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An outline of the Book of Judith

Written By Franklin V on Thursday, October 2, 2014 | 7:17 AM

An outline of the Book of Judith


1. Judith commands, plans, leads. She enters the book bearing her name when the Assyrians have cut off the water supply of Bethulia, the town at the entrance of the narrow corridor leading to Jerusalem (Judith 7:7, 4:7).  The siege, which has lasted 34 days, has made the people fractious, thirsty, and bitter (Judith 7:20, 29). Uzziah and the town’s other magistrates succumb the townspeople’s demands and say they will surrender to the Assyrians in five days—unless the Lord takes pity (Judith 7:29-30).
Upon hearing this, Judith, instead of going to Bethulia’s leaders, summons them to her home (Judith 8:10).  Chiding them for testing God (Judith 8:11-12), she declares she has a plan to save Bethulia, Jerusalem, the Temple, and the people.  Declining to reveal it, she nonetheless proclaims her deed will “go down through all generations of our descendants” (Judith 8:32).  Not only do the leaders listen without interruption, they also acclaim her for her wisdom and—like all men in this tale!—do her bidding (Judith 8:28-29).  She demands that the gates be opened and that she and her maid be let out of the city (Judith 8:33, 10:9).

2. Judith is verbose. Other women wordsmiths in the Biblical text are Lady Wisdom (Proverbs 8-9), Abigail (1 Samuel 25:23-31), Deborah (Judges 5), and the Beloved in Song of Songs.  Judith tops them all with two long statements—first to Uzziah and the other Bethulian magistrates (Judith 8:11-27), and the second to Holofernes and the Assyrian forces crowding around to gaze at her beautiful face (Judith 11:5-19).  She prays thrice—once before her adventure starts (Judith 9), then for strength to behead Holofernes (Judith 13:4-7) and finally in a public song at the national celebrations honoring her deed and the slaughter of the Assyrians (Judith 16:1-17)
3. Judith strategizes. Dressing in a way “to entice the eyes of all the men who might see her” (Judith 10:4), Judith and her maid set forth at night down the valley intending to be captured.  Stopped by an Assyrian border patrol and escorted by 100 men directly to Holofernes (Judith 10:17), she readily spins a tall tale that contains just enough fact to be believed.  Claiming to have direct access to God, she promises to guide Holofernes and his whole army through the hill country to Jerusalem without the loss of life or so much as a dog growling at them (Judith 10:13, 11:19).  Her words delight the general and his attendants (Judith 11:20).  Calling her beautiful and eloquent (Judith 11:23), he welcomes her to the camp and grants her request to travel through the camp at night to bathe at a spring and pray (Judith 12:5-7).  Thus this unprotected and unexpected guest in the Assyrian camp dangles herself alluringly as bait and waits for three days for a chance to strike and save Israel.

4. Judith knows her power over men. Throughout the book, it seems Judith merely smiles and men collapse (Judith 10:7, 14, 19, 23).  Wisely appealing to their senses of sight and smell, she mesmerizes them.  Her weapons of warfare are sensual and material.  She dresses carefully, knowing the success of her ruse and assassination plan depend upon her ability to entice.  For her adventure, she removes her sackcloth and widow’s dress, bathes and richly perfumes herself, fixes her hair, selects a festival dress, and dons a tiara as her battle garb’s finishing touch (Judith 10:3).  She accessorizes her outfit with rings, bracelets, anklets, earrings, other jewelry, and attractive sandals (Judith 10:4).  In the intimate seduction banquet scene set in Holofernes’ tent, Judith simply reclines on lambskins, nibbles her food brought from Bethulia, and flatters the general by telling him “today is the greatest day of my whole life” (Judith 12:15-20).  She presents such a pretty picture that gullible Holofernes, beset with lust, drinks himself into senseless, fatal oblivion (Judith 12:16, 20).

