The tale of Judith and Holofernes comes to us from the most ancient folk tales of the Middle East. We have only an incomplete Greek translation of the apocryphal version. I am currently completing a fictional re-telling of the story, set in 150 BC in Judea, which is probably when and where it was originally written. Judith and Holofernes have been the topic of countless works of art by the masters from Caravaggio to Klimt. The image usually reveals an exotic young woman using a sword to decapitate a large man, amidst tangles of luxurious robes. Her face is painted or carved with expressions that range from confusion to erotic ecstasy, reflecting the artists own interpretations of a warrior woman. We are captivated by her power, by the intrinsic David and Goliath reference. But does anyone really know the story?
In my manuscript, the walled Hebrew village of Bethulia is surrounded by a bloodthirsty army led by the infamous Seleucid General Holofernes. They have occupied the well, leaving the citadel without water. The villagers are sick and dying from dehydration. The leaders of Bethulia ask for patience while they pray.
The young widow Judith defies their plea and takes action. Dressing in her finest jewels and sandals, she takes her handmaid, and enters the enemy camp. Judith convinces the General that she has information that will allow him to triumph over the Hebrews. But as she comes to know Holofernes as a person she begins to doubt her ability to carry out her mission.