AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE APOCRYPHA. By W O E Oesterley D D Litt D. © W O E Oesterley 1935. First published S.P.C.K. 1935. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Title. | Contents of the Book. | Character and Purpose of the Book. | Historicity and Date. | The Original Language of the Book. | The Versions. | Literature.


As in the case of Tobit, the spelling of the name varies in the MSS: 'Ιουδείθ, -διθ, -δηθ; Ioudeith, -dith, -deth (Swete, op. cit., pp.201 ff.), the name stands alone in the title; it is found elsewhere only in Gen.xxvi.34 as that of a woman of Hittite extraction.


i.1-6 War breaks out between Nebuchadrezzar, who is spoken of as the king of Assyria, and Arphaxad, king of the Medes, supported by many other nations.
i.7-16 Nebuchadrezzar calls the Western nations to his assistance, but they refuse to join him; he thereupon swears to take vengeance on them. The battle between Nebuchadrezzar and Arphaxad takes place, the latter is defeated, and Nebuchadrezzar returns to Nineveh.
ii.1-13 Nebuchadrezzar determines to punish the Western nations for having refused to support him. He commands Holofernes, the chief captain of the host, to go with a great army against them.
ii.14-38 Holofernes sets out, and ravages all the lands in his progress westwards.
iii.1-10 The lands on the western sea-coast send messengers to Holofernes offering submission, on his arrival in their midst he is received with much rejoicing.
iv.1-15 The Israelites, hearing of the approach of Holofernes, are filled with fear, but prepare to resist him. Supplication is made to God for His protection and help.
v.l-vi.21 The wrath of Holofernes, who has never even heard of this insignificant, but audacious, nation. On making enquiries, Achior, the leader of the Ammonites, gives a brief record of Israelite history. He warns Holofernes that it will be useless to attack these people if their God defends them. At this Holofernes is greatly incensed, and orders Achior to be delivered into the hands of the Israelites; he is bound and cast down at the foot of the hill on which Bethulia stands. Achior is released by the Israelites, who bring him into their city; he is kindly treated by Ozias, the chief ruler of the city. Supplication is made all that night for divine help.
vii.1-18 The next day Holofernes encamps in the valley by Bethulia; but he is counselled not to attack the city, but to cut off the water supply and lay siege to it until famine forces surrender. Holofernes acts on this advice.
vii.19-32 The evil plight of the Israelites; they murmur at Ozias for not having made peace with the enemy at the outset, and call upon him to surrender. Ozias persuades them to hold out for five days longer, being convinced that God will not forsake His people; should help, however, not be forthcoming by the end of these clays he undertakes to do as they wish.
viii.1-36 This comes to the cars of Judith, a beautiful and wealthy widow living in the city. She bids Ozias and the elders of the city come to her. She then chides them for thinking of surrender, and reminds them of what things God had done for His people in the past; more, she declares to them that God will, by her hand, deliver them all from the threatened danger within five days.
ix.1-14 Judith's prayer.
x.1-xi.4 Judith decks herself in gay apparel, and, taking her maid with her goes out of the city at night to the camp of the enemy. She is brought to the tent of Holofernes, by whom she is welcomed.
xi.5-23 Judith beguiles Holofernes with persuasive, but deceptive, words.
.1-i.10 For three days Judith remains in the enemy's camp; on the fourth day Holofernes invites her to a feast. After the feast Judith is left alone with Holofernes, who, being overcome with wine, lies prone upon his bed. Judith then takes his sword and severs his head from his body; the head she gives to her maid to place in a bag brought for the purpose; both flee from the camp and arrive safely before the gates of Bethulia.
i.11-20 The people to whom she shows the head of Holofernes receive Judith with great joy. Ozias calls down a blessing upon her.
xiv.1-xv.7 At Judith's direction the head of Holofernes is hung out from the battlement of the city wall. The next morning the Israelites sally forth armed as though for battle; seeing this, Bagoas hurries to the tent of Holofernes to bid him lead out his army to victory; on hearing no sound from within he enters and sees what has happened. The Assyrians are seized with panic and flee; they are pursued by the Israelites and wholly overcome.
xv.8-13 The high-priest Joakim comes from Jerusalem to honour Judith; in this all the people join him.
xvi.1-17 The song of praise and thanksgiving of Judith and all the people.
xvi.18-25 Rejoicing and feasting are continued for three months in Jerusalem. Thereafter Judith returns to Bethulia, where she abides in honourable widowhood for the rest of her days. She dies at the age Of 105, having beforehand distributed all her wealth to the nearest kindred of her long-departed husband, and to her own kindred. "And there was none that made the children of Israel any more afraid in the days of Judith, nor a long time after her death."



