Judith chapters 1-5
"If one could prove from established and reliable histories that the events in Judith really happened, it would be a noble and fine book, and should properly be in the Bible." - Martin Luther
So much for Luther being against the Apocrypha! Sometimes, people accuse Luther of saying things or holding views he really didn't. It is true that Luther distinguished the Apocryphal books, noting that they were not included in the Hebrew canon, and that they did not enjoy universal acceptance in the early church. He was not the first to note that. But while Luther distinguished the books of the Apocrypha, he hardly rejected or dismissed them. In fact, as can be seen from the above quote from his 1534 Preface to the Book of Judith, Luther counted this particular book highly. He recognized that it did not square, in its historical details, with the accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah, and so was not to be received as on the same par with those canonical texts. However, apart from that, Luther saw every reason to receive the book of Judith as a salutary and pious work.
Luther further writes . . .
"Some people think this is not an account of historical events but rather a beautiful religious fiction by a holy and ingenious man who wanted to sketch and depict therein the fortunes of the whole Jewish people and the victory God always miraculously granted them over all their enemies. This would be similar to the way Solomon in his Song poetizes and sings of a bride, yet means thereby not some specific person or event but the whole people of Israel. St. John, in his Apocalypse, and Daniel likewise sketch many pictures and beasts; yet these pertain not to specific persons but to the totality of Christian churches and [to the various] empires. And Christ our Lord himself likes to make use of parables and fictions like this in the gospel. He compares the kingdom of heaven to ten maidens [Matt. 25:1–13], or to a merchant and pearls [Matt. 13:45], a baker woman [Matt. 13:33], a grain of mustard seed [Matt. 13:31–32], or to fishermen and nets [Matt. 13:47–49], or to shepherds and sheep [Matt. 18:12–14], and the like. Such an interpretation strikes my fancy, and I think that the poet deliberately and painstakingly inserted the errors of time and name in order to remind the reader that the book should be taken and understood as that kind of a sacred, religious, composition."
Hardly the words of a man who rejected the Apocrypha! But let's allow Luther to conclude the matter himself, before presenting the text of Judith itself . . ."
"Therefore this is a fine, good, holy, useful book, well worth reading by us Christians. For the words spoken by the persons in it should be understood as though they were uttered in the Holy Spirit by a spiritual, holy poet or prophet who, in presenting such persons in his play, preaches to us through them. Next after Judith, therefore, like a song following a play, belongs the Wisdom of [Solomon], a work which denounces tyrants and praises the help which God bestows on his people. The song [that follows] may well be called an illustration of this book [of Judith]."
The first chapters of Judith set the stage. As a result, the reader may find a slow go of it at first. Don't worry. Don't get bogged down. We can stand to learn some patience. There are 16 chapters. Judith comes "on stage" in chapter 8 and the "action" progresses from there. The picture used as the background for this page and the one preceding gives the story away. But, had you been a Christian almost any time before the last century, you'd already know the story of Judith. Enjoy rediscovering your heritage!
RSV Judith 1:1 In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh, in the days of Arphaxad, who ruled over the Medes in Ecbatana -- 2 he is the king who built walls about Ecbatana with hewn stones three cubits thick and six cubits long; he made the walls seventy cubits high and fifty cubits wide; 3 at the gates he built towers a hundred cubits high and sixty cubits wide at the foundations; 4 and he made its gates, which were seventy cubits high and forty cubits wide, so that his armies could march out in force and his infantry form their ranks -- 5 it was in those days that King Nebuchadnezzar made war against King Arphaxad in the great plain which is on the borders of Ragae. 6 He was joined by all the people of the hill country and all those who lived along the Euphrates and the Tigris and the Hydaspes and in the plain where Arioch ruled the Elymaeans. Many nations joined the forces of the Chaldeans. 7 Then Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians sent to all who lived in Persia and to all who lived in the west, those who lived in Cilicia and Damascus and Lebanon and Antilebanon and all who lived along the seacoast, 8 and those among the nations of Carmel and Gilead, and Upper Galilee and the great Plain of Esdraelon, 9 and all who were in Samaria and its surrounding towns, and beyond the Jordan as far as Jerusalem and Bethany and Chelous and Kadesh and the river of Egypt, and Tahpanhes and Raamses and the whole land of Goshen, 10 even beyond Tanis and Memphis, and all who lived in Egypt as far as the borders of Ethiopia. 11 But all who lived in the whole region disregarded the orders of Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians, and refused to join him in the war; for they were not afraid of him, but looked upon him as only one man, and they sent back his messengers empty-handed and shamefaced. 12 Then Nebuchadnezzar was very angry with this whole region, and swore by his throne and kingdom that he would surely take revenge on the whole territory of Cilicia and Damascus and Syria, that he would kill them by the sword, and also all the inhabitants of the land of Moab, and the people of Ammon, and all Judea, and every one in Egypt, as far as the coasts of the two seas. 13 In the seventeenth year he led his forces against King Arphaxad, and defeated him in battle, and overthrew the whole army of Arphaxad, and all his cavalry and all his chariots. 14 Thus he took possession of his cities, and came to Ecbatana, captured its towers, plundered its markets, and turned its beauty into shame. 15 He captured Arphaxad in the mountains of Ragae and struck him down with hunting spears; and he utterly destroyed him, to this day. 16 Then he returned with them to Nineveh, he and all his combined forces, a vast body of troops; and there he and his forces rested and feasted for one hundred and twenty days.
