Reading Group Guide

CHAPTER 1: Before the Lord Accomplishes By My Hand What Is Written (Judith 12:4)

We meet Judith as she sneaks off to the blacksmith’s shop. What conflicting elements of her personality is she trying to balance? Is she successful?

Compare Deut. 22:5 with Judith’s comment, “Wearing boy’s clothes is no different really than putting on a costume, like a woman putting on her jewels and cosmetics.”

What do we learn about Judith when she risks ritual contamination by sharing bread with Tobias? Does her later insistence on immersion in the purifying baths change your answer?

Why does the misquotation of the Law (the Torah) by the womenfolk annoy Judith so much? Does she use scripture in a different way? Why do the women’s folkways bother Judith so much?

Compare Genesis 34 with Judith’s interpretation of Dinah’s story. Is it possible that she was familiar with a different version of the story that might have circulated within the tribe of Simeon?

CHAPTER 2: Maid Who Was in Charge of All Her Things (Judith 8:10)

Abran is surprised by the comforts she enjoys within her new household. Do you think she is treated differently in Merari’s house than she would with another family in Bethulia?

Judith’s ancestors were slaves in Egypt before Moses led them to the Holy Land. How do you think Judith reconciles this with having a personal slave of her own?

CHAPTER 3: They Were Not Afraid of Him But Regarded Him As One Man (Judith 1:13)

Do the Assyrians feel it is their religious duty to hunt lions? To engage in war? In what way could you stop war in the name of religion? Would you have to abandon some of your beliefs?

CHAPTER 4: He Was Stricken by the Sun (Judith 8:3)

Judith finds a balance between honoring Johanna’s gift of the Bes bracelet and maintaining her loyalty to Yahweh. How do you find ways to balance the secular with the sacred in your life?

Is Judith’s home more religiously strict than the typical Israelite household? If so, why do you think that might be?

CHAPTER 5: He Laid Before Them His Secret Plan (Judith 2:2)

King Sennecherib said, “What is there left for man to do if the gods have decreed all the ways in which we should walk?” What is the difference between fate and obeying your wise inner voice?

The Bible describes Abraham as a Chaldean (Genesis 11:28; 11:31; 15:7). A number of Chadeans surround the Great King: Nebosumiskun, Arphaxad and the king’s consort Naqia, a descendent of Abraham. What do you make of this reoccurring theme?

Explore the connection between King Sennacherib’s Hebrew consort Naqia, her worship of the “immortal fish-creatures who had been sent by the gods to counsel and teach humans” and the Book of Jonah.

By suggesting Sennacherib be worshipped as the only god, is General Holofernes preparing a trap for King Sennacherib or is he completely innocent in his loyalty to his lord?

CHAPTER 6: She Set Up a Tent for Herself on the Roof of Her House (Judith 8:5)

Resigned that Assyria will destroy her people, Judith despairs, “…when they growl and seize a prey, they carry it off and none can recover it.” At what point does she regain hope?

“If I could just stop eating and withdraw into the wilderness like a prophet to commune with Yahweh…” Judith says. Though she does not fast for the sake of beauty, is her fasting different from anorexia?

Judith attempts to gain inner peace through fasting. Why doesn’t the work fully for her?

CHAPTER 7: So Holofernes Left the Presence of His Lord (Judith 2:14)

Does Holofernes have religious convictions or merely political motivations?

Why does Sennacherib attach himself so readily to Nebosumiskun, the son of his archenemy? What do you desire so much that you are willing to ignore the “hidden” dangers?

CHAPTER 8: They Were Stricken with Plague (Judith 5:12)

How does the plague change Judith? How would such a catastrophe change you?

Is Judith relaxing her standards when she decides to dig up Johanna’s bracelet?

CHAPTER 9: And Every People and Tribe Invoked Him as God (Judith 3:8)

How does present day warfare and patriotism differ from Holofernes’ attitudes?

Is Holofernes’ violence a measure of his loyalty to his king or something else?

How does Holofernes justify the slaughter of his family and desecration of his mother’s grave?

CHAPTER 10: Not Today Only is Your Insight Made Known (Judith 8:29)

Compare the Wise Woman’s words (“If you pay heed to your teachers, and incline your ear to your instructors, you will drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Your springs will gush forth in the public squares.”) with Judith’s father’s words (‘Drink water from your own cistern and running water from you own well. Don’t let your springs over-flow the public squares. Let them be for yourself alone, not for strangers .’) Both comments are based on Proverb 13:16.

How does the Wise Woman see the relationship between Lady Wisdom and Yahweh? (See Proverbs 1 – 9)

CHAPTER 11: Who Are You Achior to Have Insight? (Judith 6:2)

Achior defends the Hebrews, risking his own life. Is there wisdom in martyrdom?

