Damien F. Mackey
Introductory: Joan ‘The Maid’: Like An Old Testament Woman
This article will be presented along the lines of Plutarch’s parallel lives. The ancient historian Plutarch had taken certain famous characters of antiquity, Greek and Roman, and had paired them, pointing out what he considered to be their common moral virtues or failings.
There is no doubt that the Jewish heroine, Judith of Bethulia (c. 700 BC), and St. Joan of Arc (c. 1400 AD) make a special pair; Joan of Arc actually being referred to as a “second Judith”.
In some ways, the story of Joan of Arc reads like an ironical, even satirical, version of the Book of Judith.
Here we are interested in the lives of our paired heroines largely from their beginning to their great military victory, comparing and contrasting them.
Donald Spoto in Joan. The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint (Harper, 2007) has a chapter five on Joan of Arc that he entitles “The New Deborah”. And Joan has also been described as a “second Judith”. Both Deborah and Judith were celebrated Old Testament women who had provided military assistance to Israel. Let us read of what Spoto has to say on the subject, starting with comparisons with some ancient pagan women (pp. 73-74):
Joan was not the only woman in history to inspire and to give direction to soldiers. The Greek poet Telesilla was famous for saving the city of Argos from attack by Spartan troops in the fifth century B.C. In first-century Britain, Queen Boudicca [Boadicea] led an uprising against the occupying Roman forces. In the third century Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra (latter-day Syria), declared her independence of the Roman Empire and seized Egypt and much of Asia Minor. Africa had its rebel queen Gwedit, or Yodit, in the tenth century. In the seventh appeared Sikelgaita, a Lombard princess who frequently accompanied her husband, Robert, on his Byzantine military campaigns, in which she fought in full armor, rallying Robert’s troops when they were initially repulsed by the Byzantine army. In the twelfth century Eleanor of Aquitaine took part in the Second Crusade, and in the fourteenth century Joanna, Countess of Montfort, took up arms after her husband died in order to protect the rights of her son, the Duke of Brittany. She organized resistance and dressed in full armor, led a raid of knights that successfully destroyed one of the enemy’s rear camps.
Joan [of Arc] was not a queen, a princess, a noblewoman or a respected poet with public support. She went to her task at enormous physical risk of both her virginity and her life, and at considerable risk of a loss of both reputation and influence. The English, for example, constantly referred to her as the prostitute: to them, she must have been; otherwise, why would she travel with an army of men?
Yet Joan was undeterred by peril or slander, precisely because of her confidence that God was their captain and leader. She often said that if she had been unsure of that, she would not have risked such obvious danger but would have kept to her simple, rural life in Domrémy.
[End of quote]
Some of these above-mentioned heroines, or amazons, can probably actually be identified with the famous Judith herself – she gradually being transformed from an heroic Old Testament woman into an armour-bearing warrior on horseback, sometimes even suffering capture, torture and death – whose celebrated beauty and/or siege victory I have argued on many occasions was picked up in non-Hebrew ‘history’, or mythologies: e.g. the legendary Helen of Troy is probably based on Judith, at least in relation to her beauty and a famous siege, rather than to any military noüs on Helen’s part.
And, in the Lindian Chronicle of the Greco-Persian wars, in a siege of the island of Hellas by admiral Darius, also involving a crucial five-day period, as in the Book of Judith, the goddess Athene takes the place of Judith in the rôle of the heroine, to oversee a successful lifting of the siege.
In the name Iodit (Gwedit) above, the name Judith can, I think, be clearly recognised.
And, re the possibility of Judith’s having been represented by the Greeks as a “poet” (with reference to the city-saving “Greek poet Telesilla” above), I have wondered whether the mystical and musical Judith was even the model for the famous ‘Greek’ poet Sappho.
And I have even proposed that the wisdom-filled Judith might even have been the model, too, for the interesting and highly intelligent and philosophically-minded Hypatia of Alexandria. Now I find in the Wikipedia article, “Catherine of Alexandria”, that
(i) the latter is also likened to Hypatia, and that
(ii) Hypatia is said to have lived 105 years (Judith’s very age: see Book of Judith 16:23) before Hypatia’s death:
Historians such as Harold Thayler Davis believe that Catherine (‘the pure one’) may not have existed and that she was more an ideal exemplary figure than a historical one. She did certainly form an exemplary counterpart to the pagan philosopher Hypatia of Alexandria in the medieval mindset; and it has been suggested that she was invented specifically for that purpose. Like Hypatia, she is said to have been highly learned (in philosophy and theology), very beautiful, sexually pure, and to have been brutally murdered for publicly stating her beliefs. Catherine is placed 105 years before Hypatia’s death, although the first records mentioning her are much later.
