Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Book of Judith

Go To
Judith Slaying Holofernes
by Artemisia Gentileschi,
oil on canvas, c.1612-13

One of the apocryphal books that is not included in the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament, though it does appear in the Greek Septuagint. In the story, the people of Judea are held up in the mountain city of Bethulia by the Assyrian army led by Holofernes and are being starved to death or possible surrender unless God intervenes. Judith, a widow, becomes the hero by just walking into the Assyrian camp and alluring Holofernes with her charms long enough to behead him and weaken the Assyrian forces so that the Judeans could defeat them.

Structure of the book:

  • Introduction to Nebuchadnezzar and his campaign against Arphaxad (Judith chapter 1)
  • The war against the western peoples begins (Judith chapters 2 and 3)
  • Israel's turn (Judith 4:1-5:4)
  • Achior is introduced (Judith 5:4-6:21)
  • War against Bethulia (Judith chapter 7)
  • Judith is introduced (Judith 8:1-8)
  • Judith's plan to save Bethulia (Judith 8:9-9:14)
  • Judith carries out her plan (Judith chapters 10 to 13)
  • What happens after Holofernes' death (Judith chapters 14 and 15)
  • Song of Judith (Judith 16:1-17)
  • End of Judith's life (Judith 16:18-25)

This book provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew:
    • King Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned here as being the king of Assyria, whereas he was actually the king of Babylon, whose kingdom defeated that of Assyria by Nebuchadnezzar's father Nabopolassar. A Catholic Bible commentary suggests that this is actually an Assyrian king that went by this name who was a contemporary of King Manasseh of Judah, and thus should not be confused with the Babylonian king. Another possible explanation is that the whole story is a Roman à Clef about a situation happening at the time the story was written, using a mashing of characters and locations from the Jews' past to tell it.
    • Holofernes was a general under orders from the Persian king Artaxerxes III, and had nothing to do with Assyria or Babylon (which had long been defeated by that point). Yet another explanation is that it's a entirely fictional story from a post-Maccabean writer who was much more familiar with the (then) recent Greek history than the old Assyrian, Babilonia, and Persian history.
  • Artistic License – History:
    • Besides the anachronism of King Nebuchadnezzar being the king of Assyria when he wasn't, the story also assumes to have taken place after the Jews have returned from their Babylonian exile, which according to history as defined in basic Scripture canon is after the Assyrian Empire and the Babylonian Empire have both been vanquished, thus its possible Roman à Clef status.
    • The war against Bethulia, as described here (with a few defenders outnumbered by a larger army leaded by a Persian general, helped only by a thin mountain pass which prevents the larger army from passing through), resembles more the Battle of Thermopylae than anything that actually happened in Jewish land.
  • Circumcision Angst: Interestingly averted by Achior the Ammonite, who after hearing what Judith did with Holofernes ended up circumcising himself and became a believer.
  • Exact Words/Loophole Abuse: When Holofernes asks Judith if she could give a "trustworthy report" about the Judeans in Bethulia, Judith responds, "I will say nothing false to my lord," with Holofernes not realizing that she meant she will say nothing false to her true Lord, who is God.
  • Fake Defector: Judith, so she could get close to Holofernes and kill him.
  • Fatal Flaw: Holofernes' lust towards Judith is a literal example, as it allows her to kill him.
  • Genre Savvy: Achior the Ammonite warns Holofernes the Jews won't lose the war as long as they don't offend God.
  • A God Am I: Nebuchadnezzar has his army destroy all gods of the countries they have conquered, to the end that no god may be worshiped except the king himself.
  • God Test: In Chapter 8, Judith upbraids the people of Bethulia for putting God to the test by demanding Him to deliver water to the city in five days or else they would surrender to the Assyrians, telling them that God is free to choose whether He will help them or not.
  • Going Native: After being shown Holofernes' head and learning how Judith killed him, Achior the Ammonite decides to convert and is accepted as a Jew.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: The Assyrians can barely focus on what Judith is saying, as she's so beautiful they're too busy gaping and admiring her. One of them muses it would be a good idea to totally wipe the Hebrew people before they can seduce the whole world.
  • Heroic Seductress: Judith, as she uses her charms against Holofernes without sinning against the Lord.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: King Arphaxad's death was by being stabbed with spears by King Nebuchadnezzar after being captured by his forces, as mentioned in Chapter 1. Also the promised fate of Achior the Ammonite by Holofernes should the two of them ever meet again in battle, as stated in Chapter 6, though this was never carried out.
  • Maid and Maiden: Judith was accompanied by her waiting-woman when she went into the Assyrian camp and seduced Holofernes so she could behead him.
  • Off with His Head!: Judith cuts off Holofernes' head with his own sword and then brings it to Bethulia to be displayed at the gate.
  • Sacred Hospitality: The people of Bethulia welcomed Achior the Ammonite when he was cast among them by Holofernes to suffer the same fate as them when he told Holofernes that if the Judeans were obedient to God, then they would be unassailable, and that only by getting them to sin against God would their defenses weaken to the point of being captured.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Being a widow, Judith covers herself with rags and ashes. When she decides to go and kill Holofernes, she bathes and puts a beautiful dress with adornments on. Everyone who see her is immediately struck dumb by her beauty.
  • The Siege: The Assyrian army keeps the Judeans holed up in Bethulia by cutting off their water supply, forcing them to come down and surrender themselves.
  • Slain in Their Sleep: Holofernes by Judith, once he gets really drunk.
  • Villainous Crush: Holofernes has one on Judith, natch.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Nobody knows where exactly Bethulia was in the region of Israel, if it even existed. Some Bible students speculate that Bethulia was another name for Jerusalem, the capital of the region of Judea.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Judith, according to the text.