Judith: Chapter 9 Commentary

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Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Judith, c. 1892

I’m pleased to make available a draft of my translation of chapter 9 of the Commentary on the Book of Judith by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus.

In Chapter 9, Judith stops and prepares for what she is about to do through prayer. Below I offer highlights from the commentary on her prayer.

Judith’s prayer hearkens back to more ancient events as she draws parallels between what is about to happen and Biblical events that bear similarities.

Rabanus notes that (verse 4):

in prayer, she aptly commemorates the act of Simeon the patriarch, who together with his brother Levi avenged the violation of his sister among foreigners by the sword of revenge, because it would happen that Holofernes, who wanted to commit an act of passion upon Judith, would be punished by his own sword in divine judgement.

The entire story she is referring to here can be found in Genesis 34 (and what a startling story it is!).

Later on Rabanus discusses how she compares the hoped-for subversion of the Assyrians with the drowning of the ancient Egyptians in the sea (verse 6):

Just as above she compared the immoderate with the passionate, so too she now compares the proud with those puffed up. For instance, she likened the Assyrians trusting in their arms to the Egyptians of old fighting against the Israelites, so that she might show that just as on that occasion the power of God was manifested in the submersion of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, so also here it can be revealed in the subversion of Holofernes and the Assyrians, because the same Lord, the same power, and the same justice endures both then and now, and through all the ages.

Judith uses this approach repeatedly as she asks for help from God. She points out how God acted in the ancient Scriptures and then asks Him to do it again in the present.

A Pause

I have been working on this translation for about one year now and I am over half-way done, having seven chapters left. As I may have mentioned before, this project was provoked by an assignment that I completed during the course of my studies with the Saints Cyril and Athanasius Institute for Orthodox Studies. For the past year, the institute has been somewhat dormant and in a state of uncertainty. I was pleased to discover that the Institute is back and consequently I will be taking the next semester off from translation to complete the final module of the certificate program. I may share some of my thoughts here as I progress through the reading and assignments, but I won’t have time to work on this translation.

Judith: Chapter 8 Commentary

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Paolo Veronese, Judith Receiving the Ancients of Bethulia, oil on canvas.

I’m pleased to make available a draft of my translation of the commentary by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus on the eighth chapter of Judith. This chapter was nearly twice the length of previous chapters and so took some extra time (in addition to relaxing my focus on this work during Lent).

In this chapter Judith chastises the elders for setting dates. They had essentially given God a timeline to dish out his mercy upon them and agreed to give up the city if God hadn’t made himself known in five days. Judith, and rightly so, tells them that this was a very audacious thing to do and that they now need to pour out their souls in fasting, prayer, and repentance and hope they haven’t angered God. She makes her own plans and leaves them at the city gates to watch and pray.

There are a few interesting highlights in the commentary that I’d like to point out. First, Rabanus, like other Fathers before him, likes numerology. The strongest example of this follows (verse 7):

Furthermore, the very same Judith is found in the Scripture begotten in the fifteenth generation, which undoubtedly signifies that the Church itself emerged from the Patriarchs and Apostles through the number seven and the number eight of the Law and of the Gospel, and is appointed so that the glory of Heaven might be merited; for this number of steps was mystically presented in the Psalter and will reveal a type of the future ascension into the heavens, arriving at which the saints are justly able to say, “Behold now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord: Who stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God” (Ps 133:1).

Rabanus follows the example of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who uses this same combination of seven and eight in discussing how high the water rose above the mountains during the flood. Augustine connects the fact that the water rose fifteen cubits above the mountains with baptism, which represents our regeneration, noting that the seventh day of rest (which epitomizes the Law), is thus connected with the eighth day of our resurrection (which epitomizes the Gospel) through this aggregate number of 15.

In the Vulgate and Septuagint, Psalms 119-133 (in translations based on the Masoretic Text like the King James Version, these are Psalms 120-134) are a sequence of fifteen Psalms or Odes of Ascent, also known as Graduals (note that gradus is the Latin word for step). Some scholars believe that these Psalms were sung by the Israelites as they made the journey to Jerusalem for the three great feasts. These Graduals continue to play a significant role in both the eastern and western liturgies. In the eastern rite, their principal use comes as the Church progresses through Lent toward Pascha. In the traditional western rite, these are sung at the third, sixth, and ninth hours on weekdays.

