God’s Killings in the Deuterocanonical Books Part I – 3 Acts of Murder in the “Apocrypha” (Steve Wells, 2013)

Deuterocanonical is a term coined in 1566 by the theologian Sixtus of Siena, who had converted to Catholicism from Judaism, to describe scriptural texts of the Old Testament considered canonical by the Catholic Church, but which are not present in the Hebrew Bible today, and which had been omitted by some early canon lists, especially in the East. The deuterocanonical books are considered canonical by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and the Church of the East, but are considered non-canonical by most Protestants. The word deuterocanonical comes from the Greek meaning ‘belonging to the second canon’. The original usage of the term distinguished these scriptures both from those considered non-canonical and from those consideredprotocanonical. However, some editions of the Bible include text from both deuterocanonical and non-canonical scriptures in a single section designated “Apocrypha”. This arrangement can lead to conflation between the otherwise distinct terms “deuterocanonical” and “apocryphal”. The Greek Septuagint English translation used in this article can be found here:


The books in the Apocrypha (aka the Deuterocanonical books) add another 20 killings to God’s list. The first three involve Susanna and Judith, the rest are told in the Books of the Maccabees. This article examines the first three murders; it is taken from Drunk with Blood: God’s Killings in the Bible, 2nd revised edition:

Part of the Septuagint text of the Susanna story as preserved in Papyrus 967 (3rd century).
Part of the Septuagint text of the Susanna story as preserved in Papyrus 967 (3rd century).


Susanna’s husband owned an orchard near his house where a couple of old judges liked to hang out, just to get a glimpse of Susanna. Once, when Susanna went to take a bath, the two judges ran to her and said, “We’re in love with you, let’s have sex.” If she refused, they would claim to have witnessed her having sex with a young man. Susanna started screaming, everyone came to see what was wrong, and the old men accused Susanna of having sex with a young man. They all believed them and condemned Susanna to death. At the last minute, the Lord raised up the holy spirit of a young boy, whose name was Daniel, and he interrogated the two old men separately. Their answers were different and contradictory.

Daniel told the first liar: “Very well; thou hast lied against thine own head; for even now the angel of God hath received the sentence of God to cut thee in two” (13:55). He then told the second liar: “Well; thou hast also lied against thine own head: for the angel of God waiteth with the sword to cut thee in two, that he may destroy you” (13:59)

“With that all the assembly cried out with a loud voice, and praised God, who saveth them that trust in him. And they arose against the two elders, for Daniel had convicted them of false witness by their own mouth: And according to the law of Moses they did unto them in such sort as they maliciously intended to do to their neighbour: and they put them to death. Thus the innocent blood was saved the same day.” (13:60-62)

Susanna and the Elders, 5th century fresco, Thessaloniki
Susanna and the Elders, 5th century fresco, Thessaloniki

[NOTE: Sextus Julius Africanus did not regard the story as canonical. Jerome (347–420), while translating the Vulgate, treated this section as a non-canonical fable. In his introduction, he indicated that Susanna was an apocryphal addition because it was not present in the Hebrew text of Daniel. Origen also noted the story’s absence in the Hebrew text, observing (inEpistola ad Africanum) that it was “hidden” (compare “apocrypha”) by the Jews in some fashion. There are no known early Jewish references to the Susannah story.]

The Righteous Judith, commemorated December 17th.
The Righteous Judith, commemorated December 17th.


JUDITH IS BLESSED ABOVE ALL WOMEN (FOR CUTTING OFF A SLEEPING MAN’S HEAD): The Book of Judith confirms what is already conveyed from the story of Jael in Judges: it is a most blessed thing for a woman to kill a man while he sleeps:

“Blessed among women be Jael wife of Chaber the Kenite; let her be blessed above women in tents…  She stretched forth her left hand to the nail, and her right to the hand workman’s hammer, and she smote Sisara with it, she nailed through his head and smote him; she nailed through his temples.” (Judges 5:24; 26) (Some translations say “Blessed above women be Jael”).

Mosaic of Jael at the Dormition Church, Jerusalem
Mosaic of Jael at the Dormition Church, Jerusalem

Judith was a beautiful widow who fasted all the time (except on the Sabbath) and wore haircloth on her loins (8:6-7). She asked God to help her kill her enemies the way he helped Simeon slaughter the newly circumcised Hivites (9:2-3). God answered her prayer and made Judith even more beautiful so she could seduce and murder the Assyrian general, Holofernes (12:16). She lied to him about her intentions, partied with him in his tent; then, after he fell asleep in a drunken stupor, she cut off his head:

“And Holofernes took great delight in her, and drank more wine than he had drunk at any time in one day since he was born… And Judith was left alone in the tent, and Holofernes lying along upon his bed: for he was filled with wine… Then she came to the pillar of the bed, which was at Holofernes’ head, and took down his fauchion from thence, And approached to his bed, and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, ‘Strengthen me, O Lord God of Israel, this day.’ And she smote twice upon his neck with all her might, and she took away his head from him. And tumbled his body down from the bed, and pulled down the canopy from the pillars; and anon after she went forth, and gave Holofernes his head to her maid; 10 And she put it in her bag of meat: so they twain went together according to their custom unto prayer: and when they passed the camp, they compassed the valley, and went up the mountain of Bethulia, and came to the gates thereof” (13:6-10).

