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43. Judith (Jewish Apocrypha)


In today's episode we celebrate Hanukkah by discussing the woman most associated with Hanukkah, Judith! We discuss the importance of Judaism to her story, delve into the Renaissance Power of Women art movement, and may or may not ruin your favorite Artemisia Gentileschi painting. 

This episode has a CONTENT WARNING for mentions of sexual assault, incest, and antisemitism.

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For more information about today's episode, go to mytholadies.com.  

Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux.  You can find her and more of her  work on Instagram @helena.cailleaux.illustratrice. Our theme song was  composed and performed by Icarus Tyree. To hear more of their music,  check out icarust.bandcamp.com.

Transcript

[intro music]

Zoe 

Hello, and welcome to Mytholadies, the podcast where we talk about women from mythology and folklore all over the world. We're your hosts.

 

Lizzie 

I'm Lizzie.

 

Zoe 

And I'm Zoe. Lizzie, how goes it?

 

Lizzie 

I'm pretty good. It's well into fall now, and I've been doing a little bit of baking and...not much else! How are you?

 

Zoe 

Good. Is it cold over there?

 

Lizzie 

It's quite cold.

 

Zoe 

How cold is cold?

 

Lizzie 

Let--Okay, it's not that--it hasn't gone below freezing, but I'm cold.

 

Zoe 

Okay. Okay (laughs). All right.

 

Lizzie 

What about for you?

 

Zoe 

Um, right now it's pouring rain, and I stepped into, like, a river on the way here. So that's where I'm at.

 

Lizzie 

How.

 

Zoe 

I don't know what the heck's going on. But it is raining very hard and that is difficult when I have to walk everywhere. But it is what it is.

 

Lizzie 

It's like the episode of The Office where Michael drives into the lake.

 

Zoe 

I mean, not really. But yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I've been watching The Office.

 

Zoe 

I know

 

Lizzie 

Because it's just gone on Netflix (laughs).

 

Zoe 

I know (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Anyway.

 

Zoe 

Uh, yeah, so my shoes--

 

Lizzie 

Oh, right!

 

Zoe 

--are very soaked.

 

Lizzie 

(whispering) We should mention the ko-fi thing.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, we can mention that in a second. I'm talking about my life right now.

 

Lizzie 

No, I just literally forgot till right now (laughs). So I was like, oh. Continue.

 

Zoe 

Anyway, yeah, my shoes and socks are very soaked. And I am currently barefoot in the recording room.

 

Lizzie 

Oh, that sounds so miserable (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Because I want them to dry off a little, but they're not going to because (laughs) life is hard.

 

Lizzie 

Your life is such a farce.

 

Zoe 

Um, anyways. Anyways, uh, Lizzie, what's our exciting news this week?

 

Lizzie 

Oh, so we have been doing this podcast for, like, over a year with no money. Well, without making money

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

We have made no money. And now we have decided to begin accepting donations. And we set up a Ko-fi page

 

Zoe 

Uh huh.

 

Lizzie 

--which is like Patreon, except that you can also do one time donations, or monthly, or whatever you choose. And we will really appreciate it. But we can't at this time offer bonus content because we are very busy.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So it will just be out of a love of your hearts.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, so just--

 

Lizzie 

That was a horrible pitch (laughs).

 

Zoe 

No, it's okay. You could consider compensating us for our labor or not. It's up to you.

 

Lizzie 

And the costs that we expend, such as the maintenance of the website and equipment, etc.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But also if you don't, that's also okay. But--

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

We would appreciate it if you can.

 

Zoe 

We know that the majority of our audience are in our--are in their twenties. So like we understand if you--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

--can't do it, you know, so.

 

Lizzie 

Completely.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. All right. So with that aside, Lizzie, who are we talking about today?

 

Lizzie 

So when this episode airs, it will be almost Chanukah.

 

Zoe 

Ooh.

 

Lizzie 

So today, we're going to talk about Judith.

 

Zoe 

Oh! Exciting.

