Judith, Friend of Junia

Robin Gallaher Branch, in Biblical Archaeology Review, has an article about Judith, whom I consider a friend of Junia — a woman of enormous capacity who is largely unknown. I clip the beginning of the article, then Robin’s eleven points, but you will have to go to the BAR site or magazine to get the details for each point.

The Book of Judith—considered canonical by Roman Catholics, Apocrypha Literature by Protestants, and non-canon by Jews—tells the story of the ignominious defeat of the Assyrians, an army bent on world domination, by the hand of a Hebrew woman (Judith 13:14).

Indeed her beheading of Holofernes, the invading Assyrian general—in his own tent, with his own sword, and surrounded by his own heretofore victorious army, no less!—marks her as a political savior in Israel on a par with David.

Consider these characteristics:

1. Judith commands, plans, leads.
2. Judith is verbose.
3. Judith strategizes.
4. Judith knows her power over men.
5. Judith acts for the common good.
6. Judith displays extraordinary courage.
7. Judith and her maid.
8. Judith’s heritage.

9. Judith’s theology: Judith ranks along with Deborah (Judges 5), the wife of Manoa (Judges 13:23), Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10), Naomi (Ruth 1:20-21) and Abigail (1 Samuel 23-31) as theologians in the Old Testament, in the sense that they all comment on God’s character and actions. However, in terms of verbosity, she exceeds them all. She credits God for the victory over the Assyrians and the killing of Holofernes (Judith 16:5-6). Her theology includes possession and shows her leadership. In her closing prayer, she sings of my territory, my young men, my infants, my children, and my maidens (Judith 16:4) (italics added).

Her song, containing many distinctively feminine insights, details her preparation for war—how she anointed her face with perfume and fixed her hair. Judith’s song speaks of her sandals, her renowned beauty, that fetching tiara and the deliberate action of putting on a linen gown, knowing it would beguile her intended prey, Holofernes (Judith 16:7-8). These were her weapons, as important and deadly as Sisera’s 900 chariots in Deborah’s war (Judges 4:3). Judith triumphantly proclaims “the Persians shuddered at her audacity and the Medes were daunted by her daring” (Judith 16:10).

Her song lauds the kind of upset the Biblical text loves: that of the underdog winning against the mighty, proud foe; of the enemy cowering in fear and screaming and running; of mere boys slaying seasoned Assyrian warriors (Judith 16:11-12).

10. Judith as prophetess.
11. Judith and her countrywomen.

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  • JKG

    As it happens, I have been studying Judith in preparation for an adult Bible study. The story is dramatic and inspiring. Branch’s points are well made.

    I personally, however, have found the story to be utterly confounding in its context. It does not reasonably fit any known historical events or geography, even to the point of outright error. Its theology is more nationalistic than covenantal. Judith’s behavior from a moral perspective is questionable at best. She lies, she murders, she claims all the credit. God is an enabler of her plan, not the source of the nation’s salvation.

    It may be a good story–Angelina Jolie would play Judith in the Hollywood version–but it would be tough for me to accept as inspired scripture.