David Swartz "RELIGION WITH AN EDGE"
biblicalfictions.com
Poetry for the Curious across the Religious Spectrum
JUDITH

 

 

ONE (((((((((((((

 

 

596 BC, a bright May morning, before the tent of Holofernes, at the edge of Esdraelon, in the neighborhood of Dothan, a village facing the great ridge of Judea.

 

 

HOLOFERNES ((((( general in chief of the Assyrian armies, a handsome, virile man

at the last edge of the prime of his life

 

HIS TENT ORDERLIES AND EUNUCHS

 

THE ASSEMBLED LEADERS OF HIS FORCES

 

ACHIOR ((((( leader of the Ammonite contingent

 

 

Satraps, pontiffs, princes,                    (( HOLOFERNES

Marshals, generals, priests, lieutenants,

Powers of the earth,

Minions of our Lord's high grandeur,

At the express wishes of himself, our exalted

     Nebuchadnezzar,

Peerless in wisdom, matchless in mercy—

I, Holofernes,

Thrall of his very whim,

Have cut through Put and Lud, stripped the sons

Of Rassis,

Razed all the fortified towns controlling the wadi Abron,

Attacked Cicilia,

Butchering all who offered resistance,

Advanced on Japeth,

Encircled the Midianites,

Entered the plains of Damascus,

Set fire to the fields,

Destroyed the flocks, laid the countryside waste,

Put all the young men to the sword,

Seeded terror in the flesh of Sidon, Tyre, Sur, Ocina,

Jamnia, Azoptus, Ascalon,

Demolished their shrines, cut down

Their sacred trees,

Compelled all prostrate earth to worship the King alone

     And hail him as a God.

Now!

What manner of upstart throws all sense aside

To fortify

Against us, to thwart our immediate interests,

This, the Assyrian army of Lord God Nebuchadnezzar

And this, his humble servant,

The thrust of his virile sword,

Holofernes,

Some hundred thousand men afoot,

Twelve thousand mounted bow-men, our camels, donkeys,

     Mules, oxen, sheep,

A retinue vast as myriad sand upon the desert,

Holofernes the Magificent,

Sacral as manhood, second only to the King?

 

 

There is a general hubbub of mutters, shouts, oaths, during which Achior steps forward to face Holofernes, inclines his elderly head, stands stiffly, arms folded, in a sudden silence, clears his throat.

 

 

My lord, your servant, Achior,               (( ACHIOR

Of the Ammonites would lend some sound advice.

I speak for my whole contingent.

These thousands that would occupy the summits,

Fill the passes,

Are no rude and peasant flock,

Rather a noble tribe

Descended from the Chaldeans,

Tempered through hard years of exile

In alien lands,

In Mesopotamia, Canaan, Egypt,

Hardened by famine, plagues,

Exploitation, slavery,

Banishment.

It is this folk that prayed their mighty God to dry up

     The Red Sea before them

That they might cross

To settle in the land of Amorites,

Exterminate

The baser inhabitants of Heshbon.

All in the very name of their faith—prosperity.

In its denial—damnation.

The Temple of their worship razed in time again,

Their country invaded.

Here now they dwell beyond a narrow pass,

Restored to salvation and glory,

For our poor power to attack, a senseless gesture,

Doomed,

Lest again they deny their God.

It is their sin alone can contain them.

Guiltless, this people,

Their Lord and God they name Jehovah,

Will make us the laughing-stock

Of ages yet to come.

 

     (again, uproar; several step forward)

 

'Tis sacrilege, my Lord.                        (( THE SEVERAL

That we should fear these weaklings?

'Tis cant.

 

Our masses are the appetite                 (( OTHERS

In medias res that sucks

Them downward,

Aching,

Into hell.

 

 (the tumult swells, subsides)

 

Curious, this Alchior                            (( HOLOFERNES

Who consigns OUR God to weakness

In this alien land,

This sty they call Judea.

Nebuchadnezzar not protect us?

Taste this.

Their mountains will be drunk with blood,

Their plains and valleys filled

With corpses.

We'll torch them all.

As for you,

Achior, strange Ammonite, odd mercenary,

Prepare for your personal

Terror, humiliation, torture,

Death.

    

(gestures grandly)

 

Orderlies, bind this coward toward the heretics

Of yonder pass.

Drop him near Bethulia

Where, just aloft, this curious mountain folk shall feed him

     Bread of their own making.

He shall wash it down with blood.

Swords of our massive power pierce your entrails

Even now in your

Petty fancy,

Real as this hand in SCANT duration,

That your foul words might spill all profanation

To the dust,

This cursed plot of earth,

A stink of Jews

And God's sure easy conquest.

Ah Nebuchadnezzar Himself, how this Achior's face

     Is drawn!

NO need for sadness

Or self-pity!

Should your grand prophecy prove true your laughter'd

     Swell the very summits.

Know this.

Holofernes here spits on your prediction,

Frail as your very form and visage.

Come, take him out!

Join your ladies covering the pass.

    

(Achior, bound, is carried out amid uproar)

 

 

                                                    CURTAIN

 

 

TWO (((((((((((((

 

 

That afternoon, the sky darkened, here before the Temple and clay houses of the small mountain village, Bethulia.

