It has been a long time since I posted anything here. The translation and editing of An Explanation of the Book of Judith is ongoing. At present I am about 50% of the way through the commentary on my first editing pass. Readability is much improved as is translation accuracy.
In this chapter the people of Bethulia and of Israel slaughter the Assyrians and put the remaineder of them to flight. They collect massive spoils from their camp, giving very generous portions to Judith. Joachim the high priest comes from Jerusalem to meet with Judith and offers her much praise, as do all the people.
Hrabanus talks quite a bit about how the Israelites who pursued the Assyrians represent the preachers and those of the faithful who war against the enemy. I would like to highlight how these spiritual warriors, and Mother Church herself, treat the spoils of war. In speaking about the spoils (verse 12), Hrabanus says the following;
It is appropriate to consider that it says that those who had remained inside the city bore off the plunder of the Assyrians, moreover, those who returned conquerors from the slaughter of the enemy took a multitude of cattle, beasts and all movables. This is because, although the work of Christ’s soldiers may be inordinate, yet the intention and devotion should be one and the same: that they might convert whatever they are able to tear away from the unjust possession of the enemy to the adornment and riches of the Holy Church, that is the gold of wisdom, the silver of eloquence, the gems of morality and the virtues, and furthermore the people given to carnal sensuality who were captured in idolatry and guilty of slavery to vices, to the extent that all these things that the arrogant Assyrian and prince of this world used to unjustly possess, are returned to the honor of the divine religion through the soldiers of Christ.
Not only are the soldiers of Christ reclaiming the lost people who were captured in idolatry and enslaved to the vices, but also the good practices and wisdom that were embedded in those cultures. Further on he reiterates this idea (verse 26):
What does it mean that it says that all those things that were the peculiar goods of Holofernes, the people gave to Judith, if it does not mean that all of the faithful who carry out the war of Christ, seize everything from the dominion or possession of the enemies, collectively reckon all to the praise and endeavor of Holy Mother Church, and hasten to collect it for her spiritual adornment, so that she herself might gleam with the gold of wisdom, shine with the brilliance of eloquence, radiate with the gems of precious virtues and be clothed with the ornaments of the various disciplines? All this, namely any of the good things that the iniquitous possessor was unjustly possessing, she herself rightly appropriates for her own adornment.
This is an important point. The Church does not simply reject things out of hand that come from other cultures or religions. It seeks out the good things that are found in these cultures, and “baptizing” them, makes them her own.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov explains more clearly why the Church takes this approach with “pagan” cultures:
Though not with the same power as in the people of God, nevertheless the presence of the Spirit of God also acted in the pagans who did not know the true God, because even among them, God found the chosen people. For instance, there were the virgin-prophetesses called Sibyls who vowed virginity to an unknown God, but to God, the Creator of the universe, the all-powerful ruler of the world, as He was conceived by the pagans. Though the pagan philosophers also wandered in the darkness of ignorance of God, yet they sought the truth which is beloved by God. Because of this God-pleasing seeking, they could partake of the Spirit of God. It is said that nations who do not know God, practice by nature the demands of the law and do what is pleasing to God (cf. Rom. 2:14). The Lord so praises truth that He says of it Himself by the Holy Spirit: Truth has sprung from the earth, and justice has looked down from heaven (Ps. 84:11) … both in the holy Hebrew people, a people beloved by God, and in the pagans who did not know God, there was preserved a knowledge of God…
This particular chapter is rather short, so the highlights are scant. In the previous chapter, Judith exhibited the head of Holofernes to the inhabitants of Bethulia. Bolstered by this defeat over one of the most powerful men in the world by a “mere” woman, the citizens are primed for a confrontation.
Likewise, the Church, also a woman, has overcome the ancient enemy. Rabanus helps us to flesh out the impact of this defeat on the citizens of heaven.
