thing to be ashamed of. So now, brothers, let us set an example to our brothers, since their lives depend on us, and the sanctuary — Temple and altar — rests on us.
‘All this being so, let us rather give thanks to the Lord our God who, as he tested our ancestors, is now testing us. Remember how he treated Abraham, all the ordeals of Isaac, all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he kept the sheep of Laban, his mother’s brother. For as these ordeals were intended by him to search their hearts, so now this is not vengeance that God is exacting on us, but a warning inflicted by the Lord on those who are near his heart.’
Uzziah replied, ‘Everything you have just said comes from an honest heart and no one will contradict a word of it. Not that today is the first time your wisdom has been displayed; from your earliest years all the people have known how shrewd you are and of how sound a heart. But, parched with thirst, the people forced us to act as we had promised them and to bind ourselves by an inviolable oath. You are a devout woman; pray to the Lord, then, to send us a downpour to fill our storage-wells, so that our faintness may pass.’
Judith replied, ‘Listen to me, I intend to do something, the memory of which will be handed down to the children of our race from age to age. Tonight you must be at the gate of the town. I shall make my way out with my attendant. Before the time fixed by you for surrendering the town to our enemies, the Lord will make use of me to rescue Israel. You must not ask what I intend to do; I shall not tell you until I have done it.’
Uzziah and the chief men said, ‘Go in peace. May the Lord show you a way to take revenge on our enemies.’ And leaving the upper room they went back to their posts.
Judith threw herself face to the ground, scattered ashes on her head, undressed as far as the sackcloth she was wearing and cried loudly to the Lord. At the same time in Jerusalem the evening incense was being offered in the Temple of God. (Incense symbolizes the prayers of God’s people.)
Judith said: ‘Lord, God of my ancestor Simeon [one of the sons of Jacob who destroyed Shechem], you armed him with a sword to take vengeance on the foreigners who had undone a virgin’s belt to her shame, laid bare her thigh to her confusion, violated her womb to her dishonor, since, though you said, ‘This must not be,’ they did it. For this you handed their leaders over to slaughter, and their bed, defiled by their treachery, was itself betrayed in blood. You struck the slaves with the tribal leaders and the leaders with their retainers. [Genesis 34]
‘You left their wives to be carried off, their daughters to be taken captive, and their spoils to be shared out among the sons you loved, who had been so zealous for you, had loathed the stain put on their blood and called on you for help. O God, my God, now hear this widow too; for you have made the past, and what is happening now, and what will follow. What is, what will be, you have planned; what has been, you designed. Your purposes stood forward; ‘See, here we are!’ they said. For all your ways are prepared and your judgements delivered with foreknowledge.
‘See the Assyrians, with their army abounding glorying in their horses and their riders, exulting in the strength of their infantry. Trust as they may in shield and spear, in bow and sling, in you they have not recognized the Lord, the breaker of battle-lines; yours alone is the title of Lord. Break their violence with your might, in your anger bring down their strength. For they plan to profane your holy places, to defile the tabernacle, the resting place of your glorious name, and to hack down the horn of your altar. Observe their arrogance, send your fury on their heads, give the strength I have in mind to this widow’s hand.
‘By guile of my lips strike down slave with master, and master with retainer. Break their pride by a woman’s hand. Your strength does not lie in numbers, nor your might in strong men; since you are the God of the humble, the help of the oppressed, the support of the weak, the refuge of the forsaken, the Savior of the despairing.
‘Please, please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Master of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of your whole creation, hear my prayer. Give me a beguiling tongue to wound and kill those who have formed such cruel designs against your covenant, against your holy dwelling-place, against Mount Zion, against the house belonging to your sons. And demonstrate to every nation, every tribe, that you are the Lord, God of all power, all might, and that the race of Israel has no protector but you.’
Thus Judith called on the God of Israel. When she had finished praying, she got up from the floor, summoned her maid and went down into the rooms which she used on Sabbath days and festivals. There she removed the sackcloth she was wearing and taking off her widow’s dress, she washed all over, anointed herself plentifully with perfumes, dressed her hair, wrapped a turban round it and put on the robe of joy she used to wear when her husband Manasseh was alive. She put sandals on her feet, put on her necklaces, bracelets, rings, earrings and all her jewelry, and made herself beautiful enough to beguile the eye of any man who saw her.
Then she handed her maid a skin of wine and a flask of oil, filled a bag with barley girdle-cakes, cakes of dried fruit and pure loaves, and wrapping all these provisions up gave them to her as well. They then went out, making for the town gate of Bethulia. There they found Uzziah waiting with the two elders of the town, Chabris and Charmis. When they saw Judith, her face so changed and her clothes so different, they were lost in admiration of her beauty.
They said to her: ‘May the God of our ancestors keep you in his favor! May he crown your designs with success to the glory of the children of Israel, to the greater glory of Jerusalem!’
Judith worshipped God, and then she said, ‘Have the town gate opened for me so that I can go out and fulfill all the wishes you expressed to me.’ They did as she asked and gave orders to the young men to open the gate for her.
This done, Judith went out accompanied by her maid, while the men of the town watched her all the way down the mountain and across the valley, until they lost sight of her. As the women were making straight through the valley, an advance unit of Assyrians intercepted them, and, seizing Judith, began to question her. ‘Which side are you on? Where do you come from? Where are you going?’ ‘I am a daughter of the Hebrews,’ she replied, ‘and I am fleeing from them since they will soon be your prey. I am on my way to see Holofernes, the general of your army, to give him trustworthy information. I shall show him the road to take if he wants to capture all the hill-country without losing one man or one life.’
As the men listened to what she was saying, they stared in astonishment at the sight of such a beautiful woman. ‘It will prove the saving of you,’ they said to her, ‘coming down to see our master of your own accord. You had better go to his tent; some of our men will escort you and hand you over to him. Once you are in his presence do not be afraid. Tell him what you have just told us and you will be well treated.’ They then detailed 100 of their men as escort for herself and her attendant, and these led them to the tent of Holofernes.
News of her coming had already spread through the tents, and there was a general stir in the camp. She was still outside the tent of Holofernes waiting to be announced, when a crowd began forming round her. They were immediately impressed by her beauty and impressed with the Israelites because of her. ‘Who could despise a people who have women like this?’ they kept saying. ‘Better not leave one of them alive; let any go and they could twist the whole world round their fingers!’
The bodyguard and adjutants of Holofernes then came out and led Judith into the tent. Holofernes was resting on his bed under a canopy of purple and gold studded with emeralds and precious stones. The men announced her and he came out to the entrance to the tent, with silver torches carried before him. When Judith confronted the general and his adjutant, the beauty of her face astonished them all. She fell on her face and did homage to him, but his servants raised her from the ground.
‘Courage, woman,’ Holofernes said, ‘do not be afraid. I have never hurt anyone who chose to serve Nebuchadnezzar, king of the whole world. Even now, if your nation of mountain dwellers had not insulted me, I would not have raised a spear against them. This was their fault, not mine. But tell me, why have you fled from them and come to us? . . . Anyhow, this will prove the saving of you. Courage! You will live through this night, and many after. No one will hurt you. On the contrary, you will be treated as well as any who serve my lord King Nebuchadnezzar.’
Judith said, ‘Please listen favorably to what your slave has to say. Permit your servant to speak in your presence, I shall speak no word of a lie to my lord tonight. You have only to follow your servant’s advice and God will bring your work to a successful conclusion; in what my lord undertakes he will not fail.
‘Long life to Nebuchadnezzar, king of the whole world, who has sent you to set every living soul to rights; may his power endure! Since, thanks to you, he is served not only by human beings, but because of your might the wild animals themselves, the cattle, and the birds of the air are to live in the service of Nebuchadnezzar and his whole House. We have indeed heard of your genius and adroitness of mind. It is known everywhere in the world that throughout the empire you have no rival for ability, wealth of experience and brilliance in waging war. We have also heard what Achior said in his speech to your council. The men of Bethulia having spared him, he has told them everything that he said to you.
‘Now, master and lord, do not disregard what he said; keep in your mind, since it is true; our nation will not be punished, the sword will indeed have no power over them, unless they sin against their God. But as it is, my lord need expect no repulse or setback, since death is about to fall on their heads, for sin has gained a hold over them, provoking the anger of their God each time that they commit it. As they are short of food and their water is giving out, they have resolved to fall back on their cattle and decided to make use of all the things that God has, by his laws, forbidden them to eat. Not only have they made up their minds to eat the first-fruits of corn and the tithes of wine and oil, though these have been consecrated by them and set apart for the priests who serve in Jerusalem in the presence of our God, and may not lawfully even be handled by ordinary people, but they have sent men to Jerusalem — where the inhabitants are doing much the same — to bring them back authorization from the Council of Elders.
