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Judith: Chapter 5

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1When it was reported to Holophernes that the Israelites had prepared for war by closing the passes through the hill-country, fortifying all the heights, and putting obstructions in the plains, 2his anger knew no bounds. He summoned all the rulers of Moab and the Ammonite generals, and all the governors of the coastal region. 3‘Tell me, you Canaanites,’ he demanded, ‘what people is this that lives in the hill-country? What are their cities? How large is their army, and wherein lies their power and strength? Who has set up as king at the head of their forces? 4Of all the people of the west, why do they alone disdain to come to meet me?’

5Achior, the commander of the Ammonites, replied: ‘My lord, if you will allow your servant to speak, I shall give you the true facts about this people that lives close at hand in the hill-country; no lie will pass your servant's lips. 6They are descended from the Chaldaeans; 7and at one time they settled in Mesopotamia, because they refused to worship the gods their fathers had worshipped in Chaldaea. 8They abandoned the ways of their ancestors and worshipped the God of heaven, the God whom they acknowledge today. When they were driven from the presence of their fathers’ gods, they fled to Mesopotamia and lived there for a long time. 9Commanded by their God to leave their new home and move to Canaan, they settled there and acquired great wealth in gold and silver, and livestock in plenty.

10‘Because of a famine which spread throughout Canaan, they went down to Egypt, where they lived as long as they found food. While there, they multiplied so greatly that their numbers were past counting, 11and the king of Egypt took precautionary action by setting them to labour at brickmaking and by reducing them to slavery. 12They cried to their God, and he inflicted incurable plagues on the whole of Egypt. When the Egyptians expelled them, 13their God dried up the Red Sea for them 14and led them towards Sinai and Kadesh-barnea. They drove out all the inhabitants of the wilderness 15and settled in the land of the Amorites, and by force of arms exterminated the whole population of Heshbon. Then they crossed the Jordan and took possession of the entire hill-country, 16driving out the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Shechemites, and all the Girgashites; and there they lived for a long time.

17‘As long as they did not sin against their God, they prospered, for they had the support of a God who hates wickedness. 18When, however, they strayed from the path he had marked out for them, they suffered heavy losses in many wars; they were carried captive to a foreign country, the sanctuary of their God was razed to the ground, and their towns were seized by enemies. 19But now that they have turned again to their God, they have come back from the lands to which they had been dispersed; they have occupied Jerusalem, the site of their holy place, and have settled in the hill-country, which lay uninhabited. 20Now, my sovereign lord, if these people have fallen into the error of sinning against their God, and if we find that in so doing they have put themselves at a disadvantage, then we can go up and attack them. 21But if these people have not violated their law, then let my lord leave them alone, for fear that the God they serve should defend and protect them, and we become the laughing-stock of the whole world.’

22When Achior finished speaking there were protests from all who stood round the tent. Holophernes' officers, together with the people from the coastal region and from Moab, demanded that Achior be hacked to pieces. 23‘We are not going to be scared of the Israelites,’ they said, ‘a people incapable of putting a force of any strength in the field. 24Let us march into the hill-country, Lord Holophernes; your great army will swallow them whole.’

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