Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mothers Judith

A blog post as a Mother's Day gift? Well, it's cheaper than roses or a visit to the All-U-Can-Eat breakfast buffet, and this is a recession-y era. Plus, my mom likes it when I make stuff for her, and I'm all out of construction paper and I can't find my special scissors.

In any case, my mom, Judith, once told me a story her mother told her. When my grandma was in the maternity ward at a Grass Valley, California hospital c. 1938, nursing her new daughter, the mother in the bed next to her asked what her baby's name was. "Judith," was 19-year-old Margret's reply. "Judith?" said the other young woman, "why did you name your baby after the man who killed Our Lord?"

Poor Margaret started sobbing, and as a result my two aunts were named the much-less-Jewish sounding (but still lovely) Jane and Linda. But how good was that rural anti-Semite's Bible scholarship?

Like most folks, not so good. Turns out Judith isn't a derivative of Judas (which really just means "the Jew") or even technically a biblical name. It comes from a Deuterocanonical (meaning Old Testament books that are left out of the Jewish Torah but are in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Old Testaments) story, the Book of Judith.

Judith Slaying Holofernes 1612-1613, Artemesia Gentileschi. Gentileschi was raped by landscape artist and serial rapist Agostino Tassi not long before she painted this, which explains a lot. Nice blood spurts!

Judith was a beautiful widow (her husband Menasses died of heat stroke harvesting barley) who lived during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar II, king of the Assyrians (around 600 BC). Ol' Nebbie goes on a power trip and sends his general Holofenes with 182,000 soldiers to conquer Canaan. He gets held up outside the fortress-city of Bethulia (modern scholars think this was either made up, as there was no town called "Bethulia," which explains why this story is left out of Jewish and Protestant scriptures, or that it's the modern-day town of Jenin) that the Israelites are defending, which pisses him off to no end. "Who are these people?" howls Holofenes. "we will tread them under foot, and their mountains shall be drunken with their blood!" Nice guy.
Anyway, as preparations on both sides are being made for battle, Judith decides she will save her people. She gets all dolled up and heads to the Assyrian lines and tells them she is fleeing from the Israelites and wants to help them defeat these troublesome Jews. Holofenes, who is an asshole but not very bright, falls for her. After she hangs around the camp for a few days, he invites her to feast with him, and he gets good and drunk on wine and passes out. His entourage leaves his tent, leaving him alone with Judith, who finds his scimitar and saws his head off with it. Nice lady. She gives the head to her maid, who hides it a bag of meat, and they stroll out of the camp, probably whistling casually. "See ya later, fellas! Can't stay! Thanks for the wine."

And the next day, in a scene that probably
won't ever appear in a Mel Gibson movie, the Jewish armies storm the leaderless Assyrian's camp as the terror-stricken soldiers run away into the hills. The Jews are left alone after that, and Judith lives happily ever after, a revered woman. She dies at the age of 105 and is entombed near Bethulia with her husband.

Did my grandma know the story of Judith? I'm guessing no, but knowing my mom, Margaret couldn't have picked a more appropriate name. She's beautiful, crafty, has a maid, is good with knives and doesn't mind taking risks. She's also passionate about political causes, though I think she prefers to write checks, as blood stains are so hard to get out of silk, even with modern dry-cleaning techniques.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom! I love you.


judyets said...

Dear Gabriel, your gift is one of, if not the most, precious I have received. I love the explanation/definition of my name-kinda sounds like me. Your incredible wit, insight, intelligence and kindness has been an ongoing source of joy in my life. Much Love, M.

Gabe said...

Did you know about the Book of Judith? And did you like the painting?

Carravagio's version even kind of looks like you:,r:1,s:0