Judith Anonymous – Beowulf

Judith was first discovered as an appendage to the Nowell Codex. Though it is certain that the poem is a derivative of the Book of Judith, still present in the Roman Catholic Bible, its authorship and year of origin remain a mystery.

The poem is incomplete: the version in the manuscript is 348 lines long, divided in three sections marked with the numbers X, XI, and XII. The numbers correspond to the 10th verse of chapter twelve, the 11th verse of chapter thirteen, and the 12th verse of chapter fourteen. Only the last three out of twelve cantos have been preserved. What remains of the poem opens in the middle of a banquet. Had the first nine cantos been preserved, it is often thought that Judith would be considered one of the most laudable Old English works (Cook, pg. lxxvi–lxxvii).
What is certain about the origin of the poem is that it stems from the Book of Judith. After the Reformation, the Book of Judith was removed from the Protestant Bible. However, it is still present in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles. Many discrepancies exist between the poem and Book, most notably in regards to the portrayal of Holofernes and the exaggeration of Judith’s righteousness in the poem (Marsden, pg. 147).

It is unknown when Judith became fragmented, but it is suggested that it was already fragmented when Laurence Nowell signed the manuscript in the 1500s[1]. The quantity of the missing text is widely debated. Some scholars use the Apocryphal Judith as evidence for the text missing, while others refute this as unreliable as the Old English poet is not loyal to this source.

It is evident that the story of Judith has been modified and set within the framework of Anglo-Saxon context. Much of the geographic and political structures relevant to a Hebrew culture have been removed, allowing an Anglo-Saxon audience to better understand and relate to the poem.[2]