Thursday, August 30, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Judith 1-2 and Hebrews 3

Introduction to Judith: This book is another one of the apocryphal books. It is in St. Jerome’s Latin (Vulgate) version of the bible (late 4th century); it was translated by Jerome from the Aramaic. Like Tobit, which is also part of the apocrypha, Judith is not intended to be historical. It uses historical personages to convey a larger message – in the case of Judith, the ability of God’s chosen people to be victorious over its enemies. The editors of the New Jerusalem bible say “The narrative . . . has a close affinity with apocalyptic writings. Holofernes, the henchman of Nebuchadnezzar, is the incarnation of the powers of evil. Judith (her name means ‘the Jewess’) represents the cause of God . . . This cause is apparently forlorn, but God makes use of the weak hands of a woman to procure his triumph and his chosen people go in triumph to Jerusalem. This book has clear points of contact with Daniel, Ezekiel and Joel; the action takes place on the plain of Esdraelon near the plain of Armageddon, where St John later places the great eschatological battle of Revelation . . . Judith’s triumph is the reward of prayer and exact observance of the rules of legal purity; yet the horizon of the book is not narrowly nationalist: the safety of Jerusalem is assured at Bethulia, in that very Samaria so hated by all ‘rightminded’ Jews, and the religious significance of the struggle is expressed by Achior, who is an Ammonite . . . and is later converted to the true God” (Boadt 603).

Judith 1 – This “historical” references the book opens with are not really historical – they are literary; Nebuchadnezzar II, who as the Neo-Babylonian leader conquered Jerusalem, destroyed its Temple in 587 BC and sent its people into exile represents the ultimate of “worldly” power.

Here the “character” Nebuchadnezzar is going to war with Arphaxad, the ruler of the Medes and he sends out a call to the leaders of many kingdoms in the western part of the Middle East, and none of them come. They are not afraid of him, because he seems “isolated” to them.

Nebuchadnezzar swears to avenge himself on them all. He is successful at defeating Arphaxad, and that is meant to show how incredible his power is because Arphaxad had constructed very strong defenses and Nebuchadnezzar is all alone, without allies. He captures and kills Arphaxad. Then he and his troops take to feasting and celebrating for 120 days.

Judith 2 – Nebuchadnezzar decides he will take revenge on all those kingdoms to the west that had left him hanging in his fight against Arphaxad.

He orders his commander Holofernes to look on “no one with clemency. Hand them over to slaughter and plunder . . . For by my life and by the living power of my kingdom, I have spoken (2:11-12).

Holofernes has a force of 120,000 and cavalry of 12,000 along with chariots, camels and donkeys. He follows a path from Nineveh to the plain of Bectileth to the highlands of Upper Cilicia and on to the Euphrates, across Mesopotamia and the territories of Cilicia towards the coastal area. People are in a complete panic.

Hebrews 3 – We are told we should “turn [our] minds to Jesus” (3:1), our Apostle and High Priest. He was endowed with even “more glory than Moses.”  While Moses was a faithful servant, Christ was “master of the house” (3:6) and “we” believers ARE the “house” (3:6).

We must “listen to him today [and] not harden [our] hearts” (3:8). This “today” is of uncertain duration, but we must live faithfully in it to the end (3:13).

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