In Praise of Judith a Heroine of Israel

Judith of Bethulia [interpret 2] 


 Damien F. Mackey


 Judith 16:23-25

Her fame continued to spread, and she lived in the house her husband had left her. Before she died, Judith divided her property among her husband’s and her own close relatives and set her slave woman free. When she died in Bethulia at the age of 105, she was buried beside her husband, and the people of Israel mourned her death for seven days. As long as Judith lived, and for many years after her death, no one dared to threaten the people of Israel.



Since Judith had already become immensely famous in the eyes of the people of Israel in her youth, it is intriguing to read in Judith 16:23 that “her fame continued to spread”.

Even before her heroic action in the camp of the Assyrians, we are told of this goodly woman that (Judith 8:7-8):


[Judith] lived among all her possessions without anyone finding a word to say against her, so devoutly did she fear God.


Moreover she had, according to the elder, Uzziah, shown wisdom even from her childhood (vv. 28-29):


Uzziah replied, ‘Everything you have just said comes from an honest heart and no one will contradict a word of it. Not that today is the first time your wisdom has been displayed; from your earliest years all the people have known how shrewd you are and of how sound a heart’.


Aside from the recognition of her renowned beauty, by


  • the author (Judith 8:7; 10:4);
  • the elders of Bethulia (10:7);
  • the Assyrian unit and soldiery (10:14, 19);
  • Holofernes and his staff (10:23; 11:21, 23; 12:13, 16, 20), we learn that
  • even the coarse Assyrians were impressed by her wisdom and eloquence (11:21, 23).


And Uzziah, after Judith’s triumph over Holofernes, proclaimed magnificently in her honour (Judith 13:18-20):


… ‘May you be blessed, my daughter, by God Most High, beyond all women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, Creator of heaven and earth, who guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies!


The trust which you have shown will not pass from human hearts, as they commemorate the power of God for evermore.


God grant you may be always held in honour and rewarded with blessings, since you did not consider your own life when our nation was brought to its knees, but warded off our ruin, walking in the right path before our God’. And the people all said, ‘Amen! Amen!’


And the stunned Achior, upon seeing the severed head of Holofernes, burst out with this exclamation of praise (Judith 14:7):


‘May you be blessed in all the tents of Judah and in every nation; those who hear your name will be seized with dread!’


Later, Joakim the high priest and the entire Council of Elders of Israel, who were in Jerusalem, came to see Judith and to congratulate her (Judith 15:9-10).


On coming to her house, they blessed her with one accord, saying: ‘You are the glory of Jerusalem! You are the great pride of Israel! You are the highest honour of our race!


By doing all this with your own hand you have deserved well of Israel, and God has approved what you have done. May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty in all the days to come!’ And the people all said, ‘Amen!’


‘Blessed by God Most High, beyond all women on earth’.

‘The glory of Jerusalem,

the great pride of Israel,

the highest honour of [her] race!’


What more could possibly be said!


From whence came this incredible flow of wisdom?


We may tend to recall the Judith of literature as being both beautiful and courageous – and she could certainly be most forthright as well, when occasion demanded it, somewhat like Joan of Arc (who was supposedly referred to, in her time, as ‘a second Judith’).


Yet, there is far more to it: mysticism.


  1. Craven (Artistry and Faith in the Book of Judith)’, following J. Dancy’s view (Shorter Books of the Apocrypha), that the theology presented in Judith’s words to the Bethulian town officials rivals the theology of the Book of Job, will go on to make this interesting comment (pp. 88-89, n. 45.):


Judith plays out her whole story with the kind of faith described in the Prologue of Job (esp. 1:21 and 2:9). Her faith is like that of Job after his experience of God in the whirlwind (cf. 42:1-6), yet in the story she has no special theophanic experience. We can only imagine what happened on her housetop where she was habitually a woman of regular prayer.

[End of quote]


Although the women’s movement is recent, it has already provided some new insights and radically different perspectives on Judith. According to P. Montley (as referred to by C. Moore, The Anchor Bible. Judith, pp. 65):


… Judith is the archetypal androgyne. She is more than the Warrior Woman and the femme fatale, a combination of the soldier and the seductress …

Just as the brilliance of a cut diamond is the result of many different facets, so the striking appeal of the book of Judith results from its many facets. …


  1. Stocker will, in her comprehensive treatment of the Judith character and her actions (Judith Sexual Warrior, pp. 13-15), compare the heroine to, amongst others, the Old Testament’s Jael – a common comparison given that the woman, Jael, had driven a tent peg through the temple of Sisera, an enemy of Israel (Judges 4:17-22) – Joan of Arc, and Charlotte Corday, who had, during the French Revolution, slain the likewise unsuspecting Marat. “If viewed negatively – from an irreligious perspective, for instance”, Stocker will go onto write, “Judith’s isolation, chastity, widowhood, childlessness, and murderousness would epitomize all that is morbid, nihilistic and abortive”.

Hardly the type of character to have been accorded ‘increasing fame’ amongst her people!


Craven again, with reference to J. Ruskin (‘Mornings in Florence’, p. 335), writes (p. 95): “Judith, the slayer of Holofernes; Jael, the slayer of Sisera; and Tomyris, the slayer of Cyrus are counted in art as the female “types” who prefigure the Virgin Mary’s triumph over Satan”.


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