Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Judith

Why Read the Apocrypha: The Book of Judith

The Book of Judith is the second book of the Apocrypha in the Septuagint. Last week we talked about how the Apocrypha is a set of books that are considered questionable because their authorship is unknown. We saw how these books were safeguarded for thousands of years by our forefathers and how many early leaders in the Catholic church had varying opinions on the validity of them. Some believed they should be considered scripture, while others vehemently opposed them. 

Lastly, we saw how the Book of Tobit was a story of a righteous Hebrew who followed the laws and the commandments of the Lord and how God honored and blessed him. We saw how the Book of Tobit confirms the prophecies of the bible and shows the faithfulness of God. 

The History of the Book of Judith

The oldest existing version of the book of Judith is in the Septuagint (Wikipedia “Book of Judith“). 

Some of the books of the Apocrypha are included in the Orthodox Tewahedo biblical canon – the bible used by the Ethiopian Jews. The books of Tobit, Judith, Sirach, Baruch, and Esdras, can all be found in their bible (Wikipedia “Beta Israel- Texts“, “Tewahedo Biblical Canon“). 

Thoughts concerning the Book of Judith by Early Church Leaders

Like we saw concerning the Book of Tobit, many leaders of the Catholic Church in the first and second centuries believed that the Apocrypha, including the Book of Judith, was scripture or at least, held in very high regard. A few of those prominent Church leaders were Clement of Rome, Augustine of Hippo, and Hilary bishop of Poitiers.

Clement of Rome

Pope Clement I (35 – 99 A.D.), also known as Clement of Rome, is considered to be the first Apostolic Father of the Church. Apostolic fathers were the chief theologians among the church fathers in the first and second centuries A.D. Clement in a letter to the Corinthians, encourages them with the story of Judith. He showcases her faith and love for her people and her faith in the Lord, alongside the story of Esther (Wikipedia “Pope Clement“, Lutheran “Church Writings“). 

Chapter 55. Examples of Such Love

“The blessed Judith, when her city was besieged, asked of the elders permission to go forth into the camp of the strangers; and, exposing herself to danger, she went out for the love which she bare to her country and people then besieged; and the Lord delivered Holofernes into the hands of a woman. Judith 8:30 Esther also, being perfect in faith, exposed herself to no less danger, in order to deliver the twelve tribes of Israel from impending destruction. For with fasting and humiliation she entreated the everlasting God, who sees all things; and He, perceiving the humility of her spirit, delivered the people for whose sake she had encountered peril.”

– New Advent “Letter to Corinthians

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430 A.D. ) was a theologian in North Africa and is considered an important Church Father of the first century A.D. (Wikipedia “Augustine” ).

Augustine considered the Apocryphal books, including the book of Judith, to be sacred scripture alongside the biblical canon of the Old Testament. 

In his book “On Christian Doctrine”, Book II, chapter 8, A.D. 397, Augustine discusses the books of the bible. 

“There are other books which seem to follow no regular order, and are connected neither with the order of the preceding book nor with one another, such as Job, and Tobias, and Esther, and Judith, and the Two books of Maccabees, and the two of Ezra, which last look more like a sequel to the continuous regular history which terminates with the books of Kings and Chronicles.”

– Bible Researcher “Augustine”

We see from this quote that Augustine makes no distinction between the Apocrypha and the old testament books, but instead sees them as connected and finishing the story where the previous books left off. 

Hilary of Poitiers

Hilary bishop of Poitiers in Gaul (310 – 367 A.D.) writes a list of the Old Testament canon. He includes the original 22 books of the Old Testament. He then states that some include the books of Tobit and Judith as part of the Old Testament canon (Bible Researcher “Hilary“). 

As we see, many leaders of the early Church considered the books of the Apocrypha to be included in the Old Testament canon, and some even believed them to be sacred scripture. 

