The History of the Israelites

In addition to being part of the Catholic canon of the bible, the Book of Judith and its heroine is well-known among contemporary Jewish believers. The book tells the story of a virtuous and heroic woman whose faith in God delivers the Judeans from her enemies. The Book of Judith is the subject of scholarly debate. Many scholars argue that the account is heroic legend, perhaps the amalgamation of several traditions. In verse 1:5, the historic Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon becomes the fictionalized king of Assyria, who rules in Nineveh.

A number of scholars argue that the account of Judith is historic, notwithstanding the uncertainty as to who Nebuchadnezzar is. They argue that the author, at verse 8:1, would not account for Judith’s geneology to the fifteenth generation were the account pure fiction. At the very least, her geneology corroborates with Numbers 1:5 as to the descendants of the tribe of Simeon, to which she belongs.

In the following passage from Judith chapter 5, an Ammonite officer explains to King Nebuchadnezzar the illustrious history of the Israelites, and their favored standing with God. The old English adds a little drama, coming from the Douay-Rheims version of the bible:

If thou vouch safe, my lord, to hear, I will tell the truth in thy sight concerning this people, that dwelleth in the mountains, and there shall not a false word come out of my mouth.

6 This people is of the offspring of the Chaldeans. 7 They dwelt first in Mesopotamia, because they would not follow the gods of their fathers, who were in the land of the Chaldeans. 8 Wherefore forsaking the ceremonies of their fathers, which consisted in the worship of many gods, 9 They worshipped one God of heaven, who also commanded them to depart from thence, and to dwell in Charan. And when there was a famine over all the land, they went down into Egypt, and there for four hundred years were so multiplied, that the army of them could not be numbered. 10 And when the king of Egypt oppressed them, and made slaves of them to labour in clay and brick, in the building of his cities, they cried to their Lord, and he struck the whole land of Egypt with divers plagues.

11 And when the Egyptians had cast them out from them, and the plague had ceased from them, and they had a mind to take them again, and bring them back to their service, 12 The God of heaven opened the sea to them in their flight, so that the waters were made to stand firm as a wall on either side, and they walked through the bottom of the sea and passed it dry foot. 13 And when an innumerable army of the Egyptians pursued after them in that place, they were so overwhelmed with the waters, that there was not one left, to tell what had happened to posterity. 14 And after they came out of the Red Sea, they abode in the deserts of mount Sina, in which never man could dwell, or son of man rested. 15 There bitter fountains were made sweet for them to drink, and for forty years they received food from heaven.

16 Wheresoever they went in without bow and arrow, and without shield and sword, their God fought for them and overcame. 17 And there was no one that triumphed over this people, but when they departed from the worship of the Lord their God. 18 But as often as beside their own God, they worshipped any other, they were given to spoil, and to the sword, and to reproach. 19 And as often as they were penitent for having revolted from the worship of their God, the God of heaven gave them power to resist. 20 So they overthrew the king of the Chanaanites, and of the Jebusites, and of the Pherezites, and of the Hethites, and of the Hevites, and of the Amorrhites, and all the mighty ones in Hesebon, and they possessed their lands, and their cities:

21 And as long as they sinned not in the sight of their God, it was well with them: for their God hateth iniquity. 22 And even some years ago when they had revolted from the way which God had given them to walk therein, they were destroyed in battles by many nations, and very many of them were led away captive into a strange land. 23 But of late returning to the Lord their God, from the different places wherein they were scattered, they are come together and are gone up into all these mountains, and possess Jerusalem again, where their holies are. 24 Now therefore, my lord, search if there be any iniquity of theirs in the sight of their God: let us go up to them, because their God will surely deliver them to thee, and they shall be brought under the yoke of thy power: 25 But if there be no offense of this people in the sight of their God, we can not resist them, because their God will defend them: and we shall be a reproach to the whole earth.

Judith 5: 5-25

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