Because of the fabulous character of the account of her martyrdom and the lack of reliable documentation, the Catholic Church in 1969 removed her feast day from the General Roman Calendar. But she continued to be commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on November 25. In 2002, her feast was restored to the General Roman Calendar as an optional memorial.
Finally, as according to tradition, she not only remained a virgin by governing her passions and conquered her executioners by wearying their patience, but triumphed in science by closing the mouths of sophists, her intercession was implored by theologians, apologists, pulpit orators, and philosophers. Before studying, writing, or preaching, they besought her to illumine their minds, guide their pens, and impart eloquence to their words. This devotion to St. Catherine which assumed such vast proportions in Europe after the Crusades, received additional éclat in France in the beginning of the fifteenth century, when it was rumored that she had spoken to Joan of Arc and, together with St. Margaret, had been divinely appointed Joan’s adviser.
[End of quote]
Now, continuing on with Spoto (op. cit., p. 82):
It was not [Joan of Arc’s] military expertise that won her the enduring loyalty of her people; it was rather Joan’s utter and complete fidelity toward God that evoked reverence. Thus little time passed before poets and chroniclers compared her to Deborah, Esther and Judith, formidable women in the Hebrew Scriptures who heeded messages from God and brought relief to their people at critical times. Deborah victoriously led a coalition of tribal militias against a Canaanite army. Another threat to the Hebrew people was put down through the intervention of Esther, and Judith was a faithful widow who captivated and then decapitated the Assyrian general Holofernes.
Joan did not share the bloodlust of these ancient heroines, but she was regarded as in their tradition, equally patriotic and just as effective on behalf of her nation. As early as the summer [of 1429], the Hebrew heroines appear in a famous poem about the Maid by Christine de Pisan, written and circulated in July 1429.
[End of quote]
Joan of Arc: Like An Ironical Version of the Book of Judith
Some aspects of the story of Joan of Arc read a bit like an ironical, even caricature, version of the book of Judith. Joan the Maid shows the utmost deference and respect towards the Dauphin, Charles VII, both representing the French. The Dauphin himself, though, seems to be a character most undeserving of any such respect. He is weak, vacillating, vain and treacherous. A similar opinion of the Dauphin Charles can be gauged from the New Advent site (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08409c.htm) (quoting H. Thurston (1910). St. Joan of Arc. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company):
No words can adequately describe the disgraceful ingratitude and apathy of Charles and his advisers in leaving the Maid to her fate. If military force had not availed, they had prisoners like the Earl of Suffolk in their hands, for whom she could have been exchanged. Joan was sold by John of Luxembourg to the English for a sum which would amount to several hundred thousand dollars in modern money. There can be no doubt that the English, partly because they feared their prisoner with a superstitious terror, partly because they were ashamed of the dread which she inspired, were determined at all costs to take her life. They could not put her to death for having beaten them, but they could get her sentenced as a witch and a heretic.
Moreover, they had a tool ready to their hand in Pierre Cauchon, the Bishop of Beauvais, an unscrupulous and ambitious man who was the creature of the Burgundian party. ….
[End of quote]
But Joan was driven by her Divinely-inspired task, according to which the Dauphin was marked out as being the favoured one. The Dauphin, though, is not fully on Joan’s side. He, characteristically, treats her with a mixture of curiosity, interest, contempt and betrayal.
Now, in the Book of Judith, all the deference and respect shown by the heroine towards a royal person is entirely faked, part of Judith’s ruse, because it is directed towards the enemy leader, Holofernes. He, somewhat like the Dauphin, was second to the Great King (of Assyria), hence not crowned. Judith in fact has nothing but contempt for Holofernes and the Assyrians (somewhat like Joan’s attitude towards the English). But she will tell Holofernes, very much in Joan of Arc fashion - but with complete irony in Judith’s case - that, after his victory (Judith 11:19): ‘… I will lead you through Judea, until you come to Jerusalem; there I will set your throne. You will drive them like sheep that have no shepherd, and no dog will so much as growl at you’.