‘Now this will be the outcome: when the permission arrives and they act on it, that very day they will be delivered over to you for destruction. When I, your servant, came to know all this, I fled from them. God has sent me to do things with you at which the world will be astonished when it hears. Your servant is a devout woman; she honors the God of heaven day and night. I therefore propose, my lord, to stay with you. I, your servant, shall go out every night into the valley and pray to God to let me know when they have committed their sin. I shall then come and tell you, so that you can march out with your whole army; and none of them will be able to resist you. I shall be your guide right across Judea until you reach Jerusalem; there I shall enthrone you in the very middle of the city. And then you can round them up like shepherd-less sheep, with never a dog daring to bark at you. Foreknowledge tells me this; this had been foretold to me and I have been sent to reveal it to you.’
Her words pleased Holofernes, and all his adjutants. Full of admiration at her wisdom they exclaimed, There is no woman like her from one end of the earth to the other, so lovely of face and so wise of speech!’
Holofernes said, ‘God has done well to send you ahead of the others. Strength will be ours, and ruin theirs who have insulted my lord. As for you, you are as beautiful as you are eloquent; if you do as you have promised, your God shall be my God, and you yourself shall make your home in the palace of King Nebuchadnezzar and be famous throughout the world.’
With that he had her brought in to where his silver dinner service was already laid, and had his own food served to her and his own wine poured out for her. But Judith said, ‘I would rather not eat this, in case I incur some fault. What I have brought will be enough for me.’
‘Suppose your provisions run out,’ Holofernes asked, ‘how could we get more of the same sort? We have no one belonging to your race here.’
‘May your soul live, my lord,’ Judith answered, ‘the Lord will have used me to accomplish his plan, before your servant has finished these provisions.’
Holofernes’ adjutants then took her to a tent where she slept until midnight. A little before the morning watch, she got up. She had already sent this request to Holofernes, ‘Let my lord kindly give orders for your servant to be allowed to go out and pray,’ and Holofernes had ordered his guards not to prevent her. She stayed in the camp for three days; she went out each night to the valley of Bethulia and washed at the spring where the picket had been posted.
As she went she prayed to the Lord God of Israel to guide her in her plan to relieve the children of her people. Having purified herself, she would return and stay in her tent until her meal was brought her in the evening. On the fourth day Holofernes gave a banquet, inviting only his own staff and none of the other officers. He said to Bagoas, the officer in charge of his personal affairs, ‘Go and persuade that Hebrew woman you are looking after to come and join us and eat and drink in our company. We shall be disgraced if we let a woman like this go without seducing her. If we do not seduce her, everyone will laugh at us!’
Bagoas then left Holofernes and went to see Judith. ‘Would this young and lovely woman condescend to come to my lord?’ he asked. ‘She will occupy the seat of honor opposite him, drink the joyful wine with us and be treated today like one of the Assyrian ladies who stand in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar.’
‘Who am I’, Judith replied, ‘to resist my lord? I shall not hesitate to do whatever he wishes, and doing this will be my joy to my dying day.’ So she got up and put on her dress and all her feminine adornments. Her maid preceded her, and on the floor in front of Holofernes spread the fleece which Bagoas had given Judith for her daily use to lie on as she ate.
Judith came in and took her place. The heart of Holofernes was ravished at the sight; his very soul was stirred. He was seized with a violent desire to sleep with her; and indeed since the first day he saw her, he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her.
‘Drink then!’ Holofernes said. ‘Enjoy yourself with us!’
‘I am delighted to do so, my lord, for since my birth I have never felt my life more worthwhile than today.’ She took what her maid had prepared, and ate and drank facing him.
Holofernes was so enchanted with her that he drank far more wine than he had drunk on any other day in his life.
It grew late and his staff hurried away. Bagoas closed the tent from the outside, having shown out those who still lingered in his lord’s presence. They went to their beds wearied with too much drinking, and Judith was left alone in the tent with Holofernes who had collapsed wine-sodden on his bed. Judith then told her maid to stay just outside the bedroom and wait for her to come out, as she did every morning. She had let it be understood she would be going out to her prayers and had also spoken of her intention to Bagoas.
By now everyone had left Holofernes, and no one, either important or unimportant, was left in the bedroom. Standing beside the bed, Judith murmured to herself: Lord God, to whom all strength belongs, prosper what my hands are now to do for the greater glory of Jerusalem; now is the time to recover your heritage and to further my plans to crush the enemies arrayed against us. With that she went up to the bedpost by Holofernes’ head and took down his scimitar; coming closer to the bed she caught him by the hair and said, ‘Make me strong today, Lord God of Israel!’
Twice she struck at his neck with all her might, and cut off his head. She then rolled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the bedposts. After which, she went out and gave the head of Holofernes to her maid who put it in her food bag. The two then left the camp together, as they always did when they went to pray. Once they were out of the camp, they skirted the ravine, climbed the slope to Bethulia and made for the gates. From a distance, Judith shouted to the guards on the gates, ‘Open the gate! Open! For the Lord our God is with us still, displaying his strength in Israel and his might against our enemies, as he has done today!’
Hearing her voice, the townsmen hurried down to the town gate and summoned the elders. Everyone, great and small, came running down, since her arrival was unexpected. They threw the gate open, welcomed the women, lit a fire to see by and crowded round them.
Then Judith raised her voice and said, ‘Praise God! Praise him! Praise the God who has not withdrawn his mercy from the House of Israel, but has shattered our enemies by my hand tonight!’ She pulled the head out of the bag and held it for them to see. ‘This is the head of Holofernes, general-in-chief of the Assyrian army; here is the canopy under which he lay drunk! The Lord has struck him down by the hand of a woman! Glory to the Lord who has protected me in the course I took! My face seduced him, only to his own undoing; he committed no sin with me to shame me or disgrace me.’
Overcome with emotion, the people all prostrated themselves and worshipped God, exclaiming with one voice, ‘Blessings on you, our God, for confounding your people’s enemies today!’
Uzziah then said to Judith: May you be blessed, my daughter, by God Most High, beyond all women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, who guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies! The trust which you have shown will not pass from human hearts, as they commemorate the power of God for evermore. God grant you may be always held in honor and rewarded with blessings, since you did not consider your own life when our nation was brought to its knees, but warded off our ruin, walking in the right path before our God. And the people all said, ‘Amen! Amen!’
Judith said, ‘Listen to me, brothers. Take this head and hang it on your battlements. When morning comes and the sun is up, let every man take his arms and every able-bodied man leave the town. Appoint a leader for them, as if you meant to march down to the plain against the Assyrian advanced post. But you must not do this. The Assyrians will gather up their equipment, make for their camp and wake up their commanders; they in turn will rush to the tent of Holofernes and not be able to find him. They will then be seized with panic and flee at your advance.
All you and the others who live in the territory of Israel will have to do is to give chase and slaughter them as they retreat. ‘But before you do this, call me Achior the Ammonite, for him to see and identify the man who held the House of Israel in contempt, the man who sent him to us as someone already doomed to die.’
So they had Achior brought from Uzziah’s house. No sooner had he arrived and seen the head of Holofernes held by a member of the people’s assembly than he fell on his face in a faint. They lifted him up. He then threw himself at Judith’s feet and prostrate before her, exclaimed: ‘May you be blessed in all the tents of Judah and in every nation; those who hear your name will be seized with dread! Now tell me everything that you have done in these past few days.’
And surrounded by the people, Judith told him everything she had done from the day she left Bethulia to the moment when she was speaking. When she came to the end, the people cheered at the top of their voices until the town echoed. Achior, recognizing all that the God of Israel had done, believed ardently in him and, accepting circumcision, was permanently incorporated into the House of Israel. (Note: Achior was circumcised and incorporated, or joined the House of Israel.)
At daybreak they hung the head of Holofernes on the ramparts. Every man took his arms and they all went out in groups to the slopes of the mountain. Seeing this, the Assyrians sent word to their leaders, who in turn reported to the generals, the captains of thousands and all the other officers; and these in their turn reported to the tent of Holofernes. ‘Rouse our master,’ they said to his major-domo, ‘these slaves have dared to march down on us to attack — and to be wiped out to a man!’
Bagoas went inside and struck the curtain dividing the tent, thinking that Holofernes was sleeping with Judith. But as no one seemed to hear, he drew the curtain and went into the bedroom, to find him thrown down dead on the threshold, with his head cut off. He gave a great shout, wept, sobbed, shrieked and rent his clothes. He then went into the tent which Judith had occupied and could not find her either. Then, rushing out to the men, he shouted, ‘The slaves have rebelled! A single Hebrew woman has brought shame on the House of Nebuchadnezzar. Holofernes is lying dead on the ground, without his head!’ When they heard this, the leaders of the Assyrian army tore their tunics in consternation, and the camp rang with their wild cries and shouting.
When the men who were still in their tents heard the news they were appalled. Panic-stricken and trembling, no two of them could keep together, the rout was complete, with one accord they fled along every track across the plain or through the mountains. The men who had been bivouacking in the mountains round Bethulia were fleeing too. Then all the Israelite warriors charged down on them.
