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The Sword of Judith

The Sword of Judith: Judith Studies Across the Disciplines

Kevin R. Brine
Elena Ciletti
Henrike Lähnemann
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Open Book Publishers
Pages: 529
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  • Book Info
    The Sword of Judith
    Book Description:

    The Book of Judith tells the story of a fictitious Jewish woman beheading Holofernes, the general of a powerful army, to free her people. The story has fascinated artists and authors for centuries, and is becoming a major field of research in its own right. The Sword of Judith is the first multidisciplinary collection of essays to discuss representations of Judith throughout the centuries. Bringing together scholars from around the world, it transforms our understanding of Judith’s enduring story across a wide range of disciplines. The book includes sections on Judith in Christian, Jewish and secular textual traditions, as well as representations of Judith in art, music and theatre. The collection includes new archival source studies and the translation of unpublished manuscripts and texts previously unavailable in English.

    eISBN: 978-1-906924-17-1
    Subjects: Religion, Music, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Introductions

    • 1. The Judith Project
      (pp. 3-22)
      Kevin R. Brine

      The Book of Judith is the story of a Jewish heroine living during the period of the Second Temple when the Jewish community had returned from the Babylonian captivity and reestablished temple worship in Jerusalem. In this story, a fictional Near East sovereign threatens the religious hegemony of the Jewish people. The story is famous for Judith’s pursuit and beheading of the King’s general, Holofernes. Judith’s success against all odds epitomizes the charter myth of Judaism itself – cultural survival through the commitment to the preservation of the Mosaic Law, with the help of God.¹

      Judith is remembered in the Jewish...

    • 2. The Jewish Textual Traditions
      (pp. 23-40)
      Deborah Levine Gera

      The apocryphal Book of Judith is undoubtedly a Jewish work, written by and intended for Jews, and Judith is portrayed as an ideal Jewish heroine, as her very name, Yehudit, “Jewess,” indicates. Nonetheless, her story has had a checkered history among the Jews and Judith seems to have disappeared from Jewish tradition for well over a millennium.

      Let us begin with a brief look at the Book of Judith, as it appears in the Septuagint, the oldest of the extant Judith texts. The book opens with the successful campaign waged by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, against Arphaxad, king of...

    • 3. Judith in the Christian Tradition
      (pp. 41-66)
      Elena Ciletti and Henrike Lähnemann

      This essay sets out the broad framework of Christian tradition that unites, explicitly and implicitly, many of the papers in this volume, particularly in chapters 8–21.¹ It begins with the foundations established by the early Roman Church and explores aspects of later heritage in Western Europe. It seems to us that the Christian roots of the Judith mythos have been inadequately acknowledged, with the result that the long trajectory of their influence has been undervalued. We have therefore construed our project as a kind of cultural archaeology, devoted to excavating some key theological currents and undercurrents of the construction...

  2. Writing Judith

    • Jewish Textual Traditions

      • 4. Holofernes’s Canopy in the Septuagint
        (pp. 71-80)
        Barbara Schmitz

        Judith beheads Holofernes – the provocative nature of the story related in the Book of Judith is immediately clear from this somewhat oversimplified summary of the biblical tale. The fact that a man is killed by a woman means that the story was, and sometimes still is, perceived as scandalous. A wide variety of models have been constructed to interpret Judith’s shocking deed, including most notably in modern times the influential interpretations by Friedrich Hebbel and Sigmund Freud.¹ Interestingly, however, the question of how we should understand Judith’s deed is not only one for the later reception of the story, but...

      • 5. Shorter Medieval Hebrew Tales of Judith
        (pp. 81-96)
        Deborah Levine Gera

        Judith disappeared from Jewish tradition for well over a thousand years and when she returned, she was, in many instances, quite changed. In this paper, I shall be looking at the portrayal of Judith in a series of medieval Hebrew stories or midrashim, concentrating upon those stories which are not based in their entirety on the Vulgate Judith.¹

        Many details of the plot and the characters in these medieval Hebrew stories are not identical with those found in the Book of Judith. The setting of the story is generally Jerusalem, rather than Bethulia. The enemy king Nebuchadnezzar and his commander...

      • 6. Food, Sex, and Redemption in Megillat Yehudit (the “Scroll of Judith”)
        (pp. 97-126)
        Susan Weingarten

        “You also, son of man, take a written scroll, feed your stomach and fill your belly with what I give you, and it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” Thus begins the medieval Hebrew manuscriptMegillat Yehudit, with words taken from Ezekiel (2:8–3:3). Beneath the title, in smaller letters, is the instruction: “to be said on Hanukkah.”¹ The story of Judith has been connected by Jews with the festival of Hanukkah since the Middle Ages at least. Rashbam writes that just as the miracle of Purim came about through Esther, so the miracle of Hanukkah came...

