More Judith

I had to spend most of the morning producing the handout for
, so I’ll give you the rest of it today.

I’m reading parts of two sections — the one I gave you
yesterday about Holofernes cutting off the water supply to
Bethulia, and the one about the death of Holofernes.

Here’s the version in the Apocrypha:

And Holofernes was made merry on her occasion, and drank exceeding
much wine, so much as he had never drunk in his life.

And when it was grown late, his servants made haste to their lodgings,
and Vagao shut the chamber doors, and went his way.

And they were all overcharged with wine.
And Judith was alone in the chamber.
But Holofernes lay on his bed, fast asleep, being exceedingly drunk.

And Judith spoke to her maid to stand without before the chamber, and to watch:

And Judith stood before the bed praying with tears, and the motion of her lips in silence,

Saying: Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, and in this hour look on the works of my hands, that as thou hast promised, thou mayst raise up Jerusalem thy city: and that I may bring to pass that which I have purposed, having a belief that it might be done by thee.

And when she had said this, she went to the pillar that was at his bed’s head, and loosed his sword that hung tied upon it.

And when she had drawn it out, she took him by the hair of his head, and said: Strengthen me, O Lord God, at this hour.

And she struck twice upon his neck, and out off his head, and took off his canopy from the pillars, and rolled away his headless body.

And after a while she went out, and delivered the head of Holofernes to her maid, and bade her put it into her wallet.

The version from the program notes for last June’s concert is
interrupted by two soliloquies, so I’ll give it to you straight,

Holofernes was barely able to stand
on his feet, and sleep did overtake him.
Bagoas closed the tent and ordered the others to leave.

Holofernes’s strength melts away,
the filthy deeds of lust dilute it,
The bed was in the middle of the chamber,
soft, clean, white.
Entering, Holofernes collapsed upon it,
he began to snore louder than a sea lion,

Judith moved aside the curtains of the bed
while her heart beat fiercely,
She joined hand to hand,
fell to her knees, poured forth tears;
and prayed to herself:
O God,
remove from me all fear, guide my arm
that it accomplish what my mind has plotted!

Now, now I pray, free Your city Jerusalem,
smite the arrogant who elevate themselves,
give peace to the virtuous who humble themselves,
Give me Your power, and deign to assist me.

This she said, then silently she took the sword from the pillar of
the bed,
and drew it; with one hand she seized Holofernes’s hair,
with the other she smote him.
He groaned, shuddered, lying on his back, then
he expired; he had no strength; from his throat dribbled blood:
thus the hero perished, thus he closed his eyes.

He lay there like a log,
God did help Judith
that her work was not in vain,
she struck him again and took off his head.

I believe these soliloquies are not from the original epic, but
are what were called “Agonies” in Croation poetry. The first one
is inserted between Judith’s prayer and her actually taking the sword in
her hands:

[At that moment, the mind of Judith got up and spoke to her soul]

Why are you so sad, my soul, and why are you confusing me…

The soul answered: oh, how greatly you confused my heart…
I have been given to the body to live with it, and the body
cheated me…

The mind: My soul, your excuse isn’t good,
Because your body is made of earth, and you are made of wisdom…

Therefore I am so surprised that your heart is so petrified…
Overcome your body…

Then the soul said: Woe to me, I hoped to receive from you a
consolation, and instead I received even bigger sadness… You
know that I have been living on this world for many years… I
cannot overcome my body. It is older, cannot move, and cannot do
any good…

O, my soul, how bitter are your words, don’t lose hope if you are
losing your mind, I pray you… weep and fall upon your knees…

And then there’s one for Holofernes right after he dies:

[Then, Holofernes’s soul stood up and spoke ot his body angrily:]

Where are your lands and vineyards?

Where the pearls and Stones?

Where are your golden rings?

Where all the money that was your god?

Where are the delicious spices, that you prepared and forgot about
the poor?
There is no more fowl or wine on your table, now you are the drink
of disgusting worms,
that will crumble your body into dust.

It will be God’s decision,

do you want to cry in this chaber, where you lie with your nose

Your beautiful eyes now stay closed,
your tongue is now silent, speechless.

[Then the evil Holofernes’s body, parting from the world, started
lamenting in a death rattle:]

Alas, where is my pride,
alas, where is my life?
Alas, where are my friends?

Alas, where are all my riches?

Oh, my dear companions, look at my body which lived with you
not fearing death,

My arms are still here,
but they don’t help my soul.
My eyes are closed
and all my arms killed.

Why has God created me?

Cursed be the day when I was born;
cursed the place when I was fed!
Be lost the paths that I crossed!

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

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
, 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.

More about bashing the babies

In my post
about Psalm CXXXVII
, I said:

I think it’s important to remember that it isn’t just songs about not singing songs that war produces, but people who actually want to kill babies.

I just read something that suggests another point of view on
this. I’m reading Wolf
, a novel about the life of Thomas Cromwell, who
was an important figure in the government of Henry VIII.

The troups of the Emperor Charles haven’t been paid in long
enough to make them angry, so they run through the streets of
Rome, raping and pillaging and doing a certain amount of killing
people who are in the way of the raping and pillaging. But
Cromwell, who has been a soldier, is sceptical of some of the
propaganda describing what they’re doing (written by people in

Thomas More says that the imperial troops, for their enjoyment, are
roasting live babies on spits. O, he would! says Thomas
Cromwell. Listen, soldiers don’t do that. They’re too busy
carrying away everything they can turn into ready money.

