The Apocrypha in Lent – 18 February

If this is your first visit, please see my introduction to these Lenten readings.

18 February. Judith chapters 1-4

The first chapters of the story of Holofernes and Judith are scene-setting.  The context is of the approach of a vast army of Assyrians, who have already conquered all the territories north of Judea, and now threaten Judea itself.  In this, the 8th year (I think) of the war in Syria between the forces of Assad (supported by Russia) and those of Daesh and other groups, we know all too well what all-out war in the Near East looks like.  The weapons may have changed, but the attitudes of fighting men and terrified civilians have not.

Footnotes to the Jerusalem Bible that I am using make it clear that although Nebuchadnezzar is a real historical character, the story is wildly out with its timing and historical accuracy. Nebuchadnezzar was not “king of Assyria” but of Babylon; the 18th year of his reign, which in this story is dated as after the return of the Jews from exile, was in fact before the exile; and there is no evidence outside this apocryphal book of the Bible that he ever commanded people to worship him as a god (although other eastern rulers sometimes did).  So as with Tobit, this story should be regarded as a pseudo-historical novel.

The contrast is presented, then, between General Holofernes who will carry out his king’s orders to destroy whole cities, civilisations and religions without compassion, and the people of Judea who call on their God to save them from the enemy.  God had saved them from enemies before (but not always) – will he save them this time?