xii + 156 pp.
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£50 / $80 / €60
Envisioning the Book of Judith
How Art Illuminates Minor Characters
Andrea M. Sheaffer
The Book of Judith, the Apocryphal narrative of the Jewish widow who becomes a guerilla solider and headhunting hero, has fascinated and inspired readers over centuries. Weaving together literary and visual approaches, Sheaffer argues that this is a story of unconventionality and unexpected heroism demonstrated not only by Judith, but also by the minor characters in the text: an Israelite enemy displays the most faith in Israel’s God when Israel’s own leaders show the least; a nameless, voiceless slave woman prepares the way for her mistress’s success in rescuing Israel from Assyrian domination.
Sheaffer’s interdisciplinary study is the first to combine literary and visual criticism to illuminate the role and function of minor characters in the Book of Judith. Utilizing Renaissance and Baroque images as a starting point, she is able to show how minor characters function in a variety of roles in the text. They are forerunners, sustainers, inciters, and avatars of the major characters.
The conclusion drawn from this study is that minor characters are indispensable in aiding Judith’s mission. In the biblical text, God uses Judith—considered the weakest in society because of her status as a widow—as an instrument of God’s power over the enemy. Sheaffer shows that minor characters belong in the spotlight alongside the protagonist in the category of unlikely hero/helpers, emphasizing a fundamental theme in the narrative in which the underdog is championed. This approach paints fresh and enriched textual interpretation onto the canvases of Judith and the field of biblical studies alike.
Envisioning the Book of Judith contains 29 illustrations in colour.
Andrea M. Sheaffer is Director of Admissions, The Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California, from which she holds a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Literary Studies.
1. APPROACHING THE BOOK OF JUDITH AND ITS MINOR CHARACTERS
Synopsis of the Book of Judith Including the Cast of Minor Characters
Judith Background: Date, Authorship, Genre, and Purpose
2. JUDITH SCHOLARSHIP: THEN AND NOW
Literary Studies in the Book of Judith
Minor Character Studies in the Book of Judith
Visual Studies in the Book of Judith
3. ACHIOR: JUDITH’S FORERUNNER OF FAITH
Achior’s Speech Establishes Him as Judith’s Forerunner
From Enemy to Neighbor: Achior’s Conversion
Achior and Judith: Thematic Doubles
4. THE MAIDSERVANT: A SLAVE WOMAN WHO SUSTAINS ISRAEL’S
The Maidservant’s Role as Sustainer in Judith’s Mission
Slave not Servant: The Maidservant’s Identity
Maidservant Images: The Old and the Black African Maidservant
5. THE ISRAELITE CROWD: INCITERS OF ACTION AND CHANGE
More Than a Water Shortage: A Drought of Faith Incites
Solimena’s Judith Illuminates the Crowd’s Saving Action and God’s
6. BAGOAS THE AVATAR: AN ACCIDENTAL ASSASSIN
Bagoas’ Active, but Unintentional, Role in Holofernes’ Assassination
The Role of the Eunuch and the Historical Bagoas in Antiquity
Servant Parallels: Bagoas and the Maidservant
7. THE MIGHTY MADE MINOR: THE FEMINIZATION OF HOLOFERNES
Holofernes’ Textual Transformation: From Masculine Leader to Feminized
Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernes Illuminates Holofernes’
A Headless Helper: Holofernes’ Body Aids Judith’s Mission
In this intriguing interdisciplinary study S. combines literary and visual analysis to provide fuller pictures than hitherto of the minor characters in the book of Judith … A concluding chapter … show[s] how the combined methodology has enabled a much better appreciation of the roles played by the minor characters and highlighted unexpected aspects of their contribution to the plot-line. This fits with and expands the narrative’s overall theme of God working through the underdog, which begins with Judith herself who is a (mere) widow.
S.’s study is a fine example of how considering the re-presentation of a biblical text in other non-textual media can give the reader a greater understanding of the text, even though the re-presentations may post-date the text by centuries, even millennia. Deborah H. Rooke, Society for Old Testament Study Book List.