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Judith 1:1

It was the twelfth year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, who ruled over the Assyrians in the great city of Nineveh.

Nebuchadnezzar was the ruler of the Babylonian Empire and his capital city was Babylon. The Assyrian Empire, with its capital at Nineveh, was long gone in his time. Moreover, the book goes on to describe a situation long after even Nebuchadnezzar's time, when the Jews had already returned to Jerusalem and re-built the Temple.

Judith 4:3

Now, they had only recently returned from exile, and all the people of Judea were just now reunited, and the vessels, the altar, and the temple had been purified from profanation

The Book of Judith seems to cover several centuries, treating them all as part of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. It displays considerable literary art and detained knowledge of various biblical events. Since the historical Nebuchadnezzar is mentioned frequently in the Books of Kings, Chronicles and Jeremiah, it seems unlikely that the author of Judith would be unaware of this error. Was the author simply mistaken? Was there second very important imperial ruler named Nebuchadnezzar that we don't hear of elsewhere? Or is the author giving us a wink and telling us that this story happened "once upon a time" when (to use a modern example) Napoleon ruled over the British Empire from London?

Perhaps there is another explanation I have not considered. But regardless of the answer, how should we think of the story of Judith and its message?

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Here are two quotes from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Judith that summarize the situation with Judith -

Today, it is generally accepted that the Book of Judith is ahistorical. The fictional nature "is evident from its blending of history and fiction, beginning in the very first verse, and is too prevalent thereafter to be considered as the result of mere historical mistakes." Michael D. Coogan, ed. (2010). The New Oxford Annotated Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version (4th ed.). Oxford Univ. Press. pp. 31–36. ISBN 978-0-19-528961-9.

The identity of the "Nebuchadnezzar" in the book has been debated for thousands of years and various rulers have been proposed by scholars, including Ashurbanipal, Artaxerxes III, Tigranes the Great, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Cambyses II, Xerxes and Darius the Great. ["Book of Judith - McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia"]

I agree - the book of Judith is most likely a parable, theological novel, or perhaps the first historical novel.

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    Given how many gratuitous historical errors it contains, it's not even a good historical novel. Nov 23, 2023 at 21:21
  • @RayButterworth - I heartily agree.
    – Dottard
    Nov 23, 2023 at 21:40
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Nineveh & Nebuchadnezzar

Nineveh (sometimes spelled Nineve) was destroyed in 612 BC, and the Assyrian Empire (of which Nineveh had been the capital) was broken apart in 605 BC (source). Nebuchadnezzar the Great reigned from 605 BC to 562 BC, so he would not have been "reigning in Nineveh" in his 12th year.

History does not record the existence of another Nebuchadnezzar who reigned in the Assyrian Empire.

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Approaches to the problem

Broadly speaking, there are 4 common approaches:

  • Endeavor to reconcile the apparent error in Judith (this is rather difficult, see above)
  • Reject Judith as an accurate source
  • Accept that Judith teaches theological & moral lessons which are presented in a fictional historical setting
  • Accept that the story of Judith as originally told has been modified over the years, to include the addition of ahistorical details.

The divergent ways this 4th option can be taken are demonstrated by two examples below:

(a) According to what we may term "conservative" criticism, these apparent difficulties can every one be harmonized with the view that the book is perfectly historical and deals with facts which actually took place. Thus, the geographical errors may be ascribed to the translators of the original text or to copyists living long after the book was composed, and consequently ignorant of the details referred to.

(b) Some few...writers...deem the errors of translators and of scribes to be no sufficient explanation in this matter. These few Catholics, together with the non-Catholics that do not care to throw the book over entirely into the realm of fiction, assure us that the Book of Judith has a solid historical foundation. Judith is no mythical personage, she and her heroic deed lived in the memory of the people; but the difficulties...show that the story as we now have it was committed to writing at a period long subsequent to the facts. source

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