Judith claimed before Holofernes to be a messenger from God who was now supposedly favouring the Assyrians (v. 19): ‘For this was told me to give me foreknowledge; it was announced to me and I was sent to tell you’.
In Joan’s case, the ruse was on the part of the Dauphin, not her. “To test her, the king had disguised himself, but she at once saluted him without hesitation amidst a group of attendants” (New Advent). Her opening words to him were direct and to the point just like Judith’s had been to Holofernes (Spoto, p. 48): ‘My most eminent lord Dauphin, I have come, sent by God, to bring help to you and to the kingdom’.
Spoto adds: “It was as direct and unadorned a summary as the Dauphin – and anyone else before or since – could ask. Help for him and for France: that was her message and her vocation”. But her reverence for the Dauphin was completely honest.
Judith, on the other hand, had nothing but contempt and irony in her heart when she had similarly, with all customary protocol, greeted Holofernes, who was – just like the Dauphin – assembled with his impressive entourage (Judith 10:23): “When Judith came into the presence of Holofernes and his servants, they all marvelled at the beauty of her face. She prostrated herself and did obeisance to him, but his slaves raised her up”.
The pressure upon the young girl at the time must have been enormous.
Spoto says of Joan that (ibid., p. 49): “Charles was fascinated by the seventeen-year old girl who stood calmly and confidently before him … after a brief but apparently intense private conversation, he seemed to one member of his court to be “radiant””.
Certainly ‘fascination’ is one word that could also be used to describe Holofernes’ impression of the young Judith, though the biblical text uses “passion”, as well as “greatly pleased with her”, and it has “[being] merry” rather than being “radiant (Judith 12:16-17, 20):
Holofernes’ heart was ravished with her and his passion was aroused, for he had been waiting for an opportunity to seduce her from the day he first saw her. So Holofernes said to her, ‘Have a drink and be merry with us!’
…. Holofernes was greatly pleased with her, and drank a great quantity of wine, much more than he had ever drunk in one day since he was born.
Joan [Jehanne], as we read, was regarded by the enemy, the English, as a “prostitute”.
And Holofernes likewise presumed Judith [Jehudith], in a camp full of men, to be fair game, saying to his chief eunuch, Bagoas (Judith 12:12): “ … it would be a disgrace if we let such a woman go without having intercourse with her. If we do not seduce her, she will laugh at us’. This Bagoas had summoned Judith to the tent of his master, Holofernes, with the words (12:13): ‘Let this pretty girl not hesitate to come to my lord to be honoured in his presence …’ .
Similarly had Jean de Metz first addressed Joan (Spoto, p. 37), “M’amie [“Sweetheart” or “Honey”] …”.
Whilst Joan will eventually attend the coronation of Charles (New Advent): “…on Sunday, 17 July, 1429, Charles VII was solemnly crowned, the Maid standing by with her standard, for — as she explained — “as it had shared in the toil, it was just that it should share in the victory”,” Judith will not have to suffer the humiliating indignity of attending a victorious Holofernes’ being crowned in Jerusalem.
Though the English, who did not know her, regarded Joan as a “prostitute”, a “witch”, and a “heretic”, those who had known her from her early days considered her always to have been a most exemplary girl (New Advent):
All the witnesses in the process of rehabilitation spoke of her as a singularly pious child, grave beyond her years, who often knelt in the church absorbed in prayer, and loved the poor tenderly.
Great attempts were made at Joan’s trial to connect her with some superstitious practices supposed to have been performed round a certain tree, popularly known as the “Fairy Tree” (l’Arbre des Dames), but the sincerity of her answers baffled her judges. She had sung and danced there with the other children, and had woven wreaths for Our Lady’s statue, but since she was twelve years old she had held aloof from such diversions.
[End of quote]
Rousing praise of Judith even from her childhood is likewise expressed by Uzziah, the chief magistrate of Bethulia - whom I have identified with Isaiah himself in:
The Book of Judith Expands the Prophet Isaiah
Thus (Judith 8:28-29): “Then Uzziah sad to her, ‘All that you have said was spoken out of a true heart, and there is no one who can deny your words. Today is not the first time your wisdom has been shown, but from the beginning of your life all people have recognized your understanding, for your heart’s disposition is right’.”
