Archive for the ‘Holofernes’ Tag

The Beheading of Holofernes and the Defeat of the Assyrians   Leave a comment

Above:  Judith with the Head of Holofernes, by Simon Vouet

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VII

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Judith 13:1-15:14

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The Lord struck him down by the hand of a female!

–Judith 13:15c, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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A very attentive reader of the Hebrew Bible may think of Jael (Judges 4:17-22; 5:24-27), who used a hammer to drive a tent peg through Sisera’s temple until the tent peg went into the ground.  One may also recall David beheading Goliath (1 Samuel 17:51).

The New English Bible (1970), The Revised English Bible (1989), and The New Revised Standard Version (1989) capture the original Greek text well.  Those translations tell us that Holofernes was

dead drunk.

Renderings in other translations include the following:

  1. overcome with wine;
  2. drunk with wine;
  3. wine-sodden;
  4. overcharged with wine;
  5. drunk; and
  6. unconscious from the wine.

In a conservative, patriarchal culture, a man dying by the hand of a woman was especially disgraceful, from a certain point of view.  The dismay of male chauvinists was great.

Furthermore, sexual innuendo pervades the story.  Without delving into the depths of Freudian excesses, I point to the following elements:

  1. The decapitation of Holofernes is a form of decapitation.
  2. “Bethulia” means “virgin.”
  3. “Bagoas” means “eunuch.”

At the end of Chapter 15, the Assyrian army, without its head (and its former leader without his head), fled in panic.  Judith’s strategy was effective.  All she had to do was to kill the commander to throw the army into confusion.

And, as Judith and the people of Bethulia readily acknowledged, God was the real victor.  God had worked through Judith.

When God works through us, may we acknowledge that readily.  May we do the same when we realize that God has worked or is working through others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 12, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS BARTHOLOMEW BUONPEDONI AND VIVALDUS, MINISTERS AMONG LEPERS

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LOUIS POTEAT, PRESIDENT OF WAKE FOREST COLLEGE, AND BIOLOGIST; HIS BROTHER, EDWIN MCNEILL POTEAT, SR., SOUTHERN AND NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND PRESIDENT OF FURMAN UNIVERSITY; HIS SON, EDWIN MCNEILL POTEAT, JR., SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, MISSIONARY, MUSICIAN, HYMN WRITER, AND SOCIAL REFORMER; HIS BROTHER, GORDON MCNEILL POTEAT, SOUTHERN AND NORTHERN BAPTIST AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND MISSIONARY; AND HIS COUSIN, HUBERT MCNEILL POTEAT, SOUTHERN BAPTIST ACADEMIC AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUDWIK BARTOSIK, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1941

THE FEAST OF THOMAS CANNING, U.S. COMPOSER AND MUSIC EDUCATOR

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Judith Before Holofernes   Leave a comment

Above:  Holofernes

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART VI

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Judith 10:1-12:20

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Holofernes was like his master, King Nebuchadnezzar II.  He was vain, boastful, and quick to accept flattery.  The general also consumed lies as easily and in great quantities as easily as he drank too much wine.

Judith played the role of the seductress well.  She understood male nature, which she exploited.  In doing so, Judith placed herself in much danger.  She was even sleeping in the tent of Holofernes.  Her undercover (pardon the pun) mission was always perilous.

A few aspects of these three chapters are especially worthy of explanation and elaboration.  

