“Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes’ head, and took down his fauchion from thence, And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day. And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him. And tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and anon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes his head to her maid.”
— The Book of Judith 13:6-9
In a nutshell, Judith (meaning jewess) is the story of a fetching widow who tarts herself up to seduce the enemy, gets him drunk, cuts off his head as he snores, and marches back to town triumphant, head in bag.
The Book of Judith does not exist in the Hebrew Old Testament, and is consequently excluded from the Protestant Canon of Holy Scripture. But the Catholic Church has always maintained its canonicity. St. Jerome, while rejecting in theory those books which he did not find in his Hebrew manuscript, yet consented to translate Judith because “the Synod of Nicaea is said to have accounted it as Sacred Scripture.”
The story of Salome seems to be more enduring than that of Judith. Western culture has fallen in love with the ideal of self-interest, while that of self-sacrifice is no longer chic. In a contemporary sense Judith’s is not necessarily one of self-sacrifice. If you refer back to the text and give it a non-secular reading, it becomes clear that had Judith been a man, her deeds would have been heralded as civic hero, rather than civic sacrifice. No one depicts Cleopatra rolled in her rug planning her Caesarian seduction as an act of self-effacing sacrifice. Of course, until recently, Cleopatra was vilified by history for being a man eating power hungry bitch (or whatever).
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Judith