 

 

ACHIOR

 

THREE GUARDS

 

UZZIAH, CHABRIS, CHARMIS ((((( three elders

 

 

All but Achior are decorated with sacking, their faces streaked with ash.  The guards retain their weapons, despite the humiliation of their garments, rough rude swords.  Uzziah steps forward, arms folded, gestures toward the rest.

 

 

Here man, you see us in penitence,       (( UZZIAH

Good Ammonite,

Simple Judeans eking a life from barren land,

Bread from rock and sand,

Simple but simply this—

Tenants of the House of Israel

And well acquainted with suffering.  I, Uzziah, witness

For myself,

Fear is in ME, being human, and speak for these,

My brethren,

Chabris,

    

(who nods)

 

And Charmis,

    

(who nods)

 

Elders of our faith who, seeking only peace,

Find armies at our gates.

ADDRESS our fears.

 

The fear is truly in MY heart.                (( ACHIOR

 

Bound and trembling by the springs,    (( UZZIAH

We found you.

 

Surely no fear of us.                               (( CHABRIS

 

Fear for my own survival.                      (( ACHIOR

Fear for the jagged swords that seek our throat.

Some hundred thousand on the plains

That'd have you

Lick the earth beneath

A general,

Holofernes,

Who proposes to suck you from these hills and into fire.

Good sirs, twelve thousand mounted bow-men

Alone, the men on foot,

And all their train?

Young bucks all, all, eager as the gold

They pack as wages,

Loyal to a man that some call God, Nebucadnezzar

  Of Ninevah,

Loathing the gentle,

What more some sullen few who'd dare to call on some

  Strange God

To thwart his mission.

 

Be kinder to yourself                             (( CHARMIS

And welcome to Judea.

Some thirty thousand souls still guard the pass

Beneath this town.

These Jews he'll find persistent.  Children, aged, crippled,

     Even women, will resist,

Should his army last our fierce defense

And scream their arrogance over all this holy ground,

Before you're found,

And given to them as THEIR just deserts.

The cut he seeks to mount

Is ten foot wide.

Two abreast can barely ride.

And yet you quake?

Lord God Jehovah'd have us bend before an idol?

There's brush to hack

Before they're idle.

 

     (rubs ash from his face across Achior's forehead; the three embrace him and kneel to pray)

 

 

                                                    CURTAIN

 

 

THREE (((((((((((((

 

 

A small assembly of warriors and officers before the tent of Holofernes, the second day.

 

 

HOLOFERNES

 

ABAZ ((((( chief of the Moabite contingent

 

 

We have secured the water points,      (( HOLOFERNES

As urged by the chiefs of Moab,

But toward what end?

The Jews themselves must witness our great army.

Not even their loftiest peaks

Can resist us.

We will lick this country clean.

    

(Abaz steps forward in full armor)

 

Master, Holofernes, your Abaz now   (( ABAZ

Will speak for the rest.

One spring remains for our troops to seize,

That rises at the foot of the mountain,

Below their proud Bethulia.

That once taken,

Victory is assured.

We can have their shriek of death without a wound

Sustained by your loving troops.

Thirst.

Thirst will force

These Jews to surrender.

We shall block their reinforcement or retreat

And at our leisure

Watch their tongues go black

And all their children perish.

Pay heed, great one,

We Maobites know this land and know their only weakness.

You'll find them prostrate in the streets.

 

You warriors of Moab.                         (( HOLOFERNES

Does your chieftain well advise?

    

(a great loud murmur of assent)

 

Great sire, he speaks the truth.             (( SEVERAL

 

Speaks truth and wisdom.                    (( SEVERAL MORE

 

Why then, we seize the final spring     (( HOLOFERNES

And mock their insolence.

And grip our swords for withered sticks

And not the juice of men.

We will make them eat their children.

Bite flesh and suck.

This second day brings luck.

A grand high God looks on from mighty Nineveh.

Listen, you hear his laughter.

We'll grind their flesh to paste—man, woman, child,

And feed it to the pigs.

Caution is the boldest thrust, good Abaz rightly taken.

These Jews will find their God spit dust

Upon their lot.

Forsaken.

     

(all but Holofernes kneel)

 

 

                                         CURTAIN

 

 

     FOUR (((((((((((((

 

 

                                   Bethulia, before the Temple, 34 days later, a blinding sky.

 

 

UZZIAH, CHABRIS, CHARMIS

 

A GATHERING OF TOWNSPEOPLE

 

 

    All are wearing sackcloth, their voices weak and stricken.

 

 

May God Jehovah judge,                       (( TOWNSPEOPLE

You have erred, Uzziah,

To let it come to this . . .

 

For soon we perish.                                (( TOWNSPEOPLE

Chabris, Charmis, masters, erred.

 

34 days no water from our springs         (( TOWNSPEOPLE

And our children weak with thirst.

 

34 days and no water.  The wells           (( TOWNSPEOPLE

Are dry, the jugs are empty,

And now even the rations

Dwindling,

Scarcely fit to wet a tongue.

 

Our men and women collapse                (( TOWNSPEOPLE

In the street.

 

There is no one to help us.                     (( TOWNSPEOPLE

 

The harm you've done by failing           (( TOWNSMAN

    

(stepping forward to speak for the rest)

 

To sue for peace.

Let us be sacked by their general and not endure

     Our children's fearful death.

Bethulia aches for water,

Not for God.

Better to be enslaved than death by horror,

Wives' and babies' innards dark with thirst,

Biting their very breasts for blood,

Black blood to suck.