As a literary product the qualities of the book of Judith are incontestable. The story is graphically told; the scenes depicted are realistic and follow one another in logical sequence; unnecessary details are avoided; and the characters of the dramatis persona are skilfully set forth. In reference to Judith's thanksgiving (xvi.1-17) it is no exaggeration when Fritzsche says, "I put it unhesitatingly by the side of the best poetical products of the Hebrew genius". And one must endorse Andre's words: "As to the 'Canticle of Judith' (xvi.1-17), it is a model of its kind, written by a master hand and worthy to be placed side by side with the Song of Deborah" (Judg.v.1 ff.).

The standpoint of the book is Pharisaic.

Thus, the care for and veneration of the Temple find frequent expression (iv.2, 3, 11-15; viii.21; ix.1, 8, 13; xvi.18-20, and elsewhere). Such a passage, e.g., as xi.3, which tells of how the people of Bethulia were castigated for thinking of encroaching on the tithes reserved for the Temple, even when they were besieged and desperate, shows, in fact, that what we have here is not the kind of veneration that was found in earlier days, but the exaggerated veneration of the Pharisees. Fasting and prayer are insisted upon (viii.6; the prayer of Judith in ix; xi.17; .8; i.4, 5). The dietary laws are mentioned or implied (x.5; xi.12-15; .1-9, 19). Ritual purifications are referred to (.7, 9). Proselytism also finds expression (xiv.10). The denunciation against idolatry in viii.18-20 is what we should expect, together with the glorification of the God of Israel (ix.11; xvi.6, 7, 11, 12).

A pronounced mark of the Pharisaic standpoint is the balance held between the doctrines of determinism and free-will, compare e.g. viii.11-27; ix.5-14; xvi.13-17, where God's over-ruling power is insisted upon, with viii.32-34; x.9; xv.9, 10, where human free-will has full play.

On the other hand, it cannot fail to be noticed that the miraculous element is wholly lacking; there is no mention of angels; no reference to a future life, and no word about the Messianic hope; probably this is to be explained by the nature of the story (see below).

There are, further, some elements in the book, which are far from attractive; candour demands that these should not be ignored. Thus, the glorification of war, though from the spirit of the times one can understand this, is an unbeautiful trait. And the way in which the Almighty is called upon to take part in it does not betray a high ideal. In ix.8 it is said: "Dash thou down their strength in thy power, and bring down their force in thy wrath"; and in various other passages a religious sanction is given to fighting (e.g. ix.8, 13; i.14; xv.10). Then, again, although this is quite comprehensible, a bitter hatred against the heathen is evinced (e.g. iii.2-4, 8, 10; i.5; xiv.4; xv.5 ff; xvi.17).

Another thing which points to a lack in the writer's ethical standard is the way in which he, in effect, contends that the end justifies the means; and worse still, that the Almighty condones this and furthers it; thus in ix.13 Judith prays: "... and make my speech and deceit to be their wound and stripe, who have purposed hard things against thy Covenant... " Lying, ruse, and assassination, as a means to a good end, are praised, for they are of profit to God's people, and forward the religious ideals of Israel (sec xi.5-19; .14, 18; i.17 ff; xiv.7, 9; xv.9 ff, and elsewhere).

And lastly, there are some distinctly revolting passages, bringing out what Andre rightly calls la sensualite raffinee, which do not heighten one's ideas of the writer's good taste (x.3, 4; .14, 15, 18; i.16; xvi.22 and some others); and Andre says: " le romancier seul, qui connaissait la fin de l'histoire, pouvait ne pas etre choque."

The purpose of the story is to show how God protects His own people against their most inveterate and mighty foes. The instrument whereby His will is wrought may be ever so weak provided there is genuine trust in Him, and provided that His law is observed; hence the choice of a woman as the central figure. Judith is represented as one who is never lacking in religious duties (see viii.11-27; ix.2-14; xi.9-16, etc); and in such passages, moreover, the writer exhibits his legal and theocratic ideas.


The prominence given to some well-known historical names would at first sight lead one to suppose that the book of Judith contained history.

Thus, Nebuchadrezzar reigned over the Neo-Babylonian Empire 605-562BC.