 

Lizzie 

So out of the two of us, you were raised Catholic, so you know more about Biblical stuff than I do. So what do you know about Judith?

 

Zoe 

Judith was a warrior lady.

 

Lizzie 

Nope.

 

Zoe 

No? Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Maybe you don't know that much. That's great for me.

 

Zoe 

Wow! Okay! Starting off strong.

 

Lizzie 

I think it'll ring a bell once we start.

 

Zoe 

Well, she--I know she killed a guy. She decapitated a guy.

 

Lizzie 

Correct.

 

Zoe 

Her husband was a warrior and she decapitated the guy.

 

Lizzie 

Nope.

 

Zoe 

No, her husband was not a warrior (Lizzie laughs). Listen.

 

Lizzie 

No.

 

Zoe 

Listen.

 

Lizzie 

So close.

 

Zoe 

I only really know New Testament. That's the thing.

 

Lizzie 

Okay.

 

Zoe 

Anyways.

 

Lizzie 

Okay (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Okay, are you done embarrassing me now? Is it over?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Okay (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

Okay. So she is from the Book of Judith--

 

Zoe 

Oh.

 

Lizzie 

--which is a Deuterocanonical book, considered part of biblical canon by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches, but not by Protestants, and also not included in the--in Jewish canon, but it's kind of contested its place in the canon because it's not, like, part of the Hebrew Bible.

 

Zoe 

Interesting!

 

Lizzie 

But yeah. So it was written sometime in the later second century BCE, likely by a Jewish writer. It was found in the Septuagint, which is a collection of biblical works written in Koine Greek, but scholars debate over whether the language used is Greek translated from Hebrew, or else purposely Hebraicized Greek.

 

Zoe 

Hm!

 

Lizzie 

Many scholars are certain that it was originally written in Hebrew but others say, like, that's not, like, certain. Because, well, for one reason, if it had been originally written in Hebrew, then the author was most likely from Palestine. Whereas if it was written in Greek, then they were probably from the Jewish community in Alexandria, in which case, the geographic inaccuracies would be more understandable, because the historical and geographic details were so off that a Palestinian author would have had to be very ignorant about our own country to get those details wrong. So in that way--

 

Zoe 

Okay!

 

Lizzie 

--it's like--

 

Zoe 

--that makes sense, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Are we sure that it was written in Hebrew? So yeah.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

And, um, yeah, so this uncertainty is part of why it's place in biblical canon is disputed, as well as because it was written relatively late and because of the seductive nature of his story.

 

Zoe 

Mm!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So it's sixteen chapters long and named after the principal character, Judith. Um, so her name comes from the Hebrew name Yehudit, meaning "Jewish woman," which is the feminine form of Yahudi, which just means "Jewish person" and can also be used as a masculine first name. The setting of the Book of Judith is supposedly Assyria and Babylonia in roughly the sixth or seventh century BCE. However, scholars generally agree that the events of the book align with events and figures from the Hasmonean dynasty, about five centuries later.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Because of the clear influence from this era, the work is unlikely to have been written before about 150 BCE. So, shall we get into the story?

 

Zoe 

Yes, we shall.

 

Lizzie 

Okay, so the Assyrian king Nebuchadnezzar was in a war against Arphaxad, king of the Medes, who were an ancient Iranian people, and called upon many of the surrounding lands to help them battle. But most of them denied the request. So he decided to wage war upon those that refused, which included the regions of Judea and Samaria, which were located in the present day West Bank, and sent his general Holofernes to attack them with thousands of soldiers.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Holofernes and his army successfully annihilated many smaller cities, then came to the city of Bethulia, which was the main thing in their path to get to Jerusalem, which is of course the Holy City. So it was important that Bethulia not fall because then they could get to Jerusalem.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So they first cut off the water supply for the city, and then Holofernes talked to Achior, who was an Ammonite king, and Achior warned Holofernes that the Israelites are protected by God. So if they have been faithful to God's word, then Holofernes will not succeed and conquer them.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Then Holofernes commanded some servants to bring Achior to Bethulia, where he told them of Holofernes' plan, and they began to fear and pray. So now we are introduced to Judith. Judith has been a widow for three years after her husband, Manasses, died of heatstroke while overseeing barley harvests.