CHAPTER 12: They Bowed Down and Worshiped God (Judith 13:17)

Compare Achior’s faith with Judith’s.

Judith is preoccupied with the risks posed by foreigners. Is this fear appropriate or does it cloud her judgment? Is it an issue of safety for her or the fierce desire to eliminate any threat to the purity of Israel? What is the political difference between each motivation? Relate your comments to what worries you the most.

CHAPTER 13: We Will Strike Them Down as One Man (Judith 6:3)

Holofernes says of Bethulia, “That unentered village, that virgin town sits there and despises me, mocking me, shaking her fist at me! I will divide the spoil of female captives like sheep among my whole camp.”) Do you think he is a fully conscious of his words, using them the way rape is used methodically in war to demoralize the population? Or is he unconscious of his highly gendered language because it is normalized in the Assyrian culture?

Does Holofernes listen to the omens of the Assyrian priests for political reasons or superstition? Think of some of the rules you follow in your life. What motivates you to obey these prescriptions?

CHAPTER 14: Then They Went Out from the Gate of Bethulia (Judith 10:6)

What is the difference between Uzziah’s faith in his secret conduits and Judith’s faith in her secret plan?

Regarding her good memory for the words of the scriptures Judith remarks, “Is it a curse or a blessing to never forget these stories? Is it better to be a blacksmith with a head full of the sound of the anvil?” In your experience is the study of the bible different from other activities?

Discuss the difference in theology between Chabris’ statement (“If God is just, God must reward all virtue and punish all disobedience—”) and Judith’s reply (“God is free to send suffering for purposes other than punishment. God’s ways are not human ways”).

CHAPTER 15: The News of Her Arrival Spread Among the Tents (Judith 10:18)

“As they say, ‘A people without a king is like a herd without a shepherd…’” Sennacherib says of himself in chapter 3. Then when Judith meets Holofernes for the first time she says, “If you listen to my advice, it will be as if the sheep have no shepherd.” Here Judith is misleading the general into thinking the Hebrew people will be easy prey because they have no leader. Of course, she is referring to the loss of Assyrian army’s leader. Discuss Judith’s wordplay as a form of deception and how easily Holofernes forgets his king’s words.

CHAPTER 16: You Must Not Inqure Into My Plan (Judith 8:34)

What has changed in Judith’s character between the first chapter when she fears all foreigners and her taking on the role of as a stranger in her comment to Abran: “Ah yes, the Strange Woman. As the poet says, ‘With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him…” Refer to Proverbs 1 -9 for a description of the Strange Woman.

CHAPTER 17: They Were Very Much Stricken by Her Beauty (Judith 10:7)

The Wise Woman of Dothan helped others find ways to avoid violence. Does Judith follow in her footsteps? How does Judith decide that murdering Holofernes is the wise course of action?

During Judith’s banquet with Holofernes, Judith remarks, “I do, though, find myself drawn to danger as if I am courting my own death…” Holofernes replies, “You and I are much more alike than you think.” Describe the similarities between these two warriors. Explore the similarities between yourself and the person you dislike the most.

CHAPTER 18: It is Not Wise to Leave One Man of Them Alive (Judith 10:19)

Holding Holofernes’ head reminds Judith of her husband’s death. Have you had the experience of unexpected associations or revelations at the death of a friend or loved one?

Compare Judith’s riddle with Samson’s riddle in Judges 14:14.

“Sometimes God requires us to give up something essential about ourselves to make a true sacrifice,” Achior said. Why does God require sacrifices of us?

CHAPTER 19: Bagoas, the Eunuch in Charge of His Household (Judith 12:11)

When the Assyrian army is finally forced to flee, Bagoas seems impressed by the power of Judith’s God. Does he have the strength of character to change his whole worldview? Describe the attributes of someone capable of spiritual transformation.

At the moment of greatest crisis Sennacherib yearns for Achior to return to life so that he might advise the king. Is the Assyrian king capable of repentance?

CHAPTER 20: By a Woman’s Hand God Confounded Them (Judith 16:5)

Judith receives the title of “Mother of Israel.” How does she compare with Deborah (Judges 4 – 5) who also shares this title?

Both Assyria and the Hebrews share the iconography of the cherubim (the composite creature with a body of a lion, a human head and wings). The word cherub (cherubim is the Hebrew masculine plural) is a word borrowed from the Assyrian kirubu, from karâbu, “to be near”, hence it means near ones, familiars, personal servants, bodyguards, courtiers. Is there a difference between the Assyrian and Hebrew interpretation of the symbol?

Early rabbinical writings connected Judith with Hanukah, the Jewish holiday celebrating the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem during the time of the Maccabees. Judith: Wise Woman of Bethulia hints at a possible origins of this winter festival lasting 8 days. How many other stories about the women of the bible are waiting to be recovered?

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