Campaign against Bethulia
The Israelites Prepare To Resist[a]
Defensive Preparations. 1 When the Israelites living in Judea heard of everything that Holofernes, the commander-in-chief of King Nebuchadnezzar, had done to the nations, and how he had pillaged and destroyed all their temples, 2 they were filled with unspeakable dread at his approach and greatly concerned over the fate of Jerusalem and of the temple of the Lord, their God. 3 For they had just returned from exile a short time before, and only recently had the people of Judea been gathered together, with the sacred vessels, the altar, and the temple reconsecrated after their profanation.[b] 4 Therefore, they notified the entire region of Samaria, Kona, Beth-horon, Belmain, and Jericho, Choba and Aesora, and the Valley of Salem. 5 The people of those areas established outposts on the summits of the high mountains, fortified their villages, and stored up food supplies from the recently harvested fields in preparation for war.
6 Joakim, the high priest in Jerusalem at that time, wrote to the inhabitants of Bethulia and Betomesthaim, which is opposite Esdraelon, facing the plain near Dothan, 7 ordering them to occupy the mountain passes, since they were the only means of access to Judea. Since the narrow approach would not allow more than two men to advance abreast of each other, there would be no difficulty in preventing the advance of the attacking forces. 8 The Israelites carried out the orders issued by Joakim, the high priest, and by the senate[c] of the whole people of Israel in session at Jerusalem.
Prayer and Penance. 9 At the same time, all the men of Israel cried out to God with great fervor, humbling themselves before him and fasting. 10 They, together with their wives and children, their livestock, and every resident alien, hired laborer, and slave, wrapped themselves in sackcloth. 11 And all the Israelite men, women, and children living in Jerusalem prostrated themselves in front of the temple, and with ashes on their heads they spread out their sackcloth before the Lord. 12 They even draped the altar in sackcloth, and with one voice they prayed fervently, imploring the God of Israel not to allow their children to be carried off and their wives to be taken captive, the towns they had inherited to be destroyed, and their temple to be profaned and desecrated for the heathens to gloat over.
13 The Lord heard their prayers and looked kindly on them in their distress. For the people fasted for many days throughout Judea and before the temple of the Lord Almighty in Jerusalem. 14 Joakim the high priest and all the priests stood in the presence of the Lord and ministered to him. They wore sackcloth around their loins as they offered the daily burnt offerings, the votive offerings, and the freewill offerings of the people. 15 With ashes on their turbans they cried out to the Lord with all their power, imploring him to look with favor on the whole house of Israel.
- Judith 4:1 The very center of religious life, the temple, is threatened. The author clearly combines the remembrance of the Babylonian Exile and recent history. The whole fate of Israel depends on Bethulia, the unknown city that receives the mission to stop the invader. It is imagined as an inaccessible fortress that bars the way to Jerusalem. The name may have been selected because it evokes “Bethel,” that is, the “house of God.” The other localities seem to have been freely taken from the accounts of Joshua’s conquests (Jos 6:1; 10:10; 11:1).
- Judith 4:3 See 1 Mac 4:36-61; 2 Mac 10:1-9. Against the chronology of things, the author places the return from the Exile and repopulation of Jerusalem (539–400 B.C.)—and apparently even the purification of the temple after the persecution of Antiochus IV Epiphanes—all within the lifetime of Nebuchadnezzar.
- Judith 4:8 Senate: a post-Exilic institution. As for Joakim, see Neh 12:10.