RSV Judith 2:1 In the eighteenth year, on the twenty-second day of the first month, there was talk in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians about carrying out his revenge on the whole region, just as he said. 2 He called together all his officers and all his nobles and set forth to them his secret plan and recounted fully, with his own lips, all the wickedness of the region; 3 and it was decided that every one who had not obeyed his command should be destroyed. 4 When he had finished setting forth his plan, Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians called Holofernes, the chief general of his army, second only to himself, and said to him, 5 "Thus says the Great King, the lord of the whole earth: When you leave my presence, take with you men confident in their strength, to the number of one hundred and twenty thousand foot soldiers and twelve thousand cavalry. 6 Go and attack the whole west country, because they disobeyed my orders. 7 Tell them to prepare earth and water, for I am coming against them in my anger, and will cover the whole face of the earth with the feet of my armies, and will hand them over to be plundered by my troops, 8 till their wounded shall fill their valleys, and every brook and river shall be filled with their dead, and overflow; 9 and I will lead them away captive to the ends of the whole earth. 10 You shall go and seize all their territory for me in advance. They will yield themselves to you, and you shall hold them for me till the day of their punishment. 11 But if they refuse, your eye shall not spare and you shall hand them over to slaughter and plunder throughout your whole region. 12 For as I live, and by the power of my kingdom, what I have spoken my hand will execute. 13 And you -- take care not to transgress any of your sovereign's commands, but be sure to carry them out just as I have ordered you; and do not delay about it." 14 So Holofernes left the presence of his master, and called together all the commanders, generals, and officers of the Assyrian army, 15 and mustered the picked troops by divisions as his lord had ordered him to do, one hundred and twenty thousand of them, together with twelve thousand archers on horseback, 16 and he organized them as a great army is marshaled for a campaign. 17 He collected a vast number of camels and asses and mules for transport, and innumerable sheep and oxen and goats for provision; 18 also plenty of food for every man, and a huge amount of gold and silver from the royal palace. 19 So he set out with his whole army, to go ahead of King Nebuchadnezzar and to cover the whole face of the earth to the west with their chariots and horsemen and picked troops of infantry. 20 Along with them went a mixed crowd like a swarm of locusts, like the dust of the earth -- a multitude that could not be counted. 21 They marched for three days from Nineveh to the plain of Bectileth, and camped opposite Bectileth near the mountain which is to the north of Upper Cilicia. 22 From there Holofernes took his whole army, his infantry, cavalry, and chariots, and went up into the hill country 23 and ravaged Put and Lud, and plundered all the people of Rassis and the Ishmaelites who lived along the desert, south of the country of the Chelleans. 24 Then he followed the Euphrates and passed through Mesopotamia and destroyed all the hilltop cities along the brook Abron, as far as the sea. 25 He also seized the territory of Cilicia, and killed every one who resisted him, and came to the southern borders of Japheth, fronting toward Arabia. 26 He surrounded all the Midianites, and burned their tents and plundered their sheepfolds. 27 Then he went down into the plain of Damascus during the wheat harvest, and burned all their fields and destroyed their flocks and herds and sacked their cities and ravaged their lands and put to death all their young men with the edge of the sword. 28 So fear and terror of him fell upon all the people who lived along the seacoast, at Sidon and Tyre, and those who lived in Sur and Ocina and all who lived in Jamnia. Those who lived in Azotus and Ascalon feared him exceedingly.
RSV Judith 3:1 So they sent messengers to sue for peace, and said, 2 "Behold, we the servants of Nebuchadnezzar, the Great King, lie prostrate before you. Do with us whatever you will. 3 Behold, our buildings, and all our land, and all our wheat fields, and our flocks and herds, and all our sheepfolds with their tents, lie before you; do with them whatever you please. 4 Our cities also and their inhabitants are your slaves; come and deal with them in any way that seems good to you." 5 The men came to Holofernes and told him all this. 6 Then he went down to the seacoast with his army and stationed garrisons in the hilltop cities and took picked men from them as his allies. 7 And these people and all in the country round about welcomed him with garlands and dances and tambourines. 8 And he demolished all their shrines and cut down their sacred groves; for it had been given to him to destroy all the gods of the land, so that all nations should worship Nebuchadnezzar only, and all their tongues and tribes should call upon him as god. 9 Then he came to the edge of Esdraelon, near Dothan, fronting the great ridge of Judea; 10 here he camped between Geba and Scythopolis, and remained for a whole month in order to assemble all the supplies for his army.