The Book of Judith was accepted by the Catholic Church councils of Rome (382), the Council of Hippo (392), the Council of Carthage (397), the Council of Florence (1442), and the Council of Trent (1546). During these times, the Catholic church would reaffirm all their beliefs, and part of that was reaffirming the Book of Judith’s place in the Bible (Wikipedia “Book of Judith“). 

Introduction to The Book of Judith

A striking scene from the Book Of Judith has been shown in many paintings from the Renaissance and Baroque periods of art history. Many of the paintings show a young European woman- usually inappropriately dressed, beheading the villain of our story. If you judge the book based on the many paintings based on it, you would never want to read the book. The book of Judith tells a story of a righteous Hebrew woman who believes that God will deliver her people who were currently under siege by the king of the Assyrians. She is not a young temptress but a righteous God-fearing woman. 

The story starts in the twelfth year of the reign of Nabuchodonosor or Nebuchadnezzar II when he starts to build up his capital city of Nineveh. He is about to go to war against Arphaxad or Cyaxares, king of the Medes. Nabuchodonosor sends ambassadors to the kings of Moab, Ammon, Judea, and Egypt to help him win the war. But the kings of these regions disregarded the words of the ambassadors because they didn’t fear Nabuchondonsor. Who in turn is very angry and swears to kill all the inhabitants of these regions once he wins the war against Arphaxad, king of the Medes. Nabuchodonosor overpowers Arphaxad and rules over his territory. He then returns to Nineveh and feasts with his army for 120 days. 

The Assyrian army Seeks Revenge on Surrounding Nations

A year later, in the 18th year of Nabuchondonsor’s reign, he decides to avenge himself on all the nations who didn’t help him win the war against Arphaxad. The king sends the chief captain of his army, Holofernes, and a large army to destroy the inhabitants of these nations. The nations would be given the choice to either surrender or to be taken as captives. 

Holofernes’ army became innumerable as many other nations joined them. They started to destroy the inhabitants of the regions of Moab, Ammon, and Egypt. 

The surrounding nations started to fear Nabuchondonsor and his army and they surrendered to him. They greeted the armies with dancing and singing and agreed to worship Nabuchodonosor as the only god.

The Children of Israel Turn to the Lord for help

The children of Israel heard of Holofernes, and how he destroyed the surrounding nations and destroyed their temples. They were greatly afraid since they had just returned from their captivity. They gathered as much food as they could and protected the entrance to Judea. 

Judith 4: 9 – 15 

9 Then every man of Israel cried to God with great fervency, and with great vehemency did they humble their souls: 10 Both they, and their wives and their children, and their cattle, and every stranger and hireling, and their servants bought with money, put sackcloth upon their loins. 11 Thus every man and woman, and the little children, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, fell before the temple, and cast ashes upon their heads, and spread out their sackcloth before the face of the Lord: also they put sackcloth about the altar, 12 And cried to the God of Israel all with one consent earnestly, that he would not give their children for a prey, and their wives for a spoil, and the cities of their inheritance to destruction, and the sanctuary to profanation and reproach, and for the nations to rejoice at.

13 So God heard their prayers, and looked upon their affliction: for the people fasted many days in all Judea and Jerusalem before the sanctuary of the Lord Almighty. 14 And Joacim the high priest, and all the priests that stood before the Lord, and they which ministered unto the Lord, had their loins girt with sackcloth, and offered the daily burnt offerings, with the vows and free gifts of the people, 15 And had ashes on their mitres, and cried unto the Lord with all their power, that he would look upon all the house of Israel graciously.”

Holofernes, the chief captain of the army of the Assyrians, was angered to hear that the children of Israel were preparing for war. He called the princes of Moab, the captains of Ammon, and the governors of the sea coast together so that they could tell him who the children of Israel were. Achior, the captain of all the sons of Ammon tells Holofernes the story of the children of Israel. He told the captain how the Hebrews came from the nation of the Chaldeans and left to live in Mesopotamia to worship the Lord. How they went into Egypt and were burdened with hard labor and how God delivered them by drying up the Red sea. He described how the Hebrews came to possess the land of Cannan. 

