Judith: Chapter 9 Commentary

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Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Judith, c. 1892

I’m pleased to make available a draft of my translation of chapter 9 of the Commentary on the Book of Judith by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus.

In Chapter 9, Judith stops and prepares for what she is about to do through prayer. Below I offer highlights from the commentary on her prayer.

Judith’s prayer hearkens back to more ancient events as she draws parallels between what is about to happen and Biblical events that bear similarities.

Rabanus notes that (verse 4):

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.

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

A Pause

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.

Judith: Chapter 7 Commentary

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The Citizens Complain (c. 1430), Azor Masters

I have completed a draft translation of chapter 7 of the Blessed Rabanus Maurus’ Commentary on the Book of Judith.

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.

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

The Hospitality of Abraham: Cyril and Maximus

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So far in this short series, we have followed the development of the Church’s understanding of the story of the Hospitality of Abraham. In this post we will wrap up our discussion of the patristic dialog with Saints Cyril and Maximus.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria seems to have presented the most definitive and enduring interpretation regarding Genesis 18. The understanding expressed by Cyril seems to have prevailed and for this reason I deemed it worth the effort to translate an extended passage of his argument from an available Latin translation of the original Greek. Commenting on Genesis 18:1-3, 9-10a (LXX), Cyril writes:

Behold, clearly it says God appeared unto him, truly being three men in appearance, the Holy Abraham approaching from afar speaking not as if to three: “Lords, if indeed I have found grace in your (pl.) sight, pass not by your (pl.) son,” but calling upon the threefold Lord singularly, as if to one, so that they might turn aside unto him, he asked “when,” and as one appearing in three, even as from one persona, they said, “Where is Sarra thy wife?” and responded, “I will come when the time is ripe.”

Discern therefore, discern indeed three appearing, and each identified by its respective hypostasis,1 in word subject to the consubstantial three comprehended in one, and thus intermingling the given work of conversation among themselves. But the likenesses of this mode are obscured in a certain way and are inferior to the truth, unless in some way they are to be used as a hand leading us into knowledge of their properties, which surpass the intellect and speech (obviously the light of the divine vision will penetrate only the most pure intellects), and as from these things which fall to the senses we fly unto that which to our senses and strength of reasoning are very far.

Singular, therefore, by the unanimity of all persons, is the nature of divinity, which is over all, through all and in all: through intellectual means, verily, this is extrapolated to the holy, venerable, and consubstantial Trinity, into the Father, I say, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit… Our progenitor Abraham, therefore, was not ignorant of the worship of the Holy Trinity…2

Cyril’s portrayal of the three speaking in unison is remarkable. He describes the three who appear to Abraham as likenesses that, while not the fullness of the truth, lead us, as if by the hand, into knowledge of God. He asserts that an understanding of the Holy Trinity can be discerned from this type through the application of the intellect. With Cyril we have completed the transition from a Christological to a Trinitarian interpretation.

maximus_the_confessorSaint Maximus, in his Third Dialog on the Holy Trinity, affirms Saint Cyril’s view, arguing likewise that Abraham spoke to three as to one.3 At one point in the dialog, the dialogist known as ‘Orthodox’ literally states that “the three men were God,”4 while his challenger ‘Macedonius’ insists that only one of the three was God and the others were angels. Saint John Damascene agrees with the imagery, yet makes certain to clarify that, “Abraham saw not the nature of God, for no man ever saw God, but the image of God, and falling down he adored.”5

It is interesting to observe that many, if not most, of the arguments made by the Fathers pivot on a precise interpretation of the literal words in Genesis 18. For instance, the Fathers carefully point out an address made in the singular, or an act done in the plural (e.g. the three measures of flour). Each word of Scripture is deemed significant.

In summary, the writings of the Holy Fathers reveal a progression in understanding of the story of The Hospitality of Abraham. In the earliest times all three persons are seen to be angels. In the second century a Christological interpretation is introduced. As we progress through the later fathers, the three men come to be seen as a type of the Holy Trinity, and even as a true theophany, not only of the Son, but of the entire Trinity. Ouspensky and Lossky clarify that the differences present in the latter two views do not change the understanding of the event because all the fullness of the Godhead is present in each Person. Consequently the earlier interpretation does not preclude a Trinitarian understanding.6

In our next post in this series, we will take a brief look at the liturgical witness to this story.


1 The latin word is subsistentia, which has a very similar meaning to the Greek hypostasis.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria, ‘Pro Sancta Christianorum Religione, Adversos Libros Athei Iuliani,’ in Cyrillii Alexandriae Archiepiscopi Operum, ed. Joannis Auberti, v. 6, b. 1, p. 20.

3 Saint Maximus the Confessor, ‘Opera Omnia,’ ed. Francisci Combefis, v. 2, p. 442.

4 Tres viri fuerunt Deus.

5 Saint John Damascene, ‘On Holy Images,’ trans. Mary H. Allies, (London:Thomas Baker 1898), Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College.

