The Center for Hellenic Studies

Typological Composition and Historia ex vaticinia: The Assyrian Prophecies of Isaiah and the Book of Judith

Jed Wyrick
California State University, Chico
jwyrick@csuchico.edu
Examinations of the process of text creation in antiquity often attempt to emphasize the original creative spark of the author in contrast to the voice of tradition. [1] The authorial ideal of creatio ex nihilo, widely utilized (at least until recently) to understand the creative process of modern writers and artists, lurks behind readings of ancient texts as well. Those of us who have studied with Prof. Nagy are attuned to the lack of applicability of this metaphor to literary culture in antiquity, derived as it is from a Judeo-Christian-Muslim theological doctrine about the lack of pre-existing matter in the creation of the universe; we are also highly attuned to the pitfalls of other Western theologies of genius and inspiration. We are driven to explore the anachronism of the conceptions of authorship assumed by these approaches, conceptions quite different from those that actually prevailed in antiquity. Greg has given us an awareness of the resources of cultural and poetic traditions as well as an appreciation for the worldview in which the new is seen as a continuation of the old (and, by way of the mechanics of the formulaic expression and the theme, actually gives voice to it). [2]
In the case of works of literature from Greco-Judaean culture in the Hellenistic period, literary creation is similarly prone to spring from tradition and from individual moments of textual creation that give voice to the authoritative voices of past traditions. However, the mechanics by which new texts are created from the tradition are quite different. Greco-Judaean culture may lack the longstanding performance tradition that transmits formulaic elements of Archaic Mycenaean and even Indo-European origin (or their equivalent Israelite elements). Nevertheless, claims about this culture’s transcendent appreciation for spontaneous creativity, individual artistic originality, and the breaking of poetic and literary convention are just as worthy of being questioned and challenged.
In a recent return to the theorization of the spontaneous spark of authorial creation, a number of important scholars of Greco-Judaean literature have posited the existence of a practice of fiction writing or historical fiction writing in Second Temple Jewish literature, with regard to Greco-Judaean works found in the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, and elsewhere (see Gruen 1998; Gruen 2004; Johnson 2004). Such claims build on but go beyond the suggestion that these works belong to a genre referred to as the Jewish novel, which preceded and yet shared features with the later Hellenistic novel (see Wills 1995). Approaches that seek to understand Greco-Judaean works from the perspective of fiction and the ancient literary genres typically associated with it have brought us a new appreciation of the variety and complexity of Second Temple writings and their admittedly complex relationship to history, both as it actually occurred and how it had been represented in authoritative scriptures or ancient historiography, and to ancient views on telling vs. stretching the truth.
Yet the intended fictional status of many of the Judean-Greek works is unlikely for a number of reasons. As Paul Veyne observed, fiction cannot exist without a community of readers that is prepared to grant the impossibility of the works they are reading.
A world cannot be inherently fictional; it can be fictional only according to whether one believes in it or not. The difference between fiction and reality is not objective and does not pertain to the thing itself; it resides in us, according to whether or not we subjectively see in it a fiction.
Veyne 1988:21.
And so what readers were prepared to grant about the truthfulness of a work is what ultimately matters in whether we can classify it as fiction. This goes beyond a straightforward classification of works (such as that found in Aristotle’s Poetics) as either history or poetry, where “the true difference [between history and poetry] is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen.” Such an Aristotelian definition looks at the verbal artifact alone, and does not consider the disposition of readers and what writers knew about their proclivities or likely responses. It also underestimates the capacity for writers in particular ancient traditions to interact with myth, scripture, and belief as a source of truth about history.
An alternative poetics of readerly responses for Judaism can be seen in Josephus’ polemic Against Apion (Wyrick 2005). Josephus notes that the Jews are accused of having no “inventors of new works or words” (kainôn heuretai ergôn ê logôn andres) in Against Apion 2.82; in effect, he has described the avoidance of the author function among Jews. Acknowledging that the accusation has some validity, he questions whether such literary invention is worthy of esteem:
Other peoples judge that there is something fine in being true to nothing that stems from ancestral traditions and testify to the consummate wisdom of those who dare to transgress these traditions. We, on the other hand, consider that the only wisdom, the only virtue, consists in doing and devising nothing that is completely at variance with to the laws originally laid down.
Josephus Against Apion 2.182–183
Josephus claims that it is the Greeks who invent their histories from their own conjectures and are therefore not ashamed to give contradictory accounts of the same events. This is caused by a lack of a practice of keeping public records, itself resulting from their recent acquisition of writing. The predisposition to invention, conjecture, and contradiction further springs from their perpetual need to distinguish themselves in writing and to make an impression (epangelma), which brought some of them to create unlikely myths (muthologein). In the opening words of his Jewish War, Josephus declares that his purpose in writing his account is to provide an account to counteract the flatteries and fictions (kolakeiai and plasmata) that Greeks and Romans were being subjected to. Without a doubt there is a certain degree of rhetoric in these claims that can be found in the Greek and Roman accounts as well: the opponents of every historian are also claimed to be writing fiction and myth, while the present writer is claimed to produce nothing but the truth. But we must be open to the possibility that Josephus meant what he said: that he imagined that the Judaean archives were perfectly accurate, that he was not modifying or falsifying the original documents in any way even when he supplemented them with insights from other sorts of documents or texts, and that he imagined his accounts to be utterly unlike myth or fiction. Further, it is entirely likely that Josephus was not alone in his views. He is perhaps the best witness to the internal disposition of Jewish readers in the Roman period and may be supposed to give some indication of the mentality of readers from earlier times. Judaean readers without equivalent education in Greco-Roman culture would likely have been more predisposed to accept the truthfulness of their reading matter presented as deriving from Judaean traditions. And so there is, from this perspective at least, little reason to suspect the existence of a community of readers prepared to accept the impossibility of the works they were reading, even works not as authoritative as the scriptures (however these were defined in various periods). For this reason alone, we should be wary of classifying Jewish works from the Second Temple Period, including those composed in Greek, as “fiction.”

