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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature
Ju´dith, the name of one of the apocryphal or deutero-canonical books of the Old Testament, is placed in manuscripts of the Alexandrine version between the books of Tobit and Esther. In its external form this book bears the character of the record of an historical event, describing the complete defeat of the Assyrians by the Jews through the prowess of a woman.
The following is a sketch of the narrative:—Nebuchadnezzar, or, as he is called in the Greek, Nabuchodonosor, king of the Assyrians, having, in the twelfth year of his reign, conquered and taken Arphaxad, by whom his territory had been invaded, formed the design of subduing the people of Asia to the westward of Nineveh his capital, who had declined to aid him against Arphaxad. With this view he sent his general, Holofernes, at the head of a powerful army, and soon made himself master of Mesopotamia, Syria, Libya, Cilicia and Idumea. The inhabitants of the sea-coast made a voluntary submission; which, however, did not prevent their territories from being laid waste, their sacred groves burned, and their idols destroyed, in order that divine honors should be paid only to Nebuchadnezzar. Holofernes, having finally encamped in the plain of Esdraelon (), remained inactive for a whole month—or two, according to the Latin version. But the Jews, who had not long returned from captivity, and who had just restored their temple and its worship, prepared for war under the direction of their high-priest Joacim, or Eliakim, and the senate. The high-priest addressed letters to the inhabitants of Bethulia and Betomestham, near Esdraelon (), charging them to guard the passes of the mountains. The Jews at the same time kept a fast, and called upon God for protection against their enemies. Holofernes, astonished at their audacity and preparations, inquired of the Moabites and Ammonites who these people were. Achior, the leader of the Ammonites, informed him of the history of the Jews, adding, that if they offended their God he would deliver them into the hands of their enemies, but that otherwise they would be invincible. Holofernes, however, prepares to lay siege to Bethulia, and commences operations by taking the mountain passes, and intercepting the water, in order to compel the inhabitants to surrender. Ozias, the governor of the city, holds out as long as possible; but at the end of thirty-four days' siege, the inhabitants are reduced to that degree of distress from drought, that they are determined to surrender unless relieved within five days. Meantime Judith, a rich and beautiful woman, the widow of Manasseh, forms the patriotic design of delivering the city and the nation. With this view she entreats the governor and elders to give up all idea of surrender and to permit the gates of the city to be opened for her. Arrayed in rich attire, she proceeds to the camp of Holofernes, attended only by her maid, bearing a bag of provisions. She is admitted into the presence of Holofernes, and informs him that the Jews could not be overcome so long as they remained faithful to God, but that they had now sinned against Him in converting to their own use the tithes, which were sacred to the priests alone; and that she had fled from the city to escape the impending and inevitable destruction which awaited it. She obtains leave to remain in the camp, with the liberty of retiring by night for the purpose of prayer, and promises that at the proper moment she will herself be the guide of Holofernes to the very walls of Jerusalem. Judith is favorably entertained; Holofernes is smitten with her charms, gives her a magnificent entertainment, at which, having drunk too freely, he is shut up with her alone in the tent. Taking advantage of her opportunity, while he is sunk in sleep, she seizes his falchion and strikes off his head. Giving it to her maid, who was outside the tent door, she leaves the camp as usual, under pretence of devotion, and returns to Bethulia displaying the head of Holofernes. The Israelites, next morning fall on the Assyrians, who, panic-struck at the loss of their general, are soon discomfited, leaving an immense spoil in the hands of their enemies. The whole concludes with the triumphal song of Judith, who accompanies all the people to Jerusalem to give thanks to the Lord. After this she returns to her native city Bethulia, gives freedom to her maid, and dies at the advanced age of 105 years. The Jews enjoying a profound and happy peace, a yearly festival (according to the Vulgate) is instituted in honor of the victory.
The difficulties, historical, chronological, and geographical, comprised in the narrative of Judith are so numerous and serious as to be held by many divines altogether insuperable. Events, times, and manners are said to be confounded, and the chronology of the times before and those after the exile, of the Persian and Assyrian, and even of the Maccabean period, confusedly and unaccountably blended.
The authorship of the book is as uncertain as its date. It is not named either by Philo or Josephus; nor have we any indication whatever by which to form a conjecture respecting its author.
The original language is uncertain. Eichhorn and Jahn and Seiler, with whom is Bertholdt, conceive it to have been Greek. Calmet states, on the authority of Origen, that the Jews had the book of Judith in Hebrew in his time. Jerome states that it is written in Chaldee, from which he translated it, with the aid of an interpreter, giving rather the sense than the words.
Although the book of Judith never formed part of the Jewish canon, and finds no place in the ancient catalogues, its authority in the Christian church has been very great.
Along with the other deutero-canonical books, it has been at all times read in the church, and lessons are taken from it in the Church of England in course.
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Judith'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature". https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​kbe/​j/judith.html.