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.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Power of Witness: Judith 14:1-15:7 with poem by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Judith

Daily Readings
Psalm 125, Ezra 7, Judith 14:1-15:7, I Esdras 8:1-67

Daily Text: Judith 14:1- 15:7

Power of Witness
In Judith 14.1-15.7 Judith has earned her chevrons. She issues order to the men making careful consideration of the psychological impact of the beheading on the Assyrian and mercenary forces. So she instructs the military to make a show of attack without actually carrying out the attack until the troops discover Holofernes demise and begin to flee before little Israel in panic. In due time that happens and Jewish soldiers throughout the country are called to play their part in destroying the defeated army. As is so often the case when God wins a victory, the mopping up exercises are left to his people. This is as true post-resurrection in the New Testament, as it was at Bethulia in this story.

One of Judith’s orders involves summoning Achior to herself. He could give unequivocal identification of Holofernes and he does so by passing out in a dead faint. Aroused he gives obeisance to Judith and praise to God. It is God who has done this, and it is to God Achior turns. He is converted, circumcised and made part of the household of God. The power of witness is always important, no less so here. Judith carries the human responsibility, but obviously she gives all the credit to God. Achior does not mistake this. The statement that he continued as part of the Israelite people “to this day” suggests that the writing of the account of Judith follows not more than one generation after these events. Scholars generally disagree that this is borne out by the textual evidence. Again, the question of historicity is in play. In spite of the fact that many scholars do not treat this as an historical text, in the sense that it actually happened, still it is so convincingly written that one is drawn into considering it as genuine reportage.

from Judith
Thomas Bailey Aldrich


The hours dragged by, and in the Assur camp
The pulse of life was throbbing languidly.
When from the outer waste an Arab scout
Rushed pale and breathless on the morning watch,
With a strange story of a Head that hung
High in the air above the City’s wall,--
A livid Head with knotted, snake-like curls,--
And how the face was like a face he knew,
And how it turned and twisted in the wind,
And how it stared upon him with fixt orbs
Till it was not in mortal man to stay;
And how he fled, and how he thought the Thing
Came bowling through the wheat-fields after him.
And some that listened were appalled, and some
Derided him; but not the less they threw
A furtive glance toward the shadowy wood.

Bagoas, among the idlers, heard the man,
And quick to bear the tidings to his lord,
Ran to the tent, and called, “My lord, awake!
Awake, my lord!” and lingered for reply.
But answer came there none. Again he called,
And all was still. Then, laughing in his heart
To think how deeply Holofernes slept
Wrapt in soft arms, he lifted up the screen
And marvelled, finding no one in the tent
Save Holofernes, buried, as it were,
Head foremost in the canopies. He stoopt,
And drawing back the damask folds, beheld
His master, a grim torso lying dead.

As in some breathless wilderness at night
A leopard, pinioned by a falling tree,
Shrieks, and the echoes mimicking the cry,
Repeat it in a thousand different keys
By lonely heights and unimagined caves:
So shrieked Bagoas, and so his cry was caught
And voiced along the vast Assyrian lines,
And buffeted among the hundred hills.
Then ceased the tumult sudden as it rose,
And a great silence fell upon the camps,
And all the people stood like blocks of stone
In some deserted quarry: then a voice
Blown through a trumpet clamored:
He is dead!
The Prince is dead! The Hebrew witch hath slain
Prince Holofernes! Fly, Assyrians, fly!

As from its lair the mad tornado leaps,
And seizing on the yellow desert sands,
Hurls them in swirling masses, cloud on cloud:
So, at the sounding of that baleful voice,
A panic seized the mighty Assur hosts,
And flung them from their places. With wild shouts
Across the hills in pale dismay they fled,
Trampling the sick and wounded under foot,
Leaving their tents, their camels, and their arms,
Their horses, and their gilded chariots.
Then with a dull metallic clang the gates
Of Bethulia opened, and from each
A sea of spears surged down the arid hills
And broke remorseless on the flying foe,--
Now hemmed them in upon a river’s bank,
Now drove them shrieking down a precipice,
Now in the mountain-passes slaughtered them,
Until the land, for many a weary league,
Was red, as in the sunset, with their blood.
And other cities, when they saw the rout
Of Holofernes, burst their gates, and joined
With trump and banner in the mad pursuit.
Three days before those unrelenting spears
The cohorts fled, but on the fourth they past
Beyond Damascus into their own land.

Collect for the Day
Lord, surround your people with your presence. Do not let us stretch out our hands to evil deeds, or be destroyed by the snares of the enemy, but bring us to share the land prepared for the saints in light, where you live and reign, God, now and forever.



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