This God of ours must kneel

Before their king.

Witness our plight, old men,

We perish for our sins,

Sins toward Jehovah or Holofernes,

The matter's small,

Inconsequential.

I'd trade a pack of Gods for one small flask of water

I could call my own.

    

(followed by general uproar and lamentation)

 

Hear us, good Uzziah.                            (( TOWNSPEOPLE

 

Hear us, good Chabris.                           (( TOWNSPEOPLE

 

Hear us, good Charmis.                          (( TOWNSPEOPLE

 

Hear our dark tongues.                        (( TOWNSMAN

That blazing sky were pitch for all we know,

Ebony as our aching.

'Tis more than faith that's breaking.

Hear us, old men,

At last.

 

Take heart, friends.                              (( UZZIAH

Jehovah will have five days to not

Desert us,

And no end coming, yes five, even five, five days

And no relief, no end to aching,

Even no cloudburst to relieve

Our smallest babes,

They will not have to perish.

Five days, still lacking water, Holofernes is God

     And owns Judea.

Return to pray that someone hears my voice.

 

 

                                                    CURTAIN

 

 

            FIVE (((((((((((((

 

 

Bethulia, the house of Judith, later that day.

 

 

UZZIAH, CHABRIS, CHARMIS

 

JUDITH ((((( a young woman, veiled, dressed in sacking

 

FALATE ((((( her female attendant

 

 

As the scene opens, the three elders are standing before the entrance to Judith's house, the interior concealed by a large woven curtain.

 

 

To dance attendance on a female—      (( CHABRIS

It hardly suits our station.

 

Female?  Lady?  Great lady.                (( CHARMIS

 

Princess?  Saint.                                   (( UZZIAH

For the better part of 14 years

Has she fasted, prayed,

Endured her plight alone, her Falate the lone attendant,

Endured the loss of Manasseh . . .

 

Felled by a stroke at the harvest . . .    (( CHARMIS

 

And entertained no thought                 (( UZZIAH

Of his replacement,

14 years a widow veiled, in widow's weeds

All but the Sabbath eve, Sabbath itself,

And some few festive days

Ordained by Law.

Chabris, she eats no flesh, endures no death at her own

     Bidding, sweeps the path before her

With a gentle wisp lest even insect

Chance to perish from her step.

Her veil is finest gauze . . .

 

To void the chance                               (( CHARMIS

That some small creature,

Infinitesimal,

Enter with her breath and meet its end.

Saint?  Goddess?

 

Sinless some 14 years                            (( UZZIAH

With all the wealth her husband once

Commanded, and more, a dazzling beauty

To all had known her

Prior

To that seclusion,

Rumored to have gathered even greater radiance

By the few

She since has entertained.

Small wonder Uzziah waits.

 

Small wonder Charmis.                          (( CHARMIS

 

Small wonder CHABRIS.                      (( CHABRIS

Forgive

His arrogance.

 

 

The attendant emerges and pulls back the curtain to reveal her mistress, veiled, in sackcloth, at the end of a long low table.  The three men enter and incline their heads, accept the offered chairs, as Falate takes her station.  Dressed simply but richly, she stands to stage right and rear where goblets rest on a heavy wicker stand.

 

 

Gentlemen.  Reverend elders.                (( JUDITH

Uzziah, friend.

Chabris, Charmis?

Here seated we discuss the death of Judea.

 

Hardly death, good Judith.                     (( UZZIAH

Five days remain

To wrest us into light.

 

The light is quite extinguished, sire.      (( JUDITH

    

(the three shift forward toward the table)

 

Extinguished?                                         (( UZZIAH

 

By the oath of Uzziah.                           (( JUDITH

Who is Uzziah? Simply who is CHARMIS,

CHARDIS,

Who these three to conspire with one rank oath?

Who put Jehovah to the test?

Whose rank demand was guarantee where designs of a

     Simple MAN cannot be plumbed,

And let alone his Jahweh?

Who promulgated slaughter of our brothers,

Exile of our country,

Pillage of our heritage, all Judea plundered,

By the force of a bastard notion

God should prove himself, and then . . . Jehovah rightly

Spurning Uzziah's test,

Slaves, in fine, to pagan masters who will goad us

With our well-deserved

Contempt . . . must I continue?

 

Mistress, you shame us with this talk.   (( CHABRIS

 

And well I might.                                   (( JUDITH

 

And well might fill our cisterns             (( CHABRIS

Had these words legs

To take a walk.

Uzziah has asked his God this day for water.

 

And he'll have it.                                 (( JUDITH

 

Fine speeches in an unsteady time.      (( UZZIAH

It pains me just to say it.

 

Listen to your Judith,                           (( JUDITH

Daughter of Merari son of Ox,

Son of Joseph, son of Oziel,

Of Elkiah, Ananias, Gideon,

Son and daughter and son,

My lineage known.

Listen to me truly.

 

 

She stands and points, one hand to the ceiling, the other to the goblets, which immediately strangely quiver where they rest and clang and chime.

 

 

I intend to do something the memory

Of which will be

Handed down

To the children of our race from age to age.

What it may be I am not certain,

But am certain it will be.

Wait this night by the northern gate

For Falate and her Judith.

In the time you gave your God with your presumption,

In 5 short turnings of the sun,

A woman will rescue Israel.

Now go in peace.