 

Zoe 

Okay, that's a lot less dramatic death than I thought.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, he's not so much of a warrior (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, it's a valid--it's a valid job.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, yeah, farming is important. Anyway, she spent her days in solitude, fasting, but when she heard of what was going on, she invited some elders and Oziah, the governor, to her house and chastised them for their lack of faith in God. Oziah asks Judith to join them in praying for rain, but she says she has another idea, but she won't tell them what it is.

 

Zoe 

Hmm.

 

Lizzie 

After purifying herself and praying, she changed out of her mourning clothes for the first time in over three years, and put on perfume and jewelry and braided her hair. And she and her maid left for the city gate. The Assyrian men took her into custody and asked where she was from. And she replied, "I am a woman of the Hebrews and am fled from them, for they shall be given to you to be consumed." So they took her to see Holofernes so that she could give him advice on how to conquer them. Judith said to Holofernes, "I will declare no lie to my Lord this night." So basically, she allowed Holofernes to believe she was talking about him when she said, "my Lord," but she only has one Lord God.

 

Zoe 

Ohh.

 

Lizzie 

So she can swear by Nebuchadnezzar because he meant nothing to her and she could say things like that it brings her joy to serve her Lord till the day of her death, but be completely deceptive while not actually lying or betraying God.

 

Zoe 

Wow. So true.

 

Lizzie 

So yeah, she's really smart.

 

Zoe 

Yeah! Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Holofernes was pleased with everything that she said and allowed her to stay with him. She stayed there for three days, and each morning she and her maid would leave the camp to pray, and then come back. And then on the fourth day Holofernes intended to dine with her alone with the plan of seducing her.

 

Zoe 

Mmm.

 

Lizzie 

They ate and drank and Holofernes drank so much wine that he passed out, at which point his servants left them alone in their tent (Zoe laughs). And then Judith took Holofernes's sword and beheaded him.

 

Zoe 

Whoa!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! So then Judith and her maid put Holofernes' head in a sack, left the camp under the guise to pray. So obviously, like, the guards let them out because they had been doing that for days.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But then they continued back to the gates of Bethulia. She showed her people Holofernes's head, and Achior confirmed that it was indeed the head of Holofernes and he fell at Judith's feet, then decided to convert to Judaism.

 

Zoe 

Nice.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So Judith told the Israelites that the army should attack in the morning, at which point the Assyrians would go to wake their commanders and find Holofernes dead, and then begin to panic. And then the Israelites should attack, and they would be victorious, which is exactly what happened. And then her people praised her and praised God. And afterwards, Judith went back to her life of seclusion, and lived to be 105 years old and was then buried in her husband's tomb.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

The end!

 

Zoe 

Well, interesting!

 

Lizzie 

Thoughts?

 

Zoe 

Lots of thoughts. So it's really interesting, because this whole story is about devotion to God. It's not, it's less about--well, I'm assuming--is Holofernes--they're not Jewish--are they? They're not Jewish.

 

Lizzie 

No, no, they're not Jewish.

 

Zoe 

Okay, then yeah, it is about a war, but in a war of the sense of a war against Jewish people versus not-Jewish people attacking them. And so it's less about like, Oh, who's gonna win in this fight, like the valor of warriors and more about serving God and being loyal and true to your faith. And being able to keep your faith, which is really cool.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah!

 

Zoe 

But also, it's not necessarily a pacifist story, you know. It's very much--you know, she beheads the guy. She goes, and--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, it's bloody.

 

Zoe 

It's bloody! She shows them, she conceives their strategy to attack, um, the army and destroy them. Like, there's still fighting, but--and, you know, it's showing, like, the relationship between, like, the struggle to keep your religion and, you know, the general struggle of war, in, like, a time when, like, being invaded in general is, like, a thing that happens relatively often. And then also, I think it's interesting about Judith's relationship with her husband and her relationship with God.

