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Book of Judith

Book of Judith
by Timothy Kenney, PhD

Nebuchadnezzar, King of Nineveh, sends his general Holofernes to subdue the Jews. The latter besieges them in Bethulia, a city on the southern verge of the Plain of Esdrelon. Achior, the Ammonite, who speaks in defense of the Jews, is maltreated by him and sent into the besieged city to await his punishment when Holofernes shall have taken it. Famine undermines the courage of the besieged and they contemplate surrender, but Judith, a widow, upbraids them and says that she will deliver the city. She goes into the camp of the Assyrians and captivates Holofernes by her beauty, and finally takes advantage of the general's intoxication to cut off his head. She returns to the city with his head as a proof. As a result, the Jews rout of the Assyrians. The book closes with a hymn to the Almighty by Judith to celebrate her victory.

The story naturally divides itself into two parts:

  1. Peril of the Jews - Judith 1-7
  2. Deliverance of the Jews - Judith 8-16

A detailed outline of the Book of Tobit follows.

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I. Peril of the Jews - Judith 1-7.

In the first part (chapters 1-7), King Nebuchadnezzar, "who reigned over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh" (Judith 1:1), sends his general Holofernes to punish the western nations because they have refused to join him in a war against Media. Holofernes marches against them, and all except the Israelites submit. At this point in the narrative Achior, leader of the Ammonites, warns Holofernes that God will defend the Israelites so long as they remain faithful. Holofernes, however, disregarding the warning, surrounds the Israelites in the ancient Palestinian town of Bethulia, near Jerusalem.

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II. Deliverance of the Jews - Judith 8-16.

In the second part of the book (chapters 8-16), the pious and beautiful widow Judith volunteers to deliver the Israelites after rebuking them for losing faith in God when under siege. She goes to the Assyrian camp, pretending to be an informer against her people, and charms Holofernes, who invites her to a banquet in his tent. At the banquet, Holofernes becomes drunk and falls asleep. Judith seizes a sword, beheads him, wraps the severed head in a bag, and returns with it to her people. The jubilant Israelites then attack the leaderless Assyrians, who flee in panic. Judith leads the people in a song of celebration and praise, and then all go to Jerusalem to offer praise.

We now turn to the Book of Esther.

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