Version classiqueVersion mobile
OpenEdition Books

The Sword of Judith

 | 
Kevin R. Brine
, 
Elena Ciletti
, 
Henrike Lähnemann

Introductions

2. The Jewish Textual Traditions

Deborah Levine Gera

Texte intégral

1The apocryphal Book of Judith is undoubtedly a Jewish work, written by and intended for Jews, and Judith is portrayed as an ideal Jewish heroine, as her very name, Yehudit, ”Jewess,” indicates. Nonetheless, her story has had a checkered history among the Jews and Judith seems to have disappeared from Jewish tradition for well over a millennium.

  • 1 See Carey A. Moore, The Anchor Bible Judith (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985) (Anchor Bible 40), (...)

2Let us begin with a brief look at the Book of Judith, as it appears in the Septuagint, the oldest of the extant Judith texts. The book opens with the successful campaign waged by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, against Arphaxad, king of the Medes. Nebuchadnezzar then sends his chief of staff, Holofernes, on an ambitious and punitive military campaign directed against those who did not join him in his earlier, successful war. All nations give way before Holofernes until he approaches the Jews, who decide to resist. The Jews of Bethulia must block the Assyrians’ path to Jerusalem and its temple. Holofernes, who is unacquainted with the Jews, learns something of their history and religious beliefs from his ally, the Ammonite Achior. Despite Achior’s warning that God may well defend His people, Holofernes places a siege on Bethulia. When water supplies run low, the people of the town press their leaders to surrender to the Assyrians and Uzziah, the chief leader, promises to capitulate if there is no relief within five days. It is at this point that the pious, beautiful widow, Judith, steps on stage. Judith, who leads an ascetic and solitary life, summons Uzziah and his fellow leaders to her home and reprimands them for their lack of faith in God. She then takes matters into her own hands. Judith prays, bathes, and removes her widow’s weeds. ”Dressed to kill,” Judith leaves Bethulia for the enemy Assyrian camp, accompanied only by her faithful maid. The glamorous Judith charms and deceives Holofernes – as well as his trusty eunuch Bagoas – and promises to deliver the Jews to the Assyrians with God’s help. In her dealings with Holofernes, Judith is not only beautiful, but sharp-witted. Her exchanges with the enemy commander are ironic and two-edged and her subtle, duplicitous words are one of the chief charms of the apocryphal book.1 Holofernes invites Judith to a party in order to seduce her, but he drinks a great deal of wine and collapses on his couch. Judith then seizes Holofernes’s sword and cuts off the head of the sleeping general. She returns to Bethulia with Holofernes’s head in a bag (and his canopy as well). Achior the Ammonite converts to Judaism when he learns of Judith’s deed and sees the actual dead man’s head. The Jews of Bethulia, following Judith’s advice, subsequently take the offensive, attacking the Assyrian army and defeating them. Judith, praised by all, sings a victory song and then goes back to her quiet life at home. She lives until the ripe old age of 105 and is mourned by all of Israel when she dies.

  • 2 Benedikt Otzen, Tobit and Judith (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), pp. 81–93, is an excell (...)
  • 3 See e.g., Moore, Anchor Bible Judith, p. 86, and Pfeiffer, History, p. 302, on the Jewish elements (...)

3This briefly is the plot of the Greek apocryphal book and Judith, the heroine, is assigned a heady mix of qualities: she is beautiful and wise, a widow and a warrior, deceptive, bold, and pious. There is no reason to think that the Book of Judith is a historical account. It is an inspiring tale, filled with impressive sounding, but problematic, historical and geographical details, as the very opening reference (LXX Jdt 1:1) to ”Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, who reigned in Nineveh” and the unknown ”Arphaxad, king of the Medes,” indicates.2 Nor is there any reason to doubt the Jewish provenance of the work, in which we find many references to Jewish practices. Prayers to God are accompanied by the customary fasting, sackcloth, and ashes. The temple in Jerusalem, with its priests, daily sacrifices, first fruits, and tithes, plays an important role as well. Judith herself is punctilious in her observance and she fasts regularly except on Sabbath and festivals and on the eve of these holidays. She eats only kosher food, even in enemy territory, where she also performs her ritual ablutions under difficult conditions.3

  • 4 See Jgs 3:11 and 30; 5:31; 8:28 (on Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, and Gideon).
  • 5 See Otzen, Tobit and Judith, pp. 74–79, and the further references there.

4Not only is Judith of the Septuagint a most Jewish heroine, but her story is presented along biblical lines. Indeed, the Book of Judith is filled with many allusions to biblical characters, passages, themes, and situations. Thus, Judith’s victory song (LXX Jdt 16:1–17) echoes verses from the Song of the Sea (Ex 15:1–21) and the very last verse of the Book of Judith (LXX Jdt 16:25), telling of the peace and quiet which lasted long beyond Judith’s lifetime, is a deliberate echo of the formula ”And the land was tranquil for forty years” used in the Book of Judges to describe the tenure of successful judges. This conclusion to the book assimilates Judith to the biblical judges.4 Judith resembles other biblical characters as well, such as David in his encounter with Goliath (1 Sm 17) and Ehud, who assassinates King Eglon of Moab (Jgs 3:12–30). Above all, Judith is reminiscent of a series of biblical women, including, of course, Jael, who slays the general Sisera in her tent (Jgs 4:17–22; 5:24–27), and Esther, who charms a foreign king with her beauty.5

  • 6 Jan Joosten, ”The Original Language and Historical Milieu of the Book of Judith,” in Moshe Bar-Ash (...)
  • 7 See Jan Willem van Henten, ”Judith as Alternative Leader: A Rereading of Judith 7–13,” in Athalya (...)
  • 8 It is especially likely that the author of the Book of Judith was acquainted with the Histories of (...)

