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Monthly Archives: June 2011

Judith illuminated

In my view of the world, illumination of text is analogous to a picture book for Biblical scholars. Back In The Day, before the printing press and compulsory education – when only clerics and aristocracy could read – books needed pictures to help convey the story and to justify the expense of the text. It also gave the monks something to do besides … whatever monks did.

“Judith” from the French Bible of Hainburg, 1300-1320, Illumination on parchment, Episcopal Library,Pécs, Hungary

The illumination shown here is somewhat a mystery to me.  It is from the French Bible of Hainburg – which is a central German town – and it is housed in the Episcopal Museum of Pec in Hungary.  I don’t know why there is a French Bible in Germany and a German artifact in Hungary in a museum named after the American version of the Anglican church that doesn’t recognize this apochryphal book – but I do know it has lots of illuminations.

This illumination depicts a medieval king in a draped bedchamber being detached from his head by a very angry woman. From the look of things, he is already dead – since his eyes are closed and he is offering no resistance. It is a gory scene with his wound streaming blood and the sword only halfway through his neck.  But by the determination on her face, Judith will probably complete the task without difficulty in no time.  Good thing she is come attired in a red dress.

The amusing aspect of this scene: what appears to be a little dog looking on as it floats in the right-hand margin. My grandparents had a dog that looked something like that – white with a black spot around one eye. By coincidence, his name was Spot. I have not seen the full page of this illumination, so it is hard to say what is going in the scene next door to this beheading. A hunting party? A circus? A pet show? Or maybe it’s not a dog at all. But if it is, he seems curiously unaffected by gravity but very interested by all the noise.

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Book of Judith, Chapter 7

19 Then the children of Israel cried unto the Lord their God, because their heart failed, for all their enemies had compassed them round about, and there was no way to escape out from among them.
20 Thus all the company of Assur remained about them, both their footmen, chariots, and horsemen, four and thirty days, so that all their vessels of water failed all the inhibitants of Bethulia.
21 And the cisterns were emptied, and they had not water to drink their fill for one day; for they gave them drink by measure.
22 Therefore their young children were out of heart, and their women and young men fainted for thirst, and fell down in the streets of the city, and by the passages of the gates, and there was no longer any strength in them.
23 Then all the people assembled to Ozias, and to the chief of the city, both young men, and women, and children, and cried with a loud voice, and said before all the elders,
24 God be judge between us and you: for ye have done us great injury, in that ye have not required peace of the children of Assur.
25 For now we have no helper: but God hath sold us into their hands, that we should be thrown down before them with thirst and great destruction.
26 Now therefore call them unto you, and deliver the whole city for a spoil to the people of Holofernes, and to all his army.
27 For it is better for us to be made a spoil unto them, than to die for thirst: for we will be his servants, that our souls may live, and not see the death of our infants before our eyes, nor our wives nor our children to die.
28 We take to witness against you the heaven and the earth, and our God and Lord of our fathers, which punisheth us according to our sins and the sins of our fathers, that he do not according as we have said this day.
29 Then there was great weeping with one consent in the midst of the assembly; and they cried unto the Lord God with a loud voice.
30 Then said Ozias to them, Brethren, be of good courage, let us yet endure five days, in the which space the Lord our God may turn his mercy toward us; for he will not forsake us utterly.
31 And if these days pass, and there come no help unto us, I will do according to your word.
32 And he dispersed the people, every one to their own charge; and they went unto the walls and towers of their city, and sent the women and children into their houses: and they were very low brought in the city.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Gory

 

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Judith’s chest

Get your mind out of the gutter.

This work of art is not about boobs. It is about the depiction of the story of Judith on a decorated cassone – or bridal chest. The gift of a cassone was often decorated with scenes of virtuous women from mythology, the Bible, or medieval literature. The primary motive of the painting was to beautify the furnishing – but there was also the reminder to the bride to monitor her behavior to meet the current standard of virtue.

More than the effect on the bride, I wonder how her groom felt about staring across the room at this bloody scene of a drunken man being decapitated in bed.

