The next of the books in a straight-through reading a Septuagint Bible introduces Judith — literally the Jewess — who like Esther cunningly saves the Jewish people from extermination.
Set sometime after the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity, the land of Judah is once again under threat of being overrun and plundered, this time by Holofernes, general-in-chief to Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Assyrians in Nineveh. (Trying to set this against known history does get tangled, since he’s also credited with destroying the city.)
Enter Judith, a woman of astonishing beauty who sets out to defeat the invading army. It’s great movie material but, oh my, simplistic with more than a touch of the fairy tale. And it’s also quite sanitized story. Where do she and Holofernes really find such privacy in the culture that no one hears his death cries? Or do others assume these are cries of climax? And how does she waltz out of the battleground so casually? The movie version would certainly demand more tension on these fronts? Why doesn’t she take his foreskin as a souvenir, too, rather than the head atop his neck? Or place his whole male genitalia in the basket she carries? There’s certainly Biblical precedent for similar trophies.
Can she be seen as a Jewish Delilah? Well, it is refreshing to see one of their own cast as desirable, rather than the usual strong appeal of shikshas.
Somehow, troubling, though is the refusal to cast Judith as a woman-warrior outright. No, we’re back in the dangerously seductive nature of beautiful women, who conquer by virtue of cunning and stealth, as we’ll see in Esther as well. Too much of the Scripture up to this point has invoked the inability of males to resist the seductive scent of women, a dark fear that easily slides into misogyny. No matter the gloss of victory and the joy of good triumphing over evil, the story has hints of deepening toward its finale.
Missing here is an overt invocation of the war-god on her part. (What? A woman has no connection to this deity? Or even no need?) When the Jews attack and defeat the Assyrians, their hymns of thanksgiving honor the Lord Almighty, rather than the Lord of Hosts. Could something be shifting in their awareness?
So what do we make of her decision not to remarry after the death of her husband, Manasseh, despite having many suitors? Maybe that’s the real movie material, with her being independent and honored in a patriarchal society.