The Book of Judith

Q: How can the book of Judith be true if it says in its very first verse that Nebuchadnezzar was king of the Assyrians when he was really the king of the Babylonians?

A: Consider the situation: The book of Judith is about a devout woman named Judith–a name which means “Lady Jew.” She battles a general sent by Nebuchadnezzar–the greatest single individual who was an enemy of Israel. He is pictured as the leader of the Assyrians–the other great enemy of the people of Israel.

Let’s transpose this into a 20th century American context. Judith–“Lady Jew”–is the personification of all that is good in her nation, rather like Miss America is supposed to be (in reality, of course, the current Miss America contest is a joke, but the concept of Miss America as the personification of the nation predates that; in fact, there was a superheroine in Golden Age comic books who was named Miss America). Nebuchadnezzar, during the period he was persecuting the Jews, was the personification of evil and the greatest individual opposer of the nation, would correspond in the 20th century to someone like Adolph Hitler. The Assyrians, the other great enemy of the nation, would correspond in a 20th century American context to the Soviet Union (which, besides the Nazis, was regarded in the Cold War as the other great modern enemy of America).

Now suppose you picked up a book about a conflict between Miss America and a general sent to conquer America by Adolph Hitler, Premier of the Soviet Union. You would know instantly that what you were reading was not intended to be a historical account, but a parable (or at the very least a symbolically cloaked retelling of a historical event).

In the same way, any Jew in the ancient world reading Judith would know instantly that he was reading a parabolic rather than a historical work. Every Jew back then knew perfectly well that Nebuchadnezzar was the king of the Babylonians, not the Assyrians, just as every American today knows that Adolph Hitler was the German Fuehrer, not the Premier of the Soviet Union.

This is, in fact, why Nebuchadnezzar is pictured as king of the Assyrians in Judith 1:1–so that the reader will be immediately cued into the fact that he is reading a parable. The book shouts “Parable!” from its very first verse.

If people today don’t recognize this, it is because they either haven’t thought it out, are unfamiliar with ancient history and modes of writing, or don’t give the ancient Jews enough credit for knowing their own history and thinking we, today, know it better than they did. The ancient Jews, at least the ones reading and writing literature, were not a bunch of ignorant bumpkins. They were very, very sophisticated, with a rich and highly developed literature, and it is a comment on the lack of sophistication of some moderns that this objection is thrown up.

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