The Master of Marradi, “The Story of Judith and Holofernes,” 15th century, Tempera on wood panel, 15.75 x 58.5 in., Dayton Art Museum, Dayton, Ohio, USA

Sadly, this image is very small so it may take some ‘splaining.  The same characters are shown repeatedly in different scenes from the story in sequence from right to left in a panorama.

  • On the right side are soldiers with spiked helmets and long spears with their tents. One tent is open to show Judith in a lacy white dress, covering Holofernes’ mouth with her left hand as he lies in bed – and raising a bloody sword in her right hand.
  • Next, Judith’s maid is placing something into a bloodstained basket.
  • To the left of this scene, the women walk along a curving path, Judith still holding the sword and her maid carrying the basket on top of her head.
  • Above this scene, the two walk through the arched gate of a walled city. the left half of the panel shows a battle scene on both sides of a pale blue river that winds past the town.

The Master of Marred, who is credited with painting this scene, is a mystery.  He remains unnamed but numerous cassone are thought to be painted by the same man. I like the usual description of him as “active in Florence during the second half of the 15th Century” – as if to say “this guy gets around!”  He did appear to have a prolific career in painting scenes on cassones, since there are many of these works in major museums. I bet at this point he wishes he had copyrighted his real name.

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Book of Judith, Chapter 7

1 THE next day Holofernes commanded all his army, and all his people which were come to take his part, that they should remove their camp against Bethulia, to take aforehand the ascents of the hill country, and to make war against the children of Israel.
2 Then their strong men removed their camps in that day, and the army of the men of war was an hundred and seventy thousand footmen, and twelve thousand horsemen, beside the baggage, and other men that were afoot among them, a very great multitude.
3 And they camped in the valley near unto Bethulia, by the fountain, and they spread themselves in breadth over Dothaim even to Belmaim, and in length from Bethulia unto Cynamon, which is over against Esdraelon.
4 Now the children of Israel, when they saw the multitude of them, were greatly troubled, and said every one to his neighbour, Now will these men lick up the face of the earth; for neither the high mountains, nor the valleys, nor the hills, are able to bear their weight.
5 Then every man took up his weapons of war, and when they had kindled fires upon their towers, they remained and watched all that night.
6 But in the second day Holofernes brought forth all his horsemen in the sight of the children of Israel which were in Bethulia,
7 And viewed the passages up to the city, and came to the fountains of their waters, and took them, and set garrisons of men of war over them, and he himself removed toward his people.
8 Then came unto him all the chief of the children of Esau, and all the governors of the people of Moab, and the captains of the sea coast, and said,
9 Let our lord now hear a word, that there be not an overthrow in thine army.
10 For this people of the children of Israel do not trust in their spears, but in the height of the mountains wherein they dwell, because it is not easy to come up to the tops of their mountains.
11 Now therefore, my lord, fight not against them in battle array, and there shall not so much as one man of thy people perish.
12 Remain in thy camp, and keep all the men of thine army, and let thy servants get into their hands the fountain of water, which issueth forth of the foot of the mountain:
13 For all the inhabitants of Bethulia have their water thence; so shall thirst kill them, and they shall give up their city, and we and our people shall go up to the tops of the mountains that are near, and will camp upon them, to watch that none go out of the city.
14 So they and their wives and their children shall be consumed with fire, and before the sword come against them, they shall be overthrown in the streets where they dwell.
15 Thus shalt thou render them an evil reward; because they rebelled, and met not thy person peaceably.
16 And these words pleased Holofernes and all his servants, and he appointed to do as they had spoken.
17 So the camp of the children of Ammon departed, and with them five thousand of the Assyrians, and they pitched in the valley, and took the waters, and the fountains of the waters of the children of Israel.
18 Then the children of Esau went up with the children of Ammon, and camped in the hill country over against Dothaim: and they sent some of them toward the south, and toward the east over against Ekrebel, which is near unto Chusi, that is upon the brook Mochmur; and the rest of the army of the Assyrians camped in the plain, and covered the face of the whole land; and their tents and carriages were pitched to a very great multitude.