Holofernes (or Orophernes) was the name of the brother of the Cappadocian king Ariarathes, the vassal of Artaxerxes Ochus (359-338BC); he fought successfully under the Persian king in one of his Egyptian campaigns. (Diodor. xxxi. 19.2-3)
Holofernes was also the name of a Cappadocian king who lived in the middle of the second century BC. (Diodor. xxxi.32.)
Bagoas is mentioned as one of the generals of Artaxerxes Ochus during his campaign against the Phoenicians and Egyptians in BC 351 (Diodor. xvi.47, 4), the Jews joined in this revolt and suffered severely in consequence;
(Hecataeus of Abdera, in reference to this, says:
"The Persians formerly carried away many ten thousands of our people to Babylonia"
(Josephus, Contra Ap. i.194), cp. Eusebius, Chronicon, ed. Schoene, ii.112, 113 (1866).)
Diodorus speaks of this Bagoas as a eunuch (cp.Jud..11); presumably this is the same Bagoas as the one just mentioned. (Diodor. xvii.5,3)
At any rate, both Holofernes and Bagoas lived during the reign of Artaxerxes Ochus, and both are mentioned together in our book (.10 ff.).
It is for this reason that Robertson Smith and others regard it as "probable that the wars under Ochus form the historical background of the Book of Judith." (The Old Testament in the Jewish Church, p.46 (1895);
Sulpicius Severus identifies the Nebuchadrezzar of this book with Artaxerxes Ochus.)
The name of Arphaxad occurs in i.1, 2 as the king of Media, who fortified Ecbatana.
No Median king of this name is known.
It is probably a place-name and not a personal name at all. (See Cheyne in Encycl. Bibl. i.318)
In any case, according to Herodotus i.98, it was Deioces, the son of Phraortes, who fortified Ecbatana about the year 700BC.

In spite of these historical data it is clear enough that the book of Judith does not contain history. But further, it is said in i.1 that Nebuchadrezzar was king of the Assyrians, and lived in Nineveh. He was, however, king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and the Assyrian Empire had ceased to exist before he came to the throne, and Nineveh was destroyed in 612BC.

While the events recorded in the book are represented as having taken place during the reign of Nebuchradrezzar, i.e. before the Exile, it is stated in iv.3 that the Jews "were newly come up from captivity, and all the people of Judaea were lately gathered together." Moreover, a High priest is head of the community (iv.6, xv.8), and the Temple, which Nebuchadrezzar destroyed, is standing (iv.2, 11, etc.).

(For further errors in the book, historical, chronological, and geographical, see Andre, op. cit., pp.152 ff. His conclusion is thus expressed: "Le livre de Judith n'est qu'un roman national dont Ie cadre, artificiellement historique, est compose de notices esparses et de noms peches au petit bonheur, sans liens les uns avec les autres, et sans le moindre souci de la vraisemblance le plus elementaire.")

It is, thus, impossible to reconcile the historical setting of the book with actual history. If the author had claimed to write history, or had even intended to make some historical event the basis of his story he would assuredly have avoided committing the extraordinary historical blunders that figure so prominently.

The idea that the book contains either recent or contemporary history disguised under significant names is difficult to accept. (See C. J. Ball's clever, but unconvincing and not always consistent, arguments, in Ware, op. cit., pp. 248 ff. (1888).)
The book is in reality a novel, like that of Tobit.
Historical names are used for convenience, but it does not contain, nor is it intended to contain, history.

On the other hand, the historical conditions that are discernible in the book enable us to date the time of its composition with tolerable certainty.

It is a time at which the people are clearly in fear of losing their independence owing to the advent of a foreign foe: "And they were exceedingly afraid before him, and were troubled for Jerusalem, and for the temple of the Lord their God " (iv.2). And again in viii.21: "... for if we be taken so, all Judaea shall sit upon the ground, and our sanctuary shall be spoiled." The intention of the enemy is to root out the Jewish faith: "...and it had been given unto him to destroy all the gods of the land, that all the nations should worship Nebuchadrezzar only, and that all their tongues and all their tribes should call upon him as a god " (iii.8).

These conditions point to the Maccabaean period and to some time during the years of Jonathan's leadership (160/159-142/1BC), for by this time the Temple had been regained by the orthodox Jewish party, and the Jews were enjoying virtual independence. At the same time, the Syrian menace was by no means yet overcome.

Then, again, the fierce hatred and desire for vengeance on the Gentiles exhibited (e.g. in ix.2-4), and the general warlike spirit throughout our book is precisely that which existed during the Maccabaean wars (cp., e.g., I Macc.ii.40; iii.18-22; iv.7-14, 30-33)

Once more, in our book there is the frequent expression of a firmly grounded faith that God will help His people (see, e.g., iv.9-13; vi.18-ig; vii.29-31, etc.); similarly in I Maccabees trust in God upholds the people (e.g., iii.18-22; iv.8-11).