The second highlight that I would like to emphasize is that Rabanus sees the Ten Commandments as a an ancient and obsolete law. He likens Judith’s dead husband to the ten commandments, saying (verse 9):

She had Manasses for a husband, whose name is interpreted forgetful or necessity; who also, standing in the barley harvest over those binding sheaves in the field, died when the heat came upon his head. This is because she is discerned to be bound and subject either to the Ten Commandments of the Law or to a tribal custom from ancient times, but, with the coming Christ and with the sun of the Gospel growing brighter in the world, all that observance of the flesh ceased, and just as the gathering of the meager harvest came to a rapid finish, it was transferred through Christ to cultivation of the spiritual.

Rabanus teaches that the ancient law is a practice “of the flesh” and under the new covenant we are to cultivate the spirit rather than the flesh.

The third highlight that I would like to emphasize is how Rabanus Maurus speaks about prayer (verse 26).

“When therefore she had heard that Ozias had promised that he would deliver up the city after the fifth day” (Jdt 8:9), she reproved the idea, judging it inappropriate to establish for the Lord the time of His mercy, since He alone knew both the time and the manner of His mercy before all things; and because of this it is inappropriate for anyone to impudently demand anything of the Lord, but rather to refer everything to his judgment, just as a certain one of the Fathers is observed to have said as much in a prayer: “Son of God, as you will and as you know, have mercy on me.”

Rabanus is here quoting a prayer of Saint Macarius the Great. The full saying follows:

Abba Macarius was asked, ‘How should one pray?’ The old man said, ‘There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hands and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord, help!’ He knows very well what we need and he shews us his mercy.1

Finally, while Judith, who represents the Church, chastises the ancients, the priests of the Church should still be respected by those of us who have been placed under their leadership. The Blessed Rabanus describes it this way (verse 37):

Judith entrusts the ancients with the gate, because the Holy Church commends the careful protection of the camp of God to the priests of Christ, so that intently vigilant and skilled in oversight they might in this way strive unharmed to fortify and to protect against the ambushes of the enemy through the weapons of prayers.


1 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications 1975), p. 131.

Judith: Chapter 7 Commentary

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The Citizens Complain (c. 1430), Azor Masters

I have completed a draft translation of chapter 7 of the Blessed Rabanus Maurus’ Commentary on the Book of Judith.

In chapter 7, the city of Bethulia is besieged by Holofernes and his army. The people of Bethulia earnestly beseech the Lord in prayer, yet, their faith is not as strong as it should be. Holofernes and his people notice that Bethulia has a water supply coming into the city through an aqueduct, so they block up the aqueduct, cutting off the supply of water. This clearly makes the people a bit nervous or even afraid, which is evident to the enemy simply from they way they act. Even once the main supply of water is cut off, there are sparse springs near the city walls that people come out to to drink. The Book of Judith notes that they would come out “to refresh themselves a little rather than to drink their fill” (Judith 7:7). This is what tips off the enemy.

Eventually the people come whining to the leaders of the city about the lack of water, begging them to surrender to Holofernes so that they can quench their thirst. The chief leader of the city, Ozias, asks them for a grace period of five days so that the Lord will have a chance to respond to their prayers.

Rabanus ties items in the story very directly to the things of everyday life. For instance, he ties this period of five days to the five senses of the body and finally convenience.

Those five days can be understood as the five senses of the body, by means of which the present life is derived. For indeed, just as the inept teacher seeks a span of five days for a grace period, so does anyone who unwisely promises that physical comfort is to be given from the Lord first-hand to his students, as if the generosity of the highest giver is in his power (given that time and a measure of concession consists more in the ability to give than to receive).

If, however, convenience is refused to be bestowed upon those things of the present life by the Supernal Judge, in accordance with their promise, they immediately desert them to turn aside into illicit desire, and by yielding to their persecutors they avoid physical pain; our Judith, that is the Holy Church, refuses and disdains as hurtful the condition of their agreement, which will be clearly demonstrated in the things that follow.

Rabanus likens the whinings of the citizens of Bethulia to our own lack of fortitude. While they are unable to wait upon the Lord on his own time, we too are unwilling to live with a little inconvenience in our lives. We yield to the temptation of the evil one in order to avoid pain. As we shall see in the next chapter, Judith, that is the Church, refuses this approach.

