Judith was a wife and widow of Manasseh. She slew Nebuchadnezzar's general Holofernes when Holofernes sought to destroy Israel.
Widowhood and faith
Judith was a daughter of Merari. After her husband's death, Judith lived as a widow. She wore the clothing of a widow, she fasted, and she was faithful to God. She was also beautiful.
Judith was living as a widow in her home for three years and four months. She set up a tent for herself on the roof of her house, put sackcloth about her waist, and wore widow’s clothing. She fasted all the days of her widowhood, except sabbath eves and sabbaths, new moon eves and new moons, feastdays and holidays of the house of Israel. She was beautiful in appearance and very lovely to behold. Her husband, Manasseh, had left her gold and silver, male and female servants, livestock and fields, which she was maintaining. No one had a bad word to say about her, for she feared God greatly.— Judith 8:4–8:8 (NABRE)
Nebuchadnezzar's general Holofernes sought to conquer and destroy Israel. When the people of Israel heard this, they humbled themselves and prayed to God, and God heard them (Judith 4:13 (NABRE)).
Holofernes besieged Bethulia. Thirst drove the city's people to demand that its leaders surrender the city to Holofernes and the Assyrians. One of the city's Uzziah conceded and promised to surrender God does not save them within five days.
Judith lived in the city and heard what Uzziah said. She had her maid summon the three elders of the city (Uzziah, Chabris, and Charmis). The elders went to Judith, and she denounced their promise to surrender the city to Holofernes. She stated that it was wrong for them to test God by setting a deadline upon God. She told to pray to God and wait for salvation, since the Israelites had been faithful in recent generations. She also told them that God would hold them accountable for the fall Judea and the Temple if they surrender, since their surrender would mean the conquest and destruction of Judea and the Temple.
Listen to me, you rulers of the people of Bethulia. What you said to the people today is not right. You pronounced this oath, made between God and yourselves, and promised to hand over the city to our enemies unless within a certain time the Lord comes to our aid. Who are you to put God to the test today, setting yourselves in the place of God in human affairs? And now it is the Lord Almighty you are putting to the test, but you will never understand anything! You cannot plumb the depths of the human heart or grasp the workings of the human mind; how then can you fathom God, who has made all these things, or discern his mind, or understand his plan?
No, my brothers, do not anger the Lord our God. For if he does not plan to come to our aid within the five days, he has it equally within his power to protect us at such time as he pleases, or to destroy us in the sight of our enemies. Do not impose conditions on the plans of the Lord our God. God is not like a human being to be moved by threats, nor like a mortal to be cajoled.
So while we wait for the salvation that comes from him, let us call upon him to help us, and he will hear our cry if it pleases him. For there has not risen among us in recent generations, nor does there exist today, any tribe, or clan, or district, or city of ours that worships gods made by hands, as happened in former days. It was for such conduct that our ancestors were handed over to the sword and to pillage, and fell with great destruction before our enemies. But since we acknowledge no other god but the Lord, we hope that he will not disdain us or any of our people. If we are taken, then all Judea will fall, our sanctuary will be plundered, and God will demand an account from us for their profanation. For the slaughter of our kindred, for the taking of exiles from the land, and for the devastation of our inheritance, he will hold us responsible among the nations. Wherever we are enslaved, we will be a scandal and a reproach in the eyes of our masters. Our servitude will not work to our advantage, but the Lord our God will turn it to disgrace.— Judith 8:11–8:23 (NABRE)
Judith told them to set an example for their people. She reminded them of the stakes: the lives of their people and the safety of the Temple. She told them to thank God, since God was testing them, as God had done to their ancestors.
Therefore, my brothers, let us set an example for our kindred. Their lives depend on us, and the defense of the sanctuary, the temple, and the altar rests with us. Besides all this, let us give thanks to the Lord our God for putting us to the test as he did our ancestors. Recall how he dealt with Abraham, and how he tested Isaac, and all that happened to Jacob in Syrian Mesopotamia while he was tending the flocks of Laban, his mother’s brother. He has not tested us with fire, as he did them, to try their hearts, nor is he taking vengeance on us. But the Lord chastises those who are close to him in order to admonish them.— Judith 8:24–8:27 (NABRE)
Uzziah praised Judith's wisdom and virtue, but he refused to back out of his promise to the people of the city. Instead, he asked Judith to pray for rain.
Judith then announced that she was taking action and that God would save Israel through her.
Listen to me! I will perform a deed that will go down from generation to generation among our descendants. Stand at the city gate tonight to let me pass through with my maid; and within the days you have specified before you will surrender the city to our enemies, the Lord will deliver Israel by my hand. You must not inquire into the affair, for I will not tell you what I am doing until it has been accomplished.— Judith 8:32–8:34 (NABRE)
Uzziah and the other elders wished her well and asked God to help her in her mission.
Judith prostrated, placed ashes upon her head, displayed her sackcloth, and prayed to God. She recounted Dinah's defilement at the hands of foreigners and the vengeance God wrecked upon the violators through her ancestor Simeon, and she acknowledged God's plan.
Lord, God of my father Simeon, into whose hand you put a sword to take revenge upon the foreigners who had defiled a virgin by violating her, shaming her by uncovering her thighs, and dishonoring her by polluting her womb. You said,This shall not be done!Yet they did it. Therefore you handed over their rulers to slaughter; and you handed over to bloodshed the bed in which they lay deceived, the same bed that had felt the shame of their own deceiving. You struck down the slaves together with their masters, and the masters upon their thrones. Their wives you handed over to plunder, and their daughters to captivity, and all the spoils you divided among your favored children, who burned with zeal for you and in their abhorrence of the defilement of their blood called on you for help. O God, my God, hear me also, a widow.
It is you who were the author of those events and of what preceded and followed them. The present and the future you have also planned. Whatever you devise comes into being. The things you decide come forward and say,Here we are!All your ways are in readiness, and your judgment is made with foreknowledge.— Judith 9:2–9:6 (NABRE)
She then told God about the arrogant Assyrians and the Assyrians' ignorance of God. She praised God and asked God to crush the Assyrians through her.
Here are the Assyrians, a vast force, priding themselves on horse and chariot, boasting of the power of their infantry, trusting in shield and spear, bow and sling. They do not know that you are the Lord who crushes wars; Lord is your name. Shatter their strength in your might, and crush their force in your wrath. For they have resolved to profane your sanctuary, to defile the tent where your glorious name resides, and to break off the horns of your altar with the sword. See their pride, and send forth your fury upon their heads. Give me, a widow, a strong hand to execute my plan. By the deceit of my lips, strike down slave together with ruler, and ruler together with attendant. Crush their arrogance by the hand of a female.
Your strength is not in numbers, nor does your might depend upon the powerful. You are God of the lowly, helper of those of little account, supporter of the weak, protector of those in despair, savior of those without hope.
Please, please, God of my father, God of the heritage of Israel, Master of heaven and earth, Creator of the waters, King of all you have created, hear my prayer! Let my deceitful words wound and bruise those who have planned dire things against your covenant, your holy temple, Mount Zion, and the house your children possess. Make every nation and every tribe know clearly that you are God, the God of all power and might, and that there is no other who shields the people of Israel but you alone.— Judith 9:7–9:14 (NABRE)
Judith meets with Holofernes
After she finished praying, she and her maid went into her house, which she only used on sabbaths and feast days. She replaced her widow clothing with festival clothing, washed herself, anointed herself with ointment, arranged her hair, and put on jewelry and a diadem. Judith gave her maid wine, oil, and food to carry.
They left the house, and at the city gates, Uzziah and the elders recognized her beauty and asked God to help her in her plan. Judith bowed to God an asked the elders to order the gates to be opened. The gates were opened, and Judith and her maid went out.
An Assyrian patrol took them into custody and asked her about her ethnicity and intentions. She lied; she claimed to be a Hebrew who was fleeing from the supposedly doomed city and who sought to deliver information to Holofernes that would supposedly help him conquest Israel without a single battle. The Assyrians believed the lie, and they escorted her to Holofernes.
Holofernes went out of his tent, and he and his men marveled at Judith's beauty. She bowed and payed feinted homage to Holofernes. Holofernes told her that she was safe and asked her to recount why she was here. Judith flattered Holofernes with praise. She claimed that the Israelites were sinning and that Holofernes was destined to win because of it. She claimed to be in contact with God. She claimed that if she were allowed to pray to God each night, God would tell her when Israel would be delivered to the Assyrians.
Holofernes and his attendants believed flattery and lies. Holofernes ordered a meal to be set up for her, but Judith declined, stating she cannot eat their food and that she had brought her own food. For three nights, Judith went out to bath and then pray. She prayed for God to help the Israelites.
Judith slays Holofernes
On the fourth day, Holofernes had a banquet prepared for the servants of the camp; officers were not invited to it. Holofernes ordered his eunuch Bagoas to persuade Judith to come to the banquet.
Go and persuade the Hebrew woman in your care to come and to eat and drink with us. It would bring shame on us to be with such a woman without enjoying her. If we do not seduce her, she will laugh at us.— Judith 12:11–12:12 (NABRE)
Bagoas asked Judith to come to the banquet, and Judith agreed. Holofernes sought to seduce Judith. They ate and drank, with Judith eating the food and drinking the wine that her maid brought and prepared. Holofernes drank too much and became drunk.
Then Judith came in and reclined. The heart of Holofernes was in rapture over her and his passion was aroused. He was burning with the desire to possess her, for he had been biding his time to seduce her from the day he saw her. Holofernes said to her,Drink and be happy with us!Judith replied,I will gladly drink, my lord, for today is the greatest day of my whole life.She then took the things her servant had prepared and ate and drank in his presence. Holofernes, charmed by her, drank a great quantity of wine, more than he had ever drunk on any day since he was born.— Judith 12:16–20 (NABRE)
Holofernes' servants retired for the night, and Judith told her maid to wait outside the bedchamber; thus, Judith was left alone with an unsuspecting and drunk Holofernes. Judith made a silent prayer, asking God to help fulfill her plan:
O Lord, God of all might, in this hour look graciously on the work of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. Now is the time for aiding your heritage and for carrying out my design to shatter the enemies who have risen against us.— Judith 13:4–13:5 (NABRE)
She took Holofernes' sword, which Holofernes had at his bedpost, and grabbed Holofernes' head by its hair. She asked God for strength (
Strengthen me this day, Lord, God of Israel! (Judith 13:7 (NABRE))) and chopped off Holofernes' head. She took Holofernes' prized canopy and handed Holofernes' head to her maid. The maid placed the head in her food bag, and they left, as if it were merely another night of Judith going off to pray.