Judith, too, had danced and sung and had led the women of Israel in a dance, carrying ivy-wreathed wands and being crowned with olive wreaths (15:12-14:16:1-17), though this was not during Judith’s childhood, but after the victory over the Assyrians. It was Judith, a type of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was thus crowned.
We read of this fascinating attribution to Joan of Arc in the New Advent article:
Her Mysticism: the “Voices”
It was at the age of thirteen and a half, in the summer of 1425, that Joan first became conscious of that manifestation, whose supernatural character it would now be rash to question, which she afterwards came to call her “voices” or her “counsel.” It was at first simply a voice, as if someone had spoken quite close to her, but it seems also clear that a blaze of light accompanied it, and that later on she clearly discerned in some way the appearance of those who spoke to her, recognizing them individually as St. Michael (who was accompanied by other angels), St. Margaret, St. Catherine, and others. Joan was always reluctant to speak of her voices. She said nothing about them to her confessor, and constantly refused, at her trial, to be inveigled into descriptions of the appearance of the saints and to explain how she recognized them. None the less, she told her judges: “I saw them with these very eyes, as well as I see you.”
Great efforts have been made by rationalistic historians, such as M. Anatole France, to explain these voices as the result of a condition of religious and hysterical exaltation which had been fostered in Joan by priestly influence, combined with certain prophecies current in the countryside of a maiden from the bois chesnu (oak wood), near which the Fairy Tree was situated, who was to save France by a miracle. ….
[End of quote]
Re Judith’s undoubted mysticism, I wrote this in my university thesis (A Revised History of the Era of King Hezekiah of Judah and its Background, Vol. 2, ch. 3, p. 68):
T. Craven (Artistry and Faith in the Book of Judith, Society of Biblical Literature, Dissertation Series No. 70, Scholars Press, Atlanta, 1983), following Dancy’s view that the theology presented in Judith’s words to the town officials rivals the theology of the Book of Job … will go on to make this comment: …“Judith plays out her whole story with the kind of faith described in the Prologue of Job (esp. 1:21 and 2:9). Her faith is like that of Job after his experience of God in the whirlwind (cf. 42:1-6), yet in the story she has no special theophanic experience. We can only imagine what happened on her housetop where she was habitually a woman of regular prayer”. ….
[End of quote]
Judith, like Joanna, Countess of Montfort above, became military involved on behalf of her people only after her husband had died.
But she, a widow, may also have been a virgin.
In the shorter Hebrew version of the Book of Judith, the heroine Judith is called, not “the widow”, but “the virgin” [Interestingly, regarding one of Joan’s ‘voices’, the beautiful Catherine of Alexandria: “Both Christine de Pizan and Geoffrey de la Tour Landry point to Catherine as a paradigm for young women, emphasizing her model of virginity and "wifely chastity" …. “Catherine of Alexandria”, Wikipedia.]
. “… Joan began to identify herself as “la Pucelle” – the maid, the Virgin” (Spoto, p. 33). Spoto adds on p. 57: “To confirm that Joan was no liar when she called herself la Pucelle, “The Maid”, a group of women, under the supervision of the king’s mother-in-law, was asked to confirm that Joan was indeed a virgin. The examination was performed; she was a virgin”.
Joan’s armor was seen as a defence against any potential attempts on her chastity.
And certainly the guardianship of her chastity (virginity?) is also a strong theme in the Book of Judith. In fact Judith makes a point of telling her townspeople, upon producing the head of Holofernes from her food bag, that (Judith 13:16): ‘…I swear … that he committed no sin with me, to defile and shame me’. Judith, despite her long life, never married again (16:22): “Many desired to marry her, but she gave herself to no man all the days of her life after her husband Manasseh died and was gathered to his people”.
Joan, for her part, had actually been engaged to be married. Her decision on this was equally unusual for her time as was Judith’s, for hers. Spoto tells of it (p. 30):
Regarding her engagement, the little that survived on the record is so unusual as to be shocking for its time: she repudiated her parents’ wishes and declined the deal they had made with the boy and his family. Because the agreement to marry was a legal covenant, Joan was sued for breach of contract. Canon law, however, requires a free assent of the will in order to validate a marriage, and because that was lacking, the sacrament of matrimony could not be performed. The local bishop dismissed the case in Joan’s favor, and the rejected suitor receded into the mists of oblivion whence he had briefly emerged. This was, Joan later said, the only time she disobeyed her parents.
