Once upon a time, Judith was a nice Jewish widow living in Judea, wearing her sackcloth and sitting in ashes. She had to have been on the young-ish side because of what she accomplished later, but the Bible doesn’t tell us her age. She was just mourning her husband and minding her own business until Holofernes and the Assyrian army showed up and laid siege to the city.
Holofernes’ army surrounded the city gates and he demanded the unconditional surrender of the people inside. He had a well-earned reputation for brutality towards those he conquered, so the people of Judea weren’t exactly rushing to roll out the red carpet for him. Instead, they sat in counsels and discussed how they were going to get out of this whole mess.
Eventually, the Bible tells us, Judith decided she’d had enough of this, and took matters into her own hands. She washed off the ashes, put on a splendid dress and anointed herself with perfumes, grabbed her big purse, and her maid and set out to defeat the enemy.
She charmed her way into the tent of Holofernes, where she placed herself under his personal protection. He was enchanted with her beauty and wit, and decided to let her stay.
For three nights, she would go out into the desert to pray before returning to Holoferenes’ tent where she entranced him and his advisers, laying out splendid dinners and entertaining them into the wee hours of the morning.
On the fourth night, she suggested that they dine alone, and he readily jumped at the chance to be alone with the Judean beauty. She kept his cup filled and out of his grasp until the wine took it’s toll and he passed out with only Judith and her maid anywhere nearby.
And then Judith picked up his sword and cut his head off.
She put his head into the big purse she’d brought with her, straightened herself up, and told the camp guard that she was going out into the desert to pray as she always did. Instead, she slipped back into the city, and hung Holofernes’ head from the Judean city walls.
Holofernes’ army awoke in the morning to the sight of their general’s head hanging from the wall, and chaos broke out. Without clear leadership, they made for home and the siege was broken.
The city rejoiced at their freedom and Judith was celebrated by everyone who lived there, but she was having none of it.
She washed off the make-up, put back on her widow’s weeds, and returned to the ashes to keen and mourn for the husband she had lost.
The Bible doesn’t tell us whatever happened to her purse.
Image: Judith and the Sword of Holoferenes by Mihael Stroj [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons