Thursday, December 18, 2014

Judith, The Warrior

Where To Find Judith's Story

The book of Judith is found in the Catholic and Greek Orthodox Scriptures but not in the Protestant Bible. The book of Judith is also in the Septuagint, a translation of the Jewish Scriptures into Greek done between 300-200 BCE. Her story is one of only four biblical books named for a woman.

Judith Tells Her Story

I was disgusted by the people and by Uzziah's capitulation.  Surrender, that is all they can think of to save us, surrender   So they are thirsty.  I have fasted every day for the three years since my husband died,  What kind of faith does Uzziah show?  "Hold out for five days and if God doesn't show us mercy we will surrender."  

I had a plan.  I sent my slave woman to bring Uzziah and the elders to me.  I said to them, "This is not right. Who are you to put God to the test.  You cannot penetrate the depths of the human heart or understand the workings of the human mind how do you expect to know the mind of God? If we fall all Judea will fall and our temple will be desecrated and plundered.  We will be slaves and bring dishonor on our God.  We are being put to the test just as Abraham, Sarah, Jacob and Leah were tested. We must set an example."

Uzziah spoke condescendingly, "No one can deny your word or your wisdom but the people are thirsty so pray for rain."

"Listen and do not ask me what I am about to do.  Be at the town gate tonight to let me and my slave out.  With  the help of our God, the Assyrians will be delivered into the hands of a woman before the day you have sworn to the people you will surrender."

I prayed, but not for rain.  I prayed for a sword vengeance.  I called for the Lord's help. "Here are the Assyrians," I said.  "They pride themselves in their horses and foot soldiers.  They trust in their spears and shields.  They do not know you.  They plan to defile and pollute the sanctuary   Give me, a widow, the strength to crush their arrogance.  You are the God of the lowly, oppressed, weak forsaken and hopeless.  Use my deceitful words to remind the nation of your power and might." 

I am a very beautiful woman but I have hidden my beauty since the death of my husband, under sack cloth and ashes.  Not today, today I bathed and dressed in my finest clothes.  I put sweet smelling ointment on my body and wore my most precious jewels.  I packed food for myself and gave it to my slave to carry.  Then we went to the gate of the city.  Uzziah and the elders were there.  They were astounded by my transformation.  They made some speech about the God of our ancestors granting me favor to fulfill my plans so the Jerusalem would be exalted.

"Open the gate." I said. "So I can accomplish what you merely talk about."  As I hoped we were captured by the Assyrian guard.  I told them I had come to see their commander, to tell him of a way to capture the towns of the hill country.  They did not question me.  "Oh, we will take you to him.  Have no fear.  When he sees you he will, well..."  They were ridiculous, first they had to choose a hundred men to escort me.  Then there was excitement in the camp as notice of my arrival passed from tent to tent.  Eventually they were all standing outside the commanders tent looking at me.  Finally I was taken to the commander.

Do not be afraid, he told me.  If you chose to serve Nebuchadnezzar  the king of all the earth no one will harm you."

I laid it on thick. "I am your servant.  I tell you the truth, God will do great things through you.  I have heard you are the wisest and the most skilled in the whole kingdom.  I know Anchior told you that we could not be defeated because out God will defend us as long as we keep the commandments.  Well, the people are about to sin.  They are going to eat the first fruits and the tithes of wine and oil which are consecrated to God.  God has sent me to you to tell you when the people have sinned.  Then I can lead you through Judea to Jerusalem where you will set up your thrown." My words pleased him so I asked that I be allowed to go outside the camp every night to pray.  I told him God would tell me when the people had sinned and it was time to attack.

"You are beautiful and wise," he said.  "In fact no other woman in all the world looks so beautiful and speaks so wisely.  God has done well to send you to me."

I stayed in camp for three days.  Every night at midnight my slave and I went outside the camp to bathe and pray.  Finally on the fourth night he sent to me.  He was having a banquet and he told the eunuchs he sent to fetch me, "It would be a disgrace of we let such a woman go without having intercourse with her.  If we do  not seduce her, she will laugh at us." (NRSV) "Let the pretty girl come to me and drink wine with me and become like one of the Assyrian women who serve in the palace." 

I went but I did not drink his wine or eat his food.  He got so drunk he passed out.  All the servants and banquets guests left and closed up the tent.  I told my slave to wait outside.  We would go to pray a usual.  When everyone was gone. I grabbed him by the hair, said a prayer for strength and cut off his head.  It took me two blows but I did it.  I took the head out to my slave who put it in the food bag and we walked out of camp as if we were going to pray.  We kept walking until we got to the city gates.  At the gates we roused the sentry to open the gate.  All the towns people came out to see me because they had given me up for dead.  I pulled the head of the Assyrian commander out of my bag and said, "Praise God who has delivered Israel by the hand of a woman."  

Observations on Judith's Story

Finding a woman at the heart of the Christmas story is easy.  It is harder to find a woman in the Hanukkah story.  The book of Judith is dated during the Hasmonean dynasty which was established by the Maccabees.  First and Second Maccabees record the stories of the cleansing of the temple.  

If biblical women are described in the Bible  they are usually said to be beautiful.  Judith is no exception.  Judith 8:7 says. "She was beautifully formed and lovely to behold." 

In the endorsement Reza Aslan wrote for my book he says, "The women warriors, prophets and disciples of the Bible have been miscast for centuries as demons, harlots and jezebels - and intentionally so.  For if the truth about who these women were and what they represented were more widely known, it would challenge most of the assumptions we have about Judaism and Christianity." Judith was one of those women.