The Book of Judith

I’m going to a Robert Burns Birthday Party tomorrow, where
people read poetry that’s impressed them. We’ll also song some
Burns songs and read some of the standard Burns, but people
mostly pick poems that mean something to them no matter who the
poet is or
when they were written.

I thought over what poetry I’ve run into this year, and what
impressed me most was the Croatian
poems based on the Book of Judith
that I heard at last
year’s Boston Early Music
Festival.

I’m going to just read a couple of short passages from a Bible
translation, and some slightly longer passages from the
translation in the BEMF booklet. But I’ve been looking at some
of the information on the internet about the original, and why
it’s in Apocrypha.

Here’s an article
about how it’s been perceived in several religious traditions,
and here’s the Wikipedia
article
, which includes a list of literary, musical, and
artistic works based on the story, including the Croation Juditha,
which was part of the basis for the concert last June.

My brief summary is that the Rabbis who decided on the Hebrew
Canon decided not to include it because it was clearly not a
contemporary account. It seems to have been written during the
time of the Maccabees, and set during the reign of
Nebbuchadnezzar. So it’s a historical novel.

One of the aspects of it that struck me last June was the
description of the Assyrian atrocities against the civilian
population, like this one from chapter 7:

Now Holofernes, in going round about, found that the fountains which supplied them with water, ran through an aqueduct without the city on the south side: and he commanded their aqueduct to he cut off.

Nevertheless there were springs not far from the walls, out of which they were seen secretly to draw water, to refresh themselves a little rather than to drink their fill.

But the children of Ammon and Moab came to Holofernes, saying: The children of Israel trust not in their spears, nor in their arrows, but the mountains are their defense, and the steep hires and precipices guard them.

Wherefore that thou mayst overcome them without joining battle, set guards at the springs that they may not draw water out of them, and thou shalt destroy them without sword, or at least being wearied out they will yield up their city, which they suppose, because it is situate in the mountains, to be impregnable.

And these words pleased Holofernes, and his officers, and he placed all round about a hundred men at every spring.

And when they had kept this watch for full twenty days, the cisterns, and the reserve of waters failed among all the inhabitants of Bethulia, so that there was not within the city, enough to satisfy them, no not for one day, for water was daily given out to the people by measure.

The Croatian version of this is shorter and more vivid:

Holofernes approached Bethulia and diverted the water that
flowed into the city.

The water finished, there was thirst in the town,
Nothing to moisten their mouths,
their tongues began to dry out,
their lips to crack, and people waxed pale.

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1 thought on “The Book of Judith”

  1. Pingback: More Judith

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