Is Judith a Parable?


#1

If Nebuchadnezzar was not the king of Assyria, how do we know that the book of Judith is not a narrative but a parable (outside the presupposition that it is in the canon of Scripture)?

I’m asking because, as a Protestant considering Catholicism, I want to be convinced that the book of Judith is inspired, and want a more objective reason than “because the Catholic Church says it is”


#2

I’ll rephrase my question, if it will help clarify:
How do we know that the author of Judith intended his/her book to be a parable, not a narrative?


#3

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:

Catholics with very few exceptions accept the book of Judith as a narrative of facts, not as an allegory. Even Jahn considers that the genealogy of Judith is inexplicable on the hypothesis that the story is a mere fiction (“Introductio”, Vienna, 1814, p. 461). Why carry out the genealogy of a fictitious person through fifteen generations? The Fathers have ever looked upon the book as historical. St. Jerome, who excluded Judith from the Canon, nonetheless accepted the person of the valiant woman as historical (Ep. lxv, 1).

Against this traditional view there are, it must be confessed, very serious difficulties, due, as Calmet insists, to the doubtful and disputed condition of the text. The historical and geographical statements in the book, as we now have it, are difficult to understand: thus

[The article goes on to list several perceived errors in Judith]

These are serious difficulties, and a Catholic student must be prepared to meet them. There are two ways of doing so.

(a) According to what we may term “conservative” criticism, these apparent difficulties can every one be harmonized with the view that the book is perfectly historical and deals with facts which actually took place. Thus, the geographical errors may be ascribed to the translators of the original text or to copyists living long after the book was composed, and consequently ignorant of the details referred to. Calmet insists that the Biblical Nabuchodonosor is meant, while in Arphaxad he sees Phraortes whose name, as Vigoroux (Les Livres Saints et La Critique Rationaliste, iv, 4th ed.) shows, could easily have been thus perverted.

Vigoroux, however, in accordance with recent Assyrian discoveries, identifies Nabuchodonosor with Assur-bani-pal, the contemporary of Phraortes. This enables him to refer the events to the time of the captivity of Manasses under Assur-bani-pal (2 Chronicles 33:11; cf. Sayce, “Higher Criticism and the Verdict of the Monuments”, 4th ed., p. 458). It is further maintained that the campaign conducted by Holofernes is well illustrated in the records of Assur-bani-pal which have come down to us. And these facts will undoubtedly afford an explanation of the apparent allusion to the captivity; it was indeed a Restoration, but that of Manasses, not that under Esdras. The reference, too, to the Sanhedrin is doubtful; the term gerousia is used of the “ancients” in Lev., ix, 3, etc. Lastly, Conder’s identification of Bethulia with Mithilia (loc. cit. supra) is highly probable. Moreover, the writer who described the strategical position in iv, 1-6, knew the geography of Palestine thoroughly. And we are given details about the death of Judith’s husband which (viii, 2-4) can hardly be attributed to art, but are rather indications that Judith represents a really existing heroine. With regard to the state of the text it should be noted that the extraordinary variants presented in the various versions are themselves a proof that the versions were derived from a copy dating from a period long antecedent to the time of its translators (cf. Calmet, “Introd. in Lib. Judith”).

(b) Some few Catholic writers are not satisfied with Calmet’s solution of the difficulties of the Book of Judith; they deem the errors of translators and of scribes to be no sufficient explanation in this matter. These few Catholics, together with the non-Catholics that do not care to throw the book over entirely into the realm of fiction, assure us that the Book of Judith has a solid historical foundation. Judith is no mythical personage, she and her heroic deed lived in the memory of the people; but the difficulties enumerated above seem to show that the story as we now have it was committed to writing at a period long subsequent to the facts. The history, so it is maintained, is vague; the style of composition, the speeches, etc., remind us of the Books of Machabees. A remarkable knowledge of the Psalter is evinced (cf. 7:19 and Psalm 105:6; 7:21, and Psalm 78:10, 93:2; 9:6, 9, and Psalm 19:8; 9:16, and Psalm 146:10; 13:21, and Psalm 105:1). Some of these psalms must almost certainly be referred to the period of the Second Temple. Again, the High Priest Joachim must presumably be identified with the father of Eliashib, and must therefore have lived in the time of Artaxerxes the Great (464-424 B.C. Cf. Josephus, “Antiquities”, XI, vi-vii). We referred above to a shorter Hebrew version of the book; Dr. Gaster, its discoverer, assigns this manuscript to the tenth or eleventh century A.D. (Proceedings of Soc. of Bibl. Archaeol., XVI, pp. 156 sqq.). It is exceedingly brief, some forty lines, and gives us only the gist of the story. Yet it seems to offer a solution to many of the difficulties suggested above. Thus Holofernes, Bethulia, and Achior, all disappear; there is a very natural explanation of the purification in xii, 7; and, most noticeable of all, the enemy is no longer an Assyrian, but Seleucus, and his attack is on Jerusalem, not on Bethulia.