Typological Composition

The argument for the existence of Second Temple Jewish fiction has hinged on the disposition of the writer rather than the reader, and to this I will now turn. It is, of course, impossible to assess what writers intended about their writing. We are left with the evidence of the texts themselves. It has always been easy to suggest that texts that differ from biblical events and precursors are invented fabrications with “non-biblical” details. Nevertheless, it is necessary to be open to the existence of scriptural prompts that guided the creation of such stories.
One such prompt can be found in the practice of typology among Jewish Greek works, a form of intertextuality in which literary types or precursors from earlier narratives help shape and provide an outline for their avatars in subsequent works. Originally used to designate the (alleged) prophetic foreshadowing of the life of Jesus in Old Testament works, the concept has been applied to similar sorts of intertextual resonance in other contexts, including biblical and early Jewish texts (Newman 1999; Wyrick 2011). It is easy to see how a typological focus was able to spur the creations of new works, even in a literary tradition more comfortable with creating works in a historical or historicizing vein and that (as we have seen from the example of Josephus) scorned notions of originality, fabrication, and literary ornament as worthwhile literary features. Consistent with the testimony of Jewish storytelling in the rabbinic period, the creation of works in a typological mode was apparently not viewed in the Second Temple Period as exemplifying hubris or inappropriate license. To the contrary, the very process of projecting a time-honored narrative or character into a new time and setting involved an avoidance of invention.
There are several problems with the typological analysis of a work like the book of Judith as it has been previously explored. First, there is a tendency among scholars to assume that the essence of the typology is metaphorical and structurally analogous rather than metonymic and narratologically contiguous, as if the new text represents a rewriting of or allegorical commentary on the prior text. Second, I would advocate against excessive structuralist interpretation of the new work in relation to its typological precursor, in recognition of the fact that the new narrative itself might not derive from a single typological precursor, as I will show with the example of the book of Judith. However, we should not dismiss a suggested typology on the grounds that not all key elements in the precursor episode are present in the updated version. As I will show, a text like the book of Judith tends to use a typological precursor as a thematic aid in accomplishing a sustained task; the type as it appears in its new context may be only partly analogous to the circumstances involved in original context. In presenting a new circumstance (especially in the advancement of an exegetical agenda prompted by an even more pressing intertext), the type is used to flesh out new characters and narrative episodes called for by the new literary context. The new story in this way attains an acceptable or conventionally valid literary quality and simultaneously avoids the hubris involved in the invention of a new character or narrative twist out of thin air. In this sense, the type becomes a compositional device similar to the notion of “theme” as defined by Albert Lord: a group of ideas regularly used in telling a tale in the formulaic style of traditional song (Lord 1976:68).
By an interpretive emphasis on the sincere disposition of those responsible for these kinds of works, I do not mean to assert that the works themselves are bereft of the kind of literary features that have been discerned by other scholars, such as irony, playfulness, or embellishment. These features are of course present in all kinds of works, regardless of the beliefs of the authors and communities from which they arise. I do however contest the existence of the sly wink of the eye from writer to audience or the historical blunder that was always intended to be discovered by the reader as a key to his or her intended reading experience. My approach instead begins with an attempt to understand Greco-Judaean works as resulting from sincere belief.
In the frequent scholarly conversations about the typological precursors to the book of Judith, little discussed is the strength of its approach to villains and their precursors in the determination of the shape of the narrative. To be sure, scholars have endlessly discussed the historical problems raised by Judith’s villains. Nebuchadnezzar was not king of the Assyrians and did not rule in Ninevah, the commentaries never tire of pointing out. The gesture has sometimes been viewed as a kind of historical blunder that could only have been intended to signal that the work is historical fiction. Such outrageous historical inaccuracies are thought to provide a signal to actual contemporary readers (or at least to the mystical “intended reader” that scholars of ancient literature seem always to be able to discern) that the work has left the realm of history and has entered into the realm of fiction. However, the so-called historical blunder continued to play a role in Jewish legends, without any outright acknowledgement of its utter impossibility. Nebuchadnezzar is referred to as the son of Sennacherib and as a survivor of the defeat of Sennacherib’s forces in rabbinic texts (e.g. B. Sanhedrin 95b; Tosefta-Targum to 2 Kings 18.35 and Isaiah 10.32 makes him a son-in-law of Sennacherib, cf. Jerome’s Commentary on Isaiah 10.13). Nebuchadnezzar was no more difficult to imagine as bridging the gap between the time of Hezekiah and the Babylonian exile than Isaiah himself, whose prophecies as found in the current book of Isaiah are (improbably) set in both periods. We are on more difficult ground with the book of Judith’s notion of a Nebuchadnezzar who again invades Israel even after the end of the exile and the re-establishment of the Temple in Jerusalem. But Judith is remarkably focused on a few scenes from the Bible: the conflicts with Shechem, Sisera, and Sennacherib, with some references to the victory over Pharaoh at the Red Sea. I will also argue that it engages in an extended dialogue with the book of Isaiah, and it is from this larger work that it takes its knowledge of the miraculous salvation of Jerusalem from the clutches of Sennacherib (rather than from the parallel account in 2 Kings).
Other Greco-Judaean works from the Second Temple period exhibit interest in the miraculous victory of the Israelites over a succession of villains. An extended list of biblical exemplars, referred to by scholars as the Beispielreihe, that focuses exclusively on villains or on individuals who survive persecution, is found twice in 3 Maccabees. The sub-genre known as the Beispielreihe, typically viewed as a development of the technique found in Odyssey v.118–133, contains a heading with a focal point, lists exempla that illustrate the point, manifests a compressed format, and repeats the wording of the heading to poetic effect (Newman 1999:159–200, citing Dimant 1990:392 and Schmidt 1977:18–19). In a villainous vein, the Beispielreihe in 3 Maccabees 2:2–8 documents the punishments of the giants of Genesis 6, the Sodomites, and Pharaoh. Eleazar’s prayer in 3 Maccabees 6:2–15 lists Pharaoh, Sennacherib, and several examples of individuals saved from persecution. [3] 3 In a variety of closely-linked passages that resemble Beispielreihe, rabbinic legends frequently speak of Nebuchadnezzar as a king who claimed to be god, grouping him together with villains such as Nimrod, the men of Sodom, Pharaoh, Sisera, Sennacherib, and Hiram (e.g. Mekilta Shirah 2.84; 6.49; 8.31; Mekilta de-Rabbi Shimon 32.1; Tosefta Sotah 3.10; Breshit Rabbah 9.5; Shemot Rabbah 8.2; Bamidbar Rabbah 14.1 and 21.23).
It is thus reasonable that the Book of Judith has gravitated towards Yael and Deborah in Judges 4–5 as a result of a typology of villains rather than of heroes. In creating Holofernes, the commander for the invading armies of Nebuchadnezzar, the author of Judith was drawn to one of the most memorable enemy commanders from the Bible—Sisera, who attacked Israel on behalf of Jabin, king of Canaan. The example of Yael perhaps suggested itself as a heroic model for the heroine of the resistance to Nebuchadnezzar and Holofernes as a result of a prior interest in Sisera (and perhaps from a relevant prophecy of Isaiah that brought to mind a female heroine from the start—see below). As a more pointed example, the character Judith is unlikely to be the avatar of the passive, violated Dinah from Genesis 34, unless somehow as an antitype. Instead, the successful Israelite resistance to Shechem and Hamor, viewed as villains by the book of Judith, is likely to have facilitated a connection between Judith and the violent pair, Simeon and Levi.
Verbal allusions to the Song of the Sea (Ex. 15) might also be attributed to the fact that victory over Pharaoh was to be included in the list of close-calls with villains referenced by Judith, even more perhaps than any developed parallel with Miriam, who also is described as prophesizing after the crossing of the Red Sea (Egger-Wenzel 2009). Villainous Beispielreihe, such as the two found in 3 Maccabees, often include Pharaoh as a key exemplar. In the book of Judith, however, the encounter with Pharaoh may be downplayed because it does not fit into the theme of the defense of the land of Israel from external subjugation and attack.
Similarly, the importance of Nebuchadnezzar to the narrative may have been generated by the attempt to locate a typological avatar for another biblical villain: Sennacherib, the Assyrian king of Nineveh who invaded Israel in the days of King Hezekiah of Judah and Isaiah the prophet and was repulsed after an unsuccessful siege of Jerusalem in a miraculous victory brought about by God. Similarities between Sennacherib’s invasion and the Book of Judith are not difficult to spot, but differences too may be found. As indicated earlier, a view of typology that posits the more recent text as an allegory for its typological precursor and that sees differences between the two versions as communicating in coded form the message of the author is not useful in describing the approach to typology found in the Book of Judith.
It seems more accurate to claim that the avatar narrative is not in fact a retelling of the original, but rather a redeployment of elements of the original narrative to suit an entirely different setting. Judith can be seen as an “avatar narrative” based on the victory over Sennacherib, but it does not constitute a retelling involving close midrashic-type exegesis of elements of this episode. The book’s villain is, in effect, an amalgamation of the types of both Sisera and Sennacherib, while its heroine recapitulates roles played by Yael in the book of Judges and Simeon and Levi in Genesis 34. The song that Judith sings in chapter 16 similarly borrows from the literary examples of the songs of Moses (the Song at the Sea), Miriam (whose song is referred to in the same episode), and Deborah (her song of victory in Judges 5). In each of these cases, the book cobbles together references and shadows of characters, songs, villains, scenes of salvation, and feats of daring. The narrative thus erects itself out of a collage of literary structures, fragments, and coloring that derive from a repertoire of biblical exempla that are deployed to serve the needs of a new challenge: the documentation of a post-exilic victory in fulfillment of the oracles of scripture over the perpetual enemy, the ever-living Pharoah/ Sennacherib/Nebuchadnezzar, and his stereotypical general.
This is a completely different matter from a deliberate retelling of a pre-existing biblical narrative that makes use of the original character names, such as Judith’s retelling of the Dinah episode in Judith’s prayer in Chapter 9. There, Judith recalls an example from the past in which God similarly came to the aid of his devoted servant. To be sure, the retelling also represents a remarkable interpretation of the episode, claiming that Simeon (and presumably Levi as well) were divinely directed to take vengeance on the Shechemites in righteous recompense for what all the Shechemites (and not just Shechem himself) had done. Such a view contrasts markedly with Jacob’s apparent disapproval of their actions at the end of Genesis 34, as well as with the condemnation of the violence and lawlessness of Simeon and Levi in his dying prophetic utterance in Genesis 49.
Remarkable as well in Judith’s retelling is the notion of a sword put by God into Simeon’s hand to take revenge on the Canaanites. When Judith invokes Simeon in her prayer, she cries out, “Lord, God of my father Simeon, into whose hands You gave a sword for vengeance upon the strangers who loosed the virgin’s zone to defilement...” (Judith 9:2). The divine sword motif is found also in the Testament of Levi 5.1–3, in which God almost miraculously equips both Simeon and Levi with a sword and shield. That Simeon and Levi are equipped with a sword is already found in Genesis 34:25. The biblical origin of a divinely created sword found in Judith and the Testament of Levi is more difficult to determine, although it has been suggested that it derives either from the fact that they are described as entering the camp of the Shechemites beṭaḥ ‘in confidence, safe’ (Gen. 32:25). Alternately, it may originate from the phrase, “instruments of violence were their weapons (mĕkērotêhem)” in Jacob’s oracle about Simeon and Levi (Gen. 49:5). Hebrew mĕkērotêhem ‘their weapons’ sounded like Greek mekhaira ‘sword’ or ‘dagger’ (Kugel 1992:5, citing Midrash Tanhuma, Vayyehi 9 [end], which in fact states that the word is Greek in origin). This divine sword granted to Simeon is no doubt relevant to the scene in the book of Judith in which she finds Holofernes’ sword lying near him in his tent and uses it to decapitate him.

