Double Intermission - The First Historical Novel?

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Double Intermission - The First Historical Novel?

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Redigeret: okt 27, 2013, 6:11am

Sorry guys, I couldn't resist starting this topic just to post this image of Judith:

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:
Previous threads:
Judges (same thread as Joshua, starts on post #69):
Ruth (same thread as Joshua, starts on post #142):
1 & 2 Samuel:
1 & 2 Kings:
1 & 2 Chronicles:
Ezra and Nehemiah:

sep 25, 2013, 12:29pm

She looks so pleased with herself!

Anyway, if Ezra–Nehemiah was the first memoir, this can certainly be the first historical novel. On to Judith!

sep 25, 2013, 1:15pm

Pleased with herself AND ready to strike the next fool...

Redigeret: sep 25, 2013, 2:52pm

I read a novel called Judith (no touchstone) by Stella Wilchek many years ago, that was great. I always meant to go back and read the original. eta - since I can't pull the touchstone here's a copy of the cover. The cover alone got a lot of inquiries as I was carrying it around in school.

Redigeret: sep 25, 2013, 2:53pm

Judith was a comely and god-fearing widow from Bethulia, which was at the time assieged by Holofernes, a general acting on orders from Nebuchadnezzar.

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.

sep 25, 2013, 3:15pm

Okay, I've read The New Jerusalem Bible introduction to Tobit, Judith, and Esther, and I've bookmarked Judith. I should be back at it by tomorrow.


sep 26, 2013, 2:29pm

Ha ha, what fun! Judith begins like a swords-and-sandals movie. In grade three, we performed It's Cool in the Furnace, a musical based on the Book of Daniel, and Nebuchadnezzar was played by this really old-looking kid (I feel like he had a bad teenage moustache, though I may have given him that in retrospect) who yelled all his lines at top volume to show what an angry king he was and that's always kind of been my image of him. Judith makes a more plausble case for him as a scary villain.

sep 27, 2013, 3:57am

Yes, that book really reads like a novel. Wait till you get to the part where she prepares herself to go to the Assyrian camp.

Redigeret: sep 29, 2013, 5:07am

Finished Judith and the very interesting Harper Collins notes on it. It is indeed a very didactic fiction, as the notes call it. Judith fears no-one except God and she trusts him completely since she is confident that she and her people observed all the sacred rules. This is why God wins this battle for her. Simple, yes?

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. »

okt 2, 2013, 5:45pm

I saw this in Paris a couple of years ago at an Artimesia Gentileschi exhibition

okt 3, 2013, 4:38am

Wow, an impressive painting. They both look very intent and professional, like a surgeon and her helper.

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.

okt 9, 2013, 3:41pm

So I finished Tobit, first alone in the KJV translation, then again in the NRSV with the Harper Collins notes. The NRSV is rather longer with a lot of details added, I suppose from manuscripts that were not known in King James' time. Fragments of several manuscripts were found in the Dead See scrolls, one in Hebrew and three in Aramaic. But the bulk of the text is known from the Septuagint (in Greek).

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.

okt 9, 2013, 3:57pm

re 10 and 11: As a man I just see a typical morning.

okt 9, 2013, 11:41pm

> 13 So funny !!!!

dec 28, 2013, 5:30pm

This is good stuff. I'll start Judith soon. I too love the image in the first post. What a scarlet woman!

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:

jan 2, 2014, 12:45am

Great stuff here. I'm ready to skip Nehemiah and jump straight to Judith, and Tobit thanks to post 12.

#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?

jan 2, 2014, 1:23am

> 16

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.

jan 2, 2014, 10:52pm

The Anglo-Saxon Judith is from the Nowell Codex, better known as the Cotton Vertelli MSS. -- two 10th -12th c. codexes bound together from the Cotton Library that were damaged in an 18th c. fire. The second codex contained both Beowulf and Judith who is depicted in the ms. as noblewoman hero -- somewhat of an anomaly for Anglo-Saxon lit -- but very much in the heroic mode.

Redigeret: jan 2, 2014, 11:04pm

Artemesia Gentileschi was somewhat obsessed with the story of Judith and Holofernes. Some of her other depictions:

jan 3, 2014, 12:06am

Always good to have a medievalist around.

jan 3, 2014, 12:34am

Robert Cotton's library again. Amazing. Thanks for the context, Jane.

(Do you have anything on Nehemiah?)

jan 5, 2014, 4:29pm


I am going to try for Tobit and Judith within the week. I'd like to get back on board here.

jan 31, 2014, 12:57am

Thinking about notes to post here...but it might be a bit too quiet...

jan 31, 2014, 12:58am

Also thinking about moving Ester to a different group. I'm wondering if it would be somehow wrong to open it up in Club Read, since that is where I spend all my LT time of late.

jan 31, 2014, 1:53am

Either is fine with me. :)

jan 31, 2014, 4:17pm

We might get more participants if we move to Club Read. I'm fine with both anyway.

Redigeret: feb 4, 2014, 10:30pm

I enjoyed Tobit, but I could have done without Judith.

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.

from wikipedia
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.

feb 4, 2014, 10:39pm

The history behind Judith is so catastrophically wrong I found it hard to take anything seriously.

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.

feb 4, 2014, 10:42pm

I've started reading Ester and I will also try to read Job this month. I plan to kick off an Ester thread in Club Read, where I'm hoping it might pick up some more discussion of interest. But I need to prep for that thread a bit. I will post a link here. If it works, we'll stay in Club Read.

feb 5, 2014, 4:22am

Cool! I'll try to get back to Ester or rather start again. Should be better than Sade anyway.

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.

feb 6, 2014, 4:14pm

OK, kicked off Ester in Club Read, here: