“I have never put my hope in any other but in You,
O God of Israel
who can show both anger
and who absolves all the sins of suffering man
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness” – The Text of Spem in Alium, derived from the Book of Judith.
The Book of Judith tells the story of the Assyrian army waging war on the Israelites. King Nebuchadnezzar, of the Assyrians, has sent his army to capture the lands on the march towards Jerusalem. His army is led by a ruthless General named Holofernes.
Our story joins them as they have besieged the Jewish Army at
Bethulia. This city was the home of a beautiful widow named Judith. During the siege, a famine grips Bethulia and the Jewish army start to lose faith and begin to consider surrender. Judith, resolute in her believe in God, volunteers to deliver the city from its captors.
She infiltrates the Assyrian camp. Holofernes is seduced by her good looks and she is invited to join him in his banqueting tent. Intoxicated by Judith’s charms and wine, he falls asleep. Judith takes this opportunity to kill him by cutting off his head. Returning to the city with the decapitated head, Judith declares victory. This brings about the end of the siege and without a leader the Assyrians retreat. All of Israel sing Judith’s praises.
The Book of Judith is not believed to be historically accurate, instead it is thought to be a story designed to teach a message. The message is to always have faith in God and no other.
The above picture is entitled the Judith Beheading Holofernes. It by revered Italian artist Caravaggio.
Book of Judith on the Public Services home page
Commentary on the Book of Judith