Women Heros of the Hebrew Scriptures – Judith

Women Heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures – Judith

St Paul’s Canterbury , 22nd September 2013, Pentecost 18

Fifth in a Series of Brief Homilies:

Women Heroes of the Hebrew Scriptures

The Rt. Rev’d John Bayton, AM


The Book of Judith is a Deutero-canonical Book, not included in the original canon of Scripture, neither is it mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is an apocryphal Book, written in about 1st-2nd century BC.  Judith is a mythical character.

As we read the Book we are confronted with many contradictions.  Does that matter?       Not at all, because  we are not dealing with history. This is sacred narrative.

“Judith” is the feminine form of ‘Judah’, the essence of Judaism.  She is the  beautiful widow of Manasseh who  left her very wealthy.  Her country was in the grip of severe drought and the leaders had decided to surrender to the Assyrians.  Judith is desolated by their decision, divests herself of all her finery  and dresses herself in sackcloth and ashes.

In due course  she decides to take it upon herself to free her people from oppression.  She bathes herself, puts on her best robes and jewels, bracelets, rings, and, upset with her people for refusing to believe that God could release them from the oppression of the Assyrian King Nebuchadnezzar and the General of his army – Holofernes.  She sets out to seduce the General.  His soldiers challenge her and she tells them she had defected and wishes Holofernes to destroy Jerusalem.

With a maid-servant she goes to the camp of Holofernes.  She asks  permission to bathe, wash,  eat her kosher food  and pray. Each night for a week she carries a bag with ritually pure food (kosher) for the General. They  trust her and  assist her each night in her rituals.  In due course she meets Holofernes.  He is exhausted after battle.  Judith tells him that she has a plan to hand Jerusalem over to him.  She lies but he believes her.  She says, “God has sent me to do things with you at which the world will be astonished.  “Holofernes invites her to eat and drink with him, but she tells him that she must eat and drink only Kosher food.

She dresses herself, puts on her best make-up and jewels and flatters him into believing that she would make love to him.  He invites her to a  banquet and desires to sleep with her.    He gets blind drunk.  She has his servants take him to her tent.  He, like Sisera about whom we heard last week  falls asleep.  She takes his sword and with two blows decapitates him and puts his head in her bag.

Then according to their nightly custom Judith and her maid leave his tent.  This time Judith has the head of Holofernes in her bag.  The guards wish her a good-night and she returns to her own village and presents the head of Holofernes to Uzziah  King of Judah who  blesses Judith and she returns home.

Without their leader the Assyrians are in disarray.  They flee and the Israelite army  pursues them and do them much harm

So, what kind of woman was Judith?    (1)  A great strategist.  (2)  A powerful woman in the face of powerful men. (3)  A conniver, liar and murderer.  And like Jael about whom we spoke last week, she was savior of her people.  Is that what the story of Judith is about?  I don’t think so; for it is a narrative of a supposed history written in the method of Myth.   The purpose?  To convince us that in the Long Run, God is supreme.  Powerless women prevail over powerful men.  The Will of God for his people cannot be thwarted.  God’s Will for you and for me is unalterable.  We learn of it as we  pray fervently for those things over which we have no control.  This is the reason for prayers of Intercession, the message of Jesus in the Gospel for today.