Ludic History in the Book of Judith: The Reinvention of Israelite Identity?

In: Biblical Interpretation
Author: Philip Esler
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Abstract

The book of Judith bristles with issues of power, gender and ethnic identity. In this article the text is analysed using recent anthropolgical perspectives relating to the 'production of history' and an 'ethnography of the past'. It is argued that the text presents a ludic, even carnivalesque reworking of key themes in Israelite history. Judith equals or surpasses the achievements of great heroes in her people's past, such as David or Judas Maccabaeus, in a manner unknown to Graeco-Roman or Israelite traditions. All this is achieved through the agency of a decidedly liminal character in the form of a beautiful and wealthy Israelite widow, the full impact of whose achievements can only be assessed in the context of the honour-obsessed Mediterranean culture within which she functions. Finally, it is suggested that the text succeeds in re-imagining and reinventing Israelite identity. By regendering central themes of Israelite history, the text re-engenders Israel.

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