  1. Judith lied when she said her people were so desperate they were about to violate the food laws in the Law of Moses.  She referenced Leviticus 17:10-16 and Numbers 18:8-32.  Yet, at the time of the composition of the Book of Judith, any violation of the Law of Moses for the purpose of preserving human life was acceptable, according to one school of Jewish thought (1 Maccabees 2:29-41).
  2. Ironically, Holofernes told the truth, at least partially.  He said that Judith was renowned throughout the world (11:20-23).  The Book of Judith has long provided inspiration for artists.
  3. Judith was in extreme sexual danger (12:5).  So was Sarah in Genesis 12:10-20 and 20:17.
  4. Judith established her routine of leaving the Assyrian army camp unchallenged each night (12:6-9).  This strategy paid off in 13:11.
  5. Judith had to work quickly.  She had only five days to deliver her people (7:29-32; 8:32-35).
  6. Judith obeyed kosher food laws, even in the Assyrian army camp.  (One may think of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1, too.)
  7. Judith’s unnamed female maid/servant was loyal and essential.  Judith’s servant was intelligent, unlike the gullible Bagoas, servant of Holofernes. 
  8. In 11:19-23, Judith used language laced with allusions to the prophets and the Book of Psalms.  Verses 19 and 20, for example, echoed Isaiah 40:3-4; 35:8-10; 42:16; 51:11; 56:10-11;; as well as 2 Samuel 7:13; Psalm 89:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Zechariah 10:2 and 13:7.
  9. Ironically, the wisdom at which Holofernes marveled was deception.
  10. The words of Holofernes, “…your God will be my God…” (11:22), an echo of Ruth 1:16, are vague.  Perhaps the character had no idea what he was saying.
  11. Holofernes lusted after Judith (11:16).
  12. The texts depict Judith as a great beauty.  They also describe Assyrian soldiers as drooling over her.  Therein resided part of Judith’s power, which she used to the full extent necessary.

The Book of Judith contains elements of satire and comedy.  The text is rich with irony in many places.  For example, even a boastful fool accidentally tells the truth sometimes.  The intoxicated Holofernes also imagines himself to be in control of the situation.  He has no idea how wrong he is.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 11, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF LUKE OF PRAGUE AND JOHN AUGUSTA, MORAVIAN BISHOPS AND HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT KAZIMIERZ TOMASZ SYKULSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1942

THE FEAST OF LARS OLSEN SKREFSRUD, HANS PETER BOERRESEN, AND PAUL OLAF BODDING, LUTHERAN MISSIONARIES IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF MARYRS OF EL MOZOTE, EL SALVADOR, DECEMBER 11-12, 1981

THE FEAST OF SAINT SEVERIN OTT, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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The Campaign Against Bethulia, with the Distress of the Israelites   Leave a comment

Above:  King Nebuchadnezzar II

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART IV

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Judith 7:1-32

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The situation at Bethulia was dire, objectively.  Holofernes and his allies, enemies of Israel, surrounded the population.  The besieged people were running out of water.  Understandably, as verse 19 tells us, 

their courage failed.

Yet there was hope.  Could the people hold out just five more days?

The allies of Holofernes were wrong; the Israelites relied on God, not the height of mountains.  These allies knew less than Achior did in Chapter 5.

The Theory of Retribution, which I explained in detail in my series on the Book of Tobit, informs the people’s interpretation of their plight in 7:28.  Yet, as Judith argues in 8:18-27, their predicament is not divine punishment for their sins and the sins of their ancestors.  The people have been pious.  They have forsaken idolatry.  No, Judith says, their suffering is testing, and God will deliver them.  Hardship refines faith.

People suffer for more than one reason.  Sometimes they suffer the consequences of their actions.  On other occasions, they suffer the consequences of other people’s actions.  In the web of mutuality, what we do affects others, for good and for ill.  And sometimes people suffer for no apparent reason.

Regardless of the cause of the suffering, hardship can test faith.  I know that it has refined and deepened my faith.  I point to times when the proverbial floor in my life has collapsed.  I report that I have clung to God and emerged better for having done so.  I also know that I am in the midst of such a prolonged experience.  I know the feeling of helplessness.  My former life can never return.  My beloved cannot return from the dead.  The proverbial boldfaced double lines run through my life again.  One side is “before.”  I live in “after.”  I must hold out a little longer then a little longer after that.  Surrender is not a feasible option.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 9, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE ELEVENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT LIBORIUS WAGNER, GERMAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1631

THE FEAST OF GEORGE JOB ELVEY, ANGLICAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN HOWARD BERTRAM MASTERMAN, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, HYMN WRITER, PRIEST, AND BISHOP OF PLYMOUTH