Judith: Chapter 6 Commentary

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Achior liberated by the Israelites (c. 1430), Azor Masters

I have finished translating chapter 6 of the commentary on the Book of Judith by the Blessed Rabanus Maurus.

In chapter 6, Achior, the pagan who told Holofernes about Israel’s God in the previous chapter, is taken by Holofernes’ men to be delivered to the Children of Israel at the town of Bethulia. During their approach the Israelites send out slingers to drive away Holofernes’ men. The men, concerned for their own safety, elect not to deliver Achior directly to the Israelites and instead tie him to a tree and escape.

Abp. Rabanus interprets this allegorically as usual, explaining it this way:

The servants of Holofernes lead the apprehended Achior through the plains, whereas the persecutors of the Catholic Faith desire to drag the confessor of Christ to illicit desires and to the wide and spacious way of the age, which leads to death (cf. Mt 7:13); but when they come near the mountains, the slingers, having come out against them, put the terrified to flight with darts; because men of virtue, who more frequently adhere to contemplation of the supernal, confound the malevolent ones with arrows of the divine testimonies.

Rabanus draws parallels between very simple elements of the story and practical elements of our ordinary lives. The picture of a man being dragged by soldiers across a broad plain is likened to the temptation to succumb to sinful desires, while the slingers are likened to one who is very familiar with the Scriptures, and, like Christ in the wilderness, is ready to quote Scripture to the devil.

Furthermore, because these men are unable to lead Achior into sin, they seek, metaphorically, to cause him physical suffering.

But those, while they are unable to bring their commitment to completion, determine to tie the captive to a tree hand and foot; because they are unable to seduce the soldier of Christ through depraved persuasion, they contend to make him a participant in His cross and death, and themselves return to their master, because they are not corrected, but through an increase of wicked deeds they return even more depraved into the service of their original master.

The last part of the chapter speaks of the freeing of Achior and the hospitality of the town of Bethulia, a topic left to the reader.

Judith: Chapter 5 Translated

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Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1598—1599.

I am pleased to report that I have completed the draft of chapter 5 of Rabanus Maurus’ commentary on the book of Judith.

In chapter 5 we meet Achior, a heathen who seems to know the story of Israel quite well and warns Holofernes and his leaders that they won’t likely be able to defeat Israel. Holofernes and his leaders don’t take kindly to this warning and threaten to kill Achior for suggesting that anyone is greater than Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar).

Early in the chapter, Rabanus likens Achior to a heretic who, while he speaks words of truth, also mixes error in with that truth. Later Achior is likened to the ten lepers cleansed by Christ. The white spots intermingled with the healthy skin represent error intermixed with truth, yet Christ cleanses the lepers. By the end of the chapter Achior is related to the man born blind from birth to whom Jesus granted sight. Even further, Rabanus connects the Jews who ejected the blind man from the temple with Holofernes’ phalanxes. But Achior, choosing the discipleship of Christ, and more literally being circumcised in the flesh and joined to the people of Israel, has chosen the correct side, being converted from his heathen ways.

Rabanus compares Holofernes and his men to those who “take pride in worldly arrogance” and who on the one hand:

look down from outside upon “men unarmed and without force,” being unable to look inwardly at the force of spirit and virtue of faith by which they fight invisibly against spiritual enemies; on the other hand these, who with false hope in their own power do not see that they themselves are deluded, give the order to consign the proclaimers of truth to the multitude that is to be destroyed.

Achior and all those like him have joined themselves to those who have a force of spirit and virtue of faith to fight invisibly against spiritual enemies. Perhaps in today’s secular world, Achior is those who, discovering Christ, become marginalized because they take hold of the discipleship of Christ.

Judith: Moral Metaphor (Ch 4)

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Potential cover with art by Trophime Bigot, ca. 1640

I’m pleased to announce that I have completed a draft of chapter 4 of Abp. Rabanus Maurus’ commentary on the book of Judith.

Up until now we’ve been following the activities of Nebuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) and Holofernes in their campaign to take over the world. In chapter 4 we begin to learn about how the people of God react to this campaign through prayer and fasting.