The Church, with maternal affection as well as magisterial authority, teaches her children how they should pursue the spiritual enemy: clearly that as soon as the sun rises they should hang the head of their enemy upon their walls. That is, as soon as the serenity of divine reconciliation and supernal solace have illuminated them, the believers should, with the Gospel teaching by which they are strengthened, disclose the wounded pride of the ancient enemy to everyone. And clothed with celestial weapons, that is with the shield of faith, the breastplate of justice, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit which is the Word of God, they should—not sluggishly, but vigorously—pursue the flying wedge of enemies.
The flying wedge is a traditional offensive military formation used by the Romans and still in use today in the military and even in the game of football. Rabanus likes to make the story real.
In chapter thirteen, the deed is done. Holofernes loses his head. (Chapter thirteen does seem apropos for the loss of one’s head). The Blessed Rabanus Maurus finds this event and its setting to be to be a veritable treasure trove of practical object lessons, rich with allegory.
As Holofernes lies completely sloshed in his bed, Rabanus crafts an image in which each object in the tent takes on an allegorical meaning. In verse 5 he says:
The pillar that was at the head of Holofernes’ bed signifies the hardness of the depraved heart that generated the error of faithless complacency. The sword that hung tied upon it is the malice of evil intention; the hair of the head: the exaltation of an arrogant mind; the neck, in truth: the stubbornness of evil action; and the canopy, which is a net for flies, signifies the snares of deceitful thought.
Recall that Judith represents the Holy Church. Rabanus now takes this symbolism and applies it to the way in which the Holy Church works even today in verses 6 and 7:
She goes to the pillar and looses the sword, by which she might cut off the head of the most wicked enemy; with the malice of a hard heart stripped away, she cuts off from the enemy the opportunity for fierce temptation [or attack].
She removes the canopy because she uncovers his deceptions, with which he strives to entangle the guileless and incautious, and in the same way she is “rolling away the headless body of the enemy” whenever she shows the enemy himself to be infirm and debilitated in every part, with the result that the easier the soldiers of Christ think the most wicked enemy himself can be overcome, the more thoroughly they learn that he will be weak and conquerable.
Later on in verse 24, Rabanus connects this remarkable defeat with the prophesy made in the book of Genesis, and also God’s enabling of the apostles (the founders of the Church) with power over the enemy. He says:
…the Lord says to the cunning serpent in the beginning, “She shall crush thy head” (Gn 3:15). And the Truth Himself says to Her in the Gospel, “Behold, I give you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon all the power of the enemy” (Lk 10:19).
But not only does God, through the Church, overcome the devil. The Church also uncovers what the devil and his minions are up to so that he is easily seen through. In Bethulia, Judith presents the head to her people in triumph. Rabanus likens this demonstration to the Church’s exposition of the devil’s deceptions in verse 27:
Judith is bringing forth the head of Holofernes in the view of the people and showing them “his canopy, wherein he lay in his drunkenness,” whenever the Holy Church exposes in lucid discourse the ancient enemy’s arrogant mind and plainly uncovers for them his deception, in which the majority wickedly believed, so that they might know how perverse their enemy is and the magnitude of the omnipotent God’s righteousness, by which, under the authority of faithful spirits, he was overcome and driven back.
This is a useful image. Judith holding the head of Holofernes is an image worth imagining every time the devil’s schemes are exposed by the Church. And what are we to do with this knowledge? Rabanus gives that answer very clearly in verse 28:
Divine protection preserves these unharmed from every fraud of the enemy and the contamination of error, so that, with all these things having been fully understood, they give proper thanks and they unceasingly give back devoted praises to their creator and redeemer in return for this.
In this chapter Holofernes stashes Judith in his treasure chamber with the rest of his treasure. This seems quite symbolic. The good Abbot, Rabanus, comments on it in verse 3, noting that it symbolizes the secular leadership holding preachers of the Gospel in high regard:
What does it mean that Holofernes instructed Judith to stay in the place “where his treasures were laid up,” unless it means that the leadership of this age consents to hold a very great position for the preachers of the Gospel among those who have a mind that is both intelligent and a recipient of sound faith? For the intensification of a virtuous will is the most valuable treasure of the heart, where the figurative Judith stays, because the Holy Church steadfastly resides there.
