Friday, 1 May 2015

Outi Lehtipuu: The Widow Judith – an Example of Chastity

Modern scholarship on the biblical figure of Judith often underlines those of her characteristics that contrast many of the stereotypes linked with women’s role in ancient societies. She is an autonomous, self-reliant character who saves her people by acting courageously, without advice and help from any males. Artistic renderings of Judith, on the other hand, tend to emphasise her daring act and depict her as a seductress. In contrast, patristic interpretations made her into a model of chastity. She is praised for her piety, her modesty and her readiness to sacrifice herself for the sake of others. From the earliest Christian interpretations on, her independence is downplayed and – unlike in the Biblical story where she acts alone – she is said to act with the permission of or even on the initiative of the elders of the city.
In this presentation, I analyse what features of Judith’s story were selected and how they were used in the patristic rhetoric. I focus on Jerome who depicts Judith as a model that shows how “chastity beheads lust and modesty is finer than all the splendours of the world.”  I also give some additional examples of earlier interpretations to show how the tradition on Judith evolved and grew.

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