In the deuterocanonical Book of Judith, Holofernes (Ancient Greek: Ὀλοφέρνης; Hebrew: הולופרנס) was an invading Assyrian general known for having been beheaded by Judith, a Jewish widow who entered his camp and beheaded him while he was drunk.

Artemisia Gentileschi's painting Judith Slaying Holofernes, 1614–1620
Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Cristofano Allori, 1613

Etymology edit

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the name is of Persian origin:[1] holo (unknown signification) + fernes or phernes, from Old Persian *farnah = "glory" (see also ancient Persian names Artaphernes, Dataphernes,[2] Tissaphernes and Pharnabazus).

Biblical account edit

According to the Book of Judith, Holofernes had been dispatched by Nebuchadnezzar to take vengeance on Israel, which had withheld assistance in his most recent war. Having occupied every country along the coastline, Holofernes destroyed all worship of gods other than Nebuchadnezzar. Holofernes was warned against attacking the Jewish people by Achior, the leader of the Ammonites; however, despite the advice he laid siege to the city of Bethulia, commonly believed to be Meselieh. The city almost fell to the invading army; Holofernes' advance stopped the water supply to Bethulia, leading to its people encouraging their rulers to give in to Holofernes' demands. The leaders vowed to surrender if no help arrived within five days.[3] Bethulia was saved by Judith, a Jewish widow, who entered the camp of Holofernes, seduced him, and got him drunk before beheading him. Judith returned to Bethulia with the severed head of Holofernes, having defeated the army.

Identification edit

The Roman Catholic Church has traditionally maintained that the book of Judith is a historical record from the reign of Manasseh of Judah. As a result, this Holofernes would be the commander-in-chief of Ashurbanipal's armies.[4][5] Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin has speculated that the book of Judith could be a roman à clef, a historical record with different names for people and places, which would explain the different names.[6]

There are historical references to a "Holofernes" in the Persian king Artaxerxes III Ochus's army, which led some to speculate that this is the Holofernes described in this book. However, this idea is generally rejected as implausible.[7]

Because the Hebrew manuscripts from the Middle Ages refer to the Maccabean Revolt, Hebrew versions of the tale in the Megillat Antiochus and the Chronicles of Jerahmeel identify "Holofernes" as Nicanor; the Greek version used "Holofernes" as deliberately cryptic substitute, similarly using "Nebuchadnezzar" for Antiochus.

In popular culture edit

Holofernes is depicted in Geoffrey Chaucer's The Monk's Tale in The Canterbury Tales, and in Dante's Purgatorio (where Holofernes is to be found on the Terrace of Pride as an example of "pride cast down", XII.58–60). As a painter's subject he offers the chance to contrast the flesh and jewels of a beautiful, festively attired woman with the grisly head of the victim, a deuterocanonical parallel to the Yael sequence in the Hebrew Bible, as well as the New Testament vignette of Salome with the head of John the Baptist.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Holophernes". Retrieved 6 August 2023.
  2. ^ "Dataphernes". Retrieved 5 August 2023.
  3. ^ Cheyne, Thomas Kelly; Black, John Sutherland (1901). Encyclopaedia biblica: a critical dictionary of the literary, political and religious history, the archaeology, geography, and natural history of the Bible. Vol. 2. London: A. & C. Black. p. 2605.
  4. ^ "Introduction to the Book of Judith by Rev. George Leo Haydock".
  5. ^ "THE ARGVMENT OF THE BOOKE OF IVDITH - 1610 Douay Rheims Bible".
  6. ^ "Saving Judith and Tobit by Jimmy Akin - Catholic Answers".
  7. ^ Noah Calvin Hirschy, Artaxerxes III Ochus and His Reign, p. 81 (Univ. of Chicago Press 1909).

External links edit