The rest of the story is focused on Holofernes’ attempt to draw Judith into his revelry and to seduce her. He is absolutely smitten by her and can’t stand the thought of having her in his camp without having her in his bed. He tries to talk her into eating his food and drinking his wine, but she insists on eating the food that she has brought with her and that is prepared by her maid, so that she won’t be defiled by his food.
Holofernes is a bit put off by this and looks for a way to draw Judith into his feasting. He sees that she has meager provisions and hopes that by this he can draw her into consumption of his victuals. Her food symbolizing her religion, Rabanus observes that this event represents the fact that among secular leaders ,”the worship of the Christian religion is seen to be of little value and they strive to draw its practitioners into the filth of images or the seductions of the carnal pleasures” (verse 4).
Then, alluding to a means of escape from these traps, he describes a practice that aligns closely with the practice of some Orthodox countries or Jurisdictions even today. In preparation for receiving the Eucharist, many Orthodox faithful fast and pray during three days of confession leading up to Holy Communion. Recall that Rabanus Maurus was an Abbot in what is present day Germany. Consequently, it seems plausible that the practice we find in many Orthodox countries today was also found in eighth century western Europe. The blessed abbot describes it this way (verse 5):
But those with a faithful soul and a sure hope assure themselves that divine grace quickly comes to help, persist in prayers the entire night of this world, and baptize themselves with a fountain of tears; they wash the bed of their heart with a psalm throughout each night and water the couch of their thoughts with pious tears (cf. Ps 6:7); and in this manner during the three days of Catholic confession, completing their prayer through faith, hope, and love, (cf. 1 Cor 13:13) they finally on the fourth day, that is in the scintillating light of the Gospel, prepare for themselves victory over the enemy, and the author of death and darkness himself, blinded by his own malice, they convict as guilty, with eternal liability.
The key for Rabanus is that the Holy Church and her members remain pure in spite of living in the secular world. Consuming her own food, she is “in no way polluted by the idolatry or superstition of the Gentiles,” but has, as the Lord Himself said to his Disciples, “meat to eat, which you know not … My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, that I may perfect His work.”
UPDATE (8/7/2019): After more research, it seems that the above description of a penitential practice may instead be alluding to the quarterly penance practiced by all Christians during a period now known as Ember Days or Embertide. The three Ember Days were always on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the same week. On the fourth day, Sunday, the faithful would celebrate Holy Mass. These days were widely observed throughout the Frankish empire by the time of Rabanus Maurus, having been enjoined by Charlemagne in 769. Embertide does not seem to have ever been observed in the eastern Church.
At the end of chapter ten, Judith arrives in the camp of Holofernes and bows before him, showing respect. In chapter eleven, she very cleverly employs a goodly bit of truth to beguile Holofernes into believing that she has defected to his side and wants to help him conquer the Jews. Holofernes, being charmed by Judith’s divinely enhanced beauty, falls for her.
Judith’s speech is an interesting one. The Blessed Rabanus Maurus, our expositor, finds in her words a prophecy of distant future events described by Josephus through the proxies of Eusebius of Caesarea and Tyrannius Rufinus. Rabanus quotes extensively from Rufinus’ history to demonstrate the fulfillment of Judith’s prophecy. Rufinus is a historian who extended, revised, and translated Eusebius’ history (into Latin). And Eusebius himself quoted extensively from Josephus’ account of Titus’ siege of Jerusalem in AD 70.
Eusebius’ commentary on the events highlights the intent behind Rabanus’ citation (verse 4):
However, the Church that had been assembled in Jerusalem was commanded in a response received from God to leave and go over to a certain town across the Jordan, Pella by name; so that with the holy and just men withdrawn from the city, it might become a place of retribution for heaven, as much upon the sacrilegious city as upon the impious people, through the destruction of the fatherland and for the imposing of expulsion.
