Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

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Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New Intelligence: Judith 11:1-12:9 with poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Judith

Daily Readings
Sirach 48, Nehemiah 7:4-73a, Judith 11:1-12:9, Esdras 9:37-55

Daily Text: Judith 11:1-12:9

New Intelligence
The level of honest dialogue between Holofernes and Judith in chapter 11 is relatively sparse. Holofernes promises Judith about anything, even allowing her to conspicuously serve her own God, while prohibiting everyone else. Judith, likewise, says what she thinks is needed to trick the man into trusting her. She does defend Achior and his knowledge of the strength of the Judeans. But, she suggests, she has knowledge that they are momentarily ready to sin, something Achior could not have known. This is new intelligence, and Judith claims to have means of knowing when they do commit their sin against the Lord. That means is communication from the Lord God, and she is to receive that communication in the night within two or three days. So she receives permission to go out each night for communing with her deity, and ‘providentially’ providing her own escape route when she commits the murder for which she has come. ‘Murder’ is a little harsh, assuredly, for Holofernes is at war with Bethulia and Jerusalem. Judith sees herself as one of the Lord’s warriors, and certainly the commander is a worthy and acceptable target for a soldier—even if it is an assassination Without God’s intervention through Judith, all of Judea would probably have been destroyed, in story and to the extent of the historicity of this account, in fact.

from Judith
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
1836-1907

Before his tent, stretched on a leopard-skin,
Lay Holofernes, ringed by his dark lords,--
Himself the prince of darkness. At his side
His iron helmet poured upon the grass
Its plume of horse-hair; on his ponderous spear,
The flinty barb thrust half its length in earth,
As if some giant had flung it, hung his shield,
And on the burnished circuit of the shield
A sinewy dragon, rampant, silver-fanged,
Glared horrible with sea-green emerald eyes;
And as the sunshine struck across it, writhed,
And seemed a type of those impatient lords
Who, in the loud war-council here convened,
Gave voice for battle, and with fiery words
Opposed the cautious wisdom of their peers.
So seemed the restless dragon on the shield.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . .Judith, who knew all the mountain paths
As one may know the delicate azure veins,
Each crossing each, on his belovèd’s wrist,
Had stolen between the archers in the wood
And gained the straggling outskirts of the camp,
And seeing the haughty gestures of the chiefs,
Halted, with fear, and knew not where to turn;
Then taking heart, had silently approached,
And stood among them, until then unseen.
And in the air, like numerous swarms of bees,
Arose the wondering murmurs of the throng,
Which checking, Holofernes turned and cried,
“Who breaks upon our councils?”
But drinking then the beauty of her eyes,
And seeing the rosy magic of her mouth,
And all the fragrant summer of her hair
Blown sweetly round her forehead, stood amazed;
And in the light of her pure modesty
His voice took gentler accent unawares:
“Whence come ye?”
“From yon city.”
“By our life,
We thought the phantom of some murdered queen
Had risen from dead summers at our feet!
If these Judæan women are so shaped,
Daughters of goddesses, let none be slain.
What seek ye, woman, in the hostile camps
Of Assur?”
“Holoferenes.”
“This is he.”
“O good my lord,” cried Judith, “if indeed
Thou art that Holofernes whom I seek,
And seeking dread to find, low at thy feet
Behold thy handmaid, who I fear has flown
From a doomed people.”
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Then the crowd fell back,
Muttering, and half reluctantly, because
Her beauty drew them as the moon the sea—
Fell back and lingered, leaning on their shields.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The fame of Judith’s loveliness had flown
From lip to lip throughout the canvas town,
And as the evening deepened, many came
From neighboring camps, with frivolous excuse,
To pass the green pavilion—long-haired chiefs
That dwelt by the Hydaspe, and the sons
Of the Elymeans, and slim Tartar youth;
But saw not her, who, shut from common air,
Basked in the twilight of the tapestries.

But when night came, and all the camp was still,
And nothing moved beneath the icy stars
In their blue bourns, except some stealthy guard,
A shadow among shadows, Judith rose,
Calling her servant, and the sentinel
Drew back, and let her pass beyond the lines
Into the valley. And her heart was full,
Seeing the watch-fires burning on the towers
Of her own city: and she knelt and prayed
For it and them that dwelt within its walls,
And was refreshed—such balm there lies in prayer
For those who know God listens
Straightway then
The two returned, and all the camp was still.
411:451

Collect for the Day
O Saviour of the world, who by thy Cross and precious Blood hast redeemed us, Save us, and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.

[286:246:755 Good Friday liturgy, Western Rite]

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