Judith: Chapter 6 Commentary

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Achior liberated by the Israelites (c. 1430), Azor Masters

I have finished translating chapter 6 of the commentary on the Book of Judith by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus.

In chapter 6, Achior, the pagan who told Holofernes about Israel’s God in the previous chapter, is taken by Holofernes’ men to be delivered to the Children of Israel at the town of Bethulia. During their approach the Israelites send out slingers to drive away Holofernes’ men. The men, concerned for their own safety, elect not to deliver Achior directly to the Israelites and instead tie him to a tree and escape.

Abp. Rabanus interprets this allegorically as usual, explaining it this way:

The servants of Holofernes lead the apprehended Achior through the plains, whereas the persecutors of the Catholic Faith desire to drag the confessor of Christ to illicit desires and to the wide and spacious way of the age, which leads to death (cf. Mt 7:13); but when they come near the mountains, the slingers, having come out against them, put the terrified to flight with darts; because men of virtue, who more frequently adhere to contemplation of the supernal, confound the malevolent ones with arrows of the divine testimonies.

Rabanus draws parallels between very simple elements of the story and practical elements of our ordinary lives. The picture of a man being dragged by soldiers across a broad plain is likened to the temptation to succumb to sinful desires, while the slingers are likened to one who is very familiar with the Scriptures, and, like Christ in the wilderness, is ready to quote Scripture to the devil.

Furthermore, because these men are unable to lead Achior into sin, they seek, metaphorically, to cause him physical suffering.

But those, while they are unable to bring their commitment to completion, determine to tie the captive to a tree hand and foot; because they are unable to seduce the soldier of Christ through depraved persuasion, they contend to make him a participant in His cross and death, and themselves return to their master, because they are not corrected, but through an increase of wicked deeds they return even more depraved into the service of their original master.

The last part of the chapter speaks of the freeing of Achior and the hospitality of the town of Bethulia, a topic left to the reader.

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

The Ark: Typological Development

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Iconography in the Apse of Holy Theophany Church in Colorado Springs.

We are beginning to wrap up our ongoing discussion of how the Church views the Ark of the Covenant. We have covered many concrete examples and are now embarking on some analysis of what we have learned.

We have traced how the people of God have understood the ark from its very beginning to its contemporary expression within the Church. We have examined how the Ark was built and we followed its life in Israel up until its disappearance. Subsequently, we examined possible midrashic traditions latent in Scripture that typologically identify the Ark with the Holy Virgin. We examined so-called apocryphal literature that provides useful clues. We traced the great conversation of the Holy Fathers on this topic through the first seven centuries. And finally, we examined the expression of the Ark’s typology in the life of the Church: its iconography, services, and hymnology.

In this particular case study, and perhaps others, we find a distinct pattern. First, the subject of typological interest comes into existence. In our case, the Ark is explicitly “spec’d out” by God himself and is then constructed under the guidance of the Prophet Moses. The Ark gains a certain mystique throughout its developing life among the people of Israel, becoming a key emblem or meme in the mythos of the nation of Israel. Whether we are talking about a physical artifact such as the Ark or a story such as Abraham’s hospitality to his three visitors (a topic for an upcoming series of posts), the type follows this same path.

The next step is the Gospel. Saint Paul alludes to the application of forward looking typology to the Old Testament, saying, “For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect” (Hebrews 10:1). In our specific case, it is affirmed by Saint John Damascene as noted earlier. The Gospel becomes the lens that we use to interpret the ancient types, but the interpretation does not necessarily become clear immediately, as in our case.

Clearly, given the fact that accounts of the Gospel and other contemporaneous events were recorded significantly later, either an oral tradition or long lost documents carry the stories forward in time until they are written down. Interpretations may grow organically within this mix, as hypothesized by Laurentin and others, influencing the recording of Scripture and other writings.