[End of quote]
Neither Judith nor Joan was in any way intimidated by men.
Spoto (ibid., p. 31): “[Joan] was, in other words, not intimidated by men, whether they were soldiers or bishops”. Cf. Judith 8:10-36; 10:9-10, 11; 10:11-13:11.
Her Garments and Her Mission
What the heroine wears is a major theme in both stories.
Judith, who customarily “put sackcloth round her waist and dressed in widow’s clothing” (Judith 8:5), undergoes a complete ‘makeover’ in order to captivate the Assyrians. The description of her elaborate washing and dressing with the aid of her maid can be read in Judith 10:2-8. Judith will use all her feminine beauty and appeal to carry through her Divinely-inspired mission. Her beautiful appearance was her passport into the camp of the Assyrians.
Joan, by contrast, will become almost man-like in order to fulfil her mission. Her much-discussed wearing of male attire (“the monstrous dress, difformitate habitus”), will, by contrast to Judith, in many ways complicate matters for her. Thus New Advent:
Finally [Joan] was suffered to seek the king at Chinon, and she made her way there with a slender escort of three men-at-arms, she being attired, at her own request, in male costume — undoubtedly as a protection to her modesty in the rough life of the camp. She always slept fully dressed, and all those who were intimate with her declared that there was something about her which repressed every unseemly thought in her regard. ….
[End of quote]
And again from the article, “Joan of Arc”:
Joan of Arc wore men’s clothing between her departure from Vaucouleurs and her abjuration at Rouen. …. This raised theological questions in her own era and raised other questions in the twentieth century. The technical reason for her execution was a biblical clothing law. …. The nullification trial reversed the conviction in part because the condemnation proceeding had failed to consider the doctrinal exceptions to that stricture.
Doctrinally speaking, she was safe to disguise herself as a page during a journey through enemy territory and she was safe to wear armor during battle. The Chronique de la Pucelle states that it deterred molestation while she was camped in the field. Clergy who testified at her rehabilitation trial affirmed that she continued to wear male clothing in prison to deter molestation and rape. …. Preservation of chastity was another justifiable reason for crossdressing: her apparel would have slowed an assailant, and men would be less likely to think of her as a sex object in any case…..
She referred the court to the Poitiers inquiry when questioned on the matter during her condemnation trial. The Poitiers record no longer survives but circumstances indicate the Poitiers clerics approved her practice. In other words, she had a mission to do a man’s work so it was fitting that she dress the part….. She also kept her hair cut short through her military campaigns and while in prison. Her supporters, such as the theologian Jean Gerson, defended her hairstyle, as did Inquisitor Brehal during the Rehabilitation trial. ….
[End of quote]
There is a constant tension in the tale of St. Joan about her wearing male attire or reverting back to women’s clothing.
Moreover, as one of the points upon which she had been condemned was the wearing of male apparel, a resumption of that attire would alone constitute a relapse into heresy, and this within a few days happened, owing, it was afterwards alleged, to a trap deliberately laid by her jailers with the connivance of Cauchon. Joan, either to defend her modesty from outrage, or because her women’s garments were taken from her, or, perhaps, simply because she was weary of the struggle and was convinced that her enemies were determined to have her blood upon some pretext, once more put on the man’s dress which had been purposely left in her way.
Neither Judith nor her ever faithful maid carried any sort of weapon into the Assyrian camp. But Judith does in the end, like Joan, get to wield a sword. It is the sword of Holofernes by which Judith will decapitate the Assyrian commander-in-chief (Judith 13:6-8); just as David had used the sword of Goliath to kill the giant.
The sword of Joan of Arc had mystical value (New Advent):
Returning to Chinon, Joan made her preparations for the campaign. Instead of the sword the king offered her, she begged that search might be made for an ancient sword buried, as she averred, behind the altar in the chapel of Ste-Catherine-de-Fierbois. It was found in the very spot her voices indicated. There was made for her at the same time a standard bearing the words Jesus, Maria, with a picture of God the Father, and kneeling angels presenting a fleur-de-lis.
[End of quote]
Both Joan and Judith sharply divide opinion as to their character and personality. In the case of Joan, for instance, we read (“Joan of Arc”):
Documents from her own era and historians prior to the twentieth century generally assume that she was both healthy and sane. A number of more recent scholars attempted to explain her visions in psychiatric or neurological terms. Potential diagnoses have included epilepsy, migraine, tuberculosis, and schizophrenia. …. None of the putative diagnoses have gained consensus support because, although hallucination and religious enthusiasm can be symptomatic of various syndromes, other characteristic symptoms conflict with other known facts of Joan’s life. Two experts who analyze a temporal lobe tuberculoma hypothesis in the medical journal Neuropsychobiology express their misgivings this way:
“It is difficult to draw final conclusions, but it would seem unlikely that widespread tuberculosis, a serious disease, was present in this ‘patient’ whose life-style and activities would surely have been impossible had such a serious disease been present.” ….
In response to another such theory alleging that she suffered from bovine tuberculosis as a result of drinking unpasteurized milk, historian Régine Pernoud wrote that if drinking unpasteurized milk could produce such potential benefits for the nation, then the French government should stop mandating the pasteurization of milk. …. Ralph Hoffman, professor of psychology at Yale University, points out that visionary and creative states including “hearing voices” are not necessarily signs of mental illness and names her religious inspiration as a possible exception although he offers no speculation as to alternative causes.
Among the specific challenges that potential diagnoses such as schizophrenia face is the slim likelihood that any person with such a disorder could gain favor in the court of King Charles VII. His own father, Charles VI, was popularly known as “Charles the Mad,” and much of the political and military decline that France had suffered during his reign could be attributed to the power vacuum that his episodes of insanity had produced. The previous king had believed he was made of glass, a delusion no courtier had mistaken for a religious awakening. Fears that King Charles VII would manifest the same insanity may have factored into the attempt to disinherit him at Troyes. This stigma was so persistent that contemporaries of the next generation would attribute to inherited madness the breakdown that England’s King Henry VI was to suffer in 1453: Henry VI was nephew to Charles VII and grandson to Charles VI. Upon her arrival at Chinon the royal counselor Jacques Gélu cautioned, “One should not lightly alter any policy because of conversation with a girl, a peasant… so susceptible to illusions; one should not make oneself ridiculous in the sight of foreign nations…. ”
Contrary to modern stereotypes about the Middle Ages, the court of Charles VII was shrewd and skeptical on the subject of mental health. ….
Besides the physical rigor of her military career, which would seem to exclude many medical hypotheses, Joan of Arc displayed none of the cognitive impairment that can accompany some major mental illnesses when symptoms are present. She remained astute to the end of her life and rehabilitation trial testimony frequently marvels at her astuteness:
“Often they [the judges] turned from one question to another, changing about, but, notwithstanding this, she answered prudently, and evinced a wonderful memory. …”.
Her subtle replies under interrogation even forced the court to stop holding public sessions. …. If her visions had some medical or psychiatric origin then she would have been an exceptional case.
[End of quote]
In the case of Judith, M. Stocker (Judith Sexual Warrior. Women and Power in Western Culture, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998), for instance, who in her comprehensive treatment of the Judith character and her actions, will compare the heroine to, amongst others, the Old Testament’s Jael – a common comparison given that the woman, Jael, had driven a tent peg through the temple of Sisera, an enemy of Israel (Judges 4:17-22) – Joan of Arc, and Charlotte Corday, who had, during the French Revolution, slain the likewise unsuspecting Marat, will allow for this quite grim picture of Judith (pp. 13-15): “If viewed negatively – from an irreligious perspective, for instance, Judith’s isolation, chastity, widowhood, childlessness, and murderousness would epitomize all that is morbid, nihilistic and abortive”.
This, though, is not how her fellow Bethulians, and fellow Israelites, were to consider Judith, as we learn from their rapturous praise of her and her lasting fame (Judith 15:8-10 and 16).
Craven (op. cit., p. 95), with reference to Ruskin, writes: “Judith, the slayer of Holofernes; Jael, the slayer of Sisera; and Tomyris, the slayer of Cyrus are counted in art as the female “types” who prefigure the Virgin Mary’s triumph over Satan”.