 
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Posted by on June 29, 2011 in Story

 

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Judith in Sainte-Chapelle

Doesn’t the title sound lovely? Like April in Paris or Breakfast at Tiffany’s.  Ah, I would love to actually be in Sainte-Chapelle.  Or anywhere in the vicinity.

But back to reality and the windows of Sainte-Chapelle (no relation to Dave Chapelle – I don’t think?).   In Judeo-Christian culture, before books were widely available and common people were literate enough to read them, tales from the Bible were conveyed in sermons and in the artwork of cathedrals.  In the soaring glory of Sainte-Chapelle, the windows tell many Biblical stories.

Upper Chapel of Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

Exterior of Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

Located within the Palais de Justice complex on the Ile de la Cité in the center of Paris, Sainte-Chapelle was erected by King Louis IX to house relics of Christ from the Crusades – and to become a perfect example of the Rayonnant Style of Gothic architecture.  Rayonnant refers to the radiating stone spokes of the enormous rose windows of cathedrals and Rayonnant Style means the structure of church is basically a skeletal system to support expanses of traceried glass.

In the Upper Chapel between Ester and Jeremy is where you will find Judith and Job. Not sure why Judith and Job go together, but here they are – with 40 panels devoted to Judith, fifteen feet high.

Judith and Job in Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

The Story of Judith in Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

The Story of Judith in Sainte-Chapelle (1248)

Forty panels seems like a lot to me. I really didn’t think the story was that long. Makes me wonder if they embellished a bit – since it appears that embellishment was a central concept of cathedral building.

Which also makes me wonder: what would happen if they put all the good stained glass sections at the bottom where people could see them and then put the shoddy ones at the top, thinking “Who is going to climb 15 feet to verify that we put in the correct version of the story? Other than the window washers, who ever sees the stained glass at the top?”

There is one helpful aspect in the history of Sainte-Chapelle to address this question.  The cathedral suffered from fires in 1630 and 1777, a flood and exterior damage during the French Revolution.  During the First Empire in 1803, there was severe damage to the Upper Chapel when it was used as a warehouse and the stained glass windows were dismantled.  As a consequence, some of the stained glass rondels entered the art market and ended up in museums where they can be more closely studied than 15 feet away.

Holofernes crossing the Euphrates River (1248) Sainte-Chapelle

The Philadelphia Art Museum  (yo, Adrianne) is fortunate to have 3 rondels in its collection, all relating to Holofernes. The first rondel is a sophisticated asymmetrical composition with two conversing horsemen, one seen from the back, and a contrasting group of four mounted knights.  This depiction is appealing from a kindergarten POV because the horses are differing shades of pink, yellow and blue – plus the horse on the left is clearly showing his rear to the audience (cue for juvenile twittering).

Holofernes destroying orchards of Damascus (1248) Sainte-Chapelle

The second rondel depicts two soldiers hacking up an orchard of trees.  Not sure but I’m assuming apple trees because the fruit is red – but I don’t associate apples with Damascus so could be pomegranates?  Plums?  Dragon fruit?  But definitely not rhubarb.

Holofernes destroying vineyards of Damascus (1248) Sainte-Chapelle

The third rondel depicts three soldiers trashing the vineyards –  although I’m glad that was explained in the title.  I don’t think I could have figured it out on my own because I see zero grapes, the vines look like snakes, and these guys seem to be swinging those axes rather carelessly. Can’t imagine the destruction in the other 37 rondels if this is how they start out.

 

Locations: Sainte-Chapelle, Paris, France; Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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Book of Judith, Chapter 6

