Artaxerxes III and Judith
Damien F. Mackey
“Could it be that the Book of Judith provides an account of an otherwise obscure episode of the war against Nebuchadrezzar in the time of King Hezekiah — the war which we have identified as Artaxerxes III’s second campaign against Egypt?”
This is a question asked by Emmet Sweeney in his article, “Artaxerxes III and Nebuchadrezzar”, most useful for showing parallels between Nebuchednezzar II ‘the Great’, a real king, and Artaxerxes III, whose historical existence I have had cause to query in my recent:
Persian History has no adequate Archaeology
At the conclusion of his article, Sweeney makes the following brief mention of the Book of Judith and its “King of Assyria”, one “Nebuchadrezzar”:
Before moving on, it should be noted that the Book of Judith, hitherto one of the most enigmatic of traditional Hebrew texts, takes on an altogether new significance in the light of the reconstruction proposed here. Judith is said to have lived during the time of a Nebuchadrezzar who is described as “King of Assyria.” No king of Assyria of this name is said to be known. Yet this Mesopotamian monarch is involved in events strikingly similar to those of his namesake who deported the people of Judah. He is said to have summonsed the peoples of the west, including the Egyptians, to assist him in a war against the Medes. When this summons is ignored, he sets out, in his eighteenth year, to punish the traitors, who include Egyptians and Jews (Judith 2). This march to the west recalls the action taken by the other Nebuchadrezzar in the same region in his sixteenth year. Could it be that the Book of Judith provides an account of an otherwise obscure episode of the war against Nebuchadrezzar in the time of King Hezekiah — the war which we have identified as Artaxerxes III’s second campaign against Egypt? One striking detail in the Book of Judith seems to confirm this. We are told that Nebuchadrezzar’s general Holofernes, whom Judith assassinates, had a eunuch named Bagoas (Judith 12:11). Yet Bagoas was the name of the trusted eunuch who assassinated Artaxerxes III. Even more to the point, Artaxerxes III also had a general named Holofernes. According to Diodorus, this Holofernes was a Cappadocian who accompanied Artaxerxes III in his campaign against the Egyptians ….
Strange then that the Book of Judith would name as servants of Nebuchadrezzar two characters with names identical to two servants of Artaxerxes III!
[End of quote]
Sweeney is not the first to have hopefully proposed a setting for the Judith drama during the reign of Nebuchednezzar II, greatest of all the neo-Babylonian kings.
Unfortunately, he has here picked just about the worst historical period for the main drama of Judith - the attempt by the commander-in-chief of a massive Assyrian (note) army to conquer Jerusalem.
Nebuchednezzar II was completely successful in his Judaean campaign in which he destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple and took captive its inhabitants. The Assyrian army of “Holofernes”, on the other hand, never got past Judith’s town of Bethulia in northern Israel, opposite Dothan.
And, thanks to Judith, the invading army was routed and fled, suffering many casualties.
Artaxerxes III, we have found, is a ‘ghost’, or historical composite, based primarily upon Nebuchednezzar II. So Diodorus’s attribution to ‘him’ of officials named “Bagoas” and “Holofernes” is quite meaningless.
For a more adequate reconstruction of the Judith drama, see e.g. my:
“Nadin went into everlasting darkness”