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Hebrew Tales

The Story of Judith

Chapter 13 (Abridged Text)

Entering the tent where Holofernes sleeps, Judith cuts off his head, then carries it in a bag to the Israelite side, where she is welcomed.

[1] Now when evening had arrived, his servants hurried to depart, and Bagoas shut his tent from the outside and dismissed the waiters from the presence of his lord; and they went to their beds, for they were all weary because the feast had been long. [2] And Judith was left alone in the tent with Holofernes lying by himself on his bed, for he was filled with wine. [3] Now Judith had commanded her maid to stand outside her bedroom and to wait for her to go forth, as she did daily; for she said she would go forth to her prayers, and she spoke to Bagoas towards the same purpose.


[4] So everyone left and no one was left in the bedroom, neither little nor great. Then Judith, standing by his bed, said in her heart: “O Lord God of all power, look at this time upon the works of my hands for the exaltation of Jerusalem. [5] For now is the time to help your inheritance and to execute your purposes for the destruction of the enemies who have risen against us.”

[6] Then she went to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes’ head, and took down his broadsword from there. [7] And she approached his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, “Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day.”

[8] And she twice struck his neck with all her might, and she took his head away from him. [9] And she tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and, soon after, she went out and gave the head of Holofernes to her maid.


[10] And she put it in her bag of meat, so these two went together, according to their custom, to prayer; and when they passed the camp, they circled the valley and went up the mountain of Bethulia and came to its gates.

[11] Then Judith said, from far off to the watchmen at the gate, “Open, open the gate now! God, our God, is with us to show his power yet in Jerusalem and his forces against the enemy, as he has truly done on this day!”

[12] Now when the men of her city heard her voice, they hurried down to the gate of their city and they called the elders of the city. [13] And then they ran all together, both small and great, for it was surprising to them that she had returned. So they opened the gate and received them; and they made a fire for a light, and they stood all around them.


[14] Then she said to them with a loud voice, “Praise, praise God, praise God, I say, for he has not taken away his mercy from the house of Israel, but has destroyed our enemies by my hands this night.”

[15] So she took the head out of the bag and showed it and said to them, “Behold the head of Holofernes, the chief captain of the army of Assur, and behold the canopy where he had lain in his drunkenness; and the Lord has struck him by the hand of a woman. [16] As the Lord lives, who has preserved me in the path that I took, my attractiveness has deceived him to his destruction, and yet he did not commit sin with me, to defile and shame me.”

[18] Then Uzziah said to her,

“O daughter, blessed are you of the most high God above all the women upon the earth; and blessed is the Lord God, who has created the heavens and the earth, who guided you in cutting off the head of the chief of our enemies. [20] And may God turn these things to your benefit as a perpetual praise, to assist you in good things because you have not withheld your life during the affliction of our nation, but have revenged our ruin, walking a straight path before our God.”

And all the people said, “Amen! Amen!”

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This text has been reproduced from:

The World English Bible, a copyright-free modern English rendering of a 1901 translation that has now passed into the public domain.

The picture of Judith beheading Holofernes is by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1652). It hangs in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Some critics have suggested that Gentileschi, as a female artist in the men's world of Renaissance painting, may have been particularly enthusiastic about representing Judith as especially vigorous in her murder.

The picture of Judith and her maid packing up Holofernes' head is by Lambert Sustris (1515/1520-1568), born in Amsterdam but working in Venice. It is in the Palais des Beaux Arts, Lille, France.

The picture of Judith leading her maid as they return to the Hebrew camp is by Alessandro Botticelli (1445-1510). It hangs in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Botticelli was fascinated by this story, and painted several pictures relating to it, sometimes several times. Paintings nearly identical to this one, all by Botticelli, are found in other museums.