6 Leonid Ouspensky and Vladimir Lossky, ‘The Meaning of Icons,’ (Yonkers:Saint Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1982), p. 201.

The Ark: Cyril, Fortunatus, and John

In this post we will wrap up our discussion of what the Fathers have to say about the Ark of the Covenant. I will reiterate here that the Church tends to see the Ark as a type of the Holy Virgin Mary.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria

icon_st-_cyril_of_alexandriaSaint Cyril, the twenty-fourth patriarch of Alexandria, lived from 376-444. Saint Cyril seems to hearken back to the tradition exemplified by Saint Irenaeus, but with some additions. The pattern of his statement very closely mirrors that of St. Irenaeus quoted previously, but he inserts some additional commentary that allows us to see the Ark as a type of the Theotokos. He seems to be trying to harmonize the common view of his day with a more ancient tradition.

The Ark would be the type and image of Christ: for if we look back to the way of the Incarnation of the Only-begotten, we shall see that it is in the temple of the Virgin, as in an ark that the Word of God took up His abode. For in Him dwelt all the fulness of the Godhead bodily, as the Scripture saith. But the testimonies in the ark were the word of God, and the wood of it was imperishable, and with pure and choicest gold was it beautified within and without. For the Body of Christ is incorruptible, being by the power and brightness of the indwelling Word, and the nature of life-giving operation of the Holy Ghost, maintained in incorruption [emphasis mine].1

Saint Venantius Fortunatus

Commemorated on December 14, the Latin poet and bishop lived circa A.D. 530-610. His usage of this typology supports a belief in the consistency of its application through later times. The following verse in Latin clearly identifies the Ark with the Holy Virgin.

Beata Mater, munere
Cujus supernus Artifex,
Mundum pugillo continens,
Ventris sub arca clausus est.2

While unpoetic, the following rendering is a relatively literal approximation of the above verse translated by myself.

The Holy Mother, by whose offering
The supreme artificer,
containing in His hand the World,
In the womb, within the Ark, was enclosed.

Saint John of Damascus

1204ajohndamascusSaint John, born in A.D. 676, wrote the famous Canon of Pascha that is sung during the Orthodox Pascha services. In the Canon, Saint John doesn’t seem to commit to a specific typological relationship for the Ark. His intention seems to be to expose the contrast between human experience of the types and human experience of the fulfillment.

God’s forebear David, dancing, leaped before the Ark, mere shadow, but seeing the fulfilment of the types, let us, God’s holy people, inspired, rejoice, for Christ has risen as omnipotent.3

In our next post in this series, we will examine how two of the great feasts of the Orthodox Church portray the Ark of the Covenant.


Qtd. in Thomas Livius, The Blessed Virgin in the Fathers of the First Six Centuries, (London: Burns and Oates, Limited 1893), pp. 76–77.

Ibid., p. 458.

Archimandrite Ephrem, Paschal Canon Noted, in Anastasis, p. 3.

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: 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.

A Commentary on The Book of Judith

raban-maur_alcuin_otgarI’d like to tell you about a project that I am working on. This particular project arose from a forum-based assignment I submitted in my studies under The Saints Cyril and Athanasius of Alexandria Institute for Orthodox Studies. The project involved using the Orthodox hermeneutic of reading the Old Testament through the lens of Christ. I chose to do the assignment on the Book of Judith because the story intrigued me and because, having come from a protestant tradition, it was relatively new to me. Alas, the only ecclesial commentary I could find on the book was a work by the Archbishop Rabanus Maurus (leftmost person in the picture above), which had no English translation available. At that point I put the project in the back of my mind as something to begin after I completed my studies with the institute.

As an amateur Latinist I am interested in improving my Latin skills, but also I am interested in making this commentary available to the non-Latin-reading public.  I took up the study of Latin for the purpose of teaching my children in a homeschooling context, but enjoyed it so much I have continued applying it for my own purposes. In making this project public, I hope to find others who are interested in contributing. I welcome most types of assistance including (but not limited to) corrections to my English, corrections on my translation work, or even assistance translating.

The majority of the Holy Fathers who bear witness to Judith offer remarks that generally seem tangential to the substance of the primary works. Judith is sometimes held up as an example of chastity or courage, or even as an exemplar of fasting, but there is only one ecclesial author who might be considered Orthodox, who authored a thorough commentary on her story, and he is a relatively obscure (for the Orthodox) Frankish archbishop from the eighth century. It is disappointing that Judith seems to be a book almost universally neglected by the Christian East, even though we include it in our Bibles.

I’ll be writing more on this subject: sharing more details of my work and approach, talking about Rabanus Maurus, about Judith and her history, thoughts on allegory, and sharing the actual translation. I’ve presently completed drafts of two full chapters (out of sixteen) and will share them over time.

At present I am retaining copyright of my work, but will be providing a Creative Commons license that will allow for relatively liberal use of the book.

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