 

 (they stand; the goblets come to rest)

 

Time will reveal alone their God's disease.

Time will reveal.

Gather your God to no temptation in this hour,

Whatever you might feel.

ALL wounds heal.

 

     

                                              CURTAIN

 

 

SIX (((((((((((((

 

 

Judith's house, a bedchamber where Judith sits, naked to the waist at a vanity, Falate braiding her hair.

 

 

JUDITH

 

FALATE

 

 

Your loveliness without is greater       (( FALATE

Than within.

Am I deceived?

 

Seldom is the day I stare                      (( JUDITH

Into this glass.

I'd like to see my beauty past . . .

 

And yet it seems to grow.                    (( FALATE

 

Touch me, sweet girl, I fear                 (( JUDITH

This mission.

 

                          (The attendant puts her arms about Judith's shoulders; the breasts are

                                                       vulnerable, vague in the mirror.)  

 

I'd touch your mouth.                          (( FALATE

Forgive me.

 

     (Judith turns back to embrace her servant; a shudder of their flesh; there is a bold awesome flash of breasts; at last they kiss)

 

Forgive me.                                           (( JUDITH

This day I fear fierce need for forgiveness.

 

(and kisses her again)

 

                                    

                  CURTAIN

 

 

SEVEN (((((((((((((

 

 

Bethulia, the northern gate, toward evening.

 

 

JUDITH ((((( in her finery—silks, scarf, sandals, turban, jewelry, a stunning woman

 

FALATE ((((( again, richly but simply dressed

 

UZZIAH, CHABRIS, CHARMIS

 

 

Judith and Falate join the three elders at the gate.  Falate carries the women's provisions, Judith her own dignity, radiant, magical.

 

 

Uzziah, Chabris, Charmis,                     (( JUDITH

Your manner seems confused.

Surely I do not offend to such degree a lady's bent

     To charm, being single, rich.

 

Certainly no offense,                              (( THE THREE

Much more a vision.

 

For certain, I am stunned.                      (( UZZIAH

Your beauty passes rumor, shames pure fact.

You are vision alone,

Yet real.

I'm sure 'tis dream, and yet I feel.

Rumor of speculation in the FLESH,

Even your gown, your skin.

Small fault in Judith, three old men who'd sin.

 

I see her by the day, great elder,            (( FALATE

And blushed to see her clean

And stepping from her bath,

Saw ointment of flesh, smelt perfume, silks,

Saw bounty, whim.

Saw goddess, sire, and clothed HER naked skin.

 

Fancy alone would mock three elders,  (( THE THREE

Sore oppressed.

 

This apparition, naked, DRESSED.      (( CHARMIS

 

Here are our barley griddle cakes,         (( FALATE

    

(resting the sack at her feet)

 

A skin of wine,

A flask of oil, cakes of dried fruit, pure loaves,

And one that's secret.

 

You'll open the gate for our                   (( JUDITH

Departure,

Chabris, youngest of the lot.

 

Two young beauties from afar.             (( CHABRIS

This close I'M caught.

 

Fat or lean, the man will feel,                 (( JUDITH

Like you.

Suffer all maleness stricken to have seen,

And never touch.

Open the gate, THESE gates are guarded . . . such.

 

God of our ancestors rest you              (( THE THREE

In his favor.

This world shrieks thirst,

And manhood's lost its savor.

 

Enter the ranks of Israel's honored      (( UZZIAH

Tribe.

Lilt of your limbs would torment to describe.

 

The mission that we harbor                  (( JUDITH

Will in time be out.

Assyria will sense what doubt's about.

    

(they pass through the gate into dusk)

 

Holofernes must fear                            (( UZZIAH

For his own soul?

A goddess dropped her rags to bless us . . . whole.

 

         

                                                    CURTAIN

 

 

EIGHT (((((((((((((

 

 

The pass below Bethulia, that night.

 

 

JUDITH

 

FALATE

 

ASSYRIAN WARRIORS, AN ADVANCE UNIT

 

 

The night is pitch, relieved only by torchlight.  Judith and Falate enter, to be seized by the Assyrian contingent.

 

 

Two wenches there.                             (( OFFICER

Bring them to the light.

 

Here, over here.  They must be Jews.  (( ANOTHER

 

Which side are you on?                        (( ANOTHER

 

Where do you come from?                   (( ANOTHER

 

Where are you going?                           (( ANOTHER

 

I am Judith, daughter                            (( JUDITH

Of the Hebrews,

And this is my attendant.

We flee our land which is soon your prey

To beg attendance on your general.

 

Stand back.  There.  Let us look.         (( OFFICER

By the God of Nineveh, the lass is stunning.

What mission can

Such wonderment pursue?

 

I will show Holofernes the road          (( JUDITH

To take should he wish

To conquer Judea, all the highlands, even the plains

Beyond, and barely lose

A single life.

 

This may save you, beauty.                    (( OFFICER

Coming to the master of your own accord.

Detail some men to lead these women

To the Leader's tent.

Some hundred with them to ensure

Safe passage.

Who could despise a people

Having women like this one?

Let them live they'd twist the world about their finger.

Come now, sergeant,

Take them to our Lord.

 

                                   

                  CURTAIN

 

 

NINE (((((((((((((

 

 

The tent of Holofernes, that same evening.

 

 

HOLOFERNES AND COMPANY

 

JUDITH

 

FALATE

 

GUARDS

 

 

As the scene opens, Judith and Falate stand before the opening to Holofernes's tent with several guards.  There is a murmur from within, and then a further guard opens the silk wide to reveal a large open space filled with officers, orderlies, adjutants; and a second, smaller curtained space, stage rear, where Holofernes rests on his bed beneath a canopy of purple and gold, studded with emeralds and other precious stones.

 

 

Our Lord and Master, two                     (( GUARD

Of the enemy who profess friendship.

 

Judith and her attendant.                        (( SECOND GUARD

 

 

Holofernes enters the open part of the tent with silver torches before him.  Falate holds back at the entrance while Judith advances to fall prostrate before the general.  There is a generalized confusion, during which she is raised to her feet.  Holofernes steps forward to take her hand.

 

 

Courage, woman.                                   (( HOLOFERNES

A friend of the Lord God Nebuchadnezzar

Has nothing to fear from his servant.

The Jews of Bethulia

Wither on their tree while your beauty lights this tent.

Grace us with your voice

Now, lady, that we might know fully

What grace INDEED brought you wayward

Toward our ranks.

 

Great master, I am your slave                (( JUDITH

And would ask only that you heed my message.

Your wisdom is proclaimed

Even among your enemies.

Surely you will heed THIS voice.

Long life to Nebuchadnezzar, Lord of the universe,

Who sent you forth to set

All souls to rights.

May his power endure!

 

Amen.  Amen.  Amen!                        (( SEVERAL

    

(murmurs of satisfaction, a confusion of voices)

 

You have sent us Achior,                     (( JUDITH

Who spoke to this effect—

No sword, no force, no being, has power against OUR

     Nation unless they sin against their God.

The man spoke fearfully against you,

Yet what he spoke is truth.

    

(again, a confusion of voices; then silence)

 

As it might happen, Lord general,

They have sinned already

And provoked their God Jehovah.

Short of food, they fell back on their cattle.

Of drink, they devoured the very tithes

Of wine and oil.

Moreover, they sent to beg Jerusalem further

     Sanction for this terrible

      Desecration of their laws.

When sanction comes, the end is near for Judea.

You'll find them

Weak as girls and prey to your forces,

Abandoned by their God to your own King,

To Holofernes himself, to his officers, satraps, priests.

    

(a general outburst of approval)

 

I therefore propose, sir, that Judith, your servant,

Have leave to pray alone each night

That God might reveal the onset of this error.

THAT received,

No one will resist you.

I will be your very guide toward our Holy City itself.

Even the dogs of Jerusalem

Will fear to bark at you.

    

(again, confusion of voices; murmur of approval)

 

Bless your very person, beauty,           (( HOLOFERNES

You are lovely as you are eloquent.

Strength now is ours,

And theirs foul ruin.

Your promise draws you into my broad bosom.

My sword is yours, my shield.

My God is yours.

And now to supper.  In time a feast,

That you might gird yourself for this stalwart, noble task

     You have proposed

Of honoring

In betrayal their strange God.

 

Great sire, my Falate stands without    (( JUDITH

With all the provisions

I need and shall need and may employ to secure

My mission.

Fearing the very wrath of the God which they desert,

I cannot eat of food without permission,

Nor drink of wine or water

That remains unblessed.

Let the Jews of Bethulia perjure their tongues

And gullets with altar sacrifice

Or gentile meats,

With waters cursed by our very priests, I must

 Remain yet pure.

Time is our victory.

For Assyria and her masters,

Who shall punish a fallen flock

In the name of the selfsame God they hate

And decimate his kingdom.

God has a name for every man.

The weak must worship where they can.

Such IS his plan.

Bury all strength in a foreign land?

The crop is yours . . .

 

Why then, command!                             (( HOLOFERNES

 

 

                                                      CURTAIN

 

 

TEN (((((((((((((

 

 

The spring below Bethulia, early that morning.

 

 

JUDITH

 

FALATE

 

A PICKET

 

 

It is just past midnight where a picket guards the spring.  Judith and Falate enter, stage right, and, carrying their sack of provisions, approach him.

 

 

Who goes there?                                    (( PICKET

 

It is Judith and her Falate.                      (( JUDITH

You have your orders from the Lord Holofernes,

Let us pray alone.

 

The spring is yours, great lady.              (( PICKET

Rest in peace.

 

 

Exits, stage left; Falate moves, stage rear, with the sack and kneels on the ground; Judith kneels at the water and drinks, cleanses her arms and neck.

 

 

Dear God Jehovah,                                 (( JUDITH

    

(aside)

 

It is nearly pitch here in the mouth of night.

I have come to pray,

But not for the death of Judea.

Give me a sign, dear Lord, that rules this spring,

That rules Bethulia above us,

That succors all earth that loves him,

Down to the tiniest mite.

I pray, dear God, for chill.

Enable this small child freeze toward darkest ache.

Dry up her veins

That only cankers feed her,

That all that remains is suppuration

Of the breast.

Harden my dugs, Jehovah,

That in this sullen heart

All warmth might perish,

That God himself might wilt to see his daughter.

A sign, cruel God, a sign!

 

 

The stage is illuminated briefly with three strobic pulses of light and then plunged into total black; when the gleam of early morning returns, Judith and her Falate are entering as before.

 

 

Halt.  Who goes there?                           (( PICKET

 

Friends from Judea.  You know us      (( JUDITH

Well.

 

 

The picket moves off, stage left, and the women take up identical positions on the ground; Judith  again drinks, bathes her arms and neck.

 

 

A second day, dear God, and I am not

Called.  A second day

Of our provisions gone.

The hour hastens toward a mockery.

Assyria lives.

Assyria endures.

She thrives.

As you have made me hard, dear Lord Jehovah,

Give me the nails to pierce his flesh,

The fangs to tear his neck,

The sword to spill his entrails in the dust.

As I am hard, make me pitiless.

Wrap up the leak of warmth and dry all womanly

     Organs, make all my blood a sty, foul

Instrument of vengeance,

And let him call me to his feast.

Holofernes, the GREAT one

To his feast.

Sweet God, dark God Jehovah,

Let me feel your voice.

 

 

Again the stage is pitch black and then briefly illuminated by pulses, again black, and again early morning light as the two women enter.

 

 

Who goes there?                                   (( PICKET

 

Friends from Judea.                              (( JUDITH

    

(he exits;  the two women take their places on the ground)

 

A third day, the very third day has passed,

And still no summons,

Only this letter from their Lord,

Passed to me just as we exited our tent.

I read it by moonlight.

Dear God Jehovah, make it clamor triumph

     For your Judith.

    

(she removes a scroll from her garments)

 

Here, I break the seal.

We'll see what rank child blossoms

In my soul.

 

 

Studies it carefully, canted toward the spring; again the stage is black, again illuminated by pulses, again black; as the curtain falls, we hear a strange exultation, fevered, chill, rapt.

 

                                  

                                               CURTAIN

 

 

ELEVEN (((((((((((((

 

 

The tent of Holofernes that evening.

 

 

HOLOFERNES AND COMPANY . . . TO INCLUDE

 

BAGOAS ((((( chief eunuch

 

JUDITH

 

FALATE

 

A LUTIST

 

 

All sit at a bright carpet laden with food and drink, Holofernes center, facing stage front, Judith to his right, reclining on fleece, to her right Bagoas and then Falate.  The feast seems near an end, with only several yet attending to their plates.  A lutist entertains with fleshly solemn notes.  Through the general murmur, Judith inclines to Bagoas and whispers.  The latter whispers to Holofernes, who nods.  Bagoas stands and waves the lute be still.

 

 

Honored guests, the lady Judith             (( BAGOAS

Informs us that she tires and fears at loss

Of the edge of pleasure.

She is taxed by so much bliss

And would take to her nightly prayers,

But would hold first a while in this chamber

Some small time alone

To pay her last respects?

And . . . with the Lord Holofernes's permission, adieu!

 

 

All stand, some heavy with wine, and kneel, exit stage front.  Falate pauses to kiss her mistress, then too departs into pitch night.  Judith and the general sit some moments in quiet, the purple canopy just to their rear, rising above the bed.

 

 

In time I go to pray, noble master,         (( JUDITH

But would spend these final moments with her Lord,

As slave and servant,

Comprehend?

Awaiting any nuance of his need,

But preface all with one demand,

That he join me in a final toast to victory,

And the death of Judea.

    

(Holofernes gathers up and stretches)

 

I have never felt my life more worthwhile

Than today.

 

Whatever.  Whatever.                            (( HOLOFERNES

But Jew wine or Assyrian?

    

(steps back and sits at the edge of his bed)

 

Out of all respect for my great               (( JUDITH

Master, wine of his native grapes.

 

 

She takes two silver goblets from the carpet and fills them from a pitcher, reaches into her sack, and empties a vial there into one of them, returns the vial.  The general studies the canopy above, then her back, then goblets and torso as she turns to face him, kneeling on the fleece.

 

 

I see two silver goblets.                         (( HOLOFERNES

Which is mine?

 

I could reach you this.                            (( JUDITH

    

(handing him a goblet)

 

Would you take it?

 

In all the time it took to pour.                 (( HOLOFERNES

You sit at the edge of whore, perhaps assassin.

    

(taking the goblet, turning it in his hands)

 

Hardly whore.  Slave?  Servant?            (( JUDITH

    

(gesturing with her goblet)

 

Child of your very whim who melts before you.

And if assassin, take THIS cup.

    

(reaching the second)

 

I'll drink the other.

 

Ah yes, and all the more clever,          (( HOLOFERNES

Anticipating her victim's mistrust,

Who would deflect

Her vile intentions, only to trap himself.

I'LL add a gesture.

Here, wench, give me both.

    

(he now holds both goblets)

 

And turn?

    

(which she does as he passes the two back and forth, hand to hand some dozen times)

 

And turn?

    

(she turns back)

 

Now neither knows which cup would harbor death.

If you take both and turn?

    

(she faces away with the cups)

 

And trade again?

 

     (she passes them, hand to hand)

 

And turn?

    

(she turns back)

 

I take my cup.

Curious now, that neither knows the contents

Of his cup and yet will drink.

I drink.

    

(drinks his goblet down)

 

And you?

 

And I, great master.                              (( JUDITH

    

(drinks down and embraces his knees)

 

Now PLAY the whore.                        (( HOLOFERNES

 

 

He stands and strips his tunic and undergarments and casts them on the earth.  She watches, bent in wonder, until at last he is naked, a rugged virility, lying back at last on the bed.

 

 

Gladly.                                                  (( JUDITH

    

(straddling him, her gown cascading over his shins)

 

For I am whore and dead, or whore-assassin.

 

So is it thus, lady?                                (( HOLOFERNES

    

(arching his back into her trembling form)

 

Then let it be.

    

(arching and releasing against her, suddenly contracting in pain, an awkward spasm)

 

Then let it be thee.                                (( JUDITH

    

(she moves with him, digging fingers into his chest)

 

It is.  It is, lass.  It IS me.                      (( HOLOFERNES

Ah God, I perish!

    

(shuddering in ecstasy and pain)

 

Then I pray you enjoy it.                      (( JUDITH

 

 

Again the arch and movement till at last he moans, unconscious.  Judith alone now arches, fingers into his belly, then raises free to kneel at his prostrate form.

 

 

I'll finish this yet, God willing.

 

 

She raises up, rounds the bed and pulls his naked body by the hair, sliding him till only his feet are visible, reaches for his scimitar, wipes her brow, and then, hands clenched on the inlaid hilt, slices down, again, again.

 

 

Again, again.

    

(licking blood from her knuckles)

 

Ah God, his fat little veins still leak,

But NOW he's dead.

 

 

Drops the scimitar, reaches up, and pulls down the jeweled canopy, bundles it under an arm, and carries the head of Holofernes, bleeding a trail across the ground, by a fist of hair.  Pauses, steps out into darkness.

 

 

Sweet Falate, are you there?

Be there or I MYSELF perish.

 

     (her voice is now a whimper; Falate enters the light with  the empty bag of provisions)

 

God smiles at what you carry,                (( FALATE

Noble Judith.

 

     (she holds it for the severed head and canopy; they vanish into the night)

 

                                    

                  CURTAIN

 

 

TWELVE (((((((((((((

 

 

Bethulia, the northern gate, that night.

 

 

UZZIAH, CHABRIS, CHARMIS

 

ACHIOR

 

JUDITH

 

FALATE

 

GUARDS, TOWNSPEOPLE ((((( men, women, children

 

 

By the flicker of torchlight, guards attend to the gate.

 

 

Open!  Open the gate!                            (( JUDITH

I speak for God Jehovah with us still,

And his might over all our enemies.

 

Who goes there?  Friend or foe?            (( GUARDS

 

Judith of Bethulia and her Falate.          (( JUDITH

Arouse the elders,

Spread news throughout the town

That our God lives!

 

 

The gates swing open to their laden sack, Judith and Falate entering from the darkness.  A confusion of voices off stage swells to near hysteria as ever more crowd the gate.  Above it, Judith's harsh strange voice.

 

 

Praise God!  Praise him!

Praise God who has steadied his daughter's hand

     To bring this into light.

 

     (she pulls the head of Holofernes out of the bag for all to see; clamor erupts)

 

Here is Holofernes, Lord of his army,

   

 (and reaching further in the confusion)

 

Here the canopy under which the man lay drunk.

    

(all shout in amazement)

 

Our God has struck him down,

Felled by the hand of a woman.

Glory to God,

Who held my virtue in his broad warm hand,

For there was no sin with us

And nothing to shame or disgrace me.

 

 

Falate at this looks up and then down for the rest of the scene at her linked hands.  The others press forward excitedly, but clear a path for the elders.  The noise is deafening.

 

 

May you be blessed, my daughter!      (( UZZIAH

Beyond all women of the earth.

 

May God Jehovah bless his Judith.      (( CHARMIS

 

May GOD be blessed and the angel     (( CHABRIS

                                                That steadied her hand.                                           

 

Amen!  Amen!                                      (( THE CROWD

 

AMEN!                                                 (( UZZIAH

 

Listen to me, brothers.                          (( JUDITH

Hang this bloody head upon our battlements.

When morning comes, take arms,

All able-bodied men,

Prepare for war.

    

 (again there are shouts)

 

The Assyrians will rush to the tent of their

     Master to wake him from drunken sleep.

Only a stub will greet them,

His vacant smile from our battlements.

Confusion, panic in their ranks,

You'll slaughter them at your leisure,

Give chase at their retreat and lick them clean.

Spare no man, not a soul,

Neither man, woman, child,

For none has knelt to spare our people,

Let alone our God.

None had spared our Holy Place.

    

(shouts of agreement)

 

But first bring Achior from his tent to see the man

  Who'd slaughter all,

Who'd feed Judea to the pigs,

Who'd praise OUR torment.

 

 

Achior pushes forward through the crowd to be greeted with the bloody head held high by one of the onlookers, falls into a dead faint, is lifted up, throws himself at the feet of Judith.

 

 

Bless you, lady, bless you                    (( ACHIOR

For a thousand years,

Nay twenty thousand, for all the sands of time

That blow athwart this wind,

This holocaust of soul

From this time on, forever.

At the very sound of your own name, may gods

Be seized with dread.

Bless you from the mountaintops,

Across Judean plains.

Bless you in the rivers, in the lambs, the crops,

The earth that feeds Judea.

Bless you all manner of blessing, bless your

     Noble soul, bless breasts, face,

Limbs . . .

Bless . . .

 

 

Loud clamor, shouts of praise, the head of Holofernes hoisted on a pole to sway above the gate.  Lightning in the summit, suddenly calm.  Falate stares at her hands.

 

 

                                                      CURTAIN

 

 

THIRTEEN (((((((((((((

 

 

The tent of Holofernes, at daybreak.