  5. Judith acts for the common good. Judith murders Holofernes, the enemy of Israel, a world-class bully who slaughtered his way through Put, Lud, the lands of the Rassisites and the Ishmaelites, the walled towns along Wadi Abron, and Cilicia; he set fire to the tents of the Midiantites and the fields of Damascus (Judith 2:23-27).  Alone with him late at night in his tent, Judith beheads him with two strokes to the neck from his own famous sword—praying beforehand, of course (Judith 13:4-7)!  She rolls his corpse to the floor, yanks down a jeweled canopy from above his bed, walks out of the tent, and hands his head to her waiting maid who puts it in the food sack (Judith 13:9-10).  Together the women walk through the Assyrian lines as they have on other nights, allegedly to pray and bathe.  This time skipping the prayer-and-bath routine, they head straight up the mountain to Bethulia’s gates. There, Judith starts shouting (Judith 13:14)!  The gates open and she shares her story.  She carefully proclaims in front of all that she has not been defiled by Holofernes because the Lord protected her; her face tricked Holofernes and brought his downfall (Judith 13:16).  Displaying his head, and no doubt unraveling the jeweled canopy, her story is believable.  Uzziah proclaims Judith is blessed “by the Most High God above all other women on earth” (Judith 13:18).  This verse, an echo of Deborah’s vindication of Jael’s similar, hands-on murder of Sisera (Judges 4:21, 5:24-26), is pivotal in Roman Catholic theology, for it also is spoken of Mary (Luke 1:42, 48).

The Book of Judith, believed to be written in the late second century or early first century B.C., recounts the story of God providing a woman, Judith, to deliver the Jewish people in a time of great need and despair. In the story Judith lives in the town of Bethulia. She is a beautiful and wise widow who becomes incensed with her town elders when they “test” God rather than trust Him and they decide to capitulate to King Nebuchadnezzar’s top general, Holofernes, to surrender if God does not save them in five days.

Judith feels that giving God such a deadline is arrogant and inappropriate in the extreme. She tells the elders she has a plan, but must leave the city for it to be successful. She refuses to divulge any details, departs with her slave woman, and enters Holofernes’s camp on the pretext of providing him help to defeat her fellow Jews.

Holofernes is mesmerized by her beauty and takes her into his camp and company. Her voluptuousness and wiles attract him, and lust blinds him to her deceit. Judith manages to get Holofernes alone in his tent when he is excessively drunk. When he passes out, she beheads him, steals back to Bethulia, displays the result of her intrigue, and becomes the town’s heroine.

This Book of Judith was believed to be written first in Hebrew, but the Septuagint scripture crafted in Koine Greek was accepted by the Catholic Church for its Bible. Jerome, a Catholic priest and apologist (c. A.D. 347 – 420), was said to produce a text of Judith in Latin from a secondary Aramaic text.

As with other books in the Apocrypha, there are anachronisms, most notably the claim that Nebuchadnezzar ruled over the Assyrian Empire from Nineveh. He actually ruled over Babylonia. Plus, Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, had destroyed Nineveh years earlier, making this story’s history suspect. However, many view this account as a variation of the Exodus story, where faith in God and reliance on Him for deliverance from fear and protection from harm and evil is what believers must always do. This book is regarded as an appropriate reflection during the Passover celebration.


 1:1-1:6     Arphaxad Fortifies Ecbatana
 1:7-1:12    Nebuchadnezzar Issues Ultimatum
 1:13-1:16   Arphaxad Is Defeated

 2:1-2:13    The Expedition against the West
 2:14-2:28   Campaign of Holofernes

 3:1-3:10    Entreaties for Peace

 4:1-4:7     Judea on the Alert
 4:8-4:15    Prayer and Penance

 5:1-5:4     Council against the Israelites
 5:5-5:24    Achior's Report

 6:1-6:21    Achior Handed over to the Israelites

 7:1-7:18    The Campaign against Bethulia
 7:19-7:32   The Distress of the Israelites

 8:1-8:8     The Character of Judith
 8:9-8:36    Judith and the Elderss

 9:1-9:14    The Prayer of Judith

10:1-10:10   Judith Preparess to Go to Holofernes
10:11-10:19  Judith is Captured
10:20-11:4   Judith Is Brought before Holofernes

11:5-11:23   Judith Explains Her Presence

12:1-12:9    Judith as a Guest of Holofernes
12:10-12:20  Judith Attends Holofernes' Banquet

13:1-13:10   Judith Beheads Holofernes
13:10-13:20  Judith Returns to Bethulia

14:1-14:10   Judith's Counsel
14:11-14:19  Holofernes' Death Is Discovered

15:1-15:7    The Assyrians Flee in Panic
15:8-15:14   The Israelites Celebrate Their Victory

16:1-16:20   Judith Offers Her Hymn of Praise
16:21-16:25  The Renown and Death of Judith

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