Uzziah sent messengers to Betomasthaim (Samaria), Bebai, Choba, Kola, throughout the whole territory of Israel, to inform them of what had happened and to urge them all to hurl themselves on the enemy and annihilate them. As soon as the Israelites heard the news, they fell on them as one man and massacred them all the way to Choba. The men of Jerusalem and the entire mountain country also rallied to them, once they had been informed of the events in the enemy camp. Then the men of Gilead and Galilee attacked them on the flank and struck at them fiercely till they neared Damascus and its territory.
All the other inhabitants of Bethulia fell on the Assyrian camp and looted it to their great profit. The Israelites returning from the slaughter seized what was left. The hamlets and villages of the mountain country and the plain also captured a great deal of booty, since there were vast stores of it.
Joakim the high priest and the entire Council of Elders of Israel, who were in Jerusalem, came to gaze on the benefits that the Lord had lavished on Israel and to see Judith and congratulate her. On coming to her house, they blessed her with one accord, saying: You are the glory of Jerusalem! You are the great pride of Israel! You are the highest honour of our race! By doing all this with your own hand you have deserved well of Israel, and God has approved what you have done. May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty in all the days to come! And the people all said, ‘Amen!’
The people looted the camp for 30 days. They gave Judith the tent of Holofernes, all his silver plates, his divans, his drinking bowls and all his furniture. She took this, loaded her mule, harnessed her carts and heaped the things into them. All the women of Israel, hurrying to see her, formed choirs of dancers in her honor. Judith took wands of vine-leaves in her hand and distributed them to the women who accompanied her; she and her companions put on wreaths of olive. Then she took her place at the head of the procession and led the women as they danced. All the men of Israel, armed and garlanded, followed them, singing hymns.
With all Israel round her, Judith broke into this song of thanksgiving and the whole people sang this hymn:
‘Break into song for my God, to the tambourine, sing in honor of the Lord, to the cymbal, let psalm and canticle mingle for him, extol his name, invoke it! For the Lord is a God who breaks battle-lines; he has pitched his camp in the middle of his people to deliver me from the hands of my oppressors.
‘Assyria came down from the mountains of the north, came with tens of thousands of his army. Their multitude blocked the ravines, their horses covered the hills. He threatened to burn up my country, destroy my young men with the sword, dash my sucklings to the ground, make prey of my little ones, carry off my maidens; but the Lord Almighty has thwarted them by a woman’s hand.
‘For their hero did not fall at the young men’s hands, it was not the sons of Titans (half-breeds) struck him down, no proud giants (Nephilim) made that attack, but Judith, the daughter of Merari, who disarmed him with the beauty of her face. She laid aside her widow’s dress to raise up those who were oppressed in Israel; she anointed her face with perfume, bound her hair under a turban, put on a linen gown to seduce him. Her sandal ravished his eye, her beauty took his soul prisoner and the scimitar cut through his neck!
‘The Persians [Iranians] trembled at her boldness, the Medes were daunted by her daring. These were struck with fear when my lowly ones raised the war cry, these were seized with terror when my weak ones shouted, and when they raised their voices these gave ground. The children of mere girls ran them through, pierced them like the offspring of deserters. They perished in the battle of my Lord!
‘I shall sing a new song to my God. Lord, you are great, you are glorious, wonderfully strong, unconquerable. May your whole creation serve you! For you spoke and things came into being, you sent your breath and they were put together, and no one can resist your voice. Should mountains be tossed from their foundations to mingle with the waves, should rocks melt like wax before your face, to those who fear you, you would still be merciful. A little thing indeed is a sweetly smelling sacrifice, still less the fat burned for you in burnt offering; but whoever fears the Lord is great for ever.
‘Woe to the nations who rise against my race! The Lord Almighty will punish them on judgment day. He will send fire and worms in their flesh and they will weep with pain for evermore.’
When they reached Jerusalem they fell on their faces before God and, once the people had been purified, they presented their burnt offerings, voluntary offerings and gifts. All Holofernes’ property given her by the people, and the canopy she herself had stripped from his bed, Judith vowed to God as a dedicated offering.
For 3 months the people gave themselves up to rejoicings in front of the Temple in Jerusalem, where Judith stayed with them. When this was over, everyone returned home. Judith went back to Bethulia and lived on her property; as long as she lived, she enjoyed a great reputation throughout the country.
She had many suitors, but all her days, from the time her husband Manasseh died and was gathered to his people, she never gave herself to another man. Her fame spread more and more, the older she grew in her husband’s house; she lived to the age of 105. She emancipated her maid, then died in Bethulia and was buried in the cave where Manasseh her husband lay. The House of Israel mourned her for 7 days. Before her death she had distributed her property among her own relations and those of her husband Manasseh. Never again during the lifetime of Judith, nor indeed for a long time after her death, did anyone trouble the Israelites.