Judith will not take with her any weapon, but will end up killing her enemy with his sword; Joan will take up and wield the sword, but will not kill anyone.
The Siege and the Heroine’s Leadership
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_of_Arc):
The historian Kelly DeVries describes the period preceding her appearance with, “If anything could have discouraged her, the state of France in 1429 should have.” The Hundred Years’ War had begun in 1337 as a succession dispute to the French throne with intermittent periods of relative peace. Nearly all the fighting had taken place in France, and the English use of chevauchée (similar to scorched earth) tactics had devastated the economy.
Historian Stephen W. Richey explains her attraction as the only source of hope for a regime that was near collapse (ibid.):
“After years of one humiliating defeat after another, both the military and civil leadership of France were demoralized and discredited. When the Dauphin Charles granted Joan’s urgent request to be equipped for war and placed at the head of his army, his decision must have been based in large part on the knowledge that every orthodox, every rational, option had been tried and had failed. Only a regime in the final straits of desperation would pay any heed to an illiterate farm girl who claimed that the voice of God was instructing her to take charge of her country’s army and lead it to victory…. ”.
[End of quote]
Similarly Israel, by the time of Judith’s intervention, has suffered from decades of successive invasions and defeats by the Assyrians.
Both Orleans (France) and Bethulia (Israel) were strategically placed in the north, so that their fall would mean the eventual loss of the capital city. Thus the strategic importance that New Advent claims for the fort of Orleans:
The English had laid siege to Orléans, which was the only remaining loyal French city north of the Loire. Its strategic location along the river made it the last obstacle to an assault on the remainder of the French heartland. In the words of one modern historian, “On the fate of Orléans hung that of the entire kingdom.” …. No one was optimistic that the city could long withstand the siege. …,
is just like that which Judith will claim to her fellow citizens for Bethulia (8:24): ‘Therefore my brothers, let us set an example for our kindred, for their lives depend upon us, and the sanctuary – both the Temple and the altar – rests upon us’.
“Note the importance of Bethulia”, wrote R. Charles. “It was the key of the whole situation”. (The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English: with Introductions and Critical and Explanatory Notes to the Several Books, vol. 1, “Apocrypha”, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1913, p. 254, n 4).
Both Judith and Joan are represented as having completely taken over from a failed male leadership up to that point, and being stunningly successful due to their total dependence on the power of God. Judith bursts on to the scene with: ‘Listen to me, rulers of Bethulia. What you have said to the people today is not right …’ (Judith 8:11). She will now advise them where they have gone wrong, and she will plan a new strategy, and then carry it right the way through, in the end giving the Israelite militia orders as to how they are to proceed tactically. This is all exactly in harmony with Joan (“Joan of Arc”):
She defied the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership. During the five months of siege before her arrival, the defenders of Orléans had attempted only one aggressive move and that had ended in disaster. On 4 May the French attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed on 5 May with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc. Finding it deserted, this became a bloodless victory. The next day she opposed Jean d’Orleans at a war council where she demanded another assault on the enemy. D’Orleans ordered the city gates locked to prevent another battle, but she summoned the townsmen and common soldiers and forced the mayor to unlock a gate. With the aid of only one captain she rode out and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins. That evening she learned she had been excluded from a war council where the leaders had decided to wait for reinforcements before acting again. Disregarding this decision, she insisted on assaulting the main English stronghold called “les Tourelles” on 7 May. …. Contemporaries acknowledged her as the heroine of the engagement after she sustained an arrow wound to her neck but returned wounded to lead the final charge. ….
“…the Maiden lets you know that here, in eight days, she has chased the English out of all the places they held on the river Loire by attack or other means: they are dead or prisoners or discouraged in battle. Believe what you have heard about the earl of Suffolk, the lord la Pole and his brother, the lord Talbot, the lord Scales, and Sir Fastolf; many more knights and captains than these are defeated.”
Her Letter to the citizens of Tournai, 25 June 1429; Quicherat V, pp. 125–126, trans. Wikipedia.
Even the opening of the city’s gates by the town magistrates is what Judith also had ordered, so that she and her maid could descend into the valley and on into the camp of the Assyrians. The chief magistrate, Uzziah, and, in the case of Joan, Jean D’Orleans, now, for a time, become secondary figures in the drama, full of admiration for Judith, or for Joan.