5The Book of Judith did not survive in Hebrew. While most scholars are certain that Hebrew was the original language of the work, an increasingly vocal minority of researchers suggest that the Septuagint version, which is composed in careful, but patently Hebraized Greek, was in fact the original version of the book.6 If, as these scholars suggest, the author of the Book of Judith deliberately composed a work in Hebraic-sounding Greek with literal translations of biblical phrases, this raises a series of questions about the identity of the author, his7 audience, and the place of the work’s composition. A Hebrew Judith was probably composed in Palestine, while a Greek one would be more likely to stem from the Jewish community in Alexandria. A Palestinian author would have to be extremely ignorant of his own country to include some of the geographical blunders found in the book, so that we would assume that the mistakes are deliberate ones, placed there for a reason, while an Egyptian author could have simply gotten things wrong. The two different languages also point to different kinds of audiences and cultural milieus: an author writing in Greek would perhaps be well acquainted with (and influenced by) Greek authors,8 as well as the Greek Bible, while one writing in Hebrew would refer first and foremost to the Hebrew Bible. These complicated questions are far from resolved.

6In her paper, ”Holofernes’s Canopy in the Septuagint,” Barbara Schmitz (Chap. 4) assumes that Greek was the original language of Judith and that the author of the book was well acquainted with classical culture. She examines a small, but telling, detail found in the Book of Judith, the canopy (....p...) which Judith removes from Holofernes’s bed and carries back to Bethulia, by investigating the use of the term conopeum in Greek and Latin authors. This use of classical sources proves fruitful in interpreting the text and narrative strategy of Judith.

  • 9 See Pfeiffer, History, pp. 292–95, for a detailed discussion.
  • 10 Otzen, Tobit and Judith, pp. 78, 81–87, 96, and 132–35 surveys scholarly opinion on the date of Ju (...)

7There is a general scholarly consensus on the date of the Book of Judith and it is thought that the work was composed in the second half of the second century b.c.e. (or slightly later). The setting of the book is allegedly Assyria (and Babylonia) in the seventh and sixth century b.c.e., but there are traces of Persian and Hellenistic elements – such as names, weapons, and institutions – in the work as well.9 However, most commentators agree that historical events in Hasmonean times form the background against which the Book of Judith was composed. The character of the tyrannical Nebuchadnezzar, who attempts to rival God, seems based on that of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and Judith’s defeat of Holofernes resembles in many ways the encounter between Judah the Maccabee and the Seleucid commander Nicanor in 161 b.c.e. (1 Mc 7:26–50; 2 Mc 15:1–36). Both Judah and Judith are pious figures who manage to overturn the threat to the temple in Jerusalem posed by a cruel and arrogant king, and they behead the chief military commander in the process. The evidence for Hasmonean influence on Judith is generally thought to be too strong to allow the work to be dated earlier than ca. 150 b.c.e.10 Since Clement of Rome mentions Judith at the very end of the first century c.e. (Epistle to Corinthians 1. 55), the book must have been in circulation by then.

  • 11 Carey A. Moore, ”Why Wasn’t the Book of Judith Included in the Hebrew Bible?,” in ”No One Spoke Il (...)
  • 12 See Roger T. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in E (...)
  • 13 See Joosten, ”Language and Milieu,” pp. 175–76, for the first claim; Sidnie White Crawford, ”Esthe (...)
  • 14 Cf. Dt 23:4 (an express prohibition of Ammonite conversion) and see Moore, Anchor Bible Judith, p. (...)
  • 15 Craven, Artistry and Faith, pp. 117–18; Crawford, ”Esther and Judith,” pp. 70 and 73–76.

8Despite its Jewish content and orientation, and its many biblical allusions, there is no evidence that the Book of Judith was ever a candidate for inclusion in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. There are a variety of explanations as to why Judith was not included in the canon, but no one of these hypotheses is definitive.11 One theory concerns the date of the book. If Judith was written after 150 b.c.e. this may mean that the book was simply composed too late to be included in the canon before it was closed. There is, however, no scholarly consensus as to when the canon of the Hebrew Bible was firmly fixed and we know for instance that the canonicity of Esther was debated well into the third century c.e.12 Another argument involves the language of the book. If, as some argue, Judith was originally written in Greek in the diaspora of Alexandria by a Hellenized Jew, or if the Hebrew version disappeared at a very early stage, this would explain why the book survived in the Greek canon, but not the Hebrew Bible.13 A third explanation centers around the alleged violations of halacha, Jewish law, found in the book. One problematic instance is Achior’s conversion: he, an Ammonite, undergoes circumcision when he converts, but he does not follow the other rabbinical rules of ritual immersion and a sacrifice at the Temple. It is possible, however, that the Book of Judith was composed before these rabbinical rules were regularized and codified.14 A fourth theory points to the powerful role allotted Judith and suggests that she was simply too feminist and independent to be accepted by the rabbis, who did not appreciate her subversion of patriarchal norms.15

  • 16 Robert Hanhart, Iudith (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979), pp. 7–18, reports on the textual (...)
  • 17 James C. VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2001), pp. (...)
  • 18 See Louis H. Feldman, ”Hellenizations in Josephus’ Version of Esther,” Transactions of the America (...)

9Whatever the reason, the Book of Judith was not included in the Hebrew Bible and the book survived in Greek in the Septuagint, in Old Latin versions and the Vulgate, but not, as we have seen, in Hebrew.16 The work may well have disappeared from the Jewish tradition at an early stage, for there is no trace of Judith’s tale in the Dead Sea scrolls (which include well over two hundred copies of various biblical texts, which date from approximately 150 b.c.e. to 68 c.e.).17 Nor is Judith mentioned in Philo (ca. 20 b.c.e.-50 c.e.) or in Josephus (ca. 37–100 c.e.). Arguments from silence are tricky: there is, for example, no surviving fragment of the Book of Esther, a work often linked with Judith, from Qumran, and Philo does not mention any of the apocryphal books. Nonetheless Judith’s absence from Josephus is worth noting, for when he rewrites the Bible in his Jewish Antiquities, he displays considerable interest in beautiful, biblical women and he utilizes both the Septuagint and the Hebrew Bible when fashioning his tales. Josephus’s account of Esther, which includes many ironic and erotic elements, bears a particular resemblance to the Book of Judith.18

  • 19 Origen, Letter to Africanus 19: Ἑβραῖοι τῷ Τωβίᾳ οὐ χρῶνται, οὐδὲ τῇ Ιουδίθ· οὐδὲ γὰρ ἔχουσιν αὐτὰ (...)
  • 20 Jerome, Preface to Judith (Robert Weber [ed.], Biblia Sacra Iuxta Vulgatam Versionem [Stuttgart: D (...)
  • 21 Jerome, Preface to Judith (Weber, p. 691). This mention of an Aramaic version further complicates (...)
  • 22 L. E. Tony André, Les Apocryphes de l’ancien testament (Florence: O. Paggi, 1903), pp. 164–68, is (...)