1 AND when the tumult of men that were about the council was ceased, Holofernes the chief captain of the army of Assur said unto Achior and all the Moabites before all the company of other nations,
2 And who art thou, Achior, and the hirelings of Ephraim, that thou hast prophesied against us as to day, and hast said, that we should not make war with the people of Israel, because their God will defend them? and who is God but Nabuchodonosor?
3 He will send his power, and will destroy them from the face of the earth, and their God shall not deliver them: but we his servants will destroy them as one man; for they are not able to sustain the power of our horses.
4 For with them we will tread them under foot, and their mountains shall be drunken with their blood, and their fields shall be filled with their dead bodies, and their footsteps shall not be able to stand before us, for they shall utterly perish, saith king Nabuchodonosor, lord of all the earth: for he said, None of my words shall be in vain.
5 And thou, Achior, an hireling of Ammon, which hast spoken these words in the day of thine iniquity, shalt see my face no more from this day, until I take vengeance of this nation that came out of Egypt.
6 And then shall the sword of mine army, and the multitude of them that serve me, pass through thy sides, and thou shalt fall among their slain, when I return.
7 Now therefore my servants shall bring thee back into the hill country, and shall set thee in one of the cities of the passages:
8 And thou shalt not perish, till thou be destroyed with them.
9 And if thou persuade thyself in thy mind that they shall be taken, let not thy countenance fall: I have spoken it, and none of my words shall be in vain.
10 Then Holofernes commanded his servants, that waited in his tent, to take Achior, and bring him to Bethulia, and deliver him into the hands of the children of Israel.
11 So his servants took him, and brought him out of the camp into the plain, and they went from the midst of the plain into the hill country, and came unto the fountains that were under Bethulia.
12 And when the men of the city saw them, they took up their weapons, and went out of the city to the top of the hill: and every man that used a sling kept them from coming up by casting of stones against them.
13 Nevertheless having gotten privily under the hill, they bound Achior, and cast him down, and left him at the foot of the hill, and returned to their lord.
14 But the Israelites descended from their city, and came unto him, and loosed him, and brought him to Bethulia, and presented him to the governors of the city:
15 Which were in those days Ozias the son of Micha, of the tribe of Simeon, and Chabris the son of Gothoniel, and Charmis the son of Melchiel.
16 And they called together all the ancients of the city, and all their youth ran together, and their women, to the assembly, and they set Achior in the midst of all their people. Then Ozias asked him of that which was done.
17 And he answered and declared unto them the words of the council of Holofernes, and all the words that he had spoken in the midst of the princes of Assur, and whatsoever Holofernes had spoken proudly against the house of Israel.
18 Then the people fell down and worshipped God, and cried unto God. saying,
19 O Lord God of heaven, behold their pride, and pity the low estate of our nation, and look upon the face of those that are sanctified unto thee this day.
20 Then they comforted Achior, and praised him greatly.
21 And Ozias took him out of the assembly unto his house, and made a feast to the elders; and they called on the God of Israel all that night for help.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2011 in Glory

 

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Judith changes her mind

Remember that agenda? I changed my mind and decided to begin where Holofernes still has his head. So forget what I said in that last post.

Alexander Golovin, ” Shaliapin as Holofernes in opera ‘Judith’ by Serov.” 1908, Pastel and Tempera on canvas, 159x209cm. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

This is The Dude. The one who started it all. Before he showed up with his massive Assyrian army and slaughtered everyone in the neighborhood, Judith was an unassuming widow in her little town of Bethulia. Unfortunately for him, rather than being remembered for subduing the people of Palestine and forcing them to worship Nebuchadrezzar, he has remained in history as the guy who lost his head.

This painting depicts a scene from “Judith” the opera in five acts, composed by Alexander Serov during 1861-1863. I can’t imagine why this opera doesn’t get as much play as “Aida” or “Carmen.”  Apparently this guy, Feodor Chaliapin, did a bang-up job as an operatic bass. Enough to get a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Feodor Chaliapin (1915) as Holofernes in Serov’s “Judith”

Feodor Chaliapin (1898) as Holofernes in Serov’s “Judith”

Feodor Chaliapin South side 6700 block Hollywood Bvd

(To lapse into Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon, his son – aptly named Feodor Chaliapin, Jr. – was also an actor who appeared in “Name of the Rose” (1986) with Sean Connery and Christian Slater and “Moonstruck” (1987) with Cher and Nicholas Cage. But no, he was not in the Star Wars movies as Darth Sidious.)