The Original Language of Judith

A substantial minority of scholars of the book of Judith have been convincing in making a case for the Greek composition of the book (see Joosten 2007; Rakel 2003:33–40; Schmitz 2009; Gera 2010:25–26). In fact, the existence of a Hebrew original had always been rather weak, its main argument being the statement of St. Jerome from his preface to the Latin translation of the book that appeared to suggest that Jerome had consulted a “Chaldaean” (Aramaic) original.
Apud Hebraeos liber Judith inter apocrypha legitur: cujus auctoritas ad roboranda illa quae in contentionem veniunt, minus idonea judicatur. Chaldaeo tamen sermone conscriptus, inter historias computatur. Sed quia hunc librum Synodus Nicaena in numero sanctarum Scripturarum legitur computasse, acquievi postulationi vestrae, immo exactioni: et sepositis occupationibus, quibus vehementer arctabar, huic unam lucubratiunculam dedi, magis sensum e sensu, quam ex verbo verbum transferens. Multorum codicum varietatem vitiosissimam amputavi: sola ea, quae intelligentia integra in verbis Chaldaeis invenire potui, Latinis expressi. Accipite Judith viduam, castitatis exemplum, et triumphali laude, perpetuis eam praeconiis declarate. Hanc enim non solum feminis, sed et viris imitabilem dedit, qui castitatis ejus remunerator, virtutem ei talem tribuit, ut invictum omnibus hominibus vinceret, et insuperabilem superaret.
Among the Hebrews, the book Judith is read among the Apocrypha, whose authority is considered less suitable for the strengthening those who enter into disputation. Nevertheless, written in a Chaldaean discourse (Chaldaeo...sermone), it is placed among the histories. But since the Nicaean Synod is said to have counted this book in the number of holy Scriptures, I have acquiesced to your request, indeed, to your demand: and, my work set aside, from which I was forcibly restrained, I have given a single night's work, translating more sense from sense than translating word from word. I have pruned the exceedingly corrupt variety of the many codices (codex pl.); only those things, which I was able to discover with sense unimpaired (intelligentia integra) in Chaldaean words (in verbis Chaldaeis), I have expressed in Latin. Receive the widow Judith, model of chastity, and with triumphant praise acclaim her with eternal public celebration. For not only for women, but even for men, He who is the one who rewards her chastity has given her as imitable, and has bestowed upon her such virtue that she might conquer the invincible among humanity, and overcome the unconquerable.
Jerome Preface to the Book of Judith (PL 29:37–39)
Jerome states that Judith is read “among the Apocrypha,” perhaps acknowledging that the book is found among those Greek books not found in the Hebrew Bible itself. The fact that Jerome describes himself as working from multiple codices militates against his having translated from an Aramaic text. He could easily have consulted a variety of Septuagint manuscripts of the book, but he is unlikely have had access to multiple copies of an Aramaic original, which would probably not have been extant in the form of a codex in any event.
The second reference to “Chaldaean” in Jerome’s preface may be understood to refer to Jerome’s view of the ultimate origin of this text, rather than his immediate textual source: “only those things, which I was able to discover with sense unimpaired (intelligentia integra) in Chaldaean words (in verbis Chaldaeis), I have expressed in Latin [words] (Latinis).” It was Jerome who supposed that an Aramaic original lay behind his Greek manuscript, perhaps extrapolating from the existence of the Aramaic text of the Apocryphal book of Tobit. He apparently used his supposition of the existence of such an Aramaic original to understand (if not to edit) the book of Judith and to make sense of its Semitizing Greek. Finally, Jerome’s description of a translation that took the course of a single night seems only reasonable with regard to a Greek original; a Hebrew or Aramaic original would have occasioned consultation with native speakers, considering his rudimentary knowledge of this language. In fact, Jerome describes such a process with regard to his translation of Tobit:
I do not cease to wonder at the constancy of your demanding. For you demand that I bring a book written in a Chaldean discourse (Chaldeo sermone) into Latin writing (ad Latinum stylum), indeed the book of Tobias, which the Hebrews exclude from the catalogue of Divine Scriptures, being mindful of those things which they have titled Hagiographa. I have done enough for your desire, yet not by my study. For the studies of the Hebrews rebuke us and find fault with us, to translate this for the ears of Latins contrary to their canon. But judging that it is better to be displeasing to the opinion of the Pharisees and to be subject to the commands of bishops, I have persisted as I have been able; and because the language of the Chaldeans (Chaldeorum lingua) is close to Hebrew discourse (sermoni hebraico), finding a speaker very skilled in both languages (utriusque linguae), I took to the work of one day, and whatever he expressed to me in Hebrew words (hebraicis verbis), this, with a summoned scribe, I have set forth in Latin discourse (sermonibus latinis). I will be paid the price of this work by your prayers, when, by your grace, I will have learned what you request to have been completed by me was worthy.
Jerome Preface to the Book of Tobit (PL 29.23–26)
A single day’s translation of a comparable Aramaic text required for Jerome the use of a native informant; he would not have undertaken a similar translation so speedily without such aid, notwithstanding his other pressing labor.
Studies of the original language of the book of Judith’s composition have uncovered evidence of another sort in favor of Greek: the book’s use of expressions deriving from the Septuagint (LXX) rather than existing as independent translations of the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT) or some other Hebrew manuscript. Two examples from the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) form the core of this argument. In two places, the book of Judith describes God (termed either kurios ‘lord’ or theos ‘God’) as “waging wars” (suntribôn polemous). [4]
Judith 9:7 καὶ οὐκ ἔγνωσαν ὅτι σὺ εἶ κύριος συντρίβων πολέμους.
And he did not know that you are the Lord who brings together wars.
Judith 16:2 ὅτι θεὸς συντρίβων πολέμους κύριος
...that a God who brings together wars is the Lord...
The phrase seems to derive from the Septuagint version of Exodus 15:3, acknowledged by many to be an intertext for the book of Judith on other grounds as well:
LXX Exodus 15:3 κύριος συντρίβων πολέμους
The Lord who wages wars
In contrast, it is almost impossible to derive from the Hebrew original of this verse (as preserved in the Masoretic Text), ‘Yahweh is a man of war (ʾîš milḥāmâ); Yahweh is his name’ (Ex. 15:3). The reason for the translation liberty is clear: the Septuagint translator was attempting to avoid the anthropomorphism implied in the description of God as a man, consistent with a longstanding Alexandrian Jewish eschewal of anthropomorphism of the divine. [5] Another example of Judith borrowing from the Septuagint has also been brought to the fore. The Septuagint’s pairing of phobos kai tromos ‘fear and trembling’ in LXX Exodus 15:16 seems to have served as a model for the identical expression in Judith 2:28 and the reversal of the pair in Judith 15:2 (tromos kai phobos), although the Hebrew original of this expression (ʾêmatâ wāpaḥad) cannot be excluded as an independent source of both passages from Judith.

History out of the Prophecies of Isaiah

As many scholars have already shown, the Book of Judith’s use of biblical texts was not merely a matter of incorporating scatted expressions from favored texts; it also took characters and whole episodes as models for the composition of its own corresponding characters and events. For instance, the Song of the Sea and the Song of Deborah evidently served as exemplars for the song that Judith herself sings in celebration of the victory of the Israelites over Sisera and the invading Assyrians. But this is, I have suggested, a matter of typological composition, and does not address the substance of the book. I will argue that the book of Judith’s overall purpose, and indeed, most of the troublesome historical inaccuracies themselves (see Johnson 2004:24–29 and 46–48), derive from its close attention to the prophecies relating to Assyria found in the Book of Isaiah and an attempt to create a narrative that would fulfill the prediction of a thwarted Assyrian attack on a newly-pious population of Israel.
If the Book of Judith was composed in Greek, it is reasonable that it made use of the Bible in Greek, as we have seen from references to LXX Exodus 15 and LXX Isaiah 3. What has not been noticed in the aforementioned discussions of the influence of the Septuagint translation on the book of Judith is the frequency with which the Greek of Isaiah in particular emerges as the source of this influence. This holds true even for the expression from Exodus 15:3 already discussed as a key indicator of the original Greek composition of the book. The future verb form suntripsei polemon ‘he will bring together war’ as a translation of the similar Hebrew expression ʾîš milḥāmôt ‘man of wars’ is used of God in LXX Isaiah 42:13: “The Lord God of the powers will go forth and bring together war...”. [6] Without discounting the significance of Ex. 15 for the book of Judith, it seems appropriate to point out that the near repetition of the phrase in the Septuagint of Isaiah might have heightened its importance to the composer of Judith, who used the phrase twice.
Similarly, Judith’s cry, meth’ hêmôn ho theos ho theos hêmôn ‘with us is God, our God’ in 13:3 might be a reference to the name Immanuel (literally, “with us is God”) found in Isaiah 7:14. The same concept is also fully spelled out in Isaiah 8:8 (meth’ hêmôn ho theos ‘with us is God’) and 8:10 (meth’ hêmôn kurios ho theos ‘with us is the Lord God’). [7] In Isaiah 18:7, Zion is described as “the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty”; in a theologically similar vein, Judith 9:8 describes the tabernacle (skênôma) as a place “of the resting (katapausis) of the Name of Your glory.” Like Isaiah 66:1, in which God asks where will his resting place be (implying that no such place can be built that will contain Him), the point here may be that it is the Name of God only that rests in the Temple. Basileus ho megas ‘the great king’ in Judith 2:5 and 6:4 also seems to relate to Isaiah 36:4 and 13. The only other two uses in the LXX include 2 Kings 18:19, the repetition of the Isaiah passage, and Tobit 13:16, which is unlikely to have served as an intertext for Judith. [8] Further, humnon kainon ‘a new hymn’ in Judith 16:13 may recall the identical expression in LXX Isaiah 42:10. [9]
A case for the significance of the book of Isaiah to Judith, and in particular the Greek Isaiah, is not difficult to make. [10] The Greek translation of the book is theorized to have been among the earliest of the translations (ca. 170 BCE) that came after the translation of the Pentateuch (ca. 250–221 BCE), which would precede the usual dates proposed for the book of Judith, mostly hovering around a date of 150 BCE (see Gera 2009; 2010:26–27), essentially during or soon after the Maccabean conflict.
Prophecies of the book of Isaiah, in particular the references to Assyria involving some some undetermined and even eschatological date in the future (“on that day”) represent the source and origin of this literary project. The narrative may thus have partly arisen in an antieschatological or anti-presentist mode (what can be shown to have already been fulfilled in the historical past is no longer available for an end-of-time or contemporary interpretation). Thus, the primary intertext of the book of Judith is not Judges 4–5 or Genesis 34, but rather the succession of prophecies relating to Assyria found in the Book of Isaiah that have a positive rather than a negative outcome.
While Isaiah’s prophecies about Assyria are sometimes today read as having been fulfilled by the invasion by Sennacherib in Isaiah 37–40, readings of the Assyria predictions in the Second Temple period tended to search for a more contemporary and socially relevant fulfillment of these verses as prophetic utterances. The Isaiah Pesharim found at Qumran (4Q161) are quite interesting in treating references to Assyria in the book of Isaiah as representing the Kittim, a designition that seems to have been a code at Qumran for the contemporary enemies of the sectarians, the Romans (or perhaps in some cases the Seleucids). To give one example of a Pesher on Isaiah 10:
See! The Lord YHWH of Hosts will rip off the branches at one wrench; the] tall[est trunks] will be felled, 2 [the loftiest chopped.] The thickest [of the wood will be cut] with iron and Lebanon, with its grandeur, 3 [will fall. Blank Its interpretation (peshro) concerns the] Kittim, wh[o] will be pla[ced] in the hands of Israel, and the meek 4 [of the earth...] all the peoples and soldiers will weaken and [their] he[art] will melt 5[...and what it says: “The] tallest [trunks] will be destroyed,” they are the soldiers of the Kit[tim] 6 [since...] “and the thickest of [the] wood will be cut with iron” Blank Th[ey are] 7 [...] for the war of the Kittim. Blank “And Lebanon, with its gran[deur], 8 [will fall”. They are the commanders of the] Kittim, who will be pla[ced] in the hand of the great of [...] 9 [...] in his flight befo[re Is]rael.
4Q161 Pesher to Isaiah 10:33–34
For the author of the Isaiah Pesher, Assyria as it appeared in the book of Isaiah was a code for some future invasion, not a reference to the already completed invasion of Sennacherib described in Isaiah 37–40.
At times, the prophecies about Assyria in Isaiah speak about Assyria as God’s tool, holding the “rod of my wrath and anger” (Isaiah 10:5) with which a variety of cities are to be brought low, including the Israelites themselves, if they are to be understood as the “lawless nation” mentioned in Isaiah 10:
5 Οὐαὶ Ἀσσυρίοις·
ἡ ῥάβδος τοῦ θυμοῦ μου καὶ ὀργῆς ἐστιν ἐν ταῖς χερσὶν αὐτῶν.
6 τὴν ὀργήν μου εἰς ἔθνος ἄνομον ἀποστελῶ
καὶ τῷ ἐμῷ λαῷ συντάξω
ποιῆσαι σκῦλα καὶ προνομὴν
καὶ καταπατεῖν τὰς πόλεις καὶ θεῖναι αὐτὰς εἰς κονιορτόν.

