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Book of Judith
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Book of Judith

The Book of Judith is an inspiring parable, or perhaps the first historical novel according to Jewish authorities, who do not place it among the writings of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible. The Book of Judith is included in the Septuagint, which was translated into Greek for the use of Hellenized Jews in Alexandria. The book is included in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, but relegated to the apocrypha by Protestants.

In Genesis 26:34, Judith is the name of one of the two Hittite wives of Esau. However, Judith is in fact a Hebrew name (יהודית "Praised", Standard Hebrew Yəhudit, Tiberian Hebrew Yəhḏṯ), the feminine form of Judah.

The Book of Judith has a dramatic setting that appealed to Jewish patriotism, and it warned of the urgency of adhering to Mosaic law, generally speaking, but what accounted for its enduring appeal was the drama of its narrative. Rembrandt was not alone among Baroque painters who relished the subject: a daring and beautiful woman in her full maturity, dressed as for the feast with all her spectacular jewels, accompanied by an apprehensive maid, succeeds in decapitating the invading general, Holofernes. The moral is as much about the dangers of a beautiful woman, as had been told of Dalilah and Samson, but here the woman was a culture-hero to the listeners. Compare the later imagery of Salome and the head of John the Baptist.

As a historical tale, its scenes are enlivened and given immediacy by their setting in a definitely characterized (though anachronistic) setting and time and connected, as all historical novels are, with important personages of history— here "Nebuchadnezzar" as a "King of Assyria" who reigns in Nineveh— features it shares with the Book of Esther, the Book of Daniel and its continuations, and the Book of Tobit. Nowhere are the "historical" details introduced in more profusion than in Judith.

With the very first words of the tale, "In the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned over the Assyrians in Nineveh," the narrator sets his story in "Once upon a time," as the compilers of the Jewish Encyclopedia pointed out. The reader might compare the opening of the frame tale of The Arabian Nights.

Even the city called "Bethulia," (properly "Betylua") and the narrow and strategic pass into Judea that it occupies (Judith IV:7ff VIII:21-24) are fictional settings, though they may be hunted for in the topography of Palestine or Israel. The editors of the Jewish Encyclopedia identified Holofernes' encampment with Shechem. The Assyrians, instead of attempting to force the pass, lay siege to the city and cut off its water supply. Judith, the magnificent widow, works deliverance for her city— and thus saves all the kingdom of Judea— by charming the Assyrian captain, Holofernes, then cutting off his head as he sleeps.

The Book of Judith was originally written in Hebrew. Though its oldest versions have been translated into Greek its Hebrew origin is revealed in details of vocabulary and phrasing. The Hebrew language versions, whether identical to the Greek, or in the shorter Hebrew version which contradicts the longer version in many specific details of the story, are medieval.

Another Wikipedia article treats Holofernes, the Assyrian general whose story appears in this book.

A poem Judith in Old English also treats the beheading of Holofernes.

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