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The Access Bible New Revised Standard Bible, written and edited with first-time Bible readers in mind.

Judith - Introduction

Judith is one of the most developed examples of the Jewish novelistic * literature of antiquity (see introduction to Tobit). It is the rousing story of the young Jewish woman Judith, who through her bravery saves her village and, ultimately, Jerusalem. Though the style is typical of other Jewish novels of the period (Daniel and Esther with their Apocryphal * additions, Tobit, and Joseph and Aseneth * , the central theme is also similar to biblical stories that depict a warrior killed by a woman, such as Judg 4–5, 9 , and 2 Sam 20.14–22 .

The story, probably written in Hebrew in about the middle of the second century BCE, is set in a much earlier period. The historical setting, however, seems to be intentionally blurred, since Assyria, the imperial power that threatens Israel, is here headed by Nebuchadnezzar, who was actually king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. The two worst empires in Jewish history—Assyria had conquered the northern part of Israel and the Neo-Babylonians the southern, or Judah—have been merged to create a fictitious “evil empire.”

Judith is very carefully structured. It is divisible into two acts of about equal length: the growing threat of the Assyrian army, commanded by Holofernes (chs. 1–7 ), and the response to that threat, which is focused on one woman in one Jewish village, Bethulia (chs. 8–12 ; see chart on page 22). The overarching symbolic opposition that governs the entire drama, however, is that between the “lord” Nebuchadnezzar, whose servant is his general Holofernes, and the Lord God, whose servant is Judith. This theme in Judith may be derived from the depiction of Nicanor and his claim to be “sovereign on earth” in 2 Macc 15.1–5 . There are also other parallels to the defeat of Nicanor (see comments).

Although the Book of Judith requires twelve chapters of preparation before reaching the climactic * decapitation scene, the author uses many effective narrative * techniques to create excitement and a sense of the impending threat along the way. The geographical references, for example, often strung together, communicate the idea of a world at war and the immensity of Nebuchadnezzar's threat. The descriptions of the mustering of the troops and their movements likewise make for a very vivid, almost cinematic drama, and the path of destruction of the invading armies can be seen as descending inexorably upon Israel and, even more dramatically, on the small mountain town of Bethulia, which means “virgin.”

No fragment of the Book of Judith was found at Qumran, and it is not quoted or alluded to in Philo, Josephus, or the New Testament, but Judith is mentioned in First Clement 55.3–4 , an early Christian text. The story, retaining its appeal over the centuries, has been retold in various versions and has inspired many works of art.

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