This aligns with what Judith told Holofernes (verse 1):
For it is certain that our God is so offended with sins, that he hath sent word by his prophets to the people, that he will deliver them up for their sins. And because the children of Israel know they have offended their God, thy dread is upon them.
But how does Holofernes respond to Judith’s description of the future? Judith is a knockout, and Holofernes seems to be lured into her trap by her beauty, buying most of what she says. But, Rabanus juxtaposes Holofernes with Herod, revealing a parallel between Holofernes’ apparent interest in the God of the Jews and Herod’s exploitation of the wise men. Maybe Holofernes is more shrewd than we thought. Wrapping up the chapter, Rabanus makes this practical (verse 16).
…blessed is he who receives an ambassador of the truth, not with a depraved spirit, but with pure disposition of heart; because whoever pretends to seek out God Himself with perverse intent, together with Holofernes and Herod (cf. Mt 2:8), will never, joyful at the sight of His glory, rejoice to reach Him, but in the end he will be sorry that he suffers the well deserved punishments of his iniquity.
(A brief aside in explanation of the delay… As I mentioned a while back, I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-hodgkins lymphoma back in 2017. I underwent chemotherapy for six months and was unable to pay much attention to this type of work for quite some time. At this time I am in remission. Glory to God! In addition to medical issues, I also made a move from Colorado to North Carolina. My family and I are settled into our new home and I am now starting to get back into some of my old projects.)
In chapter 10, Judith departs Bethulia, making her way to the camp of the Assyrians and to Holofernes himself. Below I present some highlights from the commentary.
The paradigm of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant is often used to help understand both the visible and invisible parts of the Church. The Church Triumphant is comprised of all those saints who have triumphantly completed the race of this life and are now joined together with all the bodiless powers of heaven that we don’t see. “The Church which is militant upon earth in essence also is triumphant in the victory performed by the Saviour, but it is still undergoing battle with the ‘prince of this world,’ a battle which will end with the defeat of satan and the final casting of him into the lake of fire” (quoted from Orthodox Dogmatic Theology).
As I have noted in previous posts in this series, Rabanus considers Judith to be a type of the Holy Church. Judith brings her maid along with her. In this chapter, he likens this maid to a combatant in the Church Militant (Verse 8):
What does it mean that Judith, about to go forth into combat, gave those things necessary for her along the way to her maid to carry, unless it means that the Holy Church, hastening to contend against the enemy in the stadium of this world, makes use of certain corporeal ones according to her own needs for the present work. If they faithfully carry this out, they can attain true freedom, in such a way that they are made joint heirs and participants in future proprietorship, like the renowned free maid released by Judith her mistress, recalled at the end of this book.
Judith’s passage is interrupted by the watchmen of the Assyrians. Rabanus likens these watchmen to the philosophers and philologists of the Gentiles and draws a parallel between how they take Judith to Holofernes’ tent and how these “watchmen” turn the Christians over to the secular authorities. When Judith is in the custody of Holofernes, he treats her well and Rabanus likewise draws parallels to historical incidents when the secular authorities treated these Christians well. For example (verses 19-20):
From this point onward in the Ecclesiastical Histories it is also found that the leaders of the Gentiles themselves, with the gentleness and moderation of the faithful having been seen, ceased to impose punishments and force upon them. Just as Tiberius Caesar established edicts lest anything might set in motion adversity and opposition to the teaching of Christ, and threatened death to the accusers of the Christians, so also the Emperor Claudius, even though he afflicted the Jews with diverse calamities, did not harm the Christians.
Finally, Judith shows respect to Holofernes by prostrating herself before him. Rabanus teaches through this that we should likewise show honor where honor is due (verse 25):
That Judith pays homage to Holofernes is not an apprehensive confounding of role, but a preservation of order. For as often as holy men bestow honor upon an earthly power—not out of the vice of flattery, but from the duty of honor—they do this.