So another thing war produces is people who tell lies about
what’s going on, so that people will believe there are babies
being killed and run out and kill or fund the killing of the
alleged baby-killers.

Christmas Eve in the melting pot

The clash between family tradition and the American protestant tradition was even more plangent with my sister’s new church.

The Polish tradition is to have a large meal on Christmas Eve and then go to midnight mass. The American protestant tradition is to have a church service on Christmas Eve, and then the large meal on Christmas day.

Since my sister has been a church organist in protestant churches, we’ve had to reschedule the large meal, usually to be after the service. But this year, she had to play two services: one at 5 and one at 10, so she didn’t get home until well after midnight. Her current church is an hour’s drive away, so she had family dinner with the pastor, and my mother an I ate a fairly simplified version of the Wigilia meal, and we exchanged presents after midnight.

One church she played at had a large population of Liberian immigrants, who also have their large family dinner on Christmas Eve. So they just didn’t come to church at all. So I never saw the whole choir or heard the wonderful congregational singing my sister kept telling me about, because it didn’t happen on Christmas Eve.

I tried telling them about the Mexican tradition of having the large dinner after Midnight Mass and then exchanging presents and then going to bed on Christmas morning, but they weren’t interested in adopting that one. It probably works better for people who normally eat late in the evening than for people who eat at 6.

Gibralter and Christmas

We like to end the three-hour West Gallery Quire
meetings with something rousing that we know well, so that even if
we’ve been struggling with unfamiliar music where the words are on
a different page with the notes, we can go home feeling like we
sound good when we’ve worked through those difficulties.

Last Sunday we were concentrating on Christmas music, much of
which was new, and even the stuff we’ve been playing for years we
mostly haven’t played since last January. There are a couple of
rousing pieces suitable for ending on, but we’d sung those already
when it got to be time for the last number. So our director
suggested that we end with one of our really common (because it’s
really good) ending numbers: Gibralter.

The text is part of Isaac Watts version of Psalm

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun

Does his successive journeys run;

His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,

Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

People and realms of every tongue

Dwell on his love with sweetest song;

And infant voices shall proclaim

Their early blessings on his name.

Blessings abound where’er he reigns,

The pris’ner leaps to lose his chains;

The weary find eternal rest,

And all the sons of want are blest.

Let every creature rise and bring

Peculiar honors to our King;

Angels descend with songs again,

And earth repeat the long Amen.

Bruce was apologetic about Gibralter not being a
Christmas piece, but I said, “It has ‘infant voices’ and
‘angels’ — it’s a lot like Christmas music.”

He added, “Prisoners?”

I don’t see why you couldn’t make a really good Christmas card
with the prisoners leaping to lose their chains.

Why there was no room at the inn

I was typing lyrics for the concert
, and it occurred to me to wonder why there was a
run on hotel rooms in Bethlehem, before Christmas was a
generally celebrated holiday. The only explanation in the Bible
is that the decree had gone forth from Caesar Augustus that all
the world should be taxed, and everybody had to go the place
their family came from.

This presumably caused a run on hotels lots of places, since
lots of people’s family came from somewhere they didn’t still
live. But Bethlehem was probably worse, because it the classiest place
to claim that your family came from. So even though you
presumably had the usual 4 grandparents and 8
great-grandparents…, you picked the one with the most eminent
lineage to claim. In Joseph’s case, this would have been King
David, who was from Bethlehem. Everyone else with any claim to
David would have picked him, too; hence no room at the inn.

A related note that didn’t occur to me until some time after my
Catholic education had finished is that the lineage at the
beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is Joseph’s, so the story
that comes next
about how Joseph had nothing to do with Jesus’ conception is
even odder than it appears in isolation from the geneology.

Leaving a religion

There turned out to be two ex-quakers (people formerly involved
in the Society of Friends, but now members of other churches) at
the band rehearsal (and subsequent beer-drinking)
last night, so I reflected yet again that ex-quakers are much
more civilized about their disagreements or dissatisfactions
than ex-catholics are.

I should mention that in some technical sense, I’m also an
ex-quaker, since my parents were members when I was born, but
I’ve never personally been involved. By the time I can remember
going to church, they were Methodists, and shortly after that,
they returned to the Roman Catholic Church. So I’m a Birthright
Quaker, a Baptized Methodist, and a Baptized Catholic.

The only
church I’ve attended regularly as an adult was Saint Peter’s
Episcopal Church
, where I sang in the choir, and contributed
money. When the Rector suggested that I should be confirmed,
I told him that I thought my confirmation as a Roman Catholic was
enough confirmation.

One person at the rehearsal said she’d decided that the Friends
were too serious about their personal responsibility to save the
world. The Unitarian Church she’s currently attending seems to
feel more of a *community* responsibility to save the world,
which she’s more comfortable with. The other person said when asked that he’d left basically
because of disagreements about how to save the world. There was
probably some bitterness and disappointment in both those
attitudes, but nothing like the rage you find with

Of all the different kinds of education I’ve had, I probably
find the technical and the political (in marxist reading groups)
the most useful, but the Catholic catechism might come in fairly
close to the humanist liberal arts one. So I describe myself as
a non-practicing Catholic, rather than an ex-catholic, largely
because I don’t want to be associated with the kind of
anti-catholic rage that’s prevalent in quite a number of the
circles I frequent.