Feodor Chaliapin Jr. in Name of the Rose (1986)

Back to the Holofernes and the opera. for those who are music lovers, you can listen to several of the performances on youtube. Truthfully, I’m not an opera lover and — even though the lyrics probably would feed my ego — I can only listen for a few minutes. Okay, for a minute.  The opera was also recorded as recently as 1991 (yes 20 years ago seems recent to me) by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra and Russian Academic Choir of the USSR. Back when there was a USSR.

The point of looking at these depictions of Holofernes is to wonder: what was Judith thinking? Did she really imagine that it would be easy to snuggle up to him? That he would not take her hostage and rape her – then throw her out of his tent for the enjoyment of the rest of the troops? That she could actually saw through his massive neck and he would not put up a fight? And that her maid would back her up on all this? I realize she was desperate and felt the risk was worth a gamble but … where was her mother to talk her out of this scheme?

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Book of Judith, Chapter 5

1 THEN was it declared to Holofernes, the chief captain of the army of Assur, that the children of Israel had prepared for war, and had shut up the passages of the hill country, and had fortified all the tops of the high hills and had laid impediments in the champaign countries:
2 Wherewith he was very angry, and called all the princes of Moab, and the captains of Ammon, and all the governors of the sea coast,
3 And he said unto them, Tell me now, ye sons of Chanaan, who this people is, that dwelleth in the hill country, and what are the cities that they inhabit, and what is the multitude of their army, and wherein is their power and strength, and what king is set over them, or captain of their army;
4 And why have they determined not to come and meet me, more than all the inhabitants of the west.
5 Then said Achior, the captain of all the sons of Ammon, Let my lord now hear a word from the mouth of thy servant, and I will declare unto thee the truth concerning this people, which dwelleth near thee, and inhabiteth the hill countries: and there shall no lie come out of the mouth of thy servant.
6 This people are descended of the Chaldeans:
7 And they sojourned heretofore in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers, which were in the land of Chaldea.
8 For they left the way of their ancestors, and worshipped the God of heaven, the God whom they knew: so they cast them out from the face of their gods, and they fled into Mesopotamia, and sojourned there many days.
9 Then their God commanded them to depart from the place where they sojourned, and to go into the land of Chanaan: where they dwelt, and were increased with gold and silver, and with very much cattle.
10 But when a famine covered all the land of Chanaan, they went down into Egypt, and sojourned there, while they were nourished, and became there a great multitude, so that one could not number their nation.
11 Therefore the king of Egypt rose up against them, and dealt subtilly with them, and brought them low with labouring in brick, and made them slaves.
12 Then they cried unto their God, and he smote all the land of Egypt with incurable plagues: so the Egyptians cast them out of their sight.
13 And God dried the Red sea before them,
14 And brought them to mount Sina, and Cades-Barne, and cast forth all that dwelt in the wilderness.
15 So they dwelt in the land of the Amorites, and they destroyed by their strength all them of Esebon, and passing over Jordan they possessed all the hill country.
16 And they cast forth before them the Chanaanite, the Pherezite, the Jebusite, and the Sychemite, and all the Gergesites, and they dwelt in that country many days.
17 And whilst they sinned not before their God, they prospered, because the God that hateth iniquity was with them.
18 But when they departed from the way which he appointed them, they were destroyed in many battles very sore, and were led captives into a land that was not their’s, and the temple of their God was cast to the ground, and their cities were taken by the enemies.
19 But now are they returned to their God, and are come up from the places where they were scattered, and have possessed Jerusalem, where their sanctuary is, and are seated in the hill country; for it was desolate.
20 Now therefore, my lord and governor, if there be any error against this people, and they sin against their God, let us consider that this shall be their ruin, and let us go up, and we shall overcome them.
21 But if there be no iniquity in their nation, let my lord now pass by, lest their Lord defend them, and their God be for them, and we become a reproach before all the world.
22 And when Achior had finished these sayings, all the people standing round about the tent murmured, and the chief men of Holofernes, and all that dwelt by the sea side, and in Moab, spake that he should kill him.
23 For, say they, we will not be afraid of the face of the children of Israel: for, lo, it is a people that have no strength nor power for a strong battle
24 Now therefore, lord Holofernes, we will go up, and they shall be a prey to be devoured of all thine army.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2011 in Story

 

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Judith’s agenda

One more thing before we start with the artwork.  I’m uncertain at this point of which agenda to adopt. So help me out here. The options are:

– Chronological (“here we have stick figures on cave walls and now you can see profiles and, oh look, there’s something that looks like a shadow …)


– Based on popularity (“We’ll start with the good stuff and move toward the obscure bits – assuming that the popularity of a work of art can be judged like a high school homecoming queen.”)
– Alphabetical (“Why not?”)