The force is irresistible.
“The people who came after [Joan] in the five centuries since her death tried to make everything of her: demonic fanatic, spiritual mystic, naive and tragically ill-used tool of the powerful, creator and icon of modern popular nationalism, adored heroine, saint. She insisted, even when threatened with torture and faced with death by fire, that she was guided by voices from God. Voices or no voices, her achievements leave anyone who knows her story shaking his head in amazed wonder.” ….
Similarly I wrote of Judith in my thesis (ibid., p 53):
Judith’s heroic act on behalf of her people, for which she received the greatest praise and adulation from the high priest and other officials – and from the people of Israel in general – is virtually unprecedented as a single act of patriotism and enormous courage. And this by one whom the [Book of Judith] text calls a “young girl”! It can take its place It can take its place amongst the most heroic moments throughout the entire history of the human race.
Not to us, but to God give the Glory
From beginning to end, Judith recognises herself as a creature and an instrument of an almighty and utterly powerful God. There is never any hesitation or vacillation on her part. In other versions of the Israelite triumph over Assyria (e.g. 2 Kings 19:35), the victory is attributed to an angel of God, which does not contradict the Book of Judith. Indeed, according to the Douay version of Judith, she will say (13:20): ‘But as the same Lord liveth his angel hath been my keeper both going hence [into the camp of the Assyrians], and abiding there, and returning from thence hither’.
That angel may have been Michael the Archangel himself, one of Joan’s apparent ‘voices’, thought to be the protector of the Jewish people (Daniel 10:21).
Joan, too, puts all her trust in God and the same St. Michael. Though she, unlike Judith, sometimes lapses into phases of seeming uncertainty and confusion, often under extreme duress of course; an aspect of Joan of Arc that is exploited in modern film versions of her life. New Advent speaks of both the angel and the sometime confusion of the heroine:
Joan, pressed about the secret sign given to the king, declared that an angel brought him a golden crown, but on further questioning she seems to have grown confused and to have contradicted herself. Most authorities (like, e.g., M. Petit de Julleville and Mr. Andrew Lang) are agreed that she was trying to guard the king’s secret behind an allegory, she herself being the angel; but others — for instance P. Ayroles and Canon Dunand — insinuate that the accuracy of the procès-verbal cannot be trusted. On another point she was prejudiced by her lack of education. The judges asked her to submit herself to “the Church Militant.” Joan clearly did not understand the phrase and, though willing and anxious to appeal to the pope, grew puzzled and confused. It was asserted later that Joan’s reluctance to pledge herself to a simple acceptance of the Church’s decisions was due to some insidious advice treacherously imparted to her to work her ruin. But the accounts of this alleged perfidy are contradictory and improbable.
Her courage for once failed her. She consented to sign some sort of retraction, but what the precise terms of that retraction were will never be known. In the official record of the process a form of retraction is in inserted which is most humiliating in every particular. It is a long document which would have taken half an hour to read. What was read aloud to Joan and was signed by her must have been something quite different, for five witnesses at the rehabilitation trial, including Jean Massieu, the official who had himself read it aloud, declared that it was only a matter of a few lines. Even so, the poor victim did not sign unconditionally, but plainly declared that she only retracted in so far as it was God’s will. However, in virtue of this concession, Joan was not then burned, but conducted back to prison.
[End of quote]
(“Joan of Arc” article):
Joan of Arc became a semi-legendary figure for the next four centuries. The main sources of information about her were chronicles. Five original manuscripts of her condemnation trial surfaced in old archives during the 19th century. Soon historians also located the complete records of her rehabilitation trial, which contained sworn testimony from 115 witnesses, and the original French notes for the Latin condemnation trial transcript. Various contemporary letters also emerged, three of which carry the signature “Jehanne” in the unsteady hand of a person learning to write. …. This unusual wealth of primary source material is one reason DeVries declares, “No person of the Middle Ages, male or female, has been the subject of more study”.
And I have shown now in many articles how the triumphant victory of Judith has dominated both BC and AD literature.
I repeat Judith’s victory over Holofernes and the Assyrians “can take its place amongst the most heroic moments throughout the entire history of the human race”.