Double Intermission - The First Historical Novel?
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Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Lucas Cranach the Elder
I propose we use this topic to discuss Tobit/Tobias and Judit/Judith.
The title is because it's both an intermission from Alter, and an intermission from the "official" Bibles, these two books being apocrypha.
And yes, I know, we were supposed to do Tobit first but I was impatient to read Judith. I haven't come to the beheading yet, I suppose it's at the end.
Oh, and also:
Judges (same thread as Joshua, starts on post #69): http://www.librarything.com/topic/137927#3452932
Ruth (same thread as Joshua, starts on post #142): http://www.librarything.com/topic/137927#3478722
1 & 2 Samuel: http://www.librarything.com/topic/139684
1 & 2 Kings: http://www.librarything.com/topic/142552
1 & 2 Chronicles: http://www.librarything.com/topic/146697
Ezra and Nehemiah: http://www.librarything.com/topic/154880
Anyway, if Ezra–Nehemiah was the first memoir, this can certainly be the first historical novel. On to Judith!
According to the Harper Collins note, this was written as a work of fiction, mixing real and imaginary geography (there was never a town called Bethulia) as well as historical personages and events spread on roughly 5 centuries (Holofernes was an Assyrian general from the 4th century and was certainly not working for the 6th century Babylonian ruler Nebuchadnezzar). Its intent is clearly educational, and it does have the feel of a novel, which makes for a much more entertaining read than the "historical" books we've been reading lately.
Of course the last sentence is not exactly true to history:
« And there was none that made the children of Israel any more afraid in the days of Judith, nor a long time after her death. »
Since the story is apparently set during Nebuchadnezzar's campaign wich conquered Jerusalem and sent the Israelite upper class to exile, that sounds like wishful thinking.
Also, an interesting sentence, in the last chapter (16-17):
« Woe to the nations that rise up against my kindred! the Lord Almighty will take vengeance of them in the day of judgment, in putting fire and worms in their flesh; and they shall feel them, and weep for ever. »
When did judgment day enter the picture? I'm having a lot of difficulties keeping up with the dates, but I thought that notion appeared later. I guess I was wrong. According to Harper Collins, « Most likely Judith was composed late in the second or early in the first century bce, during the late Hasmonean period. »
I saw this in Paris a couple of years ago at an Artimesia Gentileschi exhibition
In the book the maid doesn't help with the beheading. No need, it's all God's doing. No, the maid is there to fulfill a much more important task: carrying Judith's food, so that she may remain in the Assyrian camp without a risk of eating something impure. Ritual purity is Judith's main weapon and a major concern of the book.
The last paragraph of Tobit's intro in the Harper Collins notes sums it up nicely:
"The story’s use of wisdom genres and its repeated assertions that God acts for good even in adverse circumstances indicate that the author wishes to encourage readers to trust in and hope for God’s mercy in their personal lives, in the gathering of the Jewish people from the Diaspora, and in the realization of God’s reign over all humanity. George W. E. Nickelsburg"
Judith was all about ritual purity and how the exile was a punishment for Israel's sin of failing to uphold the covenants. Tobit, on the other hand, is about keeping the covenant by giving alms and glorifying God. It shares Judith's assessment of the exile but focuses more on individuals, specifically on how to uphold the covenant when you are exiled among Gentiles and far away from Jerusalem and the temple.
But mostly Tobit tackles the difficult question of why the just and pious are made to suffer. In this it can be compared to Job, and there are also Mesopotamian equivalents. This makes sense since the Mesopotamian, like the Hebrews, also thought that calamities and suffering are divine retribution for transgressions committed by humans. There was a chapter on Tobit in the book de Sumer à Canaan, which compared it to Mesopotamian tales and also to Job, but unfortunately that book is back at the library and I don't remember the details.
Tobit's answer is in the future: God may test the righteous and punish them for minor offenses, but in the end He will reward them if they remain steadfast in their faith and good deeds. I understand that Job gives a more philosophical and subtle answer to that puzzle, but I've never read Job, only a few references here and there.
