Judith: Sources and Translations

In translating The Blessed Rabanus Maurus’ explanation of the Book of Judith, I have greatly benefitted from Google’s search capabilities. The simple fact of the matter is that without this oracular power, I would probably be incapable of doing such a thorough job of ascertaining Rabanus’ sources. At this time (I’m half way through chapter 3), I have found that Rabanus makes use of a number of sources (without much acknowledgement), including Orosius, Josephus, Eusebius, and Saint Jerome. Occasionally I will come across a phrase that I find exceedingly difficult to translate and will resort to Google to see if a similar phrase is used in another work and if a translation has already been made of said phrase. These are the times when I accidentally discover that Rabanus has quoted another author, often verbatim.

I am going to share one of these translations and another translation of it from a modern author. In this case, I had already translated the entire passage (which omits a few sentences from the middle) before I discovered Bosanquet’s translation. This is a passage from volume 2 of Paulus Orosius’ Historiae Adversus Paganos, or History Against the Pagans. Orosius was a student of Saint Augustine of Hippo. My translation follows (overlapping portions are boldface):

The first king among the Assyrians, who achieved preeminence among the rest, was Ninus. With the murder of Ninus, Semiramis his wife and queen of all Asia restored the city of Babylon and established that it would be the head of the Assyrian empire, and thus did the kingdom of the Assyrians long stand with unshaken power. But when Arbatus, whom others call Arbaces, the prefect of the Medes, and from the same race as Medus, had killed Sardanapalus his king in Babylon, he transferred the name and substance of the kingdom to the Medes: truly under these circumstances, in the year in which the kingdom of Babylon was diverted to the Medes, in this year did Procas the father of Amulius and Numitor, the uncle of Rhea Silvia who was the mother of Romulus, begin to reign among the Latins 

However, with the withdrawal of Arbatus to the Medes, the Chaldeans retained possession of part of the kingdom, for they claimed Babylon for themselves against the Medes. Thus the strength of Babylon, which had belonged to the Chaldeans, came among the Medes; The Chaldeans, however, because of the royal city’s ancient renown, which was no longer theirs, preferred to declare themselves to belong to it.

Whence it came to pass that Nebuchadnezzar and other kings after him until Cyrus, however potent in the powers of the Chaldeans and manifestly bequeathed with the name of Babylon, are not included in the number and order of the illustrious kings.

The following translation comes from Chronology of the Times of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, by James Whatman Bosanquet, Esq., published in 1848.

Thus the kingdom of Ninus and Babylon was conveyed to the Medes, in the same year that Procas, the father of Amulius and Numitor, the grandfather of Rhea Silvia, who was the mother of Romulus, began to reign over the Latins. But, as an evidence that all these things happened according to the ineffable mysteries and deep designs of God, and not by human power or uncertain chance, all ancient history begins with Ninus, all Roman history with Procas. Again, from the first year of the empire of Ninus, to the time when the foundation of Babylon was laid by Semiramis, is sixty-four years; and from the first year of Procas, when he began to reign, to the building of the city by Romulus, is exactly sixty four years. So that while Procas reigned, the seed of future Rome was sown, though the germ was not yet to shoot forth. In the same year of the same Procas the kingdom of Babylon failed, though Babylon itself remained. For Arbatus (Arbaces) having fallen upon the Medes, the Chaldaeans, who vindicated to themselves the possession of Babylon against the Medes, retained in their power a portion of the kingdom. Thus the power over the province of Babylonia was with the Medes, the possession with the Chaldaeans. The Chaldaeans, however, in consideration of the ancient dignity of the royal city, preferred to call themselves the subjects of Babylon, rather than that the city should be called after them. From whence it happened that Nebuchodonosor and his successors down to Cyrus, though counted powerful from the strength of the Chaldaeans, and distinguished by the name of Babylonia, were, nevertheless, not included in the number or succession of illustrious monarchs.

For those of you who are readers of Latin, you are invited to provide corrections of my translation from the original Latin. Note that my translations tend to be relatively literal, perhaps too literal at times.

Another thing to note about this commentary is that Rabanus goes to some fairly extensive efforts to try to place the story within the context of history and also geography, whereas most modern scholars believe that Judith is a fictional or allegorical parody rather than an actual historical account. Father Patrick Henry Reardon is one of those who argues against an historical account in his article, Apocryphal Judith, Saintly Deceiver.

For further information about this translation project, please see my series of posts on Judith.

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