 

 

OFFICERS OF THE ASSYRIAN ARMY

 

BAGOAS ((((( the eunuch

 

 

(In disarray, the highest officers of the Assyrian thousands assemble at their master's tent.)

 

 

Bagoas, the rumor states, the Jews        (( SEVERAL

Will soon attack.

Our general sleeps?

 

I closed the curtain just after                 (( BAGOAS

Midnight,

Afraid to disturb him.

 

And the wench?                                     (( OTHERS

 

It was folly to disturb him.                     (( BAGOAS

I didn't dare to see if she had gone.

There was silence within.

Perhaps they were sleeping.  Alone or apart.

 

We'll wake them.  Wake the master.     (( SEVERAL

 

 

Bagoas claps his hands loudly and opens the curtain.  Sees at once the trail of blood, the rumpled bed, canopy missing, his master's feet at the near edge.  Steps in, rounds the bed.

 

 

Hoolah!  Alarm!  Holofernes is dead!   (( BAGOAS

The wench has killed him!

 

     (the others race in, crowd the bed; all shout, weep, shriek, and rend their clothes)

 

Alarm!  Hoolah, alarm!                          (( OFFICERS

She's bitten off his head.

 

(and then a distant cry)

 

It's over the BATTLEMENTS!!            (( ANOTHER

 

 

There is sudden mass confusion and hysteria, warriors of the Assyrian army racing past the tent to the wails of their leaders and their own fierce terror, having seen their master's head above the battlements.  Tent and foreground whirl with men like locusts trailing blood.  The stage becomes a tangle of writhing bodies.

 

 

Alarm!  The Jews attack!                     (( OTHERS

Alarm, they have his head!

 

     (daylight grows intense, incandescent; everywhere is confusion, hysteria, flight)

 

 

                                                             CURTAIN

 

 

FOURTEEN (((((((((((((

 

 

Judith's house, a bright afternoon.

 

 

JOAKIM ((((( high priest of Jerusalem

 

SEVEN OF THE COUNCIL OF ELDERS

 

JUDITH

 

FALATE

 

FOUR YOUNG MEN

 

 

Judith sits on a balcony above the street, where Joakim and the elders stand, shielding their eyes from the sun, perhaps from the sight of Falate's shaving Judith's head.  They are both in gowns of plain sacking.  Four young men suddenly enter, stage right and left, pulling carts loaded with booty.

 

 

Accept this pallid token of our             (( JOAKIM

Thanks,

Great lady,

Booty from the slaughter on the plains.

This village reeks with gain,

And no one knows it better than yourself,

Who, showing no interest,

Will take it nonetheless,

Or deeply offend these elders and their priest.

 

You are the glory of Judea!                 (( ELDERS

You are the pride of Israel!

You are the highest honor of our race!

May you be blessed by Lord God Almighty

In all your days to come.

 

All thanks, dear Joakim,                      (( JUDITH

Priest of our Holy City, and you, great elders,

For the honesty

Of your sentiment,

But send these lads on to Jerusalem

With grateful tears

And blessings from my heart.

Such gifts belong to God and not to Judith.

Let the fable be I danced

My way with choirs of maidens decked with olive

Branches from my hands,

That all the men of Israel, armed and wreathed in olive,

     Followed, singing hymns.

That MY song was thanksgiving

With a sterner note.

Sing legend that I ended with this verse—

"Woe to the nations

Who rise against our race!

The Lord Almighty God

Will punish them on judgment day.

He will send them fire and worms to eat their flesh,

And they will weep with pain forever."

Let handsome lads live on to tell

The story,

How even the canopy, purple, gemmed,

I ushered toward your love

With mighty song.

You shall not see me sing, no matter.

I cannot live the tale,

Can only live propriety and grief.

Let wisdom reign in Israel

And your hearts.

I beg from God the balance of my life

The way I MIGHT have sinned,

That much I'm captive to a weight

That tries my soul.

Forgive reality, let Judith live a Myth.

That which forgives

Is oft forgiven, whole.

Favor me now with no great adage from the past.

This day I vanish, fast.

 

     (the shaving completed in their silence, she stands, inclines her head, and enters

the darkened house)

 

                  

                                  CURTAIN

 

 

EPILOGUE (((((((((((((

 

 

A century later, the house of Judith, her bedroom.

 

 

FOUR MEN, THREE CHILDREN, SIX WOMEN

 

A GUIDE

 

 

A guided tour has ended in Judith's bedroom.

 

 

Dear honored guests, I save this            (( GUIDE

Room for last.

See where she lay the night the die was cast?

Here is the veil she wore at rest,

That creatures of the air be also blessed.

Here the wisp, whereby she cleared her path,

Here where she died, and here the aftermath—

A thousand blossoms every year she slept,

And sleeps on too . . . and where she wept.

Here, from here, were Joakim and the seven.

'Tis said she ate no bread with leaven,

And ate no flesh, no PRODUCT of the flesh,

A hundred five, she lived, no more, no less.

Alas her Falate is also in her grave.

Judith?  With Manasseh, buried in his cave.

The legend has she danced toward your great City,

Bearing tribute—riches, mercy, pity.

This pallet bore her head for thirty years.

Some say . . . here look, THAT lad's in tears.

 

 

                                                      CURTAIN

    

 

                                                                                1994