THE FEAST OF OLIVIER MESSIAEN, CLAIRE DELBOS, AND YVONNE LORIOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC MUSICIANS AND COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER FOURIER, “THE GOOD PRIEST OF MATTAINCOURT;” AND ALIX LE CLERC, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF NOTRE DAME OF CANONESSES REGULAR OF SAINT AUGUSTINE

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Posted December 9, 2020 by neatnik2009 in Judith

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Israel’s True Power and Strength   Leave a comment

Above:  King John Hyrcanus I

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART III

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Judith 4:1-6:2

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Holofernes represented an oppressive violent power and an ego-driven monarch.  The general had succeeded in his previous campaigns, even against people who had greeted his army with garlands, dancing, and the sound of timbrels (2:1-3:10).  The Israelites were in dire straits as he turned his attention toward them.

Yet the Israelites worshiped God.  They prayed to God.  And, as even Achior, the Ammonite leader acknowledged, the Israelites’ power and strength resided in God.  Yet Holofernes asked scornfully,

Who is God beside Nebuchadnezzar?

–Judith 6:2b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Achior found refuge with the Israelites, at least.

A refresher on the Kingdom of Ammon and on the Ammonites is in order.

  1. “Ammon” comes from Benammi, both the son and grandson of Lot (Genesis 19:30-38).  Lot’s daughters had gotten their father drunk then seduced him.  They gave birth to the founders of the Moabite and Ammonite peoples.
  2. The attitude toward the Ammonites in the Bible is mostly negative.
  3. The Kingdom of Ammon was east of the River Jordan and north of Moab.  
  4. The Kingdom of Ammon, a vassal state of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  After Ammon reasserted itself, it became a vassal state of the Neo-Assyrian Empire then the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  A failed rebellion led to mass deportations of Ammonites and the colonization of their territory by Chaldeans.

Anyone who wants to read more about the Ammonites in the Bible may want to follow the following reading plan:

  1. Genesis 19;
  2. Numbers 21;
  3. Deuteronomy 2, 3, 23;
  4. Joshua 12, 13;
  5. Judges 3, 10, 11, 12;
  6. 1 Samuel 10, 11, 12, 14;
  7. 2 Samuel 8, 10, 11, 12, 17, 23;
  8. 1 Kings 11, 14;
  9. 2 Kings 23, 24;
  10. 1 Chronicles 11, 18, 19, 20;
  11. 2 Chronicles 12, 20, 24, 26, 27;
  12. Ezra 9;
  13. Nehemiah 2, 4, 13;
  14. Psalm 83;
  15. Isaiah 11;
  16. Jeremiah 9, 25, 27, 40, 41, 49;
  17. Ezekiel 21, 25;
  18. Daniel 11;
  19. Amos 1;
  20. Zephaniah 2;
  21. Judith 1, 5, 6, 7, 14;
  22. 1 Maccabees 5; and
  23. 2 Maccabees 4, 5.

Back to Achior…

A close reader of Achior’s report (5:6-21) may detect some details he got wrong.  Not all characters speak accurately in every matter.  One may expect an outsider to misunderstand some aspects of the Israelite story.

At the end of the Chapter 6, we see the conflict between the arrogance of enemies of God and the humility of Israelites.  We know that, in the story, the Israelites could turn only to God for deliverance.  Anyone familiar with the Hebrew prophets ought to know that this theme occurs in some of the prophetic books, too.

In the context contemporary to the composition of the Book of Judith, Jews had endured Hellenistic oppression under the Seleucid Empire.  Jews had won the independence of Judea.  John Hyrcanus I (reigned 135-104 B.C.E.; named in 1 Maccabees 13:53 and 16:1-23) had ordered the destruction of the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerazim and forced many people to convert to Judaism.  The persecuted had become persecutors.  This was certainly on the mind of the anonymous author of the Book of Judith.

May we, collectively and individually, do to others as we want them to do to us, not necessarily as they or others have done to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 8, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WALTER CISZEK, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIERST AND POLITICAL PRISONER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATUS OF LUXEUIL AND ROMARIC OF LUXEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS AND ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF ERIK CHRISTIAN HOFF, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND ORGANIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONIST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIN SHKURTI, ALBANIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1969

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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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