      • 7. Shalom bar Abraham’s Book of Judith in Yiddish
        (pp. 127-150)
        Ruth von Bernuth and Michael Terry

        The Book of Judith, first printed in Hebrew in Istanbul in 1552, is next found in Hebrew type in a Yiddish translation printed in Cracow in 1571, with an explanatory title page in lieu of a simple title:

        I have published² this little book in honor of all women: the story of the pious Susanna, who did not want to lie with the judges but preferred to be put to death. Also, the story of Judith, which is not fully explained in the Hanukkah hymn.³ Therefore, you pious women, you should definitely buy it. Then I will print the whole...

    • Christian Textual Tradition

      • 8. Typology and Agency in Prudentius’s Treatment of the Judith Story
        (pp. 153-168)
        Marc Mastrangelo

        In the late fourth century, the Christian poet Prudentius wrote thePsychomachia(The Battle within the Soul), which depicts a series of single combats between personified virtues and vices. Immensely popular in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, thePsychomachia’s allegorical battles were depicted in a variety of relief sculptures and paintings throughout churches in Europe.¹ In his poem, Prudentius frequently uses a character or story from the Old Testament that prefigures a character or event from the New Testament, Roman Christian history, and a personified virtue or vice. These typologies form the backbone of Prudentius’s poem; so, for instance, the...

      • 9. Judith in Late Anglo-Saxon England
        (pp. 169-196)
        Tracey-Anne Cooper

        Judith makes two spectacular appearances in the Old English corpus: she is the brave heroine of a poem which is included in one of the most famous manuscripts of the late Anglo-Saxon period, the Nowell Codex, which also contains the heroic epic,Beowulf.¹ Judith is the subject also of a homily by Ælfric, the most prolific and highly-regarded homilist of the age, who rendered her as an appropriate subject for the contemplation ofclænnysse(chastity) for the benefit of nuns.² Thus, even at our first approach to the perception of Judith in late Anglo-Saxon England, we are presented with ambivalence;...

      • 10. The Prayer of Judith in Two Late-Fifteenth-Century French Mystery Plays
        (pp. 197-212)
        John Nassichuk

        In the literature of France, Judith is present only rarely before the sixteenth century. Rapid allusions to her well-known exploits in the camp of Holofernes do appear, it is true, with some frequency in the works of poets such as Jean Molinet¹ and Eustache Deschamps.² Also, laudatory paragraphs dedicated to Judith figure in the collected biographies of famous women, such as the one by Antoine Dufour (1502),³ as well as in the writings of Christine de Pizan.⁴ Yet although these sundry occurrences attest to the fact that Judith is a known character, they do not make of her the living,...

      • 11. The Example of Judith in Early Modern French Literature
        (pp. 213-226)
        Kathleen M. Llewellyn

        Judith, the biblical heroine who seduced and then beheaded an Assyrian general, clearly seized the imagination of early modern France. Her inclusion in manuals of comportment¹ and her frequent appearance in other forms of literature, as well as her depiction in visual arts, made this widow an important figure in the religious discourse of the era.² Yet in certain ways, Judith clearly acts against accepted codes of conduct for women in Renaissance France. Ann Rosalind Jones describes the Renaissance woman as “disempowered.”³ Jones explains: “In the discourses of humanism and bourgeois family theory, the proper woman is an absence: legally,...

      • 12. The Aestheticization of Tyrannicide: Du Bartas’s La Judit
        (pp. 227-238)
        Robert Cummings

        The modern editor of Du Bartas’sLa Judit, André Baïche, plausibly dates to 1564 its commissioning by Jeanne d’Albret, mother of Henry of Navarre.¹ It was supposed to celebrate an analogy between the relief of besieged Bethulia by Judith’s assassination of Holofernes and the relief of the besieged Orléans, in 1563, by the assassination of the ultra-Catholic François Duke of Guise, by Jean Poltrot de Méré. The preoccupations of the biblical narrative were congruent with those of Du Bartas’s French Protestant readers, a minority under siege morally and politically from the insinuations of a corrupt Catholic hegemony. The extent of...