We begin to truly see the application of typology surface in the writings of the Holy Fathers, where it develops through the centuries. As the present author might observe from a similar study of the typology attached to the story of the Hospitality of Abraham, a turning point in the application of the typology seems to sometimes occur during the third or fourth centuries. It is probably not coincidental that this was a time of great upheaval and development within the church, owing to the occurrence of many heresies and the refining of doctrinal articulation that was carried out by the great ecumenical councils. In our case we see a transition from a clearly Christocentric typology of the Ark to its identification with the Holy Virgin Mary (the shift seems to happen somewhere between Saint Dionysius and Saint Athanasius). While both typological traditions may have coexisted from very early times, the Church shifted emphasis from one to the other as its understanding deepened.

The title Theotokos is not truly rooted in Mariology, but in Christology. It does honor to the Theotokos by recognizing her role in the incarnation, but she is called the God Bearer not due to her own nature, but because of the nature of her son. The ecumenical councils sought to clarify the nature of Jesus Christ and this clarification shone light also upon the role of Mary, which may have influenced how the Church viewed the typology of Mary and of the Ark.

After the conciliar age, the typology seems to stabilize and we see it becoming part of Orthodox praxis in the services of the Church as described above. Iconography finally incorporates the typology and we not only hear it in the hymnology, but see it on the walls of the church. In the end, lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of praying is the law of believing.

Here we have discussed the implications of theological/typological development within the church. In our next post in this series, we will discussion the implications of the fully developed typology.

Judith: Chapter 5 Translated

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Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598—1599.

I am pleased to report that I have completed the draft of chapter 5 of Rabanus Maurus’ commentary on the book of Judith.

In chapter 5 we meet Achior, a heathen who seems to know the story of Israel quite well and warns Holofernes and his leaders that they won’t likely be able to defeat Israel. Holofernes and his leaders don’t take kindly to this warning and threaten to kill Achior for suggesting that anyone is greater than Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar).

Early in the chapter, Rabanus likens Achior to a heretic who, while he speaks words of truth, also mixes error in with that truth. Later Achior is likened to the ten lepers cleansed by Christ. The white spots intermingled with the healthy skin represent error intermixed with truth, yet Christ cleanses the lepers. By the end of the chapter Achior is related to the man born blind from birth to whom Jesus granted sight. Even further, Rabanus connects the Jews who ejected the blind man from the temple with Holofernes’ phalanxes. But Achior, choosing the discipleship of Christ, and more literally being circumcised in the flesh and joined to the people of Israel, has chosen the correct side, being converted from his heathen ways.

Rabanus compares Holofernes and his men to those who “take pride in worldly arrogance” and who on the one hand:

look down from outside upon “men unarmed and without force,” being unable to look inwardly at the force of spirit and virtue of faith by which they fight invisibly against spiritual enemies; on the other hand these, who with false hope in their own power do not see that they themselves are deluded, give the order to consign the proclaimers of truth to the multitude that is to be destroyed.

Achior and all those like him have joined themselves to those who have a force of spirit and virtue of faith to fight invisibly against spiritual enemies. Perhaps in today’s secular world, Achior is those who, discovering Christ, become marginalized because they take hold of the discipleship of Christ.

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

The Ark: Great Feasts

In our ongoing discussion of how the Church views the Ark of the Covenant, we have examined the Scriptures, apocryphal literature, and the writings of the Holy Fathers. In this post we begin to examine how this rich heritage directly impacts an Orthodox Christian in the ongoing life of the Church, starting with the annual cycle of services.

Entrance of the Theotokos

entrance-theotokosThe feast of the entrance recalls our previous short review of the Infancy Gospel of James. This feast celebrates the events recorded in this gospel and recognizes a connection between Old Testament temple worship and the Holy Mother of God. However, it does not directly connect the Ark with the Theotokos. This feast seems to foreshadow the climactic events depicted during the Feast of the Dormition, which explicitly relates the Ark to the Theotokos. The kontakion below connects the Theotokos to the Tabernacle generally rather than to the Ark specifically.

The all-pure Temple of the Saviour, the precious Bridal Chamber and Virgin, the sacred Treasury of the glory of God, is being brought today into the house of the Lord; and with her she brings the grace of the divine Spirit; of her God’s Angels sing in praise: She is indeed the heavenly Tabernacle.1

Dormition of the Theotokos

Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 2.02.57 PMThe Dormition of the Theotokos is perhaps the most explicit of the feasts of the Church when articulating the typology of the Ark of the Covenant. In one set of troparia, the story of the Dormition as related by The Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God, including the cutting off of the hands of Jephonias, is directly referenced and so affirmed. In these troparia, the Mother of God is explicitly called “the living Ark.”

Knowing you, All-blameless, to be a mortal woman, but beyond nature Mother of God, with fearful hands the illustrious Apostles touched you, as you blazed with glory, gazing on you as the Tabernacle that had received God.

Just punishment intervened to cut off the sacrilegious hands of the presumptuous, for God guarded with the glory of the godhead the reverence due to the living Ark, in which the Word had become flesh.2

The Virgin Mary is referred to as the Ark of Sanctification or Holiness at least four times and likened to the Ark in different ways several other times. In addition, the Theotokos is also identified with several other emblems of temple worship. In the above quote we see that she is likened to the Tabernacle and in the later troparia below, she is related to the pillar of cloud (Exodus 13:21), the table of the bread of life (Exodus 25:30), the lampstand (Exodus 25:31-40), the censer, Aaron’s rod, and the tablets of stone (Hebrews 9:4).

The Suzerain and God of all apportions to you the things above nature; for just as he kept you a Virgin in your giving birth, so he preserved your body incorrupt in the tomb, and he glorified you with him by a divine Translation, gracing you with honours, as a Son his Mother.

Your Offspring, O Virgin, has truly made you dwell in the Holy of Holies as shining Lampstand of the immaterial fire, golden Censer of the divine coal, Jar and Rod and Tablet written by God, holy Ark and Table of the bread of life.3

This latter set of troparia clearly draw your mind from the falling asleep of the Mother of God to her translation into the presence of the Most High God in the Most Holy Place in heaven, where aspects of her role there are typologically represented by each of these ancient artifacts of worship, not the least of which is the Ark. The entrance of the Theotokos into the earthly Temple is clearly a foreshadowing of her entrance into the heavenly Temple.

Other Hymns and Services

The Ark is frequently connected typologically to the Theotokos in various theotokia, as in the following example from Saturday evening Vespers (tone 1).

When Gabriel addressed you, O Virgin, with his ‘Hail’, as he spoke the Master of all things became incarnate in you the holy Ark, as righteous David sang. You were proclaimed wider than the heavens, for you carried your Creator. Glory to him who dwelt in you, glory to him who came forth from you, glory to him who has set us free through your bearing child.4

Theotokia of a similar nature are found often in the regular cycle of services, including Vespers and Matins. We find additional examples in other services such as the Akathist. The following excerpt from the Akathist emphasizes the Temple typology we found above in the feast of the Dormition.

Hail, tabernacle of God the Word
Hail, greater Holy of Holies.
Hail, Ark — gilded by the Spirit,
Hail, inexhaustible — treasure of life.5

Quite frequently in the services of the Church, the Ark is typologically connected to the Theotokos. What is important to note is that, while it is not consistently the central theme of these services, Orthodox Christians are nonetheless very frequently exposed to this typology. It is part of the warp and woof of Orthodox life.

In our next post in this series, we will examine how the iconography of the Church treats the Ark of the Covenant.


1 Archimandrite Ephrem, The Month of November, in Anastasis.

2 Archimandrite Ephrem, The Fifteenth of August, in Anastasis.

3 Ibid.

4 Archimandrite Ephrem, Paraklitiki Period of Tone 1 On Saturday Evening at Small Vespers, in Anastasis.

5 Archimandrite Ephrem, The Akathist, in Anastasis.

Judith: Moral Metaphor (Ch 4)

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Potential cover with art by Trophime Bigot, ca. 1640

I’m pleased to announce that I have completed a draft of chapter 4 of Abp. Rabanus Maurus’ commentary on the book of Judith.

