Campaigns of Holofernes   Leave a comment

Above:  Holofernes’s Army Crossing the Euphrates River

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART II

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Judith 2:1-3:10

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The Book of Judith, like the Book of Tobit, has a bizarre sense of geography.  For example, Judith 2:21 has the army under the command of General Holofernes marching from Nineveh to Cilicia (about 300 miles) in three days.  This is unrealistic.  So is having King Nebuchadnezzar II based in Nineveh.

As one may recall from Chapter 1, King Nebuchadnezzar II had won his war against King Arphaxad of the Medes.  Nebuchadnezzar II had done this without the support of much of his empire.  He was a sore winner.  Nebuchadnezzar II dispatched Holofernes to make those disloyal populations wish they had been loyal.  Holofernes succeeded in this mission in Chapters 2 and 3.  Israel was next on his list.

Holofernes caused “fear and dread” to fall upon Sidon and Tyre in Judith 2:28.  This phrase was important because of the reversal of fortune in Judith 15:2.  In that verse, God, via Judith and Israelites, caused “fear and dread” to overcome the Assyrians.  With Nebuchadnezzar II as their king, they should have been the Chaldeans, not the Assyrians.  (The Book of Judith is a novella, not a work of history.)

In the Book of Judith, more so than in the Book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar II represented

worldly power run amok,

to quote Lawrence M. Wills in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999).  Tyrannical power, reduced to one man’s ego, was especially dangerous.  And, in the context of the Hellenistic Age from which the Book of Judith emerged, King Nebuchadnezzar II also represented the Hellenistic thread to Jewish life, faith, and identity.  In the story, King Nebuchadnezzar II needed people to enable and empower him and his agenda; he needed men such as General Holofernes.  The monarch was a distant figure, starting in the middle of Chapter 2.  His name occurred in 2:19; 3:2; 3:8; 4:1; 11:1; 11:4; 11:7; 11:23; 12:13; and 14:18.  From Chapters 2 to 16, Holofernes was the face of the enemy.

The power structure in the Book of Judith has remained, unfortunately.  Details and personnel have changed.  Nevertheless, the dynamic of people empowering and enabling a powerful, dangerous egomaniac has remained relevant.   Certain human beings have always had only the power others have granted them.  It has always been a form of idolatry.

In contrast to the power structure in the empire in the Book of Judith, O reader, consider the alternative in the Book of Judith.  That alternative, grounded in the worship of God, consists of balanced relationships in the context of faithful community.  We all need faithful community.  “Jesus and Me” is a heresy.  I tell you, O reader, that faithful community has saved my life and come to my aid in other crucial ways.  Anyone who says, “I did this by myself, without anybody’s help,” or “I don’t need anyone” is objectively wrong.  The Bible teaches mutuality.  It teaches complete dependence on God.  The Bible does not teach rugged individualism.  Neither does it teach empowering and enabling tyrants and would-be authoritarian rulers.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 7, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE NINTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEPHA ROSSELLO, COFOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF OUR LADY OF PITY

THE FEAST OF ANNE ROSS COUSIN, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EMMA FRANCIS, LUTHERAN DEACONESS IN THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS AND HARLEM

THE FEAST OF GEORG FRIEDRICH HELLSTROM, DUTCH-GERMAN MORAVIAN MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GUSTAVE POLACK, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

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