The character of Judith is larger than life, and she has won a place in Jewish and Christian lore, art, poetry and drama. Her name, which means “she will be praised” or “woman of Judea”, suggests that she represents the heroic spirit of the Jewish people, and that same spirit, as well as her chastity, have endeared her to Christianity. Because of her unwavering religious devotion, she is able to step outside of her widow’s role, and dress and act in a sexually provocative manner while clearly remaining true to her ideals in the reader’s mind, and her seduction and beheading of the wicked Holofernes while playing this role has been rich fodder for artists of various genres.
The first extant commentary on The Book of Judith is by Hrabanus Maurus (9th century). Thenceforth her presence in medieval European literature is robust: in homilies, biblical paraphrases, histories and poetry. An Old English poetic version is found together with Beowulf (their epics appear both in the Nowell Codex). “The opening of the poem is lost,(scholars estimate that 100 lines were lost) but the remainder of the poem, as can be seen,the poet reshaped the biblical source and set the poem’s narrative to an Anglo-Saxon audience.” from At the same time she is the subject of a homily by the Anglo-Saxon abbot Ælfric.
The two conceptual poles represented by these works will inform much of Judith’s subsequent history. In the epic, she is the brave warrior, forceful and active; in the homily she is an exemplar of pious chastity for cloistered nuns. In both cases, her narrative gained relevance from the Viking invasions of the period. Within the next three centuries Judith would be treated by such major figures as Heinrich Frauenlob, Dante, and Geoffrey Chaucer.