While the Blessed Rabanus has been drawing allegorical parallels throughout the book, the parallels tend to become more tropological in chapter 4. As we learned in our ongoing discussion on The Ark of the Covenant, Saint Jerome takes this tropological approach with the Ark. The tropological approach is characterized primarily by the use of moral metaphor.

A good example of this approach is found in the following paragraph:

In fact, these very ones are the altar of God, who, upon the altar of their hearts, continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God. Truly the haircloth, which is woven from the hair of goats, bears well the figure of sins, for which repenting is entirely necessary, because without it the sinners themselves do not find cures of true wholeness.

Rabanus finds a parallel between the altar of God and our hearts, upon which we offer a sacrifice of praise. He also find a parallel between a garment made of goat hair and sin. It is interesting to recall that the Israelite sacrificial system included a “scape-goat,” upon which the sins of the nation were place. In the subsequent paragraph, Rabanus takes this metaphor one step further and ties it to the “altar of the Cross:”

This also needs to be known, that in pious prayers it becomes important and the principal aid if a remembrance of the Lord’s passion is employed, which was completed on the altar of the cross for our sins, because not only for our offenses, but also for those of the whole world, was the blood of our redeemer shed in expiation for all sins. About which John says, “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

Rabanus here follows the orthodox approach to the Old Testament Scriptures, reading them through the lens of the risen Christ. The risen Christ is the key that unlocks the Old Testament.

But I think it’s important not to miss the message of this chapter. The Israelites beseech God fervently in fasting and prayer when they come to the realization that they are going to have to contend with Holofernes. Rabanus likens Holofernes to the antichrist and Nabuchodonosor to the devil himself. The clear message is that when we ourselves contend with the wiles of the devil, our only hope of deliverance is repentance, fasting, and prayer.

Judith: Naming People and Places

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Judith, by August Reidel, 1840

I decided to revise the way I was translating names of people and geographical features in An Explanation of the Book of Judith. My initial approach was to use the names found in the Orthodox Study Bible (OSB), which tend to follow the standards set by the King James Version (KJV). The Vulgate and the Septuagint tend to have different ways of writing the names that also provide differences in pronunciation. The KJV tends to choose names that are closer to the Hebrew, I believe generally following the Masoretic Text. Because the KJV has had such a strong impact on our modern usage and expectations, it seems to make sense to use these names. However, because of the fact that I’m working on what I hope will be a relatively literal translation, and because I’m including translations of the Vulgate (the version of the Bible Abp. Rabanus used) from the Douay-Rheims (D-R) translation of the Vulgate directly in the text, I have decided to shift to using the names from the D-R throughout.

What this means is that some of the names may be somewhat unfamiliar to people who are accustomed to typical modern usage. For instance, in the D-R rather than Nebuchadnezzar, we find Nabuchodonosor. Or, rather than Ishmael, we find Ismahel. However, these names reflect how the Blessed Rabanus actually wrote the names in his commentary. In many cases, these are literally the same in English as they are in Latin.

What I have found is that, in many cases, choosing how to name something is actually more difficult than the rest of the translation work. For instance, some of the names don’t actually exist in the D-R or the Vulgate and I have to choose another source, such as Saint Jerome’s Chronicon (or the Latin version). I can use the name verbatim from the Latin, or I can look in alternative sources. Sometimes digging around online can turn up a more commonly spelled version of a name such as Arbis. In the Vulgate this name is Arbimin, but Arbimin is pretty hard to find when searching in Google. It turns out that the more common name is Arbis, which actually turns out to be the modern day Porali River in Pakistan.

During the course of this process of name revision, I have actually made some interesting discoveries. For instance, the D-R names a river Jadason, which the Beatus calls Hiadas. Then in a later spot, when quoting Orosius, it is called Idaspem. Idaspem is an unusual way to spell Hydaspem or Hydaspes. The OSB uses Hydaspes where the D-R uses Jadason, which brought me to the realization that they are the same. Other sources confirm this. Further research indicates that it is the modern day Jhelum river that flows through India and Pakistan.

In order to make this process manageable, I ended up creating tables of names in appendices. There is a table of people and a table of geographical names. The tables include the versions of the names found in this translation, the Douay-Rheims, the Orthodox Study Bible, Jerome’s Chronicon, and the Latin itself. Creating this table enables relatively easy future revisions using a simple search and replace feature.