Achior ended by saying that if the Hebrews were following the commands of the Lord and He would defend them, but if they weren’t, enemy nations could overthrow them.

Judith 5: 17 – 21

17 And whilst they sinned not before their God, they prospered, because the God that hateth iniquity was with them. 18 But when they departed from the way which he appointed them, they were destroyed in many battles very sore, and were led captives into a land that was not theirs, and the temple of their God was cast to the ground, and their cities were taken by the enemies. 19 But now are they returned to their God, and are come up from the places where they were scattered, and have possessed Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and are seated in the hill country, for it was desolate.

20 Now therefore, my lord and governor, if there be any error against this people, and they sin against their God, let us consider that this shall be their ruin, and let us go up, and we shall overcome them. 21 But if there be no iniquity in their nation, let my lord now pass by, lest their Lord defend them, and their God be for them, and we become a reproach before all the world.”

Achior warned Holofernes against attacking the Hebrews, saying they would lose against the God of the Hebrews.

However, Holofernes vehemently refused and vowed that once he returned from utterly destroying the Hebrews that Achior would be next to die. So Achior was sent to the city of Bethulia in Israel and into the hands of the Hebrews. 

Achior told the elders of Israel what Holofernes was planning to do, and they prayed to the Lord for help and deliverance. 

As Holofernes marched his army closer to the Hebrews, the children of Esau came and suggested that he should cut off the Hebrews’ water supply, which would force them to surrender. The plan was carried out and they surrounded the city of Bethulia in Israel. After 34 days the water supply and reserves were completely emptied, and the Hebrews started to lose strength and hope that they would be delivered. The elders of the Hebrews pleaded with the people to wait five more days to see if the Lord would deliver them, otherwise, they would surrender the city to the Assyrians. 

Judith hears of the decree of the city elders. 

Judith 8: 4 – 8

4 So Judith was a widow in her house three years and four months. 5 And she made her tent upon the top of her house, and put sackcloth upon her loins and ware her widow’s apparel. 6 And she fasted all the days of her widowhood, save the eves of the sabbaths, and the sabbaths, and the eves of the new moons, and the new moons and the feasts and solemn days of the house of Israel. 7 She was also of a goodly countenance, and very beautiful to behold: and her husband Manasses had left her gold, and silver, and menservants and maidservants, and cattle, and lands; and she remained upon them. 8 And there was none that gave her an ill word; for she feared God greatly.”

Judith was a great woman in the city and she called for the elders to come to her house. She told them they were tempting God by making their decree to surrender the city if God didn’t help them. 

Judith 8:14 – 15

14 For ye cannot find the depth of the heart of man, neither can ye perceive the things that he thinketh: then how can ye search out God, that hath made all these things, and know his mind, or comprehend his purpose? Nay, my brethren, provoke not the Lord our God to anger. 15 For if he will not help us within these five days, he hath power to defend us when he will, even every day, or to destroy us before our enemies. 16 Do not bind the counsels of the Lord our God: for God is not as a man, that he may be threatened; neither is he as the son of man, that he should be wavering. 17 Therefore let us wait for salvation of him, and call upon him to help us, and he will hear our voice, if it please him.”

Judith tells the elders that the Hebrews at that moment were not serving any other gods, which would allow them to be defeated by their enemies. She tells them the trouble they are facing is a test of the Lord. She then reveals to the elders that she will help to deliver the city within the five days they had promised to the people.

Judith Prays to the Lord that he would Defeat the Assyrian army Through her.

Judith 9: 9 – 11

9 Behold their pride, and send thy wrath upon their heads: give into mine hand, which am a widow, the power that I have conceived. 10 Smite by the deceit of my lips the servant with the prince, and the prince with the servant: break down their stateliness by the hand of a woman. 11 For thy power standeth not in multitude nor thy might in strong men: for thou art a God of the afflicted, an helper of the oppressed, an upholder of the weak, a protector of the forlorn, a saviour of them that are without hope.”