5 Woe to the Assyrians!
The rod of my wrath and anger is in their hands!
6 I will send my anger against a lawless nation,
and I will instruct my people
to take spoils and plunder and to tread down the cities and turn them into dust.
LXX Isaiah 10:5–6 [11] , NETS
The first three chapters of the book of Judith seems to encapsulate the notion of an Assyria that acts as God’s tool, ruling over the nearly the entire earth, as it were, including Mesopotamia and Syria, Put and Lud, Egypt and Arabia. Ambiguity, however, arises with the identification of the “lawless nation” of verse 6. Normally, one might construe this to be the people of Israel itself. The invasion by Sennacherib was one such punishment of Judah, recompense for the sorts of idolatrous practices that Hezekiah eventually eliminates from Israelite worship. But Isaiah 10:6 contrasts the “lawless nation” with “my people.” Further, the Book of Judith is set a time when the Israelites were no longer lawless.
Moreover, what was to be done with the prophecies of Isaiah that predicted the destruction of Assyria? Perhaps it was not so satisfying to interpreters of Isaiah that Assyria was finally overcome in 605 BCE by the Babylonians. After all, Isaiah had claimed that it would be the Lord that would be their undoing.
12 And it shall be that when the Lord has finished doing all the things on Mount Sion and Ierousalem, he will bring his wrath against the great mind, the ruler of the Assyrians, and against the loftiness of the glory of his eyes.
13 For he said: “By my strength I will do it, and by the wisdom of my understanding I will remove the boundaries of nations, and I will plunder their strength.
14 And I will shake inhabited cities and take with my hand the whole world like a nest and seize its inhabitants like eggs that have been forsaken, and there is none who will escape from me or contradict me.”
LXX Isaiah 10:12–14, NETS
Indeed, the foretold destruction is to occur in a time when Israel gives up idols of silver and gold and thus reasonably at the hands of the Israelites themselves. See, for instance, Isaiah 31:5–6:
5 ὡς ὄρνεα πετόμενα, οὕτως ὑπερασπιεῖ κύριος ὑπὲρ Ιερουσαλημ καὶ ἐξελεῖται καὶ περιποιήσεται καὶ σώσει.
6 ἐπιστράφητε, οἱ τὴν βαθεῖαν βουλὴν βουλευόμενοι καὶ ἄνομον.
7 ὅτι τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἐκείνῃ ἀπαρνήσονται οἱ ἄνθρωποι τὰ χειροποίητα αὐτῶν τὰ ἀργυρᾶ καὶ τὰ χρυσᾶ, ἃ ἐποίησαν αἱ χεῖρες αὐτῶν. 8 καὶ πεσεῖται Ασσουρ·
5 Like birds flying, so the Lord will shield Ierousalem; he will deliver and preserve and save it.
6 Turn, you who plan a deep and lawless plan,
7 because on that day people shall disown their handiworks of silver and gold, which their hands have made.
8 Then Assour shall fall;
LXX Isaiah 31:5–6, NETS
According to this passage, Assyria is to fall precisely at a time when the Israelites have abandoned their idolatrous ways. And if the Assyrian armies had already been destroyed in the form of the destruction of Sennacherib’s troops at Jerusalem, when did this second, more deserved destruction occur? My claim is that the book of Judith supplies a concrete narrative to fulfill the conditions of the prophecies regarding Assyria in the book of Isaiah that are not fulfilled with Sennacherib’s defeat. Biblical scholars have long recognized the existence of the vaticinium ex eventu ‘oracle from the event’, a prophecy composed after the time of a historical event and yet set in a historical period prior to that event as if it were a prediction (see Oßwald 1963). Instead, we might describe the book of Judith as historia ex vaticinia ‘history from the oracle’: a historical account created in satisfaction of a prophecy could not otherwise be said to have been fulfilled.
Let us turn some of the other correlations between the book of Judith and the oracles of Isaiah that relate specifically to the key aspects of its narrative. First, the conditions of Israelite piety described in Isaiah 31 are exactly those of the Israelites in the book of Judith. According to Isaiah, “on that day people shall disown their handiworks of silver and gold, which their hands have made. Then Assour shall fall” (Isaiah 31:5). Confirming that these are indeed the conditions of the present conflict, Judith herself states:
18 ὅτι οὐκ ἀνέστη ἐν ταῖς γενεαῖς ἡμῶν οὐδέ ἐστιν ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ σήμερον οὔτε φυλὴ οὔτε πατριὰ οὔτε δῆμος οὔτε πόλις ἐξ ἡμῶν, οἳ προσκυνοῦσι θεοῖς χειροποιήτοις, καθάπερ ἐγένετο ἐν ταῖς πρότερον ἡμέραις·
19 ὧν χάριν ἐδόθησαν εἰς ῥομφαίαν καὶ εἰς διαρπαγὴν οἱ πατέρες ἡμῶν καὶ ἔπεσον πτῶμα μέγα ἐνώπιον τῶν ἐχθρῶν ἡμῶν.
20 ἡμεῖς δὲ ἕτερον θεὸν οὐκ ἔγνωμεν πλὴν αὐτοῦ· ὅθεν ἐλπίζομεν ὅτι οὐχ ὑπερόψεται ἡμᾶς οὐδ' ἀπὸ τοῦ γένους ἡμῶν.
18 For there has not appeared among our generations, nor is there in this day, either a tribe or a clan or a district or a city from among us, who do obeisance to handmade gods, as happened in former days,
19 on account of which our fathers were handed over for the sword and for plunder and suffered a great fall before our enemies.
20 We however have known no other God except him, for which reason we hope that he will not disregard us nor any of our race.
Judith 8:18–20, NETS
Scholars of the book of Judith have been right to declare these verses in particular as crucial for understanding the meaning of the book as a whole. But their significance only becomes clear when considered against the backdrop of Sennacherib’s invasion. Although he is in other respects the repetition of Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar (this time at least!) invades the land of Israel without the benefit of serving as the “rod of God.” The idea that the generation of those returning from Babylon had given up idolatry is not the isolated creation of the Book of Judith, but rather a trope that is developed in later rabbinic literature. Thus in B. Yoma 69b it is claimed that the Men of the Great Assembly had banished from the world the desire for idolatry, and in the opinion of R. Simeon b. Yohai as related in Shir HaShirim Rabbah 7.14, idolatry had been vanquished in the time of Nebuchadnezzar.
Another connection between Judith and the book of Isaiah, and in particular the Septuagint version of Isaiah, was pointed out by Claudia Rakel (Rakel 2003:278–282) and echoed by Barbara Schmitz (Schmitz 2009:83). Although the evidence is limited to a few words, it seems that the book of Judith uses the same vocabulary to describe Judith’s ornaments as is found in the depiction of a future disrobing of women found in the Septuagint to Isaiah 3.
18...in that day. And the Lord will take away the glory of their attire and their adornments (kosmoi) and the braids and the tassels and the crescents
19 and the necklace and the adornment (kosmos) of their face
20 and the collection of glorious adornment and the bracelets (khlidônai) and the armlets (pselia) and the braiding and the bangles and the rings (daktulioi) and the earrings (enôtia)
21 and the garments trimmed with purple and the garments blended with purple
22 and the housecoats and the transparent Laconian fabrics
23 and the garments of fine linen, both the blue ones and the scarlet ones, and the fine linen embroidered with gold and blue thread and the light flowing garments.
24 And instead of a pleasant scent there will be dust and instead of a girdle you will gird yourself with a rope, and instead of a head adornment of gold you will have baldness because of your works, and instead of the tunic blended with purple you will gird yourself about with sackcloth (sakkos).
25 And your most beautiful son, whom you love, shall fall by dagger, and your strong men shall fall by dagger and shall be brought low.
26 And the cases for your adornment (kosmos) shall mourn, and you shall be left alone, and shall be dashed to the ground.
LXX Isaiah 3:18–26, NETS
The punishment of the daughters of Zion described in Isaiah 3 certainly serves as a precursor to the actions of Judith, put precisely in reverse. While Isaiah 3 depicts a time when Jerusalem has stumbled and Judah insults the Lord, Judith is set in a time of perfect obedience. As a result, Judith embodies a reversal of the humiliation of the daughters of Zion through the removal of fine clothing and adornments.
1 And it came to pass, when she had ceased crying out to the God of Israel and had finished all these words,
2 and she rose from falling and summoned her favorite slave and went down into the house, wherein she remained in the days of the sabbaths and in her feasts,
3 and removed the sackcloth (sakkos) which she wore and stripped off the clothing of her widowhood, and she washed herself, all around the body, with water and anointed herself with thick ointment and fixed the hair of her head and placed a turban upon it and put on the clothing of her merriment with which she was accustomed to dress in the days of the life of her husband Manasses,
4 and she took sandals for her feet and put on the anklets (klidônai) and the bracelets (pselia) and the rings (daktulioi) and the earrings (enôtia) and her every ornament (kosmos), and she made herself up provocatively for the charming of the eyes of men, all who would cast eyes upon her.
Judith 10:1–4, NETS
Instead of being stripped of her garments in punishment, she removes the lowly sackcloth of her widowhood and puts on the ornaments of these women to fulfill a divine plan.
In both cases, a favored son is killed by means of a blade, as described in Isaiah 3:25. But could even the vivid detail of Judith’s decapitation of Holofernes, perhaps the most colorful moment of the book, have been prompted by the words of Isaiah? The intertexts of both Judges 4–5 and Genesis 34 may have played a role here. In the case of Yael, the biblical heroine pierces the head of Sisera with a tent peg. Further, as we have seen, Simeon, also a type of Judith, attacks Shechem (according to the book of Judith) with a divine sword. Harmonizing the two scenes, the author of the book of Judith might easily have come up with a heroine that uses a most convenient, almost miraculous sword to do eliminate her victim. It might also be useful to bring to bear an important detail from perhaps the older of the two major manuscript traditions of the Septuagint version to Judges: version A in Rahlfs’ edition, which derives from the Codex Alexandrinus and two manuscript traditions associated with the recensions of Origen and Lucian. [12] In the song of Deborah as found in version A, it is stated that Yael beheaded (apetemen) Sisera (LXX Judges 5:26 Version A). (Incidentally, in this same song, Sisera’s mother is invoked as wondering if her missing husband is “dividing the spoil, showing friendship to friends towards a mighty one’s head.”)
Two scenes from the book of Isaiah might also have helped bridge the gap between the decapitating Yael and a future Assyrian invasion. Above all, why was the author of Judith drawn to Yael to begin with, beyond an immediate attraction to the episode’s villain, Sisera? Why have a female hero at all? The answer seems in part to lie in the “oracle” of Isaiah 14:
24 τάδε λέγει κύριος σαβαωθ
Ὃν τρόπον εἴρηκα, οὕτως ἔσται,
καὶ ὃν τρόπον βεβούλευμαι, οὕτως μενεῖ,
25 τοῦ ἀπολέσαι τοὺς Ἀσσυρίους ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς τῆς ἐμῆς καὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ὀρέων μου,
καὶ ἔσονται εἰς καταπάτημα,
καὶ ἀφαιρεθήσεται ἀπ' αὐτῶν ὁ ζυγὸς αὐτῶν,
καὶ τὸ κῦδος αὐτῶν ἀπὸ τῶν ὤμων ἀφαιρεθήσεται.

