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Judith’s Hymn of Deliverance, with Her Renown and Death   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 VIII

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Judith 16:1-25

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O Lord, thou are great and glorious,

wondrous in strength, invincible.

Let thy creatures serve thee,

for thou didst speak, and they were made,

thou didst sent thy Spirit, and it formed them;

there is none that can resist thy voice.

For the mountains shall be shaken to their foundations with the waters;

at thy presence the rocks shall melt like wax.

But to those who fear thee, thou wilt continue to show mercy.

For every sacrifice as a fragrant offering is a small thing,

and all fat for burnt offerings to thee is a very little thing,

but he who fears the Lord shall be great forever.

–Judith 16:13b-16, a.k.a. Canticle 69 in The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965) and Canticle 622 in The Methodist Hymnal (1966)

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But the Lord Almighty has foiled them by the hand of a woman.

For their mighty one did not fall by the hands of the young men;

nor did the sons of the Titans strike him down,

nor did tall giants set upon him;

but Judith daughter of Merari with the beauty of her countenance undid him.

–Judith 16:5-6, The New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (1989)

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The hymn of Judith acknowledges what Achior, soon to convert to Judaism (14:6-10), said in Chapter 5:  God is the strength of the Israelites.  The hymn of Judith places her accomplishment in proper context.  That context is God.

The rest of the story:

  1. Judith refused all offers of marriage.
  2. She freed her maid/servant.
  3. She lived to a ripe old age (Job 42:16; Proverbs 16:31 and 20:29).
  4. People held her in high esteem.
  5. Her grave was next to that of her late husband.

The end of Chapter 16 likens her to various heroes in the Book of Judges.  Judith 16:25 tells us that nobody spread terror among the Israelites for a long time after her death.  For a similar motif, read Judges 3:11; 3:30; 5:31; 8:28.

Interestingly, the Hasmonean period (168-63 B.C.E.) lasted 105 years, the lifespan of Judith.  Given the composition of the Book of Judith circa 100 B.C.E., we have a coincidence.

Judith placed God at the center of her life.  She revered God and acted to protect her community.  She was a fictional military heroine long before a historical military heroine, St. Joan of Arc (1412-1431).

The Book of Judith also contains a warning to fatuous gas bag, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers.

[Holofernes’s] bloated self-image clouds his judgment, so that he not only sees in himself what he wants to see, but also sees in Judith what he chooses.  If Holofernes had been clever enough to catch Judith’s irony, he would have been clever enough to avoid her trap, even get the best of her.  But he was not.

–Lawrence M. Wills, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999), 1089

The warning is that they leave themselves open to their own undoing.  Their fate is in themselves, not in their stars, to paraphrase William Shakespeare.

At the end of the Book of Judith, Nebuchadnezzar II, not a major character since Chapter 2, is still on the throne.  I suppose the fictional version of that monarch in this book gave up his plan to take revenge on disloyal servants.  After all, he is not the king of all the Earth.  No, God is.

So, fatuous gas bags, authoritarian leaders, and their enablers, beware.  God is the king.  God is sovereign.  Even fatuous gas bags, authoritarian rulers, and their enablers are subject to the judgment of God.

Thank you for joining me on this journey through the Book of Judith, O reader.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHNSON, “THE GREAT MORALIST”

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN FURCHTEGOTT GELLERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, EDUCATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELLA J. BAKER, WITNESS FOR CIVIIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL SPERATUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PIERSON PARKER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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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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