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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

Date.

1.

The date by which the book of Judith must have been written is the late first century CE; its first external reference is not, as might be expected, the Jewish historian Josephus nor any of the Dead Sea scrolls. Rather, it is in the Christian text, 1 Clement 55:4–5 , which lists Judith as among several women empowered by divine grace to accomplish ‘many manly deeds’ and who ‘asked from the elders of the city permission’ to enter the enemy camp.

2.

Establishing the date of composition is more difficult, in part because of the book's genre. The first three chapters may show knowledge of the Achaemenid king Artaxerxes III Ochus (358–338 BCE), who did mount western campaigns (in 350 and 343), did attack Sidon (cf. Jdt 2:28 ), and had both a general named Holofernes and a courtier named Bagoas. Yet knowledge of such events does not preclude the author's adapting this information for a fictional retelling.

3.

The majority of today's scholars who regard the volume as fiction offer much later datings than the fourth century. While Volkmar argued that the book reflects the events of 70 CE, with Nebuchadnezzar representing Trajan and Judith the faithful Judean population, and Gaster associated Nebuchadnezzar with Pompey's entry into Jerusalem in 63 BCE, Ball's association of Judith with Judah Maccabee and Nebuchadnezzar with Antiochus IV Epiphanes is probably correct (details in Moore 1985 ).

4.

The Maccabean connection is supported by several plot motifs. First, whereas Antiochus Epiphanes and his supporters banned circumcision, Achior, Holofernes' erstwhile general, submits to the operation in his conversion to Judaism. Second, and more suggestive, the death of Holofernes resembles Judah Maccabee's defeat of the Syrian general Nicanor; 1 Macc 7:47 states, ‘Then the Jews seized the spoils and the plunder; they cut off Nicanor's head and the right hand that he had so arrogantly stretched out, and brought them and displayed them just outside Jerusalem’ (for additional connections, see Moore 1985 ).

5.

The geographical centre of the book of Judith, the town of Bethulia, is another possible clue to the book's Hasmonean date. Bethulia appears to be located in Samaritan territory, which was annexed by the Hasmonean ruler, John Hyrcanus, in 107 BCE. By this time, Hyrcanus had destroyed the capital, Shechem, and torched the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim. Given the positive attitude the book of Judith displays towards Samaritan territory, the book's date may well be several generations after the conquest.

By invoking the outrages of Antiochus and his minions and the successful insurrection against his forces, Judith celebrates Jewish independence, praxis, and theology. As a new Judah (whose name means ‘Jewish man’), Judith (‘Jewish woman’) corrects the priestly leaders' weak theology, defeats the Syrian king, and preserves the temple for Jewish worship. Unlike Judah's successors, the Hasmonean dynasty that eventually assumed the roles of both king and high priest, however, Judith serves more in the model of the biblical judges than she does either as monarch or cleric. Dying childless, she passes on no dynastic legacy. Perhaps then the volume praises Judah even as it subtly critiques his heirs. That Judith's age at her death, 105 years ( 16:23 ), is the number of years of independent Jewish rule may be a clue to a first-century BCE dating for the volume.

As a fictional study rather than a historical report, Judith obtains its value in great measure because it can represent problems faced by the covenant community throughout the ages. The almost supernatural evil of Holofernes, a general who marched his army from Nineveh to Cilicia, a 300-mile journey, in three days, permits him to become the model of any villain. Moreover, detached from history, the volume serves various allegorical purposes; Martin Luther, for example, regarded the book of Judith as an allegory of Jesus' Passion.

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