10We must turn, then, to early Christian writers for information about the status of the Book of Judith among the Jews. Origen, writing towards the middle of the third century c.e., tells us that the Jews do not use Judith (or Tobit) and adds that the Jews themselves have informed him that these two books are not found in Hebrew, even in the Apocrypha.19 Here, too, we must be cautious, for five fragments of the Book of Tobit – four in Aramaic and one in Hebrew – have surfaced at Qumran, so clearly Jews were still reading Tobit in the first century b.c.e. Perhaps they were reading Judith then as well, even if there are no fragments of Judith in any language from Qumran. Jerome, who translated the Book of Judith into Latin at about 400 c.e., says that the Jews count Judith among the Apocrypha (apud Hebraeos liber Iudith inter Apocrypha legitur), perhaps implying that in his time the Jews still read or had access to the text.20 Jerome also states that an Aramaic text underlies his translation of Judith, a translation he allegedly finished in the course of a brief night’s work by the lamp (unam lucubratiunculam).21 The Vulgate version of Judith differs in many ways from the Septuagint one, and Jerome presents a humble, more self-effacing heroine.22 We shall see that it is Jerome’s chaste and more domesticated Judith who subsequently found her way into several of the medieval Jewish texts.

  • 23 If the Hanukkah sheelta – a homily on Jewish law and ethics – ascribed to Rav Ahai (680–752 c.e.) (...)
  • 24 There is one notable exception. The biblical commentator and philosopher Ramban (Nachmanides 1194– (...)

11Jerome and Origen, then, present inconsistent testimony on the status of the Book of Judith among the Jews in the third and fourth centuries c.e., while in the Jewish tradition we hear nothing at all. This Jewish silence continues for many centuries, for Judith is not mentioned in the Mishnah, Talmud, or other rabbinic literature. It is only from about the tenth (or perhaps the eleventh) century c.e. onwards, over a thousand years after the apocryphal book was first composed, that Judith is found once again in Jewish literature.23 When Judith does resurface, it is in a variety of contexts and genres, in brief as well as lengthy form. Thus we encounter Judith in several different kinds of Jewish literature: Hebrew tales of the heroine, liturgical poems, commentaries on the Talmud, and passages in Jewish legal codes. These later accounts vary considerably and it is worth noting at the outset that none of the medieval versions tells a story identical to that found in the Septuagint. Indeed the Septuagint version of Judith virtually disappears from Jewish tradition until modern times.24

  • 25 See above p. 25 and Crawford, ”Esther and Judith.”
  • 26 . ”dies autem victoriae huius festivitatem ab Hebraeis in numero dierum sanctorum accepit et colit (...)
  • 27 See however Pierre-Maurice Bogaert, ”Un emprunt au judaïsme dans la tradition médiévale de l’histo (...)
  • 28 Günter Stemberger, ”La festa di Hanukkah, Il libro di Giuditta e midrasim connessi,” in Giulio Bus (...)

12In many of these medieval Jewish sources, Judith becomes linked with the festival of Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday first instituted by Judah Maccabee in 164 b.c.e., to celebrate the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem. We have seen above (pp. 26–27) that Hasmonean happenings influenced the composition of Judith’s original tale and in medieval times, perhaps as a result of this, Judith becomes an actual participant in events surrounding the Hasmonean victories. Another reason for the introduction of Judith into Hanukkah tales and customs seems to be the many parallels between Judith and Esther. Esther and Judith, two beautiful and seductive Jewish heroines who save their people from the threats of a foreign ruler, are associated together.25 At the same time, the holiday of Hanukkah is associated in Jewish eyes with the festival of Purim, for both festivities are late ones. The two holidays are not mentioned in the Torah, but date to the Second Temple period and their laws and customs are regulated by the rabbis. The holidays share a special, parallel prayer, ”On the Miracles,” as well. Purim has a heroine, Esther, and a scroll telling her story, Megillat Esther, and apparently this led to the analogous holiday, Hanukkah, beingassigned a similarly seductive heroine, whose story is entitled at times, Megillat Yehudit, the Scroll of Judith. It is also worth noting in this context the final verse of the Vulgate version of Judith, apparently a late addition to the text, which speaks of an annual celebration: ”The day of this victory was accepted by the Hebrews among their holy days, and is observed by the Jews from that time up to the present day.” (Vulg. Jdt 16:31).26 Thus, even though there is no actual basis for linking Judith with Hanukkah,27 Judith’s tale is frequently enmeshed with the story of Hanukkah in medieval times,28 and we find this connection in several separate strands of Jewish literature.

  • 29 See, e.g., a Yemenite account of Judith recently published for the first time in Moshe Chaim Leite (...)
  • 30 André Marie Dubarle, Judith: Formes et sens des diverses traditions: i: Études; ii: Textes (Rome: (...)
  • 31 Translations of various midrashim into English can be found in Charles James Ball, ”Judith” in Hen (...)
  • 32 Dubarle, Judith, passim is the strongest proponent of the view that the medieval Hebrew versions r (...)