Significant, too, is the fact that it is the High-priest who takes the lead in war-like preparations, and his directions are followed (iv.6-8); in I Macc.x.21 we read of how Jonathan "put on the holy garments," i.e. became High-priest. It may also be mentioned that the book of Judith was read at the feast of Hanukkah, which was initiated in Maccabaean times. This, at any rate, strengthens the belief in the connexion of our book with the Maccabaean age.

Finally, throughout our book there is a strongly marked orthodoxy, reminding us of the time, during Jonathan's leadership, when the hellenistic Jews had been entirely overcome by the orthodox party. During the earlier years of the Maccabaean period the enmity between the Jewish parties is emphasized in I Macc. (e.g., i.11-15, 34-40, 42; ii.46, 47, etc.), but in our book there is no hint of this.

Thus, both from the political and religious points of view, the conditions presented in our book arc parallel with those of the Maccabaean era, and more especially with the period of Jonathan's leadership.

It should also be added that in ii.28 of our book Azotus (Ashdod) is mentioned as being inhabited. As Jonathan destroyed this city in 147BC (see I Macc.x.34; xi.4, cp. xiv.34), our book must have been written before that year.

As against the view, held by some, that our book belongs to the Roman period, it may be remarked that it is quite evident from the book that Galilee had not yet been incorporated with Judaea. This took place during the High priesthood of Aristobulus I. (103/2BC).


That our book was originally written in Hebrew admits of no doubt as soon as the attempt is made to re-translate the Greek into Hebrew. There are many curious mistakes in the Greek, which are at once explained in the light of what the corresponding Hebrew must have read. As Cowley has remarked: "The translation is so literal that it can be put back into Hebrew with ease, and in some cases becomes fully intelligible only when it is so re-translated." Many illustrations of this could be given, but this is not the place for these. It is generally recognized that Hebrew, not Aramaic, was the original language. Jerome says he translated the book from the Chaldee; but it is probable, as Porter points out, that "an interpreter rendered the Chaldee into Hebrew, and Jerome dictated a Latin Version of the Hebrew to a scribe." Evidently, however, Jerome knew of the existence of the original Hebrew, as he says that the book was read "apud Hebraeos"; but he was unable to procure a copy himself. Of this original Hebrew no fragment has come down to us.


The Greek Version, having been made directly from the original Hebrew, is by far the most important of these.
It exists in three recensions, of which that represented by B א A and most of the cursives is the best.
A second recension, much worked over, is preserved in the cursive 58; with the text of this MS the Old Latin and Syriac Versions show close affinity.
The third is represented in the cursives 19 and 108; but these agree largely with Cod.58.

The Old Latin Version, made from the Greek, is "often merely latinized hebraistic Greek, and sometimes misunderstands the Greek which it translates" (Cowley).
Five MSS of this Version are collated by Sabatier. (Bibliorum sacrorum Latina versiones antiquae, i.744 ff. (1743))
Since his day Berger has discovered some others. (Histoire de la Vulgate , pp.19 ff. (1893).)
Altogether eleven MSS of Judith have been found; they vary considerably from one another.

The Vulgate, having been made by Jerome, as we have seen, from a Chaldee Version, of which nothing is otherwise known, differs in many particulars from the Septuagint. It omits various incidents, and numerous geographical details. Judith's apparently sensuous behaviour is toned down, and frequent homiletic remarks are inserted, so that it partakes of the character of a paraphrastic recension. According to Cowley, it omits, about one-fifth of the book.

The Syriac Version, of which there are two recensions, is closely allied with the Old Latin. (Schurer, op. cit., iii.198.)

The Syro-Hexaplar and the Ethiopic Versions are unimportant.

There are various Late Hebrew forms of our book, which differ in length, character, and content. None of them are translations, but merely mediaeval "free sketches of a well-known story, set down from memory in more or less detail according to the taste of the writer" (Cowley). (For the oldest of these see Gaster: "An unknown Hebrew Version of the History of Judith," in the Proceedings of the Soc. Bibl. Arch. for 1894) pp.156 ff., and by the same author, The Chronicles of Jerahmeel (1899).)


Fritzsche ,op. Cit. ii.113 ff. (1853).
Volkmar, op. cit., i.3 ff. (1860).
Ball, in Wace, op. cit., i.241 ff. (1888).
Weissmann, Das Buch Judith, historisch-kritisch beleuchlet (1891).
Scholz, Kommentar fiber das Buch Judith ... (1896).
Lohr, in Kautzsch, op. cit., i.147 ff.
Andre, op. cit., pp. 147 ff.
Cowley, in Charles, op. cit., i. 242 ff. (1913).