My fascination with the figure of Judith began with the discovery of Caravaggio’s image, “Judith Slaying Holofernes” The drama of a man and a woman … Holofernes and his face, which confusion and pain interwined. The hand clutching at the sheet. And Judith … do I see the fear on her face? Disgust? Determination?
Judith is a heroine, a militant; her silhouette is a reflection of the myth and archetype of the hero, but the female. Judith is portrayed as the daughter of Merari and the widow of Manasses. The narrator includes a genealogy of sixteen generations, one of the longest in the Hebrew Bible.
The genealogy or the list of the ancestors is to emphasize the importance of the described character. Great biblical heroes like Abraham, the kings, and many leaders have their own genealogies, but genealogies of women are quite rare. The genealogy makes Judith a character who can face with the great heroes of the Bible.
The name Judith comes from the Hebrew term yehûdit, meaning “woman from Judea”. This is not a popular biblical name but also not that infrequent. Esau’wife, the daughter of Beeri Hetty was also called Judith. The possibility that Judith is a symbolic or metaphorical name of the nation is confirmed by other names in her book, such as the name of the city Betulia, unknown to the researchers, although the text specifies its location, placing it north of Jerusalem. Betulia could be a pseudonym of the city Betel or the portrayal of the Jewish people. Probably Beton’s homonym comes from the Hebrew word betulah, meaning a virgin, a maiden.
Holofernes, the commander of Nebuchadnezzar’s army, intends to conquer Israel. He has successfully occupied other countries, but his offensive encounters resistance of a small Jewish town called Betulia. He is ready to destroy it, besieges it. The encampment is heavy, Betulia is in a difficult situation and finally falls into dispair. When the city dwellers and elders are ready to surrender, a young widow, Judith appears. She challenges them all in the name of the Lord and devises a plan to defeat the enemy. Her great beauty and cleverness allow her to enter Holofernes’s camp; Having won the commander’s trust, she kills him by cutting his head off. This way, Judith makes the enemy army escape and she contributes to the victory of Betulia. Its inhabitants call her a great heroine and thank God.
According to our current understanding of history, the book, like its subject and heroine, is not historical. It is referred to as a story, a folk tale, exemplifying the deeds of the pious widow, who makes a bold decision to overcome the enemy, supported in this resolution by her religious faith. Some argue that this is the kind of folklore epic story that combines two stories, of a faithful wife and of a brave woman. But the Book of Judith wants to be a historical text, given that, apart from completely unknown though not unlikely data, it also contains well-known facts about ethnic groups, people, places, and names. On the other hand, its subject is perfectly credible and probable. There is no miraculous very fragile and feminine appearance doesn’t stop her from killing brutally, with her own hands the commander of a mighty army.
Judith is conceived and treated as a paradoxical figure: she is a childless widow, but it is she that gives her people material life, defeating the enemy and spiritual life, restoring him faith and hope in God. Beautiful and desirable, and lives like a lady. She spends a lot, and spends most of her life on fasting. In appearance, fragile and very feminine, and can with her own hands brutally kill the commander of a powerful army.
Killing a man. Variety of motives. Jealousy, power, wealth, love. The murder is patriotic act here. Killing the enemy … the state of higher necessity?
In the light of the general principles of the biblical and Christian morality, Judith’s deeds raise some doubts in many points. Firstly, she cheated on Holofernes, promising him help in getting Betulia. She unambiguously courted the enemy and when left with him alone she killed him in his sleep. The end justifies the means? Is the author of the Bible approving? Is God’s help for believers to rely on His support in a war? ”
Is God’s help for believers to rely on their support in the war? This is what happens in the Old Testament, when God stands on the weak side, also armed. For such a God prays Judith, asking for help for his deceit and blow: You are a God who cares for the humble and helps the oppressed. You give support and protection to people who are weak and helpless; you save those who have lost hope. (Judith 9,11)
The inmates needed help, but is this right way? It is difficult to accept that an author who knew the earlier biblical tradition (referring to the Law, prophets and psalms) did not see this problem. In addition, the act of violence on the part of women was not at all normal in the culture of the time. Plutarch collected twenty-eight examples of heroic Greek women, but none of them killed the enemy with a sword or spear. We know of a priestess of Athena, who refused to curse the traitor, that God has guided men along the path of moral progress.
The explanation can be found in the fragments of the Book of Judith, which underline the complete uniqueness of the whole situation. King Nebuchadnezzar wanted power, wanted to rule as God (Judith 2: 1). His army was exceptionally large and powerful, took over and ruined neighboring countries. Holofernes’ intention was to destroy Israel.
Therefore, Judith says, If our town is taken by the enemy, the entire region of Judah will then fall, and our Temple in Jerusalem will be looted (Judith 8,21)
It should be assumed that the author was aware that Judith’s methods were morally questionable. He did not say it directly, but indirectly justified it, showing that there was no other way out. However, Judith, like many Biblical heroes, even David, remains an ambiguous figure despite his faith, courage and dedication.
Did Judith God say to the impassioned invaders “enough!”? But the Lord Almighty tricked them;
he used a woman to stop them. (Judith 16,6)
The question is, how difficult it is for human beings to avoid evil? Is active opposition morally right in the face of misery and suffering as a consequence of abandonment and surrender? And the Gospel statement “do not resist the evil” (Mt 5:39)? This is a bad translation, which would sound better “do not repent of evil”. Invasion and murders should not be matched by raids and murders, but stopping enemies at the border is a fair thing.