Up until now we’ve been following the activities of Nebuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) and Holofernes in their campaign to take over the world. In chapter 4 we begin to learn about how the people of God react to this campaign through prayer and fasting.

While the Blessed Rabanus has been drawing allegorical parallels throughout the book, the parallels tend to become more tropological in chapter 4. As we learned in our ongoing discussion on The Ark of the Covenant, Saint Jerome takes this tropological approach with the Ark. The tropological approach is characterized primarily by the use of moral metaphor.

A good example of this approach is found in the following paragraph:

In fact, these very ones are the altar of God, who, upon the altar of their hearts, continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God. Truly the haircloth, which is woven from the hair of goats, bears well the figure of sins, for which repenting is entirely necessary, because without it the sinners themselves do not find cures of true wholeness.

Rabanus finds a parallel between the altar of God and our hearts, upon which we offer a sacrifice of praise. He also find a parallel between a garment made of goat hair and sin. It is interesting to recall that the Israelite sacrificial system included a “scape-goat,” upon which the sins of the nation were place. In the subsequent paragraph, Rabanus takes this metaphor one step further and ties it to the “altar of the Cross:”

This also needs to be known, that in pious prayers it becomes important and the principal aid if a remembrance of the Lord’s passion is employed, which was completed on the altar of the cross for our sins, because not only for our offenses, but also for those of the whole world, was the blood of our redeemer shed in expiation for all sins. About which John says, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

Rabanus here follows the orthodox approach to the Old Testament Scriptures, reading them through the lens of the risen Christ. The risen Christ is the key that unlocks the Old Testament.

But I think it’s important not to miss the message of this chapter. The Israelites beseech God fervently in fasting and prayer when they come to the realization that they are going to have to contend with Holofernes. Rabanus likens Holofernes to the antichrist and Nabuchodonosor to the devil himself. The clear message is that when we ourselves contend with the wiles of the devil, our only hope of deliverance is repentance, fasting, and prayer.

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

Judith: Naming People and Places

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Judith, by August Reidel, 1840

I decided to revise the way I was translating names of people and geographical features in An Explanation of the Book of Judith. My initial approach was to use the names found in the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), which tend to follow the standards set by the King James Version (KJV). The Vulgate and the Septuagint tend to have different ways of writing the names that also provide differences in pronunciation. The KJV tends to choose names that are closer to the Hebrew, I believe generally following the Masoretic Text. Because the KJV has had such a strong impact on our modern usage and expectations, it seems to make sense to use these names. However, because of the fact that I’m working on what I hope will be a relatively literal translation, and because I’m including translations of the Vulgate (the version of the Bible Abp. Rabanus used) from the Douay-Rheims (D-R) translation of the Vulgate directly in the text, I have decided to shift to using the names from the D-R throughout.

What this means is that some of the names may be somewhat unfamiliar to people who are accustomed to typical modern usage. For instance, in the D-R rather than Nebuchadnezzar, we find Nabuchodonosor. Or, rather than Ishmael, we find Ismahel. However, these names reflect how the Blessed Rabanus actually wrote the names in his commentary. In many cases, these are literally the same in English as they are in Latin.

What I have found is that, in many cases, choosing how to name something is actually more difficult than the rest of the translation work. For instance, some of the names don’t actually exist in the D-R or the Vulgate and I have to choose another source, such as Saint Jerome’s Chronicon (or the Latin version). I can use the name verbatim from the Latin, or I can look in alternative sources. Sometimes digging around online can turn up a more commonly spelled version of a name such as Arbis. In the Vulgate this name is Arbimin, but Arbimin is pretty hard to find when searching in Google. It turns out that the more common name is Arbis, which actually turns out to be the modern day Porali River in Pakistan.

During the course of this process of name revision, I have actually made some interesting discoveries. For instance, the D-R names a river Jadason, which the Beatus calls Hiadas. Then in a later spot, when quoting Orosius, it is called Idaspem. Idaspem is an unusual way to spell Hydaspem or Hydaspes. The OSB uses Hydaspes where the D-R uses Jadason, which brought me to the realization that they are the same. Other sources confirm this. Further research indicates that it is the modern day Jhelum river that flows through India and Pakistan.

In order to make this process manageable, I ended up creating tables of names in appendices. There is a table of people and a table of geographical names. The tables include the versions of the names found in this translation, the Douay-Rheims, the Orthodox Study Bible, Jerome’s Chronicon, and the Latin itself. Creating this table enables relatively easy future revisions using a simple search and replace feature.

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

Judith: Three Chapters Translated

judith-cover-2In celebration of completing drafts of the first three chapters of my translation of the Blessed Rabanus Maurus’ commentary on Judith, I am making it available publicly. This is by no means the final version. There will likely be multiple revisions, but this should give a reasonably good representation of what the bishop said about the Book of Judith. Additionally, I have just received a copy of a modern critical edition of the text that I will use to go back through these chapters and make some revisions. This new edition denotes quotations from other sources and so will save me a lot of work in hunting those down.

When I began translating this commentary I had no idea what I was getting into. Given the present pace of translation, I expect it will take 3–5 years to complete. In addition to improving my Latin, this work is improving my understanding of history as well. I feel the need to understand the context in which the translator lived and so have taken this opportunity to study the early middle ages. In addition to hagiographic literature about Rabanus, I have begun delving into some more scholarly papers addressing the life of the Blessed Rabanus Maurus and his work. In particular, Exegesis for an Empress, by Mayke de Jong has been enlightening. But perhaps most engaging and broadly useful has been an online course on The Early Middle Ages. (I’ve been very pleased with my subscription to The Great Courses Plus).

In addition, I have included an idea for a cover above. There are many great works of art that portray scenes from the story, but I chose an illustration by a relatively recent artist named W. Russell Flint, who produced an illustrated edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This image is from that book.

Note that I am using Google Documents to do my work. That means that online collaboration becomes very simple. In fact, if you follow the link to the document you will, even without being logged in to Google, be able to add comments and suggested edits to the work. If you wish to contribute feedback in either of these ways, you are invited to do so. It would be nice if you would log in so that I can see who has made the comments, but I’ll still accept anonymous feedback and corrections. Even if you don’t read Latin, grammar and spelling corrections are useful (though I’ll likely maintain Rabanus’ run-on sentences in the first revision and later work on breaking them up for modern readers).

The present version of the translation can be seen here:

An Explanation of the Book of Judith

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

The Ark: The Dormition of the Mother of God

In the previous post in our ongoing discussion of the Ark of the Covenant, we discussed the Infancy Gospel of James. In this post we will take a look at another work that the Church values and which is represented in the life of the Church through the Feast of the Dormition, which we will discuss in a later post. As we have discussed, the Church most frequently sees the Ark as a type of the Holy Virgin.Screen Shot 2016-08-24 at 2.02.57 PM

The Account of St. John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God is an apocryphal account of the dormition from a collection of writings known as the Transitus Mariae. Some scholars believe this collection to have been written in the late fourth or early fifth century,1 other sources place it in the second or third century.2 As with the Infancy Gospel of James, its apocryphal status does not mean that it is not a document of significant value. If nothing else, it is a good indicator of traditions in existence at the supposed time of its composition, as early as the second century. Incorporation of events it describes into the iconography affirms the value of its content.

The account tells of how the Apostles were brought together with the Mother of God at the time of her death and how her Son came to personally escort her soul into the heavens. After her soul had departed, the Apostles took up her body on a couch and carried it.

