National Geographic explores notable biblical figures in our ongoing series People in the Bible, as part of our coverage of the history of the Bible and the search for sacred texts.
The story of Judith and Holofernes is found among the apocryphal works of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of Hebrew Scripture, which formed the basis for the Old Testament. The purpose of the book is to inspire courage and patriotism through its heroine, a widow named Judith. (See the world's oldest Torah scrolls.)
According to the story, a military commander named Holofernes had been dispatched by King Nebuchadnezzar on a punitive expedition against Israel. The Babylonians soon besieged the Israelite town of Bethulia, where Judith lived.
As the situation became desperate, Judith prayed to God, then put aside the sackcloth of her widowhood and “made herself very beautiful, to entice the eyes of all the men” (Judith 10:4). Passing bravely through the gates with only her maid as company, she was seized by a Babylonian patrol and taken to their camp, where all the soldiers “marveled at her beauty and admired the Israelites” (Judith 10:19).
Holofernes, too, was deeply impressed, and invited her to stay. After three days had passed, Holofernes planned to seduce her after a lavish banquet, for he felt that “it would be a disgrace if we let such a woman go” (Judith 12:12). Late that night, as Judith was finally alone with Holofernes and the commander lay drunk on his bed, she seized his sword and cut off his head. (Discover how a pagan queen became a notorious villain in the Bible.)
This entry is an excerpt from Who's Who in the Bible: Unforgettable People and Timeless Stories from Genesis to Revelation, published by National Geographic Books.