In support of this teaching he provides many examples from scripture, such as when Elijah prostrated himself before King Ahab (verse 29):
Regarding this, the prophet Elias is found in Kings to have paid homage to the evil king Achab, by no means with the piety of religious devotion, but with the duty of honor (3 Kgs 18:41–43).
in prayer, she aptly commemorates the act of Simeon the patriarch, who together with his brother Levi avenged the violation of his sister among foreigners by the sword of revenge, because it would happen that Holofernes, who wanted to commit an act of passion upon Judith, would be punished by his own sword in divine judgement.
The entire story she is referring to here can be found in Genesis 34 (and what a startling story it is!).
Later on Rabanus discusses how she compares the hoped-for subversion of the Assyrians with the drowning of the ancient Egyptians in the sea (verse 6):
Just as above she compared the immoderate with the passionate, so too she now compares the proud with those puffed up. For instance, she likened the Assyrians trusting in their arms to the Egyptians of old fighting against the Israelites, so that she might show that just as on that occasion the power of God was manifested in the submersion of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so also here it can be revealed in the subversion of Holofernes and the Assyrians, because the same Lord, the same power, and the same justice endures both then and now, and through all the ages.
Judith uses this approach repeatedly as she asks for help from God. She points out how God acted in the ancient Scriptures and then asks Him to do it again in the present.
I have been working on this translation for about one year now and I am over half-way done, having seven chapters left. As I may have mentioned before, this project was provoked by an assignment that I completed during the course of my studies with the Saints Cyril and Athanasius Institute for Orthodox Studies. For the past year, the institute has been somewhat dormant and in a state of uncertainty. I was pleased to discover that the Institute is back and consequently I will be taking the next semester off from translation to complete the final module of the certificate program. I may share some of my thoughts here as I progress through the reading and assignments, but I won’t have time to work on this translation.
In this chapter Judith chastises the elders for setting dates. They had essentially given God a timeline to dish out his mercy upon them and agreed to give up the city if God hadn’t made himself known in five days. Judith, and rightly so, tells them that this was a very audacious thing to do and that they now need to pour out their souls in fasting, prayer, and repentance and hope they haven’t angered God. She makes her own plans and leaves them at the city gates to watch and pray.
There are a few interesting highlights in the commentary that I’d like to point out. First, Rabanus, like other Fathers before him, likes numerology. The strongest example of this follows (verse 7):
Furthermore, the very same Judith is found in the Scripture begotten in the fifteenth generation, which undoubtedly signifies that the Church itself emerged from the Patriarchs and Apostles through the number seven and the number eight of the Law and of the Gospel, and is appointed so that the glory of Heaven might be merited; for this number of steps was mystically presented in the Psalter and will reveal a type of the future ascension into the heavens, arriving at which the saints are justly able to say, “Behold now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord: Who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God” (Ps 133:1).
Rabanus follows the example of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who uses this same combination of seven and eight in discussing how high the water rose above the mountains during the flood. Augustine connects the fact that the water rose fifteen cubits above the mountains with baptism, which represents our regeneration, noting that the seventh day of rest (which epitomizes the Law), is thus connected with the eighth day of our resurrection (which epitomizes the Gospel) through this aggregate number of 15.
In the Vulgate and Septuagint, Psalms 119-133 (in translations based on the Masoretic Text like the King James Version, these are Psalms 120-134) are a sequence of fifteen Psalms or Odes of Ascent, also known as Graduals (note that gradus is the Latin word for step). Some scholars believe that these Psalms were sung by the Israelites as they made the journey to Jerusalem for the three great feasts. These Graduals continue to play a significant role in both the eastern and western liturgies. In the eastern rite, their principal use comes as the Church progresses through Lent toward Pascha. In the traditional western rite, these are sung at the third, sixth, and ninth hours on weekdays.