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

And that they seem to be, like, the most important things in her life and almost like synonymous in a way?

 

Lizzie 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

And because she has been mourning for three years, she's been a very faithful wife doing all the proper mourning proceedings of, you know, living in seclusion, fasting, and then when she finds out about this threat to, like, her community and her faith, then she comes back into the community and springs into action to save them and save their ability to practice their faith. And then once that's done, she goes back to where she was before.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly. Like, she only comes out of her seclusion in order to, like, save her people.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, she's very pious and faithful. Faithful is the word you say when you're full of faith. Anyway.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

But yeah, she's very devoted to God and to her husband. And she, she doesn't do it just out of pure, like, bloodlust.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

She really wants to save her people. And she knows that her God is going to protect her. And then--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--that is what happens and everything ends up going great. And everyone celebrates her.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. And it's also--I mean, like, as we said, it's a very clever way of completing the task that she sets for herself.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly.

 

Zoe 

Is--she is keeping herself faithful to God, who she loves and holds as the highest thing in her life and also is able to defeat this commander that stands in the way of her safety and her faith's safety.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

And I think that's, that's super interesting. And very cool.

 

Lizzie 

I agree. There was a long period of time where the Book of Judith seems to have disappeared from Jewish tradition. For example, the Book of Judith didn't appear in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contained over 200 biblical texts. And it also wasn't mentioned by Jewish philosophers at the time, like Philo or Josephus, who both lived in the first century CE. Then, in around the 10th or 11th century CE, Judas begins appearing in Jewish literature again, over a thousand years after the Book of Judith was composed. She started appearing in tales and poems and commentaries on the Talmud. And it was around this time that she began to be associated with Hanukkah--

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

--because nowadays, she--her story is told on Hanukkah, even though the events of the Book of Judith are not directly related to the events celebrated on Hanukkah. But, yeah.

 

Zoe 

It makes sense. 'Cause the--it's a sort of--

 

Lizzie 

(overlapping) I mean, it's a very similar story.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, it's a similar story. Yeah. Very cool.

 

Lizzie 

So Judith's story was in many ways similar to Judah Maccabee, whose story is celebrated at Hanukkah, and who also beheaded a military commander during the process of defeating a cruel king. And you know, Judith is like the feminine form of Judah. So--

 

Zoe 

Yeah, so that's very interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Two sides of the same coin. Yeah. And Judith also has a lot of parallels to Esther, the heroine of Purim, because they're both beautiful and seductive figures who save their people from the threat of a foreign ruler. And Hanukkah is also associated with Purim. Both holidays are minor Jewish holidays not mentioned in the Torah, but that came about in the Second Temple period. Since Purim had Esther, Hanukkah ended up being assigned its own heroine and Judith began to be associated with Hanukkah, especially in medieval literature, where she appeared in many texts.

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

And the tradition of eating dairy products at Hanukkah was likely inspired by Judith, because in some of the later tales, she encouraged Holofernes to eat a lot of cheese, which then made him thirsty, causing him to drink more wine until he passed out.

 

Zoe 

That's really funny.

 

Lizzie 

 So when Judith started appearing in Jewish literature again, she was changed in a lot of ways. Usually, the basic plot points are the same. Judith's city is besieged, so she meets with the enemy leader who attempts to seduce her, arranges a banquet, gets drunk, and is murdered by her. But aside from that, a lot of details are changed. A lot of times, Nebuchadnezzar and Holofernes are conflated into one figure, who is an enemy king and the military commander threatening their city. And sometimes Judith is younger and unmarried rather than a widow. There are a few other changes. And there are also some changes that appear to take away her power or agency.

 

Zoe 

Uh huh.

 

Lizzie 

For example, in the Book of Judith, Judith is presented as someone who receives messages directly from God, whereas in some of the medieval tales, she was presented as a descendant of prophets. So her importance comes from her lineage and their relationship with God rather than her own.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Also in the Book of Judith, her beauty and intelligence and cleverness are praised both by the narrative and by her people, but few of medieval texts make note of her positive attributes. And a lot of the times she doesn't even get a word of praise for her fellow Israelites. In general, Judith's reception in her city is less positive, and her people often question her and disbelieve that the head she's holding is actually Holofernes'.

