Judith of Bethulia: The Iconography
In the Book of Judith the heroine and her maid charm their way into the tent of Holofernes, the general about to invade Israel. She then plies him with wine, decapitates him, and slips away with the head in her sack. As a result Holofernes' troops panic, run, and are slaughtered by the Israelites.

The many images of Judith either present the decapitation, as in the backgammon checker at right, or if portraits use the head as an attribute, as in the second. Both types will often include the maid.

The plot of the book is an obvious crowd pleaser and has been adapted in modern times by films including D. W. Griffith's 1914 Judith of Bethulia and 1965's Cat Ballou.

The Book of Judith is in the Latin Vulgate and is accepted as canonical in Catholic Bibles, but it is not in the Protestant canon.

Prepared in 2014 by Richard Stracke, Emeritus Professor of English, Augusta University


12th-century backgammon checker (See the description page)

Portrait by Massimo Stanzione, 1640 (See the description page)


  • First half of the 18th century: In this painting Jacopo Amigoni presents not the decapitation but the subsequent dumping of Holofernes's head in the sack.
  • 1807-13: A relief sculpture of Judith killing Holofernes, on the west façade of Milan's cathedral.


  • According to Caxton, Judith's legend "is read the last Sunday of October" in English churches. She is not listed in the Roman Martyrology for any date.