The book of Judith tells a tale similar to that of Esther in the Hebrew Bible. It is also about a woman of great courage and beauty who, at considerable risk to her life, carries out a bold scheme to deliver her people from possible catastrophe. This book was written in Hebrew in the latter part of the second century b.c., but has come down to us only in Greek, Latin, and Syriac versions.
Judith is a dramatic story of a pious and godly woman who was able by use of her God-given beauty and brain to defeat a dangerous enemy of the Israelites and save her people from destruction. The first part of the book (chapters 1–7) tells how Holofernes, the violent chief captain of the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar of Assyria, has been ordered by the king to punish the nations in the western sector of his realm for not supporting his war with the Medes. Holofernes' march westward is highly destructive and, except for the Israelites, all the nations of the west surrender. Holofernes is warned by Achior, an Ammonite leader, that unless the Israelites disobey their God, their God will defend them and no army will be able to overpower them. Holofernes ignores this warning and lays siege to the Israelite city of Bethulia, cutting off its water supply. Without water the people despair, but they plead with God for rescue.
The second part of the book (chapters 8–16) introduces Judith, whose name means “Jewish woman,” and then proceeds to tell how she devises and executes a plan to rescue her people. In 8.5-8 she is described as pious, beautiful, wealthy, and well-respected. She prays fervently for God's help, dresses herself attractively, and proceeds to the camp of Holofernes. That she was well aware of the questionable nature of her strategy of using her beauty to lure the chief captain to his death can be seen in the deeply repentant prayer she prays to God (9.1-14) before setting out on her mission. The grim conclusion is reached in chapters 13–15, when she succeeds in decapitating Holofernes. When the Assyrians become aware that their general is dead, they panic and flee. Taking advantage of the chaos, the Israelites from Bethulia and neighboring towns attack the Assyrians and triumph over them.
Actual history is quite garbled in Judith, even to the extent of depicting the famed neo-Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar as an Assyrian king during the post-exilic Persian Era. The triumphal thanksgiving psalm that Judith offers to God (16.1-25) shows how she is representative of all the Israelite people. The author was not concerned with historical accuracy but with teaching readers through this story of courage, faith, and heroism about the reliable providence of God.
The Invading Assyrian Armies Threaten the Israelites (1.1—7.32)
Faithful Judith Leads the Israelites to Victory (8.1—16.25)