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. Yeah, in one they're like, did you just find that head rolling around on the streets?

 

Zoe 

 As you do.

 

Lizzie 

Which is interesting.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, as happens.

 

Zoe 

I mean, who's to say. We don't live there.

 

Lizzie 

True, I wasn't there. Anyway (laughs), another change that appears in several of the medieval versions involves the introduction of another female character, the sister of Judah Maccabee sometimes called Hannah.

 

Zoe 

Oh, yes.

 

Lizzie 

Not to be confused with the other biblical Hannah, who was the mother of Samuel.

 

Zoe 

Oh, okay. Nevermind.

 

Lizzie 

A different--

 

Zoe 

I've heard of the biblical Hannah. And I was like, oh. No. It's a different Hannah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, it's different Hannah, I guess.

 

Zoe 

Cool.

 

Lizzie 

In the events leading up to Judith's beheading of Holofernes, the enemy king enforces a rule of jus primae noctus. Do you know what that is?

 

Zoe 

Wait. Primae noctus?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Is that when they sleep with the woman on the wedding night?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

That's exactly what it is.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

So it's a thing where an important enemy minister reserves the right to sleep with a bride before she sleeps with her husband on their wedding night.

 

Zoe 

Uh huh.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So Hannah is soon to marry. She does not want to comply with this law and have to sleep with a Gentile minister.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

So, at a pre-wedding party with family and friends, she removes her fancy party clothes, and either dons rags or tears her clothing and appears naked in front of the party guests. Her family and friends are scandalized and embarrassed by her behavior and wish to punish her. And in one version, they even wish to burn her at the stake for her indecency.

 

Zoe 

Wow.

 

Lizzie 

Hannah condemns them, saying that it is the men of the family who should be ashamed because they're willing to have her be defiled by a Gentile man ,and she suggests that they should kill the minister.

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

Which, she's so right! I like when people are like, I'm not the one on trial. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So then Judah ends up beheading the enemy minister, throwing his head into the Greek camp and killing many other people. And the assassination of this official is what causes Holofernes to arrive at the scene, which then leads to Judith beheading him.

 

Zoe 

Oh! Okay.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. This is just a version. That's one of the ones that like, associates it with Hanukkah.

 

Zoe 

Yep, for sure.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. So in both of their stories, Judith and Hannah are surrounded by male relatives, but are frustrated by the lack of action and choose to take matters into their own hands. They both face the prospect of having to sleep with a Gentile man, and act in a seemingly shameful and provocative manner and are challenged by their townspeople. In the story of Hannah and the story of Judith, specifically in the Book of Judith, there was an overt threat of sexual assault, as Judith prays before going to meet Holofernes because she knows that there's the chance of her being raped. And the significance of the beheading is layered with the idea of retribution for sexual violation.

 

Lizzie 

 In addition, some medieval tales make a direct reference to the story of Tamar, who was assaulted by her brother Amnon, by making Holofernes saying to Judith, "Come lie with me, my sister," which is the exact line that Amnon says to Tamar.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Zoe 

Hmm. Where is--what is--where's that story from?

 

Lizzie 

(overlapping) Are you familiar with that story?

 

Zoe 

Yeah, no. I'm not at all.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know.

 

Zoe 

Huh.

 

Lizzie 

The Bible.

 

Zoe 

Okay.

 

Lizzie 

So in this way, both Hannah and Judith's stories involve retribution for potential sexual assault, although luckily, neither woman ends up actually being assaulted. Which is good. So, Judith is a common figure in Renaissance art--

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

--where she is usually portrayed either beheading Holofernes or holding Holofernes' head, often accompanied by her maid. Do you--like, do any particular paintings come to mind?

 

Zoe 

Yes, there's two. There's the one where she's, like, leaning back. And then there's the Artemisia Gentileschi when she's like, fully involved in the action.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, I think the first one is the Caravaggio one.