13The Hebrew stories of Judith, often termed the Judith midrashim, are the largest and most varied group of medieval Jewish texts that mention Judith. While some of the stories are attributed to named authors who can be dated, other tales are simply found anonymously, in manuscripts written as late as the sixteenth century. Two of the Judith stories are known only in published form, in books dating to the eighteenth century (texts D and 9) and there are, in all likelihood, a great many other Hebrew versions of Judith’s tale which have yet to be published.29 Many of the texts cannot be dated with any certainty, but we have seen above (p. 29) that at least some of them were already in circulation in the eleventh century. The tales are not readily accessible. They have been published, chiefly in Hebrew, in a variety of books and journals, but there is no one comprehensive collection of the midrashim.30 Most of the midrashim have not been translated into English at all, while the existing English versions of these stories are scattered in various venues and have not been collected together. French and German readers are better served.31 Medieval Hebrew tales of Judith have not, it seems, entered the mainstream of Judith scholarship and scholars who have written about them have generally been interested not so much in the stories themselves as in their sources and the likelihood that these tales preserve ancient Hebrew traditions which go back to the original Book of Judith.32

  • 33 For other groupings of the tales, see Israel Adler, ”A Chanukah Midrash in a Hebrew Illuminated Ma (...)
  • 34 The author of the Book of Josippon (middle tenth century c.e.) apparently was the first medieval J (...)

14The midrashim can be grouped into several categories (with, as we shall see, some overlapping).33 One group of Hebrew stories is closely related to the Vulgate (texts B1, C, and D) and these accounts are translations of the Vulgate version of Judith into Hebrew, generally in abridged and adapted form. A minority view holds that these medieval Hebrew tales preserve the ancient, original Hebrew version of the Book of Judith. These early Hebrew accounts were then translated into Aramaic, runs the argument, and it is this Aramaic version that Jerome subsequently translates into Latin. However most scholars contend that these midrashim stem from a much later source, most probably a medieval Hebrew translation of the Vulgate Judith. Because of their close resemblance to – and dependence upon – the Vulgate, these stories do not teach us much about medieval Jewish attitudes toward Judith and her story. They do, however, provide important evidence for a renewed Jewish interest in the Book of Judith – and the Apocrypha in general – in medieval times. From the tenth century onwards, a series of medieval Jewish writers translated many of the apocryphal works into Hebrew, often in adapted form, as part of larger (historical) compositions.34 The Hebrew Vulgate-based Judith versions are linked, at times, to Hanukkah as well. Thus the title page of one such version (text B1) reads ”This is the book of Judith daughter of Merari of Hanukkah,” even though there is no mention of Hanukkah in the story itself.

15A second group of stories (texts 1, 2a, and 9) consists of rather brief, folkloric accounts which concentrate upon Judith’s actual deed. These stories make little reference to the events described in the first half of the Book of Judith and make no mention of Hanukkah. Brief though these tales may be, their basic plot, which deviates in certain ways from the Septuagint, is followed in all the non-Vulgate versions.

  • 35 Bogaert, ”Un emprunt,” pp. 353–58, provides interesting indirect evidence for the circulation of s (...)

16A third group of Hebrew Judith stories (texts 3, 4, 5, 8, and 12) is directly linked to Hanukkah, and these stories fall into two parts. In the first half, we hear of the assassination of an enemy leader by Hasmoneans, who object to the leader’s desire to exercise his right of the first night (ius primae noctis) when their sister is about to be married. Judith, who is now identified as a relative of the Hasmoneans, performs her daring deed in the second half of these stories.35

17A particularly interesting group of midrashim (texts 7a and 7b) are hybridtales which have a Vulgate-inspired account in the first half of the tale, until immediately after Judith arrives on the scene. The second half of these stories resembles the accounts of Judith found in the Hanukkah tales.

18Two papers in this section investigate these Judith midrashim. ”Shorter Hebrew Medieval Tales of Judith,” by Deborah Levine Gera (Chap. 5), examines the new, less independent role assigned to Judith in the non-Vulgate versions and notes how Judith is diminished both within and without her community. Gera also compares and contrasts Judith with the Hasmonean woman described in the Hanukkah midrashim. ”Food, Sex, and Redemption in Megillat Yehudit (the ’Scroll of Judith’),” by Susan Weingarten (Chap. 6), is a careful study of one particular Hanukkah midrash and the important role played by food, especially cheese, in the story. Weingarten sees this text as a Jewish response to the Christian portrayal of Judith as a precursor of the Virgin Mary. Both Weingarten and Gera note the allusive, biblical Hebrew used in these stories and show how particular biblical quotations are used to hint at the parallels between Judith and biblical figures.

  • 36 See Grintz, Sefer Yehudit, pp. 205, 207–08.

19Judith was celebrated in Hebrew poetry as well as prose in medieval times, and there are two liturgical poems (or piyuttim) for Hanukkah which tell her story. The two poems (texts 10 and 11) were recited in synagogues in various Jewish communities on the first and second Sabbath of Hanukkah respectively. The first poem, Odecha ki anafta bi (I give thanks to you although you were angry with me) (Fig. 2.1), was composed by Joseph ben Solomon of Carcassonne, who is dated to the first half of the eleventh century. This elegant and abstruse poem tells an epic tale of the Jews’ resistance to the decrees of Antiochus IV and includes accounts of both the Hasmonean bride and Judith. It bears a considerable resemblance to texts 4 and 12 of the Hanukkah midrashim36 and this is evidence for the circulation of the joint Hasmonean daughter-Judith tales in the eleventh century, even if the surviving manuscripts of these stories are from a later date. The second poem, Ein Moshia veGoel (There is no savior and redeemer), is by Menachem ben Machir of Ratisbon, who was active in the second half of the eleventh century. His poem may be based on the earlier one and he devotes only a few lines to Judith, comparing her to Jael.

  • 37 Rashi on Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 23a; Tosafot on Babylonian Talmud Megillah 4a.
  • 38 Nissim ben Reuben on Alfasi, Shabbat 10a (on Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 23b).
  • 39 See the sources in Dubarle, Judith, i, pp. 105–07, 109, and the detailed discussion in Leiter, A K (...)

