HOLOFERNES °, chief captain of the Assyrian army, who besieged a Jewish city and was beguiled and beheaded by *Judith (13: 7–9). In the apocryphal Book of Judith, Olofernes (a variant form, as is Orofernes) is the general of Nabuchodnosor (Nebuchadnezzar) attacking Bethulia. The Persian form of the name – akin to Datafernes, Artafernes, and others (the fernes connotes "brilliance") – and the presence of a Holofernes associated with Artaxerxes Ochus (Diodorus Siculus 31:19) lead some scholars to conclude that the story reflects events of the period of the Persian Empire. There is no consensus as to a specific date. Others see a reflection of events of the Hasmonean period, since there is a Holofernes whom Demetrius i helped to become king of Cappadocia in 158 b.c.e. (Diodorus Siculus ibid.), and other versions of the story refer to Holofernes as king of Greece or the general of a Greek army besieging Jerusalem. Tradition also associates the story with Ḥanukkah and the Hasmonean era. The setting, name, and position of Judith's victim change from one version to another, but the story line remains constant. This seems to indicate that, if Holofernes was originally a historical figure, the details about this figure were forgotten and he became a fictional prototype of the persecutor of Jews who meets a just end. Although Judith was apparently very religious and practiced prayer and self-denial, her act did not suit her piety, since she murdered a defenseless man and then treated Holofernes' decapitated head with disrespect by carrying it off as a trophy. Therefore, some scholars have suggested that this is one of the reasons why the book of Judith was not included in the canon.
For Holofernes in the Arts see *Judith in the Arts.
J.M. Grintz, Sefer Yehudit (1957), 15–17, 184; A.M. Oubarle, in: rb, 66 (1959), 514–49; idem, Judith, formes et sens des diverses traditions (1966). add. bibliography: C.A. Moore, "Judith: The Case of the Pious Killer," in: Bible Review, 6 (1990), 26–36.
[Jacob Petroff /
Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]