 

Zoe 

Okay, yeah. I wasn't sure who had done it.

 

Lizzie 

Well, there was a lot--a lot of different artists who painted her.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

This was part of a larger common trope in Renaissance art referred to as "Power of Women," which--

 

Zoe 

Oh! (laughs)

 

Lizzie 

--which de--which depicted men being dominated by women, sometimes in a comedic way, and it was a way to show that women can master even the worthiest of men.

 

Zoe 

Interesting!

 

Lizzie 

Other frequent depictions included Samson and Delilah. Jael killing Sisera, and Phyllis and Aristotle. Do you know the story of Phyllis and Aristotle?

 

Zoe 

I've never heard of this before.

 

Lizzie 

Well, you're going to get a kick out of it (laughs).

 

Zoe 

I'm excited. I hate Aristotle.

 

Lizzie 

Oh, good. The tale of Phyllis and Aristotle is a cautionary tale about seductive women where Phyllis, the attractive daughter of the king, makes Aristotle crawl on all fours while she rides him like a horse.

 

Zoe 

Oh!

 

Lizzie 

Showing that even the most intelligent of men can be helpless in the face of a woman's wiles.

 

Zoe 

Bold of them to the state that Aristotle was intelligent. Anyways (Lizzie laughs).

 

Lizzie 

But yeah, you should just, like, Google Phyllis riding Aristotle, there's tons of art (laughs).

 

Zoe 

Oh, my gosh. This is a lot.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, and it's clearly just meant to be, like, Look at what women can do. Even Aristotle isn't immune, you know? (laughs)

 

Zoe 

Yeah. I mean, it's very funny and definitely also just feels very misogynistic.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, yes.

 

Zoe 

Because it's all about emasculation and, like, the dangers of women. And also--

 

Lizzie 

Yeah (laughs).

 

Zoe 

 --like, all that stuff. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. I mean, it's clearly meant to be like, look out for women. Don't let them, like, get any power over you.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, it definitely was not about female empowerment (laughs).

 

Zoe 

It was not (laughs).

 

Lizzie 

But, um, anyway, Judith either beheading Holofernes or carrying his head was depicted by Donatello, Boticelli, Titian, Michelangelo in a corner of the Sistine Chapel, as well as Caravaggio, Rembrandt, Artemisia Gentileschi and some more modern artists like Gustav Klimt and Franz Stuck.

 

Zoe 

Interesting.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! Judith's story has remained consistently meaningful for hundreds of years among Jews and non-Jews, depicted in art, literature and music, including pieces by Mozart and Vivaldi.

 

Zoe 

Huh!

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, her story's super famous, and it's persisted even after a thousand-year  disappearance and became more relevant after she began to be associated with Hanukkah.

 

Zoe 

Do we have any idea why her story came back into popularity after so long?

 

Lizzie 

I-I don't know, because for a long time it, like, it just disappeared. Like, it wasn't being mentioned at all.

 

Zoe 

Huh.

 

Lizzie 

So...

 

Zoe 

That's really weird.

 

Lizzie 

Like, we don't know what happened. But then suddenly, it became popular again in the  Middle Ages.

 

Zoe 

Huh. Wow. That is odd.

 

Lizzie 

It is! Deborah Levine Gera, in The Jewish Textual Traditions, says the apocryphal book of Judith is undoubtedly a Jewish work written by and intended for Jews and Judith is portrayed as an ideal Jewish heroine, as her very name, Yehudit, "Jewess," indicates. Similarly, Kevin R. Brine writes in The Judith Project, "Judith's success against all odds epitomizes the charter myth of Judaism itself--cultural survival through the commitment to the preservation of the Mosaic law, or the help of God."

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, so her piousness and devotion to her Jewish faith and loyalty to her community are what drive her and lead her to take action when no one else is willing to. She is a perfect example of a Jewish heroine, motivated by her faith and able to use her intelligence to save her people. She thought of a clever plan to infiltrate the enemy camp and then perfectly crafted her language to suit her needs, persuading Holofernes while also swearing devotion to God. And she also used Holofernes' vices against him and then killed him with his own sword.