      • 13. The Cunning of Judith in Late Medieval German Texts
        (pp. 239-258)
        Henrike Lähnemann

        In her song of triumph in the Book of Judith, Judith herself describes her beauty as a form of cunning; all versions are in agreement about this. Judith adorns herself with the express intention of deceiving Holofernes: “εἰς ἀπάτην αὐτοῦ” (for his deceit, LXX Jdt 16:8), “ad decipiendum illum”(to deceive him, Vulg. Jdt 16:10), “jn zu betriegen”(to deceive him; Luther Bible 1534 Jdt 16:10) etc. While Judith’s cunning deeds and words are presented as an unquestionably positive and divinely endorsed device in the Book of Judith, the situation becomes more complex in the reception. As soon as the...

      • 14. The Role of Judith in Margaret Fell’s Womens Speaking Justified
        (pp. 259-270)
        Janet Bartholomew

        Seventeenth-century England produced a rich body of literature that debated the inherent spiritual, moral, and intellectual worth of men and women. The early Quakers, as a new and controversial religious sect, were one of many groups who utilized this popular form of public discourse in order to justify their unique religious views. This prolific sect produced hundreds of publications by 1700 that defended their religious beliefs in a predominantly Protestant environment that was openly hostile toward Quakers and other protofeminist religious groups. As one of the few groups to claim spiritual equality between the sexes, some of the Quaker tracts...

  3. Staging Judith

    • Visual Arts

      • 15. Judith, Jael, and Humilitas in the Speculum Virginum
        (pp. 275-290)
        Elizabeth Bailey

        The illuminated manuscript of theSpeculum Virginum, or Mirror of Virgins, in the British Library, Arundel MS. 44, dated ca. 1140, contains at the right an image of Judith as victor over Holofernes (fol. 34v; Fig. 15.1). She and her counterpart Jael, standing triumphantly over Sisera, flank the allegorical figure of Humilitas, who kills Superbia. The Latin text, which has been attributed to Conrad of Hirsau, or Scribe A of Arundel 44, or yet another anonymous author, is composed in the form of a dialogue between a religious advisor, Peregrinus, and Theodora, a Virgin of Christ. It was intended as...

      • 16. Judith between the Private and Public Realms in Renaissance Florence
        (pp. 291-306)
        Roger J. Crum

        In 1497, at a time of famine, three thousand women amassed in the Florentine Piazza della Signoria demanding the distribution of bread. Shouting “Pane! Pane!” (Bread! Bread!), the women soon transformed their chant to “Palle! Palle!” (Medici! Medici!). This transformation was understood as a call for the return of the exiled Medici, whose heraldic symbols were balls orpalle. As the Florentine Security Commission tried to avoid a riot, one woman pelted a servant of the commission with stones after he had struck her daughter. The government eventually yielded to the women’s demands and ordered bread distributed throughout the city.¹...

      • 17. Donatello’s Judith as the Emblem of God’s Chosen People
        (pp. 307-324)
        Sarah Blake McHam

        This essay addresses the different symbolic resonances that Donatello’sJudith and Holofernes(Fig. 17.1) acquired when, in 1495, the newly reinstated Florentine Republic appropriated it from the Palazzo Medici, changed the inscriptions on the base, and transferred the ensemble to theringhiera, the elevated platform that fronts the wall of the Palazzo della Signoria, the city’s center of government. These events, which occurred less than a year after the Medici family had been expelled from power, reveal that the regime recognized that the statue could be converted into a potent political symbol of its ideology.

        On the most obvious level,...

      • 18. Costuming Judith in Italian Art of the Sixteenth Century
        (pp. 325-344)
        Diane Apostolos-Cappadona

        In the almost thousand years of Judith imagery between the sculptures and stained glass of medieval cathedrals and the choreography of Martha Graham, the costuming evidenced most specifically by the “ornaments,” or jewelry, of the Jewish heroine underwent significant development, beyond the typical attitudes of the “modes of fashion.” Central to this remodeling in Christian art is the changing interpretations of the scriptural assertion that Judith “omnibus ornamentis suis ornavit se” (Jdt 10:3), that is, she “adorned herself with all her ornaments.” Italian Renaissance artists from the mid-fifteenth century contributed a new dimension to her transformation from a simply dressed...