20We have seen that Judith is not found in the Talmud itself, but later commentators on the Talmud do mention her, always in the context of Hanukkah. These commentators do not tell Judith’s story for its own sake, but use elements of her tale to explain the commandments and customs of the holiday. Thus the foremost exegete of the Talmud, Rashi (Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, 1041–1105), when discussing why women, as well as men, are required to light Hanukkah candles, simply notes that when the Greeks decreed that Jewish virgin brides were to be bedded first by the ruler, a woman brought about the miracle. We know that Rashi was acquainted with the liturgical poem Odecha ki anafta bi because he quotes it elsewhere (in his commentary on Ez 21:18), so it is very likely that he knew of Judith’s deed, but did not choose to mention her by name. Rashi’s grandson, the Rashbam (Rabbi Samuel ben Meir 1085–1174), does mention Judith, and he is quoted as saying that the chief miracle of Purim came about through Esther, and that of Hanukkah through Judith.37 Later commentators bring further details. Nissim ben Reuben (ca. 1310–75), known as the Ran, refers to Judith not by name, but as the daughter of Yochanan. In his account, which he says comes from a midrash, the woman gave the chief enemy cheese to eat so as to make him drunk, and then cut off his head. This, adds the Ran, is why it is customary to eat cheese on Hanukkah.38 In the Kol Bo (section 44), a work outlining Jewish laws and customs dating to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, we find a similar version. In this account, the king of Greece attempts to seduce Judith, the daughter of the high priest Yochanan, and she feeds him a cheese dish so that he will become thirsty, drink too much, and fall asleep. Such references to Judith’s encounter with an enemy whom she fed either cheese or milk are subsequently found in a long line of works which codify halacha, Jewish law, and supply the background to the practice of eating cheese dishes on Hanukkah. Indeed, similar remarks are found in Jewish guides and responsa written to this very day.39

Odecha ki anafta bi, 1434. Hebrew poem on Judith. Hamburg miscellany, Cod. Heb. 37, fol. 81, Mainz (?). Photo credit: Deborah Levine Gera.

  • 40 See Haberman, Texts Old and New, pp. 15–16, 62–74.

21We arrive, at long last, at the age of print. In the earliest known printed Hebrew version of the Book of Judith, a translation of the Vulgate dating to ca. 1552, the translator, Moses Meldonado, sees fit to apologize for straying from the accounts of Rashi and the Ran. He points out that Jerome’s version and those of the Talmudic commentators have something in common – the recollection of God’s boundless grace and mercy.40 And indeed all the various versions of Judith we have looked at – the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the midrashim, prayers, and commentaries – have at least certain elements in common and all will eventually find their way into print in Hebrew and become part of the Jewish textual tradition.

22Hebrew was not, of course, the only language used in Jewish texts and from the sixteenth centuries onwards there is a rich tradition of Yiddish accounts of Judith as well, a tradition that has not been sufficiently explored. Old Yiddish is a Jewish dialect of Middle High and Early New High German that is written in Hebrew characters, and its literature is influenced by German sources as well as Hebrew ones. The last paper of this section, ”Shalom bar Abraham’s Book of Judith in Yiddish,” by Michael Terry and Ruth von Bernuth, analyzes the earliest surviving printed Yiddish translation of the Book of Judith of 1571. The authors demonstrate that this publication was not influenced by any Hebrew versions of Judith or by the Luther Bible, and is based entirely on the literal German of the Zurich Bible.

23The papers in this section discuss texts written over a period of some 1700 years. Despite her early disappearance from Jewish tradition, Judith proved too vital a figure to vanish entirely. She returned, transformed, in the Middle Ages, and left her mark on Jewish texts, prayers, practices, and ritual art.

Appendix to Chapter 2. A List of Medieval Hebrew Judith Texts

24Note: This list is not meant to be exhaustive. The numbering of the texts is based on that of Dubarle, Judith.

I. Vulgate-Based Versions

25Text B1 – ms. Oxford Bod. Heb. d. 11, Neubauer 2797, fol. 259–65 (ca. 1350).

26Habermann, Texts Old and New, 47–59.

27Dubarle, Judith, i. 20–27; ii. 8–96. Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 19–239.

28Text C – Oxford Bod. Opp. 8. 1105. Printed in Venice in 1651.

29Dubarle, Judith, i. 27–33; ii. 8–96. Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 19–239.

30Text D – First printed in Smyrna 1731–32 (with a concluding note that it comes from an ”old collection”).

31Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, ii. 12–22.

32Dubarle, Judith, i. 33–37. Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 19–239.

33Texts E1 and E3 – see below, Texts 7a and 7b.

II. Brief Tales of Judith (Not Related to Hanukkah)

34Text 1: ”Our Rabbis taught...”

35Gaster, Studies and Texts, iii. 31–32: ms. Manchester, John Rylands library, Cod. Heb. Gaster no. 82 fol. 172r–173r (possibly 10–11 centuries).

36Dubarle, Judith, i. 80–82; ii. 100–03. Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 276–83.

37Text 2a: Tale by Nissim ben Jacob (ca. 990–1062).

38Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, i. 130–31: Nissim ben Jacob, Chibur Yafeh Mehayeshua (Amsterdam 1746) and Habermann, Texts Old and New, 60–61: ms. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary 29652.

39Dubarle, Judith, i. 82–84; ii. 104–109; Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 247–57.

40Text 9: The Tale of Judith

41An expansion of 2a first printed in Livorno in 1845.

42Dubarle, Judith, i. 94–98, ii. 152–63; Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 258–75.

III. Hanukkah-Judith Tales

43Text 3: Midrash for Hanukkah

44Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch, i. 132–36: ms. Leipzig, Raths-Bibliothek cod. 12.

45Dubarle, Judith, i. 84–85; ii. 110–113; Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 338–89.

46Text 4: The Tale of Judith: A Midrash for Hanukkah

47Löwinger, Judith-Susanna, 14–17: ms. Budapest, Bibliotheca Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Kaufman 188, 91–93.

48Dubarle, Judith, i. 85–86; ii. 113–16.

49Text 5: The Tale of Judith / Sheelta for Hanukkah

505a) The Tale of Judith.

51Moshe Hershler, ”Ma’aseh Yehudit,” Gnuzot 1 (1984), 175–78: ms. Vatican Heb. 285 (no. 8632), 60r–62r; see Lerner, ”Collections of Tales,” 868 n. 4.

52Dubarle, Judith, i. 86– 88; ii. 118–25.

535c) The Tale of Judith.

54Michael Higger, Halachot ve-Haggadot, ii (New York: Debay Rabannan, 1933), 95–102: ms. New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Enelow 827= Halperin 827 fol. 18–19.

55Dubarle, Judith, i. 86–88. Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 338–89.

565f) Sheelta Genesis xxvii of Rav Ahai (680–752 c.e.).

57Mirsky, Sheeltot de Rab Ahai, 182–190: ms. Paris Bibliothèque Nationale: Cde 24, 208 (=Zotenberg 309).

58(Not in Dubarle or Börner-Klein).

59Text 8: Megillat Yehudit: The Scroll of Judith.

60Habermann, Texts Old and New, 40–46: ms. Oxford Bod. Heb. e. 10, Neubauer 2746 (1402).

61Dubarle, Judith, i. 92–94; ii. 138–52.

62Text 12: Judith, the daughter of Mattathias.

63Adler, ”A Chanukah Midrash,” ii–vii: ms. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale 1459.2 (sixteenth century).

64Dubarle, Judith, i. 100–01; ii. 170–77; Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 326–37.

IV. Vulgate and Hanukkah Versions Combined

65Text 7: Megillat Yehudit / Sheelta for Hanukkah

667a) Megillat Yehudit: The Scroll of Judith.

67Higger, Halachot ve-Haggadot, ii. 103–113: ms. Oxford, Bod. d. 47.15, Neubauer 2669, 38a–39b; see too B. M. Levin, ”Sheelta le Chanukah,” Sinai, 3 (1940), 68–72.

68Dubarle, Judith, i. 37–43, 90–92; ii. 9–55, 127–131. Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 296–325.

697b) Megillat Yehudit.

70Löwinger, Judith-Susanna, 9–13: ms. Budapest, Bibliotheca Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae, Kaufman 259, 88–92.

71Dubarle, Judith, i. 37–43, 90–92; ii. 9–55, 132–36; Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, 296–325.

V. Liturgical Poems for Hanukkah

72Text 10: Odekha ki anafta bi by Joseph ben Solomon (first half of the eleventh century)

73Isaac Seligmann Baer, Seder Avodat Yisrael (Rödelheim 1868; reprinted Berlin: Schocken, 1937), 629–633.

74Dubarle, Judith, i. 98–99, ii. 162–67.

75Text 11: Ein Moshea veGoel by Menachem ben Machir (twelfth century)

76Baer, Seder Avodat Yisrael, 642–44.

77Dubarle, Judith, i. 100, ii. 168–69.

Notes

1 See Carey A. Moore, The Anchor Bible Judith (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1985) (Anchor Bible 40), pp. 78–85, for a good discussion of irony in the book.

2 Benedikt Otzen, Tobit and Judith (London: Sheffield Academic Press, 2002), pp. 81–93, is an excellent survey of the history and geography (which he calls topography) of the book and the various scholarly attempts to explain the problematic elements. See too Robert Pfeiffer, History of New Testament Times: With an Introduction to the Apocrypha (New York: Harper, 1949), pp. 285–97; he suggests that there may be a historical kernel to the tale. Toni Craven, Artistry and Faith in the Book of Judith (Chico, CA; Scholars Press, 1983), pp. 71–74, discusses the ”playful manipulation” of historical and geographical facts.

3 See e.g., Moore, Anchor Bible Judith, p. 86, and Pfeiffer, History, p. 302, on the Jewish elements of the Book of Judith.

4 See Jgs 3:11 and 30; 5:31; 8:28 (on Othniel, Ehud, Deborah, and Gideon).

5 See Otzen, Tobit and Judith, pp. 74–79, and the further references there.

6 Jan Joosten, ”The Original Language and Historical Milieu of the Book of Judith,” in Moshe Bar-Asher and Emanuel Tov (eds.), Meghillot v–vi: A Festschrift for Devorah Dimant (Jerusalem and Haifa: Bialik Institute and University of Haifa, 2007), pp. 159–76, is a recent proponent of this thesis; see too Barbara Schmitz in this volume (Chap. 4) and Claudia Rakel, Judit – Über Schönheit, Macht, und Widerstand im Krieg (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2003), pp. 33–40, with the further references there.

7 See Jan Willem van Henten, ”Judith as Alternative Leader: A Rereading of Judith 7–13,” in Athalya Brenner (ed.), A Feminist Companion to Esther, Judith and Susanna (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), pp. 224–52, esp. 245–52, for a helpful discussion of male and female voices in the Book of Judith. On balance, it seems unlikely that the author of Judith was a woman.

8 It is especially likely that the author of the Book of Judith was acquainted with the Histories of Herodotus; see Mark Caponigro, ”Judith, Holding the Tale of Herodotus,” in James C. VanderKam (ed.), ”No One Spoke Ill of Her”: Essays on Judith (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1992), pp. 47–59, and Barbara Schmitz, ”Zwischen Achikar und Demaratos – die Bedeutung Achiors in der Juditerzählung,” Biblische Zeitschrift, 48 (2004), pp. 19–38.

9 See Pfeiffer, History, pp. 292–95, for a detailed discussion.

10 Otzen, Tobit and Judith, pp. 78, 81–87, 96, and 132–35 surveys scholarly opinion on the date of Judith and discusses the relationship between the Book of Judith and Hasmonean history and theology.

11 Carey A. Moore, ”Why Wasn’t the Book of Judith Included in the Hebrew Bible?,” in ”No One Spoke Ill of Her,” pp. 61–71, ends his discussion of the question with the comment ”... the simple fact is that we do not know” (p. 66).

12 See Roger T. Beckwith, The Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church and Its Background in Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1986), p. 275. All the rabbis named in Babylonian Talmud Megillah 7a who deny the canonicity of Esther belong to the third century c.e.

13 See Joosten, ”Language and Milieu,” pp. 175–76, for the first claim; Sidnie White Crawford, ”Esther and Judith: Contrasts in Character,” in Sidnie White Crawford and Leonard J. Greenspoon (eds.), The Book of Esther in Modern Research (London: T&T Clark, 2003), pp. 60–76, esp. 70–71 for the second. Some scholars, e.g., Beckwith, Old Testament Canon, esp. pp. 382–85, argue against the very notion of a separate Greek Jewish canon and point out that the earliest manuscripts of the Apocrypha are all Christian codices. These codices include different books of the Apocrypha, placed in different locations, thus reflecting Christian reading habits.

14 Cf. Dt 23:4 (an express prohibition of Ammonite conversion) and see Moore, Anchor Bible Judith, p. 87.

15 Craven, Artistry and Faith, pp. 117–18; Crawford, ”Esther and Judith,” pp. 70 and 73–76.

16 Robert Hanhart, Iudith (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979), pp. 7–18, reports on the textual tradition of the Septuagint, Old Latin, and Vulgate Judith as well as daughter versions of the Greek in Syriac, Armenian, etc.

17 James C. VanderKam, An Introduction to Early Judaism (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 150–66, is a helpful survey of the Qumran texts and community.

18 See Louis H. Feldman, ”Hellenizations in Josephus’ Version of Esther,” Transactions of the American Philological Association, 101 (1970), pp. 143–70 (p. 145).

19 Origen, Letter to Africanus 19: Ἑβραῖοι τῷ Τωβίᾳ οὐ χρῶνται, οὐδὲ τῇ Ιουδίθ· οὐδὲ γὰρ ἔχουσιν αὐτὰ κἂν ἐν ἀποκρύφοις ἑβραιστί, ὡς ἀπ᾿ αὐτῶν μαθόντες ἐγνώκαμεν Nicholas de Lange (ed.), Origène, La lettre à Africanus sur l’histoire, Sources Chrétiennes 302 [Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1983], p. 562). This letter is dated ca. 245 c.e. ”Apocrypha” should be understood here as ”hidden” or possibly ”stored” books, i.e., the more respected of the non-biblical books; see Beckwith, pp. 325–26 n. 30.

20 Jerome, Preface to Judith (Robert Weber [ed.], Biblia Sacra Iuxta Vulgatam Versionem [Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1969]), p. 691. Other manuscripts have ”Agiographa,” which seems to be a later reading attempting to place Judith in the context of the canonical books. In his preface to the parallel Book of Tobit (p. 676 Weber), Jerome speaks of the Jews separating the work from the biblical canon and transferring it to the Apocrypha (librum ... Tobiae quem Hebraei de catalogo divinarum Scripturarum secantes, his quae Agiografa memorant manciparunt).

21 Jerome, Preface to Judith (Weber, p. 691). This mention of an Aramaic version further complicates matters. It is clear that Jerome made use of Old Latin versions of the Book of Judith – and these Old Latin texts were translated from the Septuagint – as well as his alleged Aramaic source. In addition, Jerome introduced some passages of his own composition. See Moore, Anchor Bible Judith, pp. 94–101; Otzen, Tobit and Judith, p. 141 and the further bibliography there.

22 L. E. Tony André, Les Apocryphes de l’ancien testament (Florence: O. Paggi, 1903), pp. 164–68, is a useful tabular comparison of the Septuagint and Vulgate versions of Judith. See too Dagmar Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut und schöne Witwe: Hebräische Judit Geschichten (Wiesbaden: Marix Verlag, 2007), pp. 3–11. Leslie Abend Callaghan, ”Ambiguity and Appropriation: The Story of Judith in Medieval Narrative and Iconographic Traditions,” in Francesca Canadé Sautman, Diana Conchado, and Giuseppe Carlo Di Scipio (eds.), Telling Tales: Medieval Narratives and the Folk Tradition (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998), pp. 79–99, esp. 81–85, discusses the ways in which Jerome transforms Judith.

23 If the Hanukkah sheelta – a homily on Jewish law and ethics – ascribed to Rav Ahai (680–752 c.e.) is authentic (= text 5f; see the appendix below for a detailed list of medieval Hebrew Judith texts), then the earliest extant Hebrew tale telling of Judith dates back to the eighth century. See Samuel Kalman Mirsky, Sheeltot de Rab Ahai Gaon: Genesis, Part ii (Jerusalem: Sura Institute, Yeshiva University and Mossad Harav Kook, 1961), pp. 175–76 [in Hebrew] and Meron Bialik Lerner, ”Collections of Tales,” Kiryat Sefer, 61 (1986), pp. 867–72, esp. p. 869 n. 11 [in Hebrew] for its authenticity; Ben Zion Wacholder, ”Review of Mirsky, Sheeltot de Rab Ahai Gaon,” Jewish Quarterly Review, 53 (1963), pp. 257–61, esp. p. 258, thinks that this tale is a late gloss. Text 2 can be firmly dated to the eleventh century, as can text 10.

24 There is one notable exception. The biblical commentator and philosopher Ramban (Nachmanides 1194–ca. 1270) was acquainted with an Aramaic version of Judith, translated from the Septuagint, for he quotes from the Peshitta (Syriac) version of Jdt 1:7–11 in his commentary on Dt 21:14. He says that the verses come from the Scroll of Shoshan (or Susann), apparently referring to a scroll containing the ”women’s books,” Susanna, Ruth, Judith, and Esther, which began with Susanna.

25 See above p. 25 and Crawford, ”Esther and Judith.”

26 . ”dies autem victoriae huius festivitatem ab Hebraeis in numero dierum sanctorum accepit et colitur a Iudaeis ex illo tempore usque in praesentam diem.” See, e.g., Louis Soubigou, ”Judith: traduit et commenté,” in Louis Pirot and Albert Clamer (eds.), La Sainte Bible, iv (Paris: Letouzey & Ané, 1952), pp. 481–575 (p. 575), and Yehoshua M. Grintz, Sefer Yehudith: The Book of Judith (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1957), p. 197 [in Hebrew] on the lateness of the verse.