24 This is what the Lord Sabaoth says:
As I have said, so shall it be,
and as I have planned, so shall it remain:
25 to destroy the Assyrians from my land and from my mountains,
and they shall be trampled,
and their yoke shall be removed from them,
and their renown shall be removed from their shoulders.
LXX Isaiah 14:24–25, NETS
In the Hebrew Masoretic Text (MT), it is “his burden” (subŏlô) which shall “drop” from the shoulders of the Israelites. In contrast, the Septuagint translates “burden” as kudos ‘renown’, implying that it is the renown of the Assyrians that will be forcibly “removed” (rather than that it will drop of their own accord as in the MT). The metaphor of renown being removed from shoulders is made concrete in Judith, by means of her ingenuity and a handy sharp sword. Another oracle that Isaiah pronounces to Hezekiah has a suggestive statement about a daughter of Jerusalem, in this case shaking her own head in mockery at the Assyrians:
21 Καὶ ἀπεστάλη Ησαιας υἱὸς Αμως πρὸς Εζεκιαν καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ Τάδε λέγει κύριος ὁ θεὸς Ισραηλ Ἤκουσα ἃ προσηύξω πρός με περὶ Σενναχηριμ βασιλέως Ἀσσυρίων.
22 οὗτος ὁ λόγος, ὃν ἐλάλησεν περὶ αὐτοῦ ὁ θεός Ἐφαύλισέν σε καὶ ἐμυκτήρισέν σε παρθένος θυγάτηρ Σιων, ἐπὶ σοὶ κεφαλὴν ἐκίνησεν θυγάτηρ Ιερουσαλημ.
21 Then Esaias son of Amos was sent to Hezekias and said to him: “This is what the Lord says, the God of Israel: I have heard the things you have prayed to me concerning King Sennacherim of the Assyrians.
22 This is the word that God has spoken concerning him: Virgin daughter Sion has despised and mocked you, daughter Ierousalem has shaken her head at you.
LXX Isaiah 37:21–22, NETS
In verse 22, the daughter of Jerusalem, depicted as a widow in both Isaiah 47:1 and 47:8 (cf. Lamentations 1), shakes her head dismissively at the blasphemous leader of the Assyrians. Judging from the Hebrew text, it appears that it is her own head that she is shaking in mockery. But Greek ekinêsen (literally “moved”) is easier to read as “set in motion” in a figurative sense (that is, “to have used her head” or planned his destruction). It can even be construed as “removed” (see LSJ, s.v.) in reference to the head of her enemy, as one might be inclined to do if the text were to be read in conjunction with LXX Isaiah 14:25 and the story of Yael (as found in version A of LXX Judges). In any case, the Book of Judith has made the enemy of Assyria a literal woman, if something less than a virgin; nevertheless, Judith’s chastity, though not retroactive, is underscored with some repetitiveness and plays a crucial role in the plot. One might also suggest that daughter Zion’s virginity as predicted in Isaiah 37:22 has been regained by the Israelites as a whole in parallel fashion to Judith herself. They are thus depicted as knowing no idolatry for what might well be the first time in the literary records of the Judaean people.
A further impetus for the search for female heroic types and the basic outline of the events of the book may very well be Isaiah 31, where it is stated that Assyria shall fall “not by the sword of man.”
8 καὶ πεσεῖται Ασσουρ· οὐ μάχαιρα ἀνδρὸς
οὐδὲ μάχαιρα ἀνθρώπου καταφάγεται αὐτόν,
καὶ φεύξεται οὐκ ἀπὸ προσώπου μαχαίρας·
οἱ δὲ νεανίσκοι ἔσονται εἰς ἥττημα,
9 πέτρᾳ γὰρ περιλημφθήσονται ὡς χάρακι
καὶ ἡττηθήσονται,
ὁ δὲ φεύγων ἁλώσεται.
Τάδε λέγει κύριος
Μακάριος ὃς ἔχει ἐν Σιων σπέρμα
καὶ οἰκείους ἐν Ιερουσαλημ.

