A Council of War
What People Is This? 1 Holofernes, the commander-in-chief of the Assyrian army, received the intelligence report that the Israelites had prepared for war, blockading the mountain passes, fortifying all the high peaks, and establishing barricades in the plains. 2 Filled with rage, he summoned all the princes of the Moabites, the generals of the Ammonites, and the governors of the coastal regions.[a] 3 “Tell me, you Canaanites,” he demanded, “what people is this that dwells in the hill country? What towns do they inhabit? How large is their army? Whence do they derive their power and strength? Who rules as their king and leads their army? 4 Why have they alone, of all the peoples of the west, refused to come and meet with me?”
Discourse of Achior, the Good Pagan. 5 Then Achior,[b] the leader of all the Ammonites, said to him, “My lord, if it pleases you to allow your servant to speak, I shall provide you with the true facts about this people that lives nearby in the mountain district. Nothing that is untrue shall be spoken by the lips of your servant.
6 [c]“This people is composed of descendants from the Chaldeans. 7 At one time they settled in Mesopotamia because they refused to follow the gods of their ancestors who lived in Chaldea. 8 Since they had abandoned the ways of their ancestors and worshiped the God of heaven, the God they had come to know, they were banished from the presence of the gods of their forefathers. As a result, they fled to Mesopotamia, where they dwelt for a long time. 9 But their God commanded them to depart from the place where they were living and to migrate to Canaan.
“They settled there and acquired great wealth in gold and silver and vast herds of livestock. 10 Later, when a severe famine afflicted the land of Canaan, they went down to Egypt, where they remained as long as food was available in abundance for them. There they grew into so great a multitude that their numbers could not be counted. 11 So the king of Egypt turned against them and exploited them by forcing them to labor at brickmaking and reducing them to slavery. 12 They besought their God, and he afflicted the whole land of Egypt with incurable plagues.
“When the Egyptians expelled them, 13 their God dried up the Red Sea before them 14 and guided them along the route to Sinai and Kadesh-barnea. They drove out all the inhabitants of the desert, 15 settling in the land of the Amorites, and by their power they exterminated the entire population of Heshbon. Then they crossed over the Jordan and took possession of the whole hill country. 16 They drove out before them the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Shechemites, and all the Gergesites, and they dwelt in the mountains for a long time.
17 “As long as they did not sin before their God, they enjoyed prosperity, for their God who loathes wickedness was with them. 18 However, whenever they strayed from the path he had prescribed for them, they suffered tremendous losses in many battles and were led away as captives to foreign countries. The temple of their God was razed to the ground, and their towns were occupied by their enemies. 19 But now that they have returned to their God, they have come back from the lands where they had been scattered, have again taken possession of Jerusalem where their temple is located, and have settled in the mountain region that was uninhabited.
20 “So now, my lord and master, if this people has committed the fault of sinning against their God, and if we can ascertain the accuracy of this report, then we can go up and conquer them. 21 But if they are a nation that is guiltless, then, my lord, it would be better for you to leave them alone, for their Lord and God will protect them, and we will then become the laughingstock of the whole world.”
22 Reaction of the Pagans. When Achior had finished with his recommendations, all the people crowding around the tent began to murmur. The officers of Holofernes and all the inhabitants of the seacoast and of Moab demanded that he be cut to bits. 23 “We are not afraid of the Israelites,” they said. “They are a powerless people who are incapable of withstanding a strong attack. 24 Therefore, let us move forward, Lord Holofernes. Your great army will swallow them up.”
- Judith 5:2 This verse refers to petty local rulers.
- Judith 5:5 Achior: is thought to have been fashioned after the celebrated sage Ahiqar mentioned in the Book of Tobit (Tob 1:21f; 2:10; 11:18; 14:10). The author has him give a summary of the history of Israel centered around the acts of God (see Pss 78; 105; 106; Wis 10; Ezek 16:20; Acts 7; see also the story of Balaam, Num 22–24). It prepares the ground for the words Judith will use to obtain Holofernes’s attention (Jud 11:5-19).
- Judith 5:6 Abraham originally came from Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen 11:28) and then migrated to Harran (Gen 11:31) in Aram-naharaim (Gen 24:10), which the Greeks named Mesopotamia. The gods of their ancestors: refers to the pagan gods that Abraham’s father, Terah, and his relatives worshiped.