27 See however Pierre-Maurice Bogaert, ”Un emprunt au judaïsme dans la tradition médiévale de l’histoire de Judith en langue d’oïl,” Revue théologique de Louvain, Vol. 31, No. 3 (2000), pp. 344–64, esp. pp. 345–46 (and the further references there) for the argument that the author of the Septuagint Book of Judith already subtly refers to Hanukkah. In the sixteenth century, the critical Jewish thinker Azariah de’ Rossi objected vigorously to the association of Judith with Hanukkah; see Joanna Weinberg, The Light of the Eyes: Azariah de’ Rossi (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), pp. 636–39.

28 Günter Stemberger, ”La festa di Hanukkah, Il libro di Giuditta e midrasim connessi,” in Giulio Busi (ed.), We-Zo’t Le-Angelo: Raccolta di studi giudaici in memoria di Angelo Vivian (Bologna: Associazione italiana per lo studio del giudaismo, 1993), pp. 527–45, discusses Hanukkah in rabbinic Judaism and the various medieval tales associated with the holiday. Mira Friedman, ”Metamorphoses of Judith,” Jewish Art, 12–13 (1986–87), pp. 225–46, esp. pp. 225–32, brings various manuscript illuminations and Hanukkah menorahs which point to the connection between Judith and Hanukkah in Jewish art.

29 See, e.g., a Yemenite account of Judith recently published for the first time in Moshe Chaim Leiter, A Kingdom of Priests: On Chanukah (Modi’in, [s. n.], 2006), pp. 435–42 [in Hebrew]).

30 André Marie Dubarle, Judith: Formes et sens des diverses traditions: i: Études; ii: Textes (Rome: Institut Biblique Pontifical, 1966) and Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut (who relies heavily on Dubarle) are the fullest collections. See too the texts found in Leiter, A Kingdom of Priests, pp. 179–88 and pp. 365–442 [in Hebrew]; Abraham Meir Habermann, Hadashim Gam Jeshanim: Texts Old and New (Jerusalem: Reuven Mass, 1975), pp. 40–74 [in Hebrew]; D. Samuel Löwinger, Judith-Susanna: New Versions Edited According to Budapest Manuscripts (Budapest: F. Gewuercz, 1940), pp. 1–17 [in Hebrew]; Adolph Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrasch (2nd ed.), pp. i–vi (Jerusalem: Bamberger and Wahrmann, 1938), passim. See too the appendix below, pp. 37–39.

31 Translations of various midrashim into English can be found in Charles James Ball, ”Judith” in Henry Wace (ed.), The Apocrypha (London: John Murray, 1888), pp. 241–360 (pp. 252–57) (texts 2a and 3); Moses Gaster, ”An Unknown Hebrew Version of the History of Judith,” in idem, Studies and Texts (New York: KTAV, 1971), vol. i, pp. 86–91; vol. iii, pp. 31–32 (text 1); Moore, Anchor Bible Judith, pp. 103–07 (texts 1 and 3); Bernard H. Mehlman and Daniel F. Polish, ”Ma’aseh Yehudit: A Chanukkah Midrash,” Journal of Reform Judaism, 26 (1979), pp. 73–91 (text D). Dubarle, Judith, and Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, translate the Hebrew texts they collect into French and German, respectively. See the appendix below.

32 Dubarle, Judith, passim is the strongest proponent of the view that the medieval Hebrew versions reflect earlier ancient versions. See however Grintz, Sefer Yehudith, pp. 196–207; Otzen, Tobit and Judith, pp. 138–40 and the further references there for other views.

33 For other groupings of the tales, see Israel Adler, ”A Chanukah Midrash in a Hebrew Illuminated Manuscript of the Bibliothèque Nationale,” in Charles Berlin (ed.), Studies in Jewish Bibliography, History, and Literature in Honor of I. Edward Kiev (New York: KTAV, 1971), pp. i–viii [in Hebrew] (i–ii); Grintz, Sefer Yehudith, pp. 197–98, and Börner-Klein, Gefährdete Braut, passim.

34 The author of the Book of Josippon (middle tenth century c.e.) apparently was the first medieval Jewish author to translate and adapt various sections of the Apocrypha. He is followed by, among others, Jerahme’el son of Solomon (early twelfth cent. c.e.) and Rabbi Eliezer son of Asher (mid-fourteenth century c.e.). See E. Yassif (ed.), The Book of Memory: The Chronicles of Jerahme’el (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University, 2001), pp. 38–40 [in Hebrew].

35 Bogaert, ”Un emprunt,” pp. 353–58, provides interesting indirect evidence for the circulation of such Hanukkah-Judith midrashim in thirteenth-century France, for he demonstrates how the Chevalerie de Judas Macchabée of Gautier de Belleperche incorporates elements of the Hebrew stories.

36 See Grintz, Sefer Yehudit, pp. 205, 207–08.

37 Rashi on Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 23a; Tosafot on Babylonian Talmud Megillah 4a.

38 Nissim ben Reuben on Alfasi, Shabbat 10a (on Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 23b).

39 See the sources in Dubarle, Judith, i, pp. 105–07, 109, and the detailed discussion in Leiter, A Kingdom of Priests, pp. 362–69. A search of the Bar Ilan Online Jewish Responsa Project (http://www.biu.ac.il/jh/Responsa/) supplies further texts, including a responsum from 1996.

40 See Haberman, Texts Old and New, pp. 15–16, 62–74.

Table des illustrations

Légende Odecha ki anafta bi, 1434. Hebrew poem on Judith. Hamburg miscellany, Cod. Heb. 37, fol. 81, Mainz (?). Photo credit: Deborah Levine Gera.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/986/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 609k

Auteur

Deborah Levine Gera is an Associate Professor of Classics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is the author of Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (1993), Warrior Women (1997), and Ancient Greek Ideas on Speech, Language, and Civilization (2003). At present she is working on a commentary on the Book of Judith for the de Gruyter series, Commentaries on Early Jewish Literature, as well as for the Yad Ben-Zvi Hebrew series, Between the Bible and the Mishna.