 

Zoe 

Ah, yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Which was very cool of her.

 

Zoe 

That is very cool. Very symbolic, for sure. I was honestly thinking about the depictions of Judith--in particular, you know, the art of Judith, um, beheading Holofernes is often considered, like, this big girl power symbol, you know, like, Oh, she's a cool woman. She's killing this man, like, she did this herself. She come up with the plan. But ultimately, in this way, by putting Judith on that pedestal that's like, Oh, this badass, like, feminist woman or whatever--it's divorcing her from her relationship with her faith, her relationship with Judaism and how that was such a significant part of motivating her to perform these actions and to commit these deeds. And I think that it's honestly a shame, and I think that is, like, something that should be avoided, to be honest, because I think that decontextualizing her from her religion in that very significant moment of her decapitating Holofernes is basically taking away the most significant part of, like, the story. Like as you said, she is, like, the--

 

Lizzie 

I mean, yeah.

 

Zoe 

--Jewish heroine. The most important thing in her life was her faith. And that was why she was doing this, it wasn't, like, to make some sort of, you know, badass feminist statement. And like, that doesn't mean that what she did wasn't, like, super cool and powerful. And obviously, it was really great and really important because her community was able to defeat this army in battle afterwards. But, like, she did it because of her faith. And...

 

Lizzie 

Yeah! I mean, she's a--she's, like, a pretty classic biblical hero in that, like, she, like her faith is what drives her and, like, she's rewarded for her loyalty to God.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. And I think--I mean, just in general, like, aestheticizing her, like, as a person, or, like, as a symbol, and like, divorcing her from her faith is not good. I think that we should remember how important Judaism is to Judith. And like, keep those two together. I think that's important.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, I definitely agree. And I also think that her depiction in art is interesting, because I feel like a lot of the scenes of the beheading are like, not quite how they're painted. Like she's usually--she looks more, like, aggressive, and then, like, Holofernes looks like he's just, like, suffering. Whereas I feel like in the story, it was like--she killed him in his sleep and it wasn't, like, a huge dramatic moment.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm.

 

Lizzie 

But that's how I imagined it at least. And also a lot of the times she's standing with her maid, which I read is partially just the Judith iconography. It separates her from Salome, because I guess their iconography is, like, really similar, but the maid doesn't appear in Salome.

 

Zoe 

That makes sense.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

But it's interesting, yeah. And I think, like, people have talked about this. I'm not an art history expert, um, but in, like, Caravaggio's depiction I think she is like, like I said before, she's like, leaning back from it. She is sort of--

 

Lizzie 

Exactly, yeah!

 

Zoe 

If I remember correctly, because it's been a while since I looked at this painting, she is, like, distancing herself from the action of decapitating Holofernes in a major way.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, yeah, definitely. She's like, not into the act at all. She just does not want to be doing it.

 

Zoe 

Yeah, it's like Holofernes smells really, really bad. And she is trying so hard not to smell it--smell him at all while she's, like, cutting off his head. She's leaning so far away from him.

 

Zoe 

And meanwhile, with the Artemisia Gentileschi painting, she is right in the action. She's holding him down and, like, cutting his throat. And it's a lot more graphic and a lot darker. And also the significant--yes. That--that's the Gentileschi one, right?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Yes.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Is a lot of darker because, you know, Artemesia Gentileschi was a woman.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly. And she's like, I think the only woman of the list of the classic painters.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Who have painted Judith. And yeah, her painting is so--it's so nice. It's, like, really powerful. It's less, I don't know, passive and like--

 

Zoe 

As opposed to--it also has the maid in it, which we just talked about, but like, it's just a sort of, like, you know, two women who are in the process of getting the job done, which is cool.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly. They look like two women with a plan.

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Like, they are--they're just getting their hands dirty.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. Which again, like she's still, like, as you said, in the original story, he was asleep. She probably didn't have to hold him down, especially if he was passed out from, like, wine. But--

 

Lizzie 

I mean, that's how I picture it. She just brought the sword down. And killed him.