RSV Judith 4:1 By this time the people of Israel living in Judea heard of everything that Holofernes, the general of Nebuchadnezzar the king of the Assyrians, had done to the nations, and how he had plundered and destroyed all their temples; 2 they were therefore very greatly terrified at his approach, and were alarmed both for Jerusalem and for the temple of the Lord their God. 3 For they had only recently returned from the captivity, and all the people of Judea were newly gathered together, and the sacred vessels and the altar and the temple had been consecrated after their profanation. 4 So they sent to every district of Samaria, and to Kona and Bethhoron and Belmain and Jericho and to Choba and Aesora and the valley of Salem, 5 and immediately seized all the high hilltops and fortified the villages on them and stored up food in preparation for war -- since their fields had recently been harvested. 6 And Joakim, the high priest, who was in Jerusalem at the time, wrote to the people of Bethulia and Betomesthaim, which faces Esdraelon opposite the plain near Dothan, 7 ordering them to seize the passes up into the hills, since by them Judea could be invaded, and it was easy to stop any who tried to enter, for the approach was narrow, only wide enough for two men at the most. 8 So the Israelites did as Joakim the high priest and the senate of the whole people of Israel, in session at Jerusalem, had given order. 9 And every man of Israel cried out to God with great fervor, and they humbled themselves with much fasting. 10 They and their wives and their children and their cattle and every resident alien and hired laborer and purchased slave -- they all girded themselves with sackcloth. 11 And all the men and women of Israel, and their children, living at Jerusalem, prostrated themselves before the temple and put ashes on their heads and spread out their sackcloth before the Lord. 12 They even surrounded the altar with sackcloth and cried out in unison, praying earnestly to the God of Israel not to give up their infants as prey and their wives as booty, and the cities they had inherited to be destroyed, and the sanctuary to be profaned and desecrated to the malicious joy of the Gentiles. 13 So the Lord heard their prayers and looked upon their affliction; for the people fasted many days throughout Judea and in Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty. 14 And Joakim the high priest and all the priests who stood before the Lord and ministered to the Lord, with their loins girded with sackcloth, offered the continual burnt offerings and the vows and freewill offerings of the people. 15 With ashes upon their turbans, they cried out to the Lord with all their might to look with favor upon the whole house of Israel.
RSV Judith 5:1 When Holofernes, the general of the Assyrian army, heard that the people of Israel had prepared for war and had closed the passes in the hills and fortified all the high hilltops and set up barricades in the plains, 2 he was very angry. So he called together all the princes of Moab and the commanders of Ammon and all the governors of the coastland, 3 and said to them, "Tell me, you Canaanites, what people is this that lives in the hill country? What cities do they inhabit? How large is their army, and in what does their power or strength consist? Who rules over them as king, leading their army? 4 And why have they alone, of all who live in the west, refused to come out and meet me?" 5 Then Achior, the leader of all the Ammonites, said to him, "Let my lord now hear a word from the mouth of your servant, and I will tell you the truth about this people that dwells in the nearby mountain district. No falsehood shall come from your servant's mouth. 6 This people is descended from the Chaldeans. 7 At one time they lived in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers who were in Chaldea. 8 For they had left the ways of their ancestors, and they worshiped the God of heaven, the God they had come to know; hence they drove them out from the presence of their gods; and they fled to Mesopotamia, and lived there for a long time. 9 Then their God commanded them to leave the place where they were living and go to the land of Canaan. There they settled, and prospered, with much gold and silver and very many cattle. 10 When a famine spread over Canaan they went down to Egypt and lived there as long as they had food; and there they became a great multitude -- so great that they could not be counted. 11 So the king of Egypt became hostile to them; he took advantage of them and set them to making bricks, and humbled them and made slaves of them. 12 Then they cried out to their God, and he afflicted the whole land of Egypt with incurable plagues; and so the Egyptians drove them out of their sight. 13 Then God dried up the Red Sea before them, 14 and he led them by the way of Sinai and Kadeshbarnea, and drove out all the people of the wilderness. 15 So they lived in the land of the Amorites, and by their might destroyed all the inhabitants of Heshbon; and crossing over the Jordan they took possession of all the hill country. 16 And they drove out before them the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Jebusites and the Shechemites and all the Gergesites, and lived there a long time. 17 As long as they did not sin against their God they prospered, for the God who hates iniquity is with them. 18 But when they departed from the way which he had appointed for them, they were utterly defeated in many battles and were led away captive to a foreign country; the temple of their God was razed to the ground, and their cities were captured by their enemies. 19 But now they have returned to their God, and have come back from the places to which they were scattered, and have occupied Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and have settled in the hill country, because it was uninhabited. 20 Now therefore, my master and lord, if there is any unwitting error in this people and they sin against their God and we find out their offense, then we will go up and defeat them. 21 But if there is no transgression in their nation, then let my lord pass them by; for their Lord will defend them, and their God will protect them, and we shall be put to shame before the whole world." 22 When Achior had finished saying this, all the men standing around the tent began to complain; Holofernes' officers and all the men from the seacoast and from Moab insisted that he must be put to death. 23 "For," they said, "we will not be afraid of the Israelites; they are a people with no strength or power for making war. 24 Therefore let us go up, Lord Holofernes, and they will be devoured by your vast army."