If it could be maintained that we have in this manuscript the story in its original form, and that our canonical book is an amplification of it, we should then be in a position to explain the existence of the numerous divergent versions. The mention of Seleucus brings us down to Machabean times, the title of Judith, now no longer the “widow” but the “virgin”, may explain the mysterious city; the Machabean colouring of the story becomes intelligible, and the theme is the efficacy of prayer (cf. 6:14-21; 7:4; 2 Maccabees 15:12-16).

Full article: newadvent.org/cathen/08554a.htm


#4

It’s perfectly fine to interpret Judith as a parable.


#5

Ah, so the consensus is that Judith is historical. Thanks for the info, James.


#6

Hi icamhif,

After reading all of the above, I guess you have a choice. The important thing is that this book of the Bible is inspired like all the others. It comes form God to help us reach salvation.

There are 72 books in the Bible and they are not all historical. Some are poetic, some are didactic and some are fiction. They have all been received by the Church as inspired. We must not think of the Church as approving the books of the Bible, but as receiving them from apostolic sources. They were *handed down *from apostolic times.

  1. Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts,** are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself**.

This quote is from Verbum Dei (The Word of God), a document on Scripture that comes from the Second Vatican Council. You can read it here ;

vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

Verbum


#7

Untrue. The consensus in 1911 (among Catholic scholars as surveyed by the CE, not among scholars as a whole) was that Judith was historical. The consensus has changed:p.

I don’t think you’re going to find a good reason, on its own, to consider Judith inspired.

But would you consider Esther or the Song of Songs inspired if you were taking them similarly, on their own? It’s not fair to take the 66-book canon on trust and then take each other book separately. You do this only because of the authority of the Christian community that has delivered the faith to you.

What are your criteria for inspiration, anyway?

Edwin


#8

The patristic consensus was that Judith was historical. Of course, it is still up to the OP whether he wants to interpret it as a parable or a historical narrative. As you say, there is a growing number of Catholics who would say it’s a parable.


#9

My St. Joseph’s Bible opening to the book of Judith says “any attempt to read (Judith) against the backdrop of Jewish history in relation to the empires of the ancient world is bound to fail.” It is an “edifying book” meant to teach us through a story and is written as “a pious reflection on the meaning of the yearly Passover observance.” (St Joseph’s NAB 1986, p. 485)

From the same bible but in the section called “reading your bible” p. 17 - 25, Judith seems to be a form of “midrash” which is to edify or use history loosely as a backdrop in order to teach religion in a story form or an “edifying interpretation of events”. (p. 19)


#10

The NAB is not to be trusted in its extra-biblical text. According to its footnotes, Jesus couldn’t see the future, and the earliest Jews were pagans, among other heretical ideas. Jimmy Akin has an article on the awful NAB footnotes here:
jimmyakin.com/2005/01/the_new_america.html

And there’s a list of the NAB’s other heresies here:
gettruth.org/bible/nab-errors

The NAB translation is OK, not great, but please don’t trust the footnotes and prefaces for sound doctrine.