Judith returned to Bethulia and told the guards that God was with Israel and God had dealt a blow to His enemies.
Open! Open the gate! God, our God, is with us. Once more he has shown his strength in Israel and his power against the enemy, as he has today!— Judith 13:11 (NABRE)
The people assembled and the gates were opened for Judith and her maid to enter.
Judith told the people to praise God, showed them Holofernes' head and canopy, and told them about Holofernes' demise and how she tricked Holofernes without being defiled.
Judith urged them with a loud voice:Praise God, give praise! Praise God, who has not withdrawn his mercy from the house of Israel, but has shattered our enemies by my hand this very night!Then she took the head out of the bag, showed it to them, and said:Here is the head of Holofernes, the ranking general of the Assyrian forces, and here is the canopy under which he lay in his drunkenness. The Lord struck him down by the hand of a female! Yet I swear by the Lord, who has protected me in the way I have walked, that it was my face that seduced Holofernes to his ruin, and that he did not defile me with sin or shame.— Judith 13:14–13:16 (NABRE)
The people were amazed. They bowed down and praised God. Uzziah called Judith "blessed by God above all woman on earth" and praised God. He told her that her actions will not be forgotten.
Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God, above all the women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head of the leader of our enemies. Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by those who recall the might of God. May God make this redound to your everlasting honor, rewarding you with blessings, because you risked your life when our people were being oppressed, and you averted our disaster, walking in the straight path before our God.— Judith 13:18–13:20 (NABRE)
The people then responded by saying "Amen".
Judith told the people how they will defeat the now leaderless Assyrians:
Listen to me, my brothers and sisters. Take this head and hang it on the parapet of your wall. At daybreak, when the sun rises on the earth, each of you seize your weapons, and let all the able-bodied men rush out of the city under command of a captain, as if about to go down into the valley against the Assyrian patrol, but without going down. The Assyrians will seize their weapons and hurry to their camp to awaken the generals of the army. When they run to the tent of Holofernes and do not find him, panic will seize them, and they will flee before you. Then you and all the other inhabitants of the whole territory of Israel will pursue them and strike them down in their tracks.— Judith 14:1–14:4 (NABRE)
Before they do that, however, he asked for Achior, a former subordinate of Holofernes who Holofernes had banish, to be brought to her so that he may see Holofernes' severed head and the person who bested him.
But before doing this, summon for me Achior the Ammonite, that he may see and recognize the one who despised the house of Israel and sent him here to meet his death.— Judith 14:5 (NABRE)
Achior saw Holofernes' severed head and fainted. Achior then kneeled before Judith, praised her, and asked her to explain how she slew Holofernes. Judith explained, and Achior became a believer in the God of Israel. He circumcised himself and united with the nation of Israel.
Assyrian army defeated
At daybreak, the Israelite hung Holofernes' severed head from the wall and did as Judith instructed. The Israelites went out, and the Assyrians went to awaken their commanders. Holofernes' eunuch Bagoas found Holofernes dead and headless, and he found Judith gone. Bagoas announced Holofernes' death at the hands of Judith, a Hebrew woman, and the Assyrian soldiers began to flee in a disorganized fashion.
The Israelites then fought the fleeing army. Uzziah sent messengers to the rest of Israel, asking the other Israelites to attack the Assyrians as well. The rest of the Israelites attacked the Assyrians. They pursued an defeated the Assyrians, and the Israelites of Bethulia plundered the Assyrian camp.
Celebrating the victory
High Priest Joakim and the Israelite leadership and notables met with and congratulated Judith. They praised Judith and asked God to bless her. For her part, Judith received Holofernes' tent and everything inside as her due portion of the spoils.
Women praised her and danced for her. Judith distributed branched to the women, and they placed olive leaves on their heads. Judith then led the woman in a dance. The men, carrying their weapons and wearing garlands, followed them and sang. Judith led them in this song of thanksgiving and praise. The song is recorded in Judith 16.
They went to Jerusalem to offer gave offerings to God and donations. Judith dedicated her portion of the spoils to God. The celebration lasted for a few more months.
Judith returned to Bethulia. Many offered to marry her, but she rejected all of their offers and remained a widow. She lived for 105 years. She freed her maid. Prior to her death, she distributed her property among her husband's relatives and her own relatives.
When Judith died, the people buried her with her husband in a cave. The Israelites mourned for her for seven days. The days from the defeat of Assyrians to Judith were peaceful.