Archive for the ‘Judith 15’ 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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The Character and Prayer of Judith   Leave a comment

Above:  Blanche Sweet as Judith in Judith of Bethulia (1914)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART V

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Judith 8:1-9:14

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The Book of Judith exists in two parts:  Chapters 1-7 and Chapters 8-16.  We finally meet the titular character in Chapter 8.

Judith was a pious widow and an ascetic.  Her status as a widow enabled her to execute her plan to liberate her people.  Judith, as a widow, was not under the control of any man in a patriarchal society.  She also spared no words in criticizing many of her frightened compatriots for their faithlessness.  She accused them of testing God and putting God on a human timetable.  And, as I wrote in the previous post, Judith rejected the popular interpretation that the present predicament constituted divine punishment for their sins and the sins of their ancestors.  No, Judith insisted, the predicament was a test of their faith.  

Judith’s prayer repeats the theme that God defends the downtrodden.  God’s power is greater than might based on force.  Sometimes God works through unexpected people, such as a widow.  Judith’s prayer also includes a reference to the rape of Dinah and the subsequent revenge on the tribe of Simeon (Genesis 34).

Judith’s plan to avenge and deliver her people depended on deceit.  Who would expect that strategy from a pious widow?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE TWELFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF KARL BARTH, SWISS REFORMED MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, MARKUS BARTH, SWISS LUTHERAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, WELSH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYR, 1610

THE FEAST OF PAUL EBER, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MURRAY, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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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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The Defeat of Arphaxad   Leave a comment

Above:  Arphaxad

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JUDITH

PART I

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Judith 1:1-16

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The Book of Judith is a novella, like the Books of Tobit and Esther.  This story exists in two parts.  Chapters 1-7 establish the crisis facing the Jews of Bethulia.  Chapters 8-16 contain the story of the titular character.  The Book of Judith, composed between 135 and 100 B.C.E., during or shortly after the reign (134-104 B.C.E.) of John Hyrcanus I (named in 1 Maccabees 13:53, 16:1-23), includes details and characters from five centuries, mixed and matched in odd combinations.  The Book of Judith also exists in four Greek recensions, four ancient translations, and a Hebrew translation from the Vulgate version.

The Book of Judith, although never in the Jewish canon of scripture, has canonical status in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches.  Certain early Christian writings attest to the high esteem in which some saints held that text.  One can, for example, read St. Jerome (347-419), the great, frequently moody translator of the Vulgate, describing Judith as (1) a model widow, and (2) a type of the Church.  One can also read of St. Jerome describing St. Mary of Nazareth, the Mother and Bearer of God, as a new Judith.  One can also read St. Clement (I) of Rome, Bishop of Rome from 88/91 to 97/101, writing in his (First) Epistle to the Corinthians, cite Esther and Judith as examples of heroic love of their people.  

“Judith,” literally “Jewish woman,” echoes other Jewish women.  These include Jael (Judges 4), Deborah (Judges 4-5), and Sarah (Genesis 11, 12, 16-18, 20-22).

Now, for Judith 1:1-16….

Do not bother trying to keep track of historical dates, O reader; they are all over the chronology.  Likewise, the measurements of the wall of Ectabana are hyperbolic.  Who has ever seen a wall 105 feet high and 75 feet thick, with tower gates 150 feet high and 60 feet wide?

On the surface, this is a story about the warfare between King Arphaxad of the Medes and King Nebuchadnezzar II (allegedly of the Neo-Assyrian Empire, but really of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire).  Chapter 1 ends with Jews in Samaria and Judah dreading the wrath of Nebuchadnezzar II for not supporting his campaign against Arphaxad.

A careful reader may know that King Nebuchadnezzar II governed from Babylon, not Nineveh.

Chapter 1 sets up the rest of the Book of Judith.  One theme is already evident.  That theme is whether one should be loyal to a tyrant.  The answer is “no.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 6, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE EIGHTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA, BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF KRATIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, BISHOP, AND HERMIT

THE FEAST OF ALICE FREEMAN PALMER, U.S. EDUCATOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY USTICK ONDERDONK, EPISCOPAL BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PHILIP AND DANIEL BERRIGAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND SOCIAL ACTIVISTS

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