8 Then Assour shall fall; not a man’s dagger,
nor a human dagger, shall devour him,
and he shall not flee from before a dagger,
but his young men shall be defeated;
9 for they shall be encompassed by a rock, as with a rampart,
and they shall be defeated,
and the one who flees will be caught.
This is what the Lord says:
“Happy is the one who has a seed in Sion
and kinsmen in Ierousalem.”
LXX Isaiah 31:8–9, NETS
In short, the decapitation of Holofernes has a biblical basis in the congruence of Yael’s tent peg and Levi and Simeon’s divine swords. Both episodes resonated with the references to the head of the leader of the Assyrians in Isaiah 14 and 37 and were easily reconciled with the “sword not from a man” in Isaiah 31. In keeping with this link, I would suggest that other details in Isaiah’s oracles against Assyria, including Isaiah 37, an oracle ostensibly given in the context of the oncoming destruction of Sennacherib’s army at Jerusalem under Hezekiah, were used to produce lengthy portions of the book of Judith. The elaborate historical details found in the book of Judith have previously been explained as adding structure to the work or lending verisimilitude to the book’s historical pretensions (e.g. Moore 1985:39). See, for instance, Isaiah 37:
23 Whom have you reviled and provoked?
Or against whom have you raised your voice?
And did you not lift up your eyes on high to the Holy One of Israel!
24 Because by your messengers you have reviled the Lord,
for you said, ‘With the multitude of my chariots
I have gone up to the height of the mountains
and to the utmost limits of Lebanon,
and I cut down the height of its cedar
and the beauty of its cypress,
and I entered into the height of its forest region,
25 and I built a bridge [dam]
and desolated the waters
and every gathering of water.’
26 Have you not heard long ago
of these things that I have done?
From ancient days I ordained them
but now I have exhibited them,
to make desolate the nations that are in strong places
and those who dwell in strong cities.
27 I weakened their hands and they have withered,
and they have become like dry grass on housetops and like wild grass.
28 But now I know your resting place,
your going out and coming in.
29 And your wrath with which you have raged
and your bitterness have come up to me;
so I will put a muzzle on your nose and a bit on your lips;
I will turn you back on the way by which you came.
LXX Isaiah 37:23–29, NETS
Nebuchadnezzar quite deliberately lives up to the outrage to be committed by such a figure, as described in passage 10, in which Holofernes requires Assyria’s vassals worship Nebuchadnezzar as a god:
8 And he razed all their temples and cut down their groves. Indeed, he had been appointed to root out all the gods of the land, that every nation and every tongue should serve Nabouchodonosor and him alone and that their every tribe should invoke him as a god.
Judith 3:8, NETS
This description accords with the charge of blasphemy leveled against the target of Isaiah 37, despite the fact that Nebuchadnezzar elsewhere in biblical books is merely described as an idolator and polytheist, rather than a competitor to a monotheistic god. In fact, the conclusion that Nebuchadnezzar had made such a claim is actually derived by rabbinic interpreters from one such prophecy in Isaiah: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). This verse is widely understood to be the statement of Nebuchadnezzar himself (in Mekhilta Shirata 2.84, 6.49, 8.31; Tosefta Sotah 3.19; and B. Hullin 89a).
The book of Judith also fulfills mention of the ascent to the utmost limits of Lebanon found in Isaiah 37, where the offending individual declares, “and I built a dam (gephura) and desolated the waters and every gathering of water” (Isaiah 37:25; see also Isaiah 10:13). The entire Assyrian strategy against the town of Bethulia described in the book of Judith is to dry up its springs and to prevent its inhabitants from getting water, in order to encourage them to surrender. The dramatic siege of Ecbatana under the king “Arpaxad” (perhaps taken from Genesis 10) that comprises chapter 1 of Judith also accords with this individual’s boast “to make desolate the nations that are in strong places and those who dwell in strong cities” (Isaiah 37:26).

