Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 13 (2013) - Review

Xeravits, Géza G. (ed.), A Pious Seductress: Studies in the Book of Judith (Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature Studies, 14; Berlin/Boston: de Gruyter, 2012). Pp. 225. Hardback. €74.72. ISBN 978-3-11-027994-8.

The eleven essays in this volume were originally presented at the International Conference on the Deuterocanonical Books held at the Sapientia College of Theology in Budapest, Hungary, May 14–16, 2009. As the discussion below shows, the studies employ various theological and literary approaches to the text. The editor provides only a brief preface, an index of ancient Jewish and Christian sources, and an index of authors.

In the first essay, “The Ancient Versions of Judith and the Place of the Septuagint in the Catholic Church,” Stephen D. Ryan employs a comparative analysis of the Greek and Latin versions of Judith to discuss the Catholic doctrine of inspiration, pointing out that the tradition is comfortable with a textual diversity or plurality of witnesses to God's word for a biblical canon. He concludes that inspiration and canonicity subsist at the level of the book, or the entire canon, and not at the level of a manuscript or textual tradition.

In “Imitation of Septuagintal Narrative and Greek Historiography in the Portrait of Holofernes,” Jeremy Corley focuses on the characterization of Holofernes and argues that his portrayal resembles characters found in Septuagintal narratives and Greek historiography. From the Septuagint, the author draws from the characterizations of the Pharaoh of Egypt, Eglon of Moab, Sisera, and Abimelech son of Gideon, to name a few. From Greek historiography, the author of Judith echoes the defeated Persian kings who attacked the Greeks, presenting Holofernes as a “doomed aggressor.” There are many contrasts between Judith and Holofernes, the main difference being that Judith possesses the four cardinal virtues while Holofernes lacks them.

In the third essay, entitled “Tigranes the Great as ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ in the Book of Judith,” Gabriele Boccaccini historically contextualizes the book during the reign of Queen Salome Alexandra who is represented in the story as Judith, whereas the Armenian king Tigranes is depicted as the new Nebuchadnezzar. The intent of the book is not only to provide a miraculous ending to a critical situation with the invasion of Tigranes, but also to repair the damaged reputation of the queen when she surrendered publicly to Tigranes. The book, composed after the queen's death, is an apology and a “funerary eulogy” that celebrates that victory of the queen over Tigranes.

Ellen Juhl Christiansen, in “Judith: Defender of Israel—Preserver of the Temple,” argues that the Book of Judith presents its heroine as the defender of Israel and consequently the preserver of the temple. She concludes that the ending of the narrative, which highlights the sanctuary, acknowledges the temple's importance for Israelite identity.

The fifth essay, “Moral Teaching in the Book of Judith,” considers the moral lessons of Judith. Michael Wojciechowski views Judith as an ambiguous heroine, arguing that her actions, meant to protect the temple and save the people of Israel, are morally dubious but justified by the desperate circumstance of war. Her actions also raise the question of how to make sense of various and at times contradicting moral claims of the Bible. But one wonders whether the author of Judith was really trying to say that the end justifies the means? The equivocation of terrorism with violence is also problematic.

Thomas Hieke, in “Torah in Judith: Dietary Laws, Purity and Other Torah Issues in the Book of Judith,” investigates the halakhic practices of food, purity, and sacrifices in the book of Judith through the book's intertextual links with the written Torah. The intent is to create a paraenesis that exhorts the book's readers to observe the practices in the Torah.

In the seventh study, “‘Meines Bruders Licht’: Untersuchungen zur Rolle des Achior,” the longest in the volume, Friedrich V. Reiterer presents a comprehensive and intriguing investigation of the function of Achior in Judith, claiming that “Ammonite” is a cipher for “Samaritan.” The author of Judith then hopes that Achior, as the Samaritan representative, would serve as the light for the Samaritans to help them find the right way back to God.

In “The Supplication of Judith (Judith 9:1–14),” Géza Xeravits analyzes the literary structure and the theological resonance of Judith's prayer, arguing that it stresses the might of God exercised on behalf of the weak and the oppressed as seen in the history of Israel.

In what appears to be the shortest contribution, Judith Lang examines the portrait of God in Judith by looking at an intertext, namely Exod 15:3, in both its Hebrew and Greek renderings (“The Lord Who Crushes Wars: A Study on Judith 9:7; 16: and Exodus 15:3”). In Judith, God is the God of the weak who brings all war to an end by unexpected means. The Greek of Exod 15:3 states that God is the Lord who crushes wars while the Hebrew states that God is a “man of war.” Neither text dissociates God from war, and yet, the Greek translation softens the Hebrew, opening it up to associations in other biblical texts that speak of God as one who ends wars and establishes eschatological peace.

Eszter Balassa, in “The Consequences of Dinah's Rape,” considers the reception history of the story of Dinah (Gen 34), which is alluded to in Judith 9:2–4. She claims that in Second Temple Judaism, Dinah is symbolic of Israel and the temple for having been violated by Gentiles.

In the final essay, “Judith on Stage: The Dramatic Career of a Biblical Heroine,” Karin Schöpflin looks at the reception history of Judith on the stage by examining plays on Judith by Sixt Birck (1539), Christian Friedrich Hebbel (1840), Johann Nepomuk Nestroy (1849) and Jean Giraudoux (1931). She shows the many variations and interpretations that these playwrights imposed on the various elements of this fascinating deuterocanonical narrative.

While the readability, stylistic quality, and substance of the essays are uneven, this volume nonetheless provides a welcome spur to further studies on this interesting Second Temple text.

Francis M. Macatangay, University of St. Thomas School of Theology