 

Zoe 

I mean, yeah. Like--

 

Lizzie 

Like, he was super drunk.

 

Zoe 

--that probably wasn't--that probably wasn't too hard to do, to be honest, once he was passed out (Lizzie laughs). But, I mean, it's a good--it's a cool image. It's a cool painting. But yeah.

 

Lizzie 

Great painting.

 

Zoe 

Definitely, like even thinking about, you know, the idea of women in power and that being depicted in the Renaissance by predominantly male artists in a way that's often--

 

Lizzie 

Almost entirely.

 

Zoe 

Yeah. In a way that's often like, kind of misogynistic. It's interesting to see like--

 

Lizzie 

Very.

 

Zoe 

--how they depict the woman's relationship to the act of violence and power that they're committing for sure.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah. And I feel like on a surface level, and, like, viewing it from now, it's like, oh, cool, girl power, like, cool lady, badass, whatever. But I mean, like, from what I've read, like, at the time, this wasn't very like, oh, cool, female power. They was like, Look what women can do to like, worthy men, like--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--clearly women are like, so powerful, and we need to, like, protect ourselves.

 

Zoe 

And also, like, the Renaissance was a huge time for antisemitism.

 

Lizzie 

I mean, definitely.

 

Zoe 

I mean, so was the Middle Ages, but, like--

 

Lizzie 

So was just most of history, but...(laughs)

 

Zoe 

But, so that--I mean, that just is gonna to play more into the story of like, Judith is beheading Holofernes to save her people, the Jewish people. She's a woman, she's Jewish...none of those parts of her identity are sympathetic to the Renaissance audience of Europe at the time.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

And so therefore, like, is she-is she meant to be the good guy in the painting? Or is this a picture of a man suffering because of, like, the wiles of women, um, and particularly, like, a Jewish woman, you know?

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, like are the painters of, like, the Renaissance and the Baroque era picturing themselves as more in, like, the role of Holofernes?

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

I don't know.

 

Zoe 

And that's another reason why it's important not to dissociate Judith from her Jewish identity.

 

Lizzie 

Exactly. I mean, her name means "Jewish woman." Like, it's very important--

 

Zoe 

Yeah.

 

Lizzie 

--to her story that she is Jewish.

 

Zoe 

Mm hmm. So yeah, I mean, it's a really great story. It's super interesting. I really liked every--like, all the information you had about the story. I liked this--the cont--the historical context that you had. It's really cool.

 

Lizzie 

It's a great time.

 

Zoe 

And I didn't realize that she was associated with Hanukkah. So that's super cool.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah, exactly. And I mean, I think it's cool because, I mean, like they said, back in the day, like in the Medi-middle ages, they, like, wanted a heroine of Hanukkah. They were just like, well, Judith is pretty close, which honestly is true. Like, her story can also be associated with the story of Judah, because their stories are, like, really similar.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

And, um, in her story, it's very, like classic Jewish David and Goliath.

 

Zoe 

Yeah!

 

Lizzie 

Just beating the big enemy type of story.

 

Zoe 

Absolutely, yeah. And so yeah! Happy Hanukkah!

 

Lizzie 

Happy Hanukkah!

 

Zoe 

Hope everyone who celebrates has an amazing eight days. And yeah! Thanks so much for listening. If you enjoyed it, please feel free to subscribe, leave a review, recommend us to your friends, donate to our ko-fi.

 

Lizzie 

Yeah.

 

Zoe 

And we'll be back here in two weeks with another episode.

 

Lizzie 

Thank you.

 

Zoe 

Thank you. Good-bye.

 

Zoe 

Mytholadies podcast is produced by Elizabeth Lacroix and Zoe Koeninger. Today's episode was researched and presented by Elizabeth LaCroix. You can find us on Instagram and Twitter @mytholadies, and visit us on our website at mytholadies.com. Our cover art is by Helena Cailleaux. Our music was written and performed by Icarus Tyree.