#11

Yeah, that first verse, BEING THE FIRST VERSE, is just SCREAMING of Parable. :smiley:

If you need more reasons, I’m not well versed in Judith specifically, but we can look at the history of its source, and learn of the Miracle of the Septuagint: Around the 2nd Century BCE,. King Ptolemy II of Egypt had commissioned seventy-two
Jewish scholars to come up with a Greek. translation of the Jewish Scriptures so as to
be included to the Library of Alexandria. Each Jew translated his own copy, the seventy-
two did not work together on one single manuscript,. and according to the legend, they
each compared their finished products with each other,. and they were ALL THE SAME.

This legend is first seen in the Letter of Aristeas and was
repeated by Philo Judaeus, Flavius Josephus, and even
Saint Augustine.

There is even mention of this
story found in the Babylonian
Talmud:[INDENT]“King Ptolemy once gathered seventy-two Elders. He placed them in seventy-two
chambers, …each of them in a separate one, …without revealing to them why they
were summoned. He entered each one’s room and said: ‘Write for me the Torah
of Moshe, your teacher’. God put it in the heart of each one to translate identic-
ally as all the others did.”
[/INDENT]I think that says something, what do you think?


#12

I don’t believe that the Magisterium has spoken on this issue. This is the opinion of Mr. Akin and many other conservative Catholics.

I actually agree with Akin that the NAB is too quick to embrace scholarly theories that are not necessarily contrary to the Faith but certainly raise questions and contradict traditional understandings. I think that the passage you appear to have in mind about Jesus predicting the future (certainly the one Akin mentions) is an example of this. The footnote as cited by Akin doesn’t say that Jesus couldn’t see the future, but it accepts scholarly interpretations of just what Jesus likely said and thought that are highly speculative and seem possibly to be motivated by the assumption that real, specific prediction is impossible. In other words, secular and liberal Protestant scholars work on the basis of certain assumptions, and the NAB takes up the results without necessarily embracing the assumptions, but without being sufficiently critical of them.

How “kenotic” our Christology should be is a very real issue, it seems to me, and one on which as far as I know the Magisterium has not spoken definitively.

Edwin


#13

You’re correct. The Magisterium doesn’t really point to certain translations to call them “right” or “wrong”. However, it would appear that, in several places, the NAB contradicts sound, orthodox doctrine.


#14

It is not only the NAB notes that put doubt on the ‘complete’ historicity of the Book of Judith.

The Jerusalem Bible: ‘The author seems deliberately to have defied history to distract the reader’s attention from the historical content and focus it exclusively on the religious conflict and out come. The narrative is neatly put together and has a close affinity with apocalyptic writings…
The book was written in Palestine, in the Greek period, at the end of the 2nd, or the beginning of the 1st century BC.’

The New Jerusalem Bible: ‘The Book of Judith in particular shows a bland indifference to history and geography… The only explanation of this surprising indifference is that the authors are not trying to write history… The important thing is to discover the exact purpose of each book and to extract the teaching contained in it…
The Book was written in Palestine toward the middle of the second century BC, in the atmosphere of nationalistic and religious fervour generated by the Maccabaean Revolt.’

The Navarre Bible: It is very difficult to say exactly when this book was written, because its literary genre is so unusual that the story itself provides no reliable points of reference…
In other words, this is not a history book in the sense that we use that word today. Its very particular literary style is full of symbolism: the little city of Bethulia, which resists so heroically, symbolizes all Israel; Judith (whose name means Jewess), young and beautiful, devout and intrepid, stands for the entire people which, armed only with its faith and trust in God, faces up to the powerful and skilled enemies, symbolized by Nebuchadnezzar and his powerful lieutenant Holofernes.
This book must have been written around the second half of the second century BC, in the context of the persecution unleashed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Maccabean revolt.’

Christian Community Bible: ‘We are not going to spend much time to demonstrate that this entire story is fictitious. The first verse is telling us about Nebuchadnezzar, the king of the Assyrians, whereas he was the king of Babylon and he crushed Assyria. The discourse of his general, Holofernes, are unreal caricatures in which we find countless anachronisms…
What prompted the author to explain the specific character of this new presentation of God’s victories appears to have been the heroic resistance against the Syrian invaders in the days of the Maccabees.’