And, behold, while they were carrying her, a certain well-born Hebrew, Jephonias by name, running against the body, put his hands upon the couch; and, behold, an angel of the Lord by invisible power, with a sword of fire, cut off his two hands from his shoulders, and made them hang about the couch, lifted up in the air.3

This story has been compared to that of Uzzah. As mentioned above, when Uzzah reached out and touched the Ark, he was instantly killed. Another parallel exists between Jephonias and the idol of Dagon where the Ark was kept by the Philistines. During the second night of the Ark’s presence in Dagon’s temple, the idol of Dagon fell down and its hands were broken off (1 Samuel 5:4). It is notable that this event ended in a happy way, for, “at the word of Peter, the hands hanging by the couch of the Lady came, and were fixed on Jephonias. And he believed, and glorified Christ, God who had been born of her.”4

If you look closely at the icon, you can see Jephonias under the Holy Virgin with his hands floating about in the air, cut off by the sword the angel on the left is holding. The small white child being held by Christ is the Holy Virgin herself born again into the new life in Christ.

As with the Infancy Gospel of James, this gospel is not explicit about the typology of the Ark, but it is compatible with the hypothetical existence of such a tradition in the second century.

In our next post, we will begin a more lengthy series of twelve posts about the patristic witness to the Church’s understanding of the Ark of the Covenant. We will be examining what twelve of the Holy Fathers have to say about the Ark.


1 George Reid, Apocrypha, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907).

Pope John Paul II, General Audience; Wednesday, 2 July 1997.

Translated by Alexander Walker, The Account of St. John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God, From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8, Ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, A. Cleveland Coxe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886), Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.

Ibid.

The Ark: Infancy Gospel of James

In our previous post, we diverged into a discussion of what typology is and why it matters. Here we return to the topic at hand, the Ark of the Covenant. Both this and the next post in this series will consider works that are sometimes called “apocrypha.” The Orthodox Church does not attach the same stigma to apocryphal works that many protestant traditions have, and while not part of the canon of scripture, many are still considered worthy of study.

The Infancy Gospel of James (this link to the work itself is a quick and interesting read), sometimes called the Protoevangelion of James, is an apocryphal gospel, likely from the second century, that was never accorded canonical status;1 which is not to say that it isn’t a document that has been valued in the Orthodox Church up until the present. This gospel demonstrates that the events celebrated by the Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos were present in a very early tradition. We will discuss this feast, which continues to be celebrated annually by both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, in a later post.

This gospel tells the story of the infancy and childhood of Mary the Mother of God. Of importance to the topic at hand are some allusions to her entrance into the Holy of Holies in the temple. The gospel tells how, at the age of three, her parents, Joachim and Anna, took her to the temple to be dedicated as a virgin to the service of God just as Hannah took the Prophet Samuel to the temple. The high priest received her, recognizing that the Lord would reveal His redemption through her. He placed her on the third step of the altar where she “danced with her feet.” In the gospel Mary is said to have been, “nurtured in the Holy of Holies, and received food from the hand of an angel.”2

(Some might wonder about having a girl in the temple, but the Scriptures themselves tell of the prophetess Anna, who “did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day” Luke 2:37 OSB).

What is striking is that, as we saw earlier, the Ark of the Covenant was no longer in the temple at this time, so the Holy of Holies was essentially empty when Mary entered it. Given this sequence of events, it would be unremarkable if readers of this gospel were to infer that the Holy Virgin had come at the appropriate time to replace the Ark of the Covenant as the dwelling place of God. While this gospel is certainly not explicit about such typology, it is compatible with the hypothetical existence of such a tradition in the second century, just as we found previously that there was enough potential allusion in the New Testament to allow for the theoretical existence of such an early tradition.

In the next post we will discuss the Account of St. John the Theologian of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God. If you’re interested in delving deeper into the Infancy Gospel, you can certainly follow the link above, but Frederica Matthewes-Greene has published a rather nice edition with her own commentary entitled, The Lost Gospel of Mary.


1 George Reid, Apocrypha, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907).

2 Frederica Matthewes-Greene, The Lost Gospel of Mary, (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2007), P. 55.