The second highlight that I would like to emphasize is that Rabanus sees the Ten Commandments as a an ancient and obsolete law. He likens Judith’s dead husband to the ten commandments, saying (verse 9):
She had Manasses for a husband, whose name is interpreted forgetful or necessity; who also, standing in the barley harvest over those binding sheaves in the field, died when the heat came upon his head. This is because she is discerned to be bound and subject either to the Ten Commandments of the Law or to a tribal custom from ancient times, but, with the coming Christ and with the sun of the Gospel growing brighter in the world, all that observance of the flesh ceased, and just as the gathering of the meager harvest came to a rapid finish, it was transferred through Christ to cultivation of the spiritual.
Rabanus teaches that the ancient law is a practice “of the flesh” and under the new covenant we are to cultivate the spirit rather than the flesh.
The third highlight that I would like to emphasize is how Rabanus Maurus speaks about prayer (verse 26).
“When therefore she had heard that Ozias had promised that he would deliver up the city after the fifth day” (Jdt 8:9), she reproved the idea, judging it inappropriate to establish for the Lord the time of His mercy, since He alone knew both the time and the manner of His mercy before all things; and because of this it is inappropriate for anyone to impudently demand anything of the Lord, but rather to refer everything to his judgment, just as a certain one of the Fathers is observed to have said as much in a prayer: “Son of God, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me.”
Rabanus is here quoting a prayer of Saint Macarius the Great. The full saying follows:
Abba Macarius was asked, ‘How should one pray?’ The old man said, ‘There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shews us his mercy.1
Finally, while Judith, who represents the Church, chastises the ancients, the priests of the Church should still be respected by those of us who have been placed under their leadership. The Blessed Rabanus describes it this way (verse 37):
Judith entrusts the ancients with the gate, because the Holy Church commends the careful protection of the camp of God to the priests of Christ, so that intently vigilant and skilled in oversight they might in this way strive unharmed to fortify and to protect against the ambushes of the enemy through the weapons of prayers.
In chapter 7, the city of Bethulia is besieged by Holofernes and his army. The people of Bethulia earnestly beseech the Lord in prayer, yet, their faith is not as strong as it should be. Holofernes and his people notice that Bethulia has a water supply coming into the city through an aqueduct, so they block up the aqueduct, cutting off the supply of water. This clearly makes the people a bit nervous or even afraid, which is evident to the enemy simply from they way they act. Even once the main supply of water is cut off, there are sparse springs near the city walls that people come out to to drink. The Book of Judith notes that they would come out “to refresh themselves a little rather than to drink their fill” (Judith 7:7). This is what tips off the enemy.
Eventually the people come whining to the leaders of the city about the lack of water, begging them to surrender to Holofernes so that they can quench their thirst. The chief leader of the city, Ozias, asks them for a grace period of five days so that the Lord will have a chance to respond to their prayers.
Rabanus ties items in the story very directly to the things of everyday life. For instance, he ties this period of five days to the five senses of the body and finally convenience.
Those five days can be understood as the five senses of the body, by means of which the present life is derived. For indeed, just as the inept teacher seeks a span of five days for a grace period, so does anyone who unwisely promises that physical comfort is to be given from the Lord first-hand to his students, as if the generosity of the highest giver is in his power (given that time and a measure of concession consists more in the ability to give than to receive).
If, however, convenience is refused to be bestowed upon those things of the present life by the Supernal Judge, in accordance with their promise, they immediately desert them to turn aside into illicit desire, and by yielding to their persecutors they avoid physical pain; our Judith, that is the Holy Church, refuses and disdains as hurtful the condition of their agreement, which will be clearly demonstrated in the things that follow.
Rabanus likens the whinings of the citizens of Bethulia to our own lack of fortitude. While they are unable to wait upon the Lord on his own time, we too are unwilling to live with a little inconvenience in our lives. We yield to the temptation of the evil one in order to avoid pain. As we shall see in the next chapter, Judith, that is the Church, refuses this approach.