Judith Mosaic at the Dormition Church, Jerusalem
Judith Mosaic at the Dormition Church, Jerusalem

And for that act, Judith is declared to be blessed above all women upon the earth:

“Then said Ozias unto her, ‘O daughter, blessed art thou of the most high God above all the women upon the earth; and blessed be the Lord God, which hath created the heavens and the earth, which hath directed thee to the cutting off of the head of the chief of our enemies.’” (13:18)

THE JUDITH MASSACRE–HANG YE UP THIS HEAD UPON OUR WALLS: When Judith returned to the Israelites, she took Holoferne’s head out of the wallet, and showed it to them, assuring everyone that no sex was involved in the murderous deed (13:19-20).

“And Achior [an unbelieving Ammonite], being called for, came, and Judith said to him: ‘The God of Israel, to whom thou gavest testimony, that he revengeth himself of his enemies, he hath cut off the head of all the unbelievers this night by my hand’” (13:27)

“When Achior saw the head of Holofernes in a man’s hand in the assembly of the people, he fell down on his face, and his spirit failed. But when they had recovered him, he fell at Judith’s feet, and reverenced her, and said, ‘Blessed art thou in all the tabernacles of Juda, and in all nations, which hearing thy name shall be astonished.’” (14:6-7)

Achior was so impressed with the whole thing that he decided to become a Jew right then and there, cutting off his own foreskin to seal the deal: “And when Achior had seen all that the God of Israel had done, he believed in God greatly, and circumcised the flesh of his foreskin, and was joined unto the house of Israel unto this day.” (14:10)

Righteous Judith Prayer Cards
Righteous Judith Prayer Cards

Judith told the Israelites to hang Holofernes’ head on the wall and wait a bit until the Assyrians see the headless body of Holofernes wallowing around in his own blood. Then, while they’re freaking out about that, attack them while they’re running away. God will help them kill them all. (14:1-4)

The entire Assyrian army was so shook up by the whole thing that they all ran away. The Israelites chased them as they ran, killing them all (with God’s help, of course) with the edge of the sword. (15:1-6)

“Then Joacim the high priest, and the ancients of the children of Israel that dwelt in Jerusalem, came to behold the good things that God had shewed to Israel, and to see Judith, and to salute her. And when they came unto her, they blessed her with one accord, and said unto her, ‘Thou art the exaltation of Jerusalem, thou art the great glory of Israel, thou art the great rejoicing of our nation: Thou hast done all these things by thine hand: thou hast done much good to Israel, and God is pleased therewith: blessed be thou of the Almighty Lord for evermore.’ And all the people said, So be it.” (15:8-10)

Judith and Holofernes, trictrac checker. Ivory, Western France, 12th century, found in Bayeux in 1838.
Judith and Holofernes, trictrac checker. Ivory, Western France, 12th century, found in Bayeux in 1838.

[NOTE: Although early Christians, such as St. Clement of Rome, St. Clement of Alexandria, and Tertullian, read and used the Book of Judith, some of the oldest Christian canons, including the Bryennios List (1st/2nd century), that of Melito of Sardis (2nd century) and Origines (3rd century), do not include it. Jerome, when he produced his Latin translation, counted it among the apocrypha, (although he changed his mind and later quoted it as scripture, and said he merely expressed the views of the Jews), as did Saints Athanasius Cyril of Jerusalem and Epiphanius of Salamis. However, the influential Church Fathers Augustine, Ambrose, and Hilary of Poitiers, considered Judith sacred scripture, and Pope Innocent I declared it part of the canon. In Jerome’s Prologue to Judith he claims that the Book of Judith was “found by the Nicene Council to have been counted among the number of the Sacred Scriptures”. It was also accepted by the councils of Rome (382), Hippo (393) and Carthage (397) and finally dogmatically defined as canonical by the Roman Catholic Church in 1546 in the Council of Trent. The Eastern Orthodox Church also accepts Judith as inspired scripture, as was confirmed in the Synod of Jerusalem in 1672].

Judith slaying Holofernes, 1349-1354, by Guariento
Judith slaying Holofernes, 14th c., by Guariento

GOD SENT WASPS TO SLOWLY DESTROY PEOPLE: In Exodus and Deuteronomy, God promised to send hornets to help the Israelites destroy their enemies:

“I, and my brethren, and my father’s house, have ever from my youth unto this day fought against the enemies of Israel; and things have prospered so well in our hands, that we have delivered Israel oftentimes. 3 But now I am old, and ye, by God’s mercy, are of a sufficient age: be ye instead of me and my brother, and go and fight for our nation, and the help from heaven be with you.” (Ex. 23:28)

“And the Lord thy God shall send against them the hornets, until they that are left and they that are hidden from thee be utterly destroyed.” (Deut. 7:20)

There is no record of Him actually doing it except for this verse in Wisdom of Solomon 12:8-9: “And the Lord thy God shall send against them the hornets, until they that are left and they that are hidden from thee be utterly destroyed.”

God sent wasps to slowly destroy people “by little and little.” He could have killed them with war, or cruel beasts, or with just a “rough word,” but he decided to use wasps instead.