After she prays, Judith removes her widow’s garments and puts on garments of gladness. She braids her hair and anoints her head with oil and her body with precious ointment. Judith and her handmaid gather gifts and they walk to the camp of Holofernes.

 She tells the guards that she is fleeing from the Hebrews and that she will show Holofernes a way to attack the Hebrews without costing the life of his men. They were greatly in awe at her beauty and sent a hundred guards to accompany her to Holofernes’ tent. 

Judith convinces Holofernes that the Hebrews were so distraught about their situation that they were about to sin before the Lord, which would allow them to be captured in war. She said that she would pray to God to know when the Hebrews sinned so that Holofernes could come and attack them. But her words were a lie, and because he believed them would aid his downfall later. 

Judith was given the honored position next to Holofernes and was allowed to walk through the camp undisturbed so that she could pray and keep watch for when the Assyrians could attack the Hebrews. 

The Captain of the Assyrian army is Defeated

On the fourth day of Judith being in their camp, Holofernes hosts a feast for his personal servants and invites Judith to come. Holofernes took great delight at having her there with him, and he drank more wine at one time than he ever did in his whole life. After the feast, all the servants left Judith and Holofernes alone. He laid in a drunken stupor and Judith used this time as the opportunity to kill Holofernes. She grabbed his sword and decapitated him. She and her maid, took his head and put it in a bag and walked out of the camp under the guise that she was going to pray, as was her habit. But this time, she walked all the way to the city of Bethulia in Israel to go speak to the city elders. 

Judith 13: 14 – 16

14 Then she said to them with a loud voice, Praise, praise God, praise God, I say, for he hath not taken away his mercy from the house of Israel, but hath destroyed our enemies by mine hands this night. 15 So she took the head out of the bag, and shewed it, and said unto them, behold the head of Holofernes, the chief captain of the army of Assur, and behold the canopy, wherein he did lie in his drunkenness; and the Lord hath smitten him by the hand of a woman. 16 As the Lord liveth, who hath kept me in my way that I went, my countenance hath deceived him to his destruction, and yet hath he not committed sin with me, to defile and shame me.” 

Judith 13: 17 – 20

17 Then all the people were wonderfully astonished, and bowed themselves and worshipped God, and said with one accord, Blessed be thou, O our God, which hast this day brought to nought the enemies of thy people. 18 Then said Ozias unto her, O daughter, blessed art thou of the most high God above all the women upon the earth; and blessed be the Lord God, which hath created the heavens and the earth, which hath directed thee to the cutting off of the head of the chief of our enemies.

19 For this thy confidence shall not depart from the heart of men, which remember the power of God for ever. 20 And God turn these things to thee for a perpetual praise, to visit thee in good things because thou hast not spared thy life for the affliction of our nation, but hast revenged our ruin, walking a straight way before our God. And all the people said; So be it, so be it.”

The Hebrews hung the head of Holofernes on the city walls and went to attack the Assyrian army. The Assyrians went to the tent of Holofernes to arouse him for war but instead saw his headless body on the ground. They cried a great cry and fear arose inside them. They all fled and were chased and attacked by the Hebrews who prevailed over them. The Hebrews gathered the spoils of the Assyrian camps and celebrated their victory. 

Book of the Judith Old Books
Photo by Natalia Y on Unsplash

The book of Judith ends with a song of celebration for the victory the Lord gave to his people. Judith remained a widow in her husband’s house, growing in honor. Before she died she set her maid free and distributed all her possessions to the relatives of her late husband. She died at the age of 105 and there wasn’t a situation that terrified the children of Israel while Judith lived and for a long time after her death. 

The Book of Judith has long been held in high regard by the Hebrews and by the early church. It is the story of faith and uncertainty. It tells of spying and espionage that turns into a great day of victory, joy, and celebration. The stories in the Apocrypha tell our history, our victories, and our faith. They remind us of the commandments of the Lord, and how he saves and delivers us. They are stories that should be read and remembered. Until next time, Shalom.

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