* * *

What then is at stake in the book of Judith’s reading of the Assyria prophecies in Isaiah as having been fulfilled in the days immediately following the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem? Not only did the Book of Judith seek to claim that these prophecies had been fulfilled in the days immediately following the reconstruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, its narrative as a whole should be seen as a sincere attempt to fulfill prophecy through historical narrative. Although analogous in some ways to the reading of the Assyrians as kittim in the Qumran Pesher, in other respects it stands in stark opposition. Where the Qumranic Pesharim view Isaiah as referring to the present enemies of the community or to a future time in which the kittim—the enemies of the present day—will receive their just deserts, the book of Judith in contrast dramatizes prophecies about the Assyrians in a thwarted, post-exilic invasion of Judea by Nebuchadnezzar that has already occurred. The impulse to create such a narrative fulfillment of prophecy stands in sharp opposition to both apocalyptic trends in Second Temple Judaism as well as to the presentist interpretations found, for example, throughout the Qumran Pesharim.
I have described a Judith composed of a hodgepodge of biblical references, scenes, types, and events, but structured around the oracles on Assyria from the book of Isaiah. This description does not impose upon Second Temple Jewish literature in general or Greco-Judaean literature in particular historically anachronistic motives and literary goals. It begins from the methodological standpoint that the writers of texts like Judith are sincere believers in their tradition who attempt to address new challenges through narrative, despite their apparent desire to avoid the invention of narratives and characters that are truly new. Accordingly, the book of Judith attempts to conceptualize prophetic utterances of scripture as valid and in their own way relevant to the present day by imagining them to have been already fulfilled in the past. This work creates history out of scriptural prophecy and elaborates on the nature of this history by means of literary building blocks from the Judaean scriptures, conceived of as a character repository containing timeless narratives and treated as ever-applicable to newly-discovered or newly-dramatized contexts.

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Footnotes

[ back ] 1. This paper is dedicated with the greatest affection to a truly innovative scholar, a sincere and devoted mentor, and a beloved friend, Greg Nagy. Greg has been an unstinting source of insight, inspiration, affection, and support not only to me at each and every stage of my graduate studies and career after graduation, but to my fellow students in Comparative Literature and Classics at Harvard and to an entire generation of Comparativists, Hellenists, Homerists, and Indo-Europeanists that preceded them. This earlier generation includes my first mentor and teacher in Greek, Lenny Muellner, in whose eyes and words I first met Greg without even knowing it, brilliantly refracted through Lenny’s own wisdom. The study of Greek poetics has been revolutionized by Greg’s gentle and penetrating analysis. I am confident that his esteem for the value and capacity of cultural and poetic traditions will continue to impact the world beyond what any of us can imagine.
[ back ] 2. My thanks to Ron Hendel for being kind enough to invite me to speak at the UC Berkeley Jewish Studies Lecture Series and for giving a most thoughtful and encouraging assessment of the earliest version of this project.
[ back ] 3. Ben Sira contains a Beispeilreihe in 16:6–10, organized as a list of anti-role models, including Korah, Dathan, Abiram, the giants prior to the Flood, the people of Sodom, the Canaanites, and the 600,000 rebellious Israelites in the desert. Damascus Document 2:14–3:12 also accuses many biblical characters of having strayed on account of a guilty inclination, including the Watchers, their giant sons, the sons of Noah and their families, and Jacob’s sons in Egypt, together with their descendants, congregation, and kings.
[ back ] 4. On the translation of suntribô as “bring together” rather than “crush” (as found in A New English Translation of the Septuagint [NETS], ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin Wright [New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007] in Judith 9:7 and 16:3 as well as in LXX Ex. 15:3), I would note the use of tribô with polemos ‘war’ (in the dative) in the sense of “be much busied or engrossed with” as found in Herodotus 3.134 (see LSJ, s.v.). With regard to LXX Ex. 15:3 itself and its rendering of Hebrew ʾîš milḥāmâ ‘man of war’, the translator’s point is unlikely to have been that God “crushes” wars but rather that he engages himself in this activity and brings together both sides of each conflict for this purpose. A different usage of suntribô is found in the LXX translation of Psalm 46:10, where the MT speaks of God as mašbît milḥāmôt ʿad-qĕṣê hāʾāreṣ//qešet yĕšabbēr wĕqiṣṣēṣ ḥănît ‘putting an end to wars to the end of the earth, he will break bow and shatter spear’. Here, the LXX does employ suntribô as “shatter”: “canceling wars to the ends of the earth; he will shatter (suntripsei) bow and break armor…” (LXX Psalm 45:10, trans. NETS). A similar usage is found in LXX Psalm 75(76):4, where God “shattered (sunetripsen) the powers of bows, shield and sword and war” (cf. LXX Hosea 2:20). The translation “bring together, wage” is at variance with the argument of Judith Lang, “The Lord Who Crushes Wars: Studies on Judith 9:7, Judith 16:2 and Exodus 15:3,” in Géza G. Xeravits, ed. A Pious Seductress: Studies in the Book of Judith (Berlin and Boston: Walter De Gruyter, 2012), pp. 179-187. However, I do acknowledge the possibility that the book of Judith may have understood LXX Ex. 15:3 as meaning “who crushes wars” and echoed this usage in Judith 9:7 and 16:3, even if this was not the intent of LXX Ex. 15:3.
[ back ] 5. For two early examples of this avoidance, see Artapanus and Aristobulus. Indeed the LXX knows of a literal translation of this expression—see the examples cited in Rakel 2003:39n200—but in no case is this literal translation used in connection with God.
[ back ] 6. See Rakel 2003:39–40 and 107–110; Rakel cites Engel 1992:165f.n7.
[ back ] 7. See the analogous concept found in Psalm 46:8 and 12, which states God is ʿimmānû ‘with us’.
[ back ] 8. See also Psalm 48 (47):3 which has basileus megalos (in the genitive).
[ back ] 9. See Rakel 2003:146, citing Zenger 1981:519. Psalm 98 (97):1 and Psalm 149:1 have instead asma kainon.
[ back ] 10. Zenger 1981:517 and Haag 1963:57 compare Judith 16:3 to Isaiah 10:13 and compare the hubris of Nebuchadnezzar in Judith to the hubris of the kings of Babel in Isaiah 10; cited in Rakel 2003:114.
[ back ] 11. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations of the Septuagint are taken from A New English Translation of the Septuagint (NETS), ed. Albert Pietersma and Benjamin Wright (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
[ back ] 12. Scholars seem now to agree that the Lucianic version of Judges in particular is closest to the Old Greek, whereas the Codex Vaticanus, version B, and the other manuscripts of version A sometimes reveal attempts to bring the Old Greek closer to the Hebrew Masoretic Text (Pietersma and Wright 2007:195).