The Book of Judith, more than describing an event, aims to present a theology of history. In one single episode the whole story of God’s people is emblematically summarized as an apocalyptic confrontation with the forces of evil. The victory of Judith – woman and widow – is the messianic proclamation of Israel triumphing over the demonic power of evil.
In the first seven chapters, the book tells the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the powerful king of the Assyrians, who organizes a military campaign to subjugate all the peoples of the earth, through his commander, Holofernes. The most striking feature of these first chapters is the lightness and solidity of a construction built with rapid, interwoven brushstrokes that will be gradually completed, prolonged or reflected in the second part (cf. Jdt 8-16).
They already contain the substance of the theological discourse, which is the essential content of the book. The second part of the narrative then unleashes in a psychological and narrative synthesis the contrasting theologies of the first part – that of Nebuchadnezzar and that of the people of God – to resolve itself in an explosion of joy, freedom and hope. If modern sentiment judges the first chapters to be a boring and long-winded preamble to the beautiful novella that opens with Judith herself, it is because it has not grasped the theological and spiritual scope of the book.