Book of Judith

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Judith with the Head of Holophernes, by , 1613 (, Florence
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Judith with the Head of Holophernes, by Christophano Allori, 1613 (Pitti Palace, Florence

The Book of Judith is a parable, or perhaps the first historical novel according to Jewish authorities, who do not place it among the writings of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. The Book of Judith is included in the Septuagint, which was translated into Greek for the use of Hellenized Jews in Alexandria. The book is included in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Old Testament, but relegated to the apocrypha by Protestants.

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

The Book of Judith has a dramatic setting that appealed to Jewish patriotism, 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 as for the feast with all her spectacular jewels, accompanied by an apprehensive maid, succeeds in decapitating the invading general, Holofernes. 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.

As a historical tale, its scenes are enlivened and given immediacy by their setting in a definitely characterized (though anachronistic) setting and time and connected, as all historical novels are, with important personages of history— here "Nebuchadnezzar" as a "King of Assyria" who reigns in Nineveh (while in reality he was King of Babylonia in Babylon) — features it shares with the Book of Esther, the Book of Daniel and its continuations, and the Book of Tobit. Nowhere are the "historical" details introduced in more profusion than in Judith.

With the very first words of the tale, "In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned over the Assyrians in Nineveh," it is argued by the Jewish encyclopedia that the narrator sets his story in "Once upon a time". The reader might compare the opening of the frame tale of The Arabian Nights.

Even the city called "Bethulia," (properly "Betylua") and the narrow and strategic pass into Judea that it occupies (Judith IV:7ff VIII:21-24) are fictional settings, though they may be hunted for in the topography of Palestine or Israel. 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." [1] (http://www.ritualwell.org/Rituals/ritual.html?docid=803)

Rembrandt was not alone among Baroque painters who relished the story in the Book of Judith.

One may compare the later imagery of Salom and the head of John the Baptist.

Another Wikipedia article treats Holofernes, the Assyrian general whose story appears in this book.

A poem Judith in Old English also treats the beheading of Holofernes. See Judith (poem).

External links

  • The Book of Judith (http://st-takla.org/pub_Deuterocanon/Deuterocanon-Apocrypha_El-Asfar_El-Kanoneya_El-Tanya__2-Judith.html) Full text from http://St-Takla.org (also available in Arabic (http://st-takla.org/pub_Deuterocanon/Deuterocanon-Apocrypha_El-Asfar_El-Kanoneya_El-Tanya__2-Judith_.html))
  • Text of the Book of Judith (http://www.hope.edu/academic/religion/bandstra/BIBLE/JDT/JDT0.HTM)
  • Another text (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/KjvJudi.html), this one including a link to download as a single document
  • Jewish Encyclopedia: (http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=711&letter=J) Judith

cs:Kniha Jdit de:Buch Judit jv:Kitab Yudit pl:Księga Judyty zh:友第德

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