– Totally random (“WTF?”)


– Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles order (Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello)

Which reminds me, I forgot to mention. Prior to this endeavor, I spent a week devoted to locating artwork related to Judith. Scouring the internet, lodged in an easy chair, looking for every Judith I could find. It started when somebody pissed me off. MAJOR pissed me off. And I felt murderous — like I needed to prepare for battle.  In this preparation, I looked for an image to represent my anger and my determination to not be powerless. When I needed her, there was Judith. And another. And another. Until i needed a spreadsheet to decide which Judith was best to represent me. As the spreadsheet and my obsession grew, I thought of how enlightening it would be to contemplate each work of art. Actually, I thought how amazing it would be to travel the world and visit each work of art. But that being out of my budget, I settled on a blog.

What I plan is a presentation of each work, a discussion of the artist and the message they convey. What I plan is to see what can be learned or experienced as an observer.

That is the plan but I don’t know where to start. Chronology seems … blah. Popularity has the danger of fizzling out once the most popular works are discussed (which makes me feel bad for the less popular works and dredges up memories of high school and let’s not go there). totally random is too chaotic for my taste.  And so I am left with alphabetical order by default?

Let me think about that.

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I thought about it. Alphabetic order does not work because it means works that are based on predecessors are difficult to understand when taken out of order. Even though i considered the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle order, it only covers 4 artists – and 2 of them did not paint Judith (how dare they be so impervious to her charms). Random order is just too disorderly. So flipping the coin between chronology and popularity I chose … a compromise. The most popular work of art in the chronology, looking at the most frequently referenced painting of the time period and then those around it before moving ahead.

And now that the agenda is settled, I’m anxious to begin.

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One more thing. I am going to add verses from the Book of Judith at the bottom of each page. Just to keep it honest and educational and, well, sort of holy to offset the raunchy parts.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2011 in Mooring

 

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Judith’s disclaimer

Sometimes it is much easier to say who I am not as opposed to who I am.

That’s the way I chose my wedding gown, in fact. I told the assistant “I don’t want long sleeves or puffed sleeves or a poofy skirt or lots of bows or pearls or sequins. However, I don’t know what I DO want, so what do you suggest?” She actually took that information and found the perfect dress for me.

Therefore, before we become any more intimate, I need to tell you who I am not.

– – I am not an artist, an Art History major, an Art major, or a History major.

– – I am not a Biblical or political scholar.

– – I am not a professional writer.

– – i am not a good proofreader. At. All.

– – I am not a librarian or journalist – although i do try to substantiate my sources.

– – I am not a Psychiatrist or Clinical Psychologist.

– – I am not Jewish (not that there is anything wrong with that).

– – I am not fluent in Latin or French or Italian (not that there is anything wrong with that).

– – I am not under 16 and not over 60 – but closer to the latter than the former.

– – I am not a sadist or a man-hater or philogynist.

– – I am not a prude.  Or a pervert.  At least in my own mind.

That seems to cover all the misconceptions I can imagine at this point.  This disclaimer is another way of saying:

– – Don’t quote me
– – Don’t expect my dates and locations to be 100% accurate (although you can correct me if you know the accurate answer)
– – Don’t get wiggy if i mis-spell something unless it’s really really really important or makes me look totally ignorant (i’m okay with somewhat ignorant)
– – Don’t expect this blog to be either totally scholarly or totally free of explicit, bawdy language.

There is probably some other stuff you shouldn’t expect, but the wine is taking effect and we’ll figure it out as we go along.  So thank you for letting me couvre mon cul.

