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.
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.
(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.)
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.