Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

May 1992


Published in “No One Spoke Ill of Her”: Essays on Judith, edited by James C. VanderKam (Atlanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1992), pages 5–16. In EARLY JUDAISM AND ITS LITERATURE series, William Adler, Series Editor; Number 02. Copyright © 1992 by The Society of Biblical Literature. Used by permission.


Judith is one of the most memorable characters in Hebrew literature. In a remarkable story of courage and resourcefulness, she saves her people by one single action that is both compelling and repugnant. Leading female characters are rare enough in Israelite literature to be constantly compared with one another, and Judith has often been likened to Miriam, Deborah, Jael, the wise women of Tekoa and Abelbeth-Maacah, and Esther. And this is not an exhaustive list! I would like to argue that the comparison to Jael and Deborah is neither superficial nor coincidental, but that the author of Judith had the story of Jael and Deborah in the front of his mind as he wrote his story. In fact, in my judgment the author of Judith used the story of Jael and Deborah as the model for the story of Judith.

The first parallel to draw between the stories is the obvious one: a heroine slays an enemy of Israel singlehandedly, by attacking his head. This is, in fact, the correspondence that drew me to the two stories in the first place. However, as I began to investigate the stories, I noticed that many other exact similarities were present, in plot, character and actions. Many of these parallels have been noted by other commentators before me. However, no one, as far as I have been able to verify, has brought them all together in one place. When they are drawn together, I think that it will be plain that the author of Judith used the story of Jael and Deborah in Judges 4 and 5 as a model, and that the actions of the heroine, Judith, parallel the actions of the two heroines in Judges 4 and 5, Jael and Deborah. In this paper I will demonstrate exact similarities in the structure and plot of the stories, the characters of the stories, and certain elements common to both, particularly the song of victory.

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