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ALSO, I do know that Judith is not a history of authentic events.

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If you DO crave a more scholarly approach to Judith, Ix  will direct you to The Judith Project: Expanding the Boundaries of Disciplinarity Through Collaborative Scholarly Practice (http://workshops.nypl.org/judith/) and other pages as they become pertinent  – and as I read and understand them.

Also a tip of the hat to Martin Van Delden (who i do not know, yet) who has an exhaustive compilation of the Art of Judith on Picasa.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2011 in Mooring

 

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Judith in the beginning

I’ve read the story so many times that it seems to me everyone would know about Judith. Then I recall I was probably 16 years old before I looked it up for the first time.  And that’s only because Judith is my name. Otherwise, the existence of this heroine would have remained out of my awareness. So let me begin at the beginning – before launching into the avalanche of artwork that follows the tale.

Judith is the protagonist in a Book of the Apocrypha that bears (bares?) her name. The Apocrypha contains books of the Old Testament that were segregated and eventually omitted from the Protestant Bible. The book of Judith tells the story of a widow in the city of Bethulia, which was threatened with destruction from Nebuchadnezzar’s Assyrian army. With her maid, she went to the camp of the enemy general, Holofernes, and ingratiated herself with her beauty along with the promise of information on the Israelites. She was allowed into Holofernes’ tent, put him in a drunken stupor and decapitated him.  The Assyrians dispersed without their leader and Israel was saved.  Like David and Goliath, Judith is an example of “strength in weakness” whose deed saved the Jews from a larger enemy.

The story of Judith lives on for many reasons – and I am neither a historian or philosopher that can analyze the rationale. In fact, the reasons her story have persisted are as varied and complex as the artists who have depicted her.  “Strength in weakness” is an overly simplistic explanation: Judith embodies (in political terms) “the people v. tyranny”, (in feminist terms) “righteous woman vs. marauding man” and (in County Music terms) “git-er done gal v. skunk-drunk asshole.” Not to mention, she was not afraid of a little blood and gore to make her point nor adverse to using her feminine charms to advance her true purpose.

A charming story, but I’m not a Biblical scholar so why the fascination?

Because here is a woman you can admire. The men in her city were ninnies, ready to give up and be killed or enslaved. but she looked at her resources, figured she could seduce the guy, made a plan to freak everybody out by detaching and then displaying his head – and it worked. Think of all the ways it could have gone wrong.  I mean, what if –

One – she couldn’t seduce the guy because (a) she over-estimated her charms or (b) he wasn’t interested in her type of womanhood or (c) he wasn’t interested in womanhood at all. “Sorry little lady but you’re just not my type.”

She seduced him but Two – he put up a fight and she ended up on the wrong end of his sword. “Hey Widow of Bethulia – I’m not into that Dominatrix thing. If you can’t be like the other docile concubines and put down that big ass sword, I’m going to separate you from your head for talking too much.”

She seduced him but he put up a fight that Three – raised an alarm and she ended up on the wrong end of the guard’s sword. “Not sure what kind of sex game this is, lady, but when the General says the safe word, I must obey.”

She seduced him and he was too drunk to fight but Four – she chickened out when it came to lopping off his head. “I wore my best robes and bangles for this seduction, but now the thought of getting them bloody is making me think about calling it off. Besides, his screaming is getting on my nerves.”

She seduced him and he was too drunk to fight but Five – she did not have the technical knowledge to finish lopping off his head even though she wanted to. “Who knew I needed an anatomy lesson to finish this job. It looked so much easier in the pictures.”

She seduced him, he was too drunk to fight, she lopped off his head but Six – it was too heavy to carry and she didn’t want to ruin her new shoes. “Now that I’m exhausted from hacking away at his thick neck, I don’t have the umph to drag this sack of shit home. Plus it’s still dripping and i think these shoes might stain.”

Instead, all the elements fell into place and Judith accomplished her goal. Legend says she never married. Can’t imagine why some burly guy wouldn’t want to cozy up with a woman who knows how to sever a head.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2011 in Mooring

 

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