Other interesting things I picked up from the HC notes:
Tobit repeatedly refers to Isaiah's prophecies and others. Isaiah is "the main source for the hope in Zion's restoration", according to HC. In Tobit as in other contemporary texts, this restoration does not imply a restoration of the Davidic dynasty, but a kingdom ruled by God directly. Also, these texts reflect the belief that the future is already fixed by God, and that of course prophets can inform us on what is in store for us.
Apart from the prophets and other texts that were then becoming the Hebrew canon, Tobit's influences also include folk tales (the "dangerous bride" is easy to identify, but I don't know who the "grateful dead" refers to) and the Odyssey (I'm afraid that I missed that reference completely).
As an aside, I have now watched the Yale lessons up to #14, and the next three lessons deal with prophets and prophecy. I look forward to that.
One interesting sidenote we could look at is the Old English retelling of the story of Judith. We read this for my early medieval lit class and it was really interesting to see how Judith was recast as a heroic epic character.
Check out the original:
An old translation:
#15 Jonathan - I'll read the bible version of Judith and then come back to these links. What, what is this retelling? Where does it come from?
It's an Old English (think pre-Norman Conquest England) retelling. It probably comes from the Exeter book, as so much remaining Old English literature does.
(Do you have anything on Nehemiah?)
I am going to try for Tobit and Judith within the week. I'd like to get back on board here.
Tobit is legitimately funny, although mainly in hindsight. It's not laugh out loud funny. It's biblical porn, in fun way, yet done with a straight face. The entire story revolves around whether Tabias will survive his first sexual encounter with Sarah.
Best line is from Raguel, when on the eve of the event, which is I guess their marriage feast, he tells Tobias "Eat and drink, and be merry tonight" because at the writing on this story the rest of the phrase was already well know - because tomorrow you may die, or in this case, will die. Sarah has already killed seven husbands.
There are other things to think about, like the nature of Raphael and Asmodeus and the liver, heart and gall of the fish, and the exorcism Tobias conducts by burning the fish liver and heart (and what a lovely smell to set the mood).
The introduction in my book claimed this is a 2nd-to-3rd century bce composition. The story is only preserved in the Greek translation, although there are Hebrew and Aramaic fragments in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The Book of Tobit is listed in the canon of the Councils of Hippo (393 AD), Carthage (397 AD), and Florence (1442), and is part of the canon of both the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Churches, although Roman Catholics often refer to it as deuterocanonical.
It is listed as a book of the "Apocrypha" in Article VI of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.2 Tobit is regarded by Protestants as apocryphal because it was not included within the Tanakh nor considered canonical by Judaism.
The introduction in my book claimed this to be likely a late 2nd to early 1st century bce composition. Only Greek versions survive, although the introduction claims the Greek imitates Hebrew syntax. It is Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox canon, but that is all.
The book can be broken into two parts, each with a Chiastic structure. Part 1 is 1:1 to 7:32, with chiastic structure from 2:14 to 7:32. This is the siege of Bethulia. Part 2 is 8:1 to 16:25, with chiastic structure throughout. This is where Judith kills Holofernes and the siege is broken.
The theme is similar to Judges. I found it a sad imitation of the Song of Deborah.
I won't add more except to say that I like the art a lot more then the text.
Thinking back on these two books, I agree with you that Tobit was much better. I didn't get the humor but that's all right. I thought about the "grateful dead" reference that some notes mentioned (I think it was in Wikipedia that I read this), and I suppose it refers to the episode at the very beginning where Tobit takes a lot of risks to ensure that the dead are buried decently. Ironically though, this is what gets him into trouble in the first place, and none of the later miracles are explicitly linked to that first good deed, so I'm not sure I am convinced that this is actually a grateful dead story.
About Judith, one interesting thing is the mention that she remained chaste for the rest of her life. Most translations say that many men wanted to marry her but she refused. Apparently the original text says KNOW her, not MARRY. I thought that the idea that sex was sinful was a very late (as in Middle Ages) invention, but it seems I was wrong here too. Although here it's ritual impurity rather than sin that is at stake.