Judith of Bethulia not a Stereotypical Jewish Heroine


“Judith the character is usually identified as a representation of or a metaphor for the community of faith. Although her name, widowhood, chastity, beauty, and righteousness suggest the traditional representation of Israel, the text’s association of these traits with an independant woman and with sexuality subverts the metaphoric connection between character and androcentrically determined community… Judith appears at first to be a classic metaphor both for the nation and for all women. Not only does her name mean ‘the Jewess’ but also she ‘is a widow,’ for the Jewish nation is living at the time of grave danger and affliction, like a forlorn widow… While Judith’s widowhood conforms to the traditional representation of of Israel as a woman in mourning and, while both she and Bethulia are draped in sackcloth, Judith’s particular representation– her status, rhetoric, wealth, beauty and even her geneaology–aborts the metaphor. This widow is hardly the forlorn female in need of male protection.”– Amy-Jill Levine, “Sacrifice and Salvation: Otherness and Domestication in the Book of Judith” in Feminist Companion to the Bible 7 (Sheffield University Press, 1995)”Jael is very much a truncated version of Judith. Her role is brief — two verses — because the national heroine here is Deborah, and the military hero Barak. Between them, they divide the functions that Judith performs entirely by herself… Deborah is not morally ambivelent like Judith, because Jael does the dirty work for her… Esther is a domesticated type of the queen of heaven, yet politically — both in the public sphere and in sexual politics — anodyne by comparision to the private citizen Judith. Judith’s particularity is the more striking and definitive because only this biblical heroine is so ambiguous, and therefore resistent to stereotype… Feminists have often complained, and rightly, of the supports to patriarchy and misogyny that have been provided by the Bible. With one hand, it gave us the Eves and Delilahs who demonize women, but with the other it gave us a woman of independant mind, clever, rational, ingenious, resourceful, persuasive, courageous, self-reliant, and indominable.”

— Margarita Stocker, Judith, Sexual Warrior: Women and Power in Western Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press)

“Because of the forty days framework in chs. 7-13 one is inclined to compare the Assyrian threat to the Jews in Judith with Israel’s forty years in the desert after the flight from Egypt. Several details support the association. The situation of the starving Jews of Bethulia, who blame their leaders for not giving in to Holofernesm is similar to that of Israel complaining against Moses and Aaron and hankering after the fleshpots of Egypt. In 7.25 the inhabitants of Bethulia, lacking in faith, say: ‘For now we have no one to help us, God has sold us into their hands to be strewn befor them in thirst and exhaustion’… There is only one episode in the Hebrew Bible where a situation of lack of water is found together with the testing motif. This is the scene in the desert at Massah and Meribah (Exodus 17:1-7; Num 20:2-13; cf. Deut. 33.8-11).”

— J. van Henten, “Judith as Alternative Leader,” in Feminist Companion to the Bible 7 (Sheffield University Press, 1995)


Taken from: http://www.annettereed.com/roshchodesh/symbolism.htm

Daniel and Judith:
Gender and Jewish Identity in Second Temple Judaism




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