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.