NABRE: The work may have been written around 100 BC, but its historical range is extraordinary. Within the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, it telescopes five centuries of historical and geographical information with imaginary details. There are references to Nineveh, the Assyrian capital destroyed in 612BC, to Nebuchadnezzar, the ruler not of Assyria but of Babylon (605/604-562), and to the second Temple, built around 515… The Persian period is represented by two characters, Holofernes and Bagoas, who appear together in military campaigns of Artaxerxes III Ochus (385-338); there seems to be allusions to the second century Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes…’


#15

This is very, very important. Whether it is parable or narrative is not the point. The point is what it teaches us about God, Jesus, how to act morally and our ultimate destiny.

It was given to us for the sake of salvation. Whether it was narrative or parable is besides the point. That’s exactly what Dei Verbum says.

People get all hung up on the historical accuracy of parts of the Bible and I’ve seen people have a crisis of faith over it. It need not be. It was written for our salvation. Historical accuracy, while interesting, is besides the point.

-Tim-


#16

But it has an Imprimatur and a Nihil Obstat, right? (yes, i do know that these are sometimes given out quite freely–the first RCIA clss I was in used a book called In His Light which had some claims that I thought then and think now were dubious if not downright heretical) And this is the most commonly used Bible among Catholics in the U.S. One would think that someone would have said something.

What affirmations actually contradict orthodox doctrine? What doctrine is contradicted by the passage Akin cites?

Edwin


#17

The NAB is used for the Mass lectionary, yes, but the USCCB had to moderately revise the translation to make it appropriate for liturgical use. The fact that it’s popular doesn’t really prove anything, though.

To answer your question, I’ll quote Akin’s article:

NAB footnotes-[21-23] This first prediction of the passion follows Mark 8:31-33 in the main and serves as a corrective to an understanding of Jesus’ messiahship as solely one of glory and triumph. By his addition of from that time on (Matthew 16:21) Matthew has emphasized that Jesus’ revelation of his coming suffering and death marks a new phase of the gospel. Neither this nor the two later passion predictions (Matthew 17:22-23; 20:17-19) can be taken as sayings that, as they stand, go back to Jesus himself. However, it is probable that he foresaw that his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death, but was confident that he would ultimately be vindicated by God (see Matthew 26:29).

HUH???

Jesus couldn’t actually predict the future? He wasn’t a true prophet? He didn’t know about his death and resurrection? He could only foresee that “his mission would entail suffering and perhaps death?”

Sorry, but this is flatly inconsistent with the Christian faith.

Second, the book introductions to the NAB rush willy-nilly to embrace modern higher critical theories that, while some may be tolerable or even correct, are by no means certain. These introductions present these higher critical theories as The Truth, when in fact many of these are speculative at best. (They also have a faith-undermining tendency for many who are not secure in their faith.)

The third problem is that I just think the NAB is a lousy translation. There was a period in which I would tense up at Mass every day, worried about what the NAB would get wrong today. There are so many squishy, tone-deaf, and way-beyond-the-text translations in the NAB that anyone with a knowledge of the Greek and Hebrew has to cringe when it’s read at Mass.

And I’ll give some samples from the list of errors to which I linked in an earlier post:

-Calls the Catholic dogma of Purgatory a “notion”
1 Corinthians 3:15 [commentary]
-Casts doubt on passages that clearly give support to the dogma of Purgatory
1 Corinthians 3:15
-Challenges the Marian Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
Luke 2:35

Full list:
gettruth.org/bible/nab-errors


#18

My “default” position is that Judith is narrative, as I see no evidence in the text to suggest that it’s intended to be a parable (or I missed it, if there was).

Here are some evidence that would (if true) convince me that Judith is a parable:

  1. The author(s) said that it’s a parable
  2. There is a consensus among Jews in the Second Temple Period (or earlier…not sure when Judith was written) that it’s a parable.
  3. There is a consensus among the Early Church Fathers that it’s a parable.
    Otherwise, I will maintain that it’s intended to be historical.

#19

That’s my position as well. However, as others have said, it doesn’t really matter, because both views are equally allowed by the Church.


#20

Why is that the default?

Given that thee are great difficulties attending the claim that the text is historically accurate, why not start from the other end? Why not hold off on claims of historicity unless there are clear reasons to make such claims?


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