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 or what writers knew about their proclivities and 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.
The Original Language of Judith
Jerome states that Judith is read “among the Apocrypha,” perhaps acknowledging that the book is located 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.
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.
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:
In contrast, it is almost impossible to derive this wording from the Hebrew original of the 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.  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
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.
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.
The first three chapters of the book of Judith seem to encapsulate the notion of an Assyria that acts as God’s tool, ruling over 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 in a time when the Israelites were no longer lawless.
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.”
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:
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;
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 vaticinio ‘history from the oracle’: a historical account created in satisfaction of a prophecy could not otherwise be said to have been fulfilled.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
22 οὗτος ὁ λόγος, ὃν ἐλάλησεν περὶ αὐτοῦ ὁ θεός Ἐφαύλισέν σε καὶ ἐμυκτήρισέν σε παρθένος θυγάτηρ Σιων, ἐπὶ σοὶ κεφαλὴν ἐκίνησεν θυγάτηρ Ιερουσαλημ.
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.
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.
οὐδὲ μάχαιρα ἀνθρώπου καταφάγεται αὐτόν,
καὶ φεύξεται οὐκ ἀπὸ προσώπου μαχαίρας·
οἱ δὲ νεανίσκοι ἔσονται εἰς ἥττημα,
9 πέτρᾳ γὰρ περιλημφθήσονται ὡς χάρακι
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.”
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.
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.
Nebuchadnezzar quite deliberately lives up to the outrage to be committed by such a figure, as described in Judith 3:8, in which Holofernes requires Assyria’s vassals worship Nebuchadnezzar as a god:
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).