      • 19. Judith Imagery as Catholic Orthodoxy in Counter-Reformation Italy
        (pp. 345-368)
        Elena Ciletti

        The Book of Judith and its controversial protagonist were much in evidence in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Italian culture. For art historians, the foremost examples are the now iconic easel paintings of Caravaggio and Artemisia Gentileschi, images whose implacable vehemence commands attention. But if we look beyond the borders of secular patronage, we find a less familiar yet fully contingent world of contemporary Judithic imagery. It proclaims her rhetorical appropriation by the Catholic or Counter-Reformation Church against the “heresies” of Protestantism. Judith saved her people by vanquishing an adversary she described as not just one heathen but “all unbelievers” (Jdt 13:27);...

    • Music and Drama

      • 20. Judith, Music, and Female Patrons in Early Modern Italy
        (pp. 371-384)
        Kelley Harness

        Of the numerous musical treatments of the Judith narrative composed in Italy before the nineteenth century, probably the best known today is Antonio Vivaldi’sJuditha triumphans(1716) – the composer’s only surviving oratorio – originally performed by the well-trained female musicians of the Pio Ospedale della Pietà of Venice as part of that institution’s roughly twenty-year tradition of performing Latin oratorios.¹ As suitable models of piety for young (and not-so-young) women, biblical women and female saints appeared frequently in dramatic works performed by communities of women. But Giacomo Cassetti, the oratorio’s librettist, also intended his oratorio to be read as an allegorical...

      • 21. Judith in Baroque Oratorio
        (pp. 385-396)
        David Marsh

        From the Quattrocento onward, the story of Judith often inspired Italian writers and artists to produce masterpieces celebrating female heroism. Around 1470, Lucrezia Tornabuoni, the mother of Lorenzo de’ Medici, wrote aStoria di Giuditta in ottava rima.¹ A century later, Federico Della Valle established his primacy in Italian Baroque theater with the playIudit(ca. 1590), whose protagonist he describes as a foreshadowing (ombra) of the Virgin Mary. The biblical heroine was popular with painters from Giorgione onwards, and the beheading of Holofernes became aGrand Guignolstaple of Baroque paintings. With the emergence of oratorio around 1600, the...

      • 22. Judith in the Italian Unification Process, 1800–1900
        (pp. 397-410)
        Paolo Bernardini

        According to one of the major historians of the Risorgimento (the Italian unification process), the figure of Judith played only an ambiguous and marginal role among the vast number of heroines who shaped the cultural landscape of nineteenth-century Italy. This is true not only for Italian opera – the most important and popular form of cultural-political public art during the key decades (1830–1860) of Risorgimento – but also for melodrama, poetry, and the visual arts.¹

        My essay aims to answer some of the questions about Judith raised by Alberto M. Banti. Why was Judith only a marginal and ambiguous figure during...

      • 23. Marcello and Peri’s Giuditta (1860)
        (pp. 411-430)
        Alexandre Lhâa

        “One of the best melodramas to come out for many years.” It is with these laudatory terms that theGazzetta dei teatrireviewedGiuditta, the day after its creation on the stage of the most important theatre of Milan: La Scala.¹ Composed by Achille Peri on a libretto by Marco Marcello, this biblical melodrama premiered on 26 March 1860. The subject matter, popular and widely diffused on the Italian peninsula,² was reputed inadaptable to the lyrical stage.³ Nevertheless, it proved to be a triumphant success.⁴

        The melodramatic adaptation of the biblical episode, realized by Marco Marcello, introduces the reader/spectator to...

      • 24. Politics, Biblical Debates, and French Dramatic Music on Judith after 1870
        (pp. 431-452)
        Jann Pasler

        In late-nineteenth-century France, composers were drawn to exploring musical images of female strength. In the visual arts, painters depicted Judith as predatory femme fatale, associating her with feminine evil. In French dramatic music of the 1870s, however, it was not her hateful betrayals that appealed. Indeed, in the wake of French defeat by Prussia, Judith emerged as a model to emulate both for her faith in God and her willingness to risk her life for her country, an allegory for a new political identity based on agency and courage. The frightening qualities of Judith were less important than her individual...

      • 25. Judith and the “Jew-Eaters” in German Volkstheater
        (pp. 453-468)
        Gabrijela Mecky Zaragoza

        Fated to represent the Jewish people, as Martin Luther asserted in his 1534 Bible,¹ the figure of Judith has been the subject of religious festivities, fine art, music, and literature over the centuries. An examination of the rich history of the story’s reception reveals why many church fathers consider the Book of Judith holy and useful. Edifying for Christians because of its alle gorical potential,² the Jewish narrative is an ideal mode for expressing a wide diversity of Christian virtues.³ Throughout the Middle Ages and the early modern era, it was used as both a spiritual and a worldly tool...