The Book of Judith is part of the Apocrypha / Deuterocanonical scripture and appears in the Old Testament of Catholic Bibles. The nation of Israel treated the Apocryphal books with respect, but never accepted them as true books of the Hebrew Bible. The early Christian church debated the status of the Apocrypha / Deuterocanonicals, but few early Christians believed they belonged in the canon of Scripture.
The Book of Judith, written in the late second century or early first century B.C., recounts the story of God providing a woman, Judith, to deliver the Jewish people in a time of great need and despair. In the story Judith lives in the town of Bethulia. She is a beautiful and wise widow who becomes incensed with her town elders when they “test” God rather than trust Him and they decide to capitulate to King Nebuchadnezzar’s top general, Holofernes, to surrender if God does not save them in five days.
Judith feels that giving God such a deadline is arrogant and inappropriate in the extreme. She tells the elders she has a plan, but must leave the city for it to be successful. She refuses to divulge any details, departs with her slave woman, and enters Holofernes’s camp on the pretext of providing him help to defeat her fellow Jews.
Holofernes is mesmerized by her beauty and takes her into his camp and company. Her voluptuousness and wiles attract him, and lust blinds him to her deceit. Judith manages to get Holofernes alone in his tent when he is excessively drunk. When he passes out, she beheads him, steals back to Bethulia, displays the result of her intrigue, and becomes the town’s heroine.
This Book of Judith was believed to be written first in Hebrew, but the Septuagint scripture crafted in Koine Greek was accepted by the Catholic Church for its Bible. Jerome, a Catholic priest and apologist (c. A.D. 347 – 420), was said to produce a text of Judith in Latin from a secondary Aramaic text.
As with other books in the Apocrypha, there are anachronisms, most notably the claim that Nebuchadnezzar ruled over the Assyrian Empire from Nineveh. He actually ruled over Babylonia. Nebuchadnezzar’s father, Nabopolassar, had destroyed Nineveh years earlier, making this story’s history suspect. However, many view this account as a variation of the Exodus story, where faith in God and reliance on Him for deliverance from fear and protection from harm and evil is what believers must always do. This book is regarded as an appropriate reflection during the Passover celebration.