Detail from the painting of Judith in the Russell-Cotes Gallery

Tomorrow, at Morning Prayer, we conclude our reading of the Second Book of Kings that has been on the daily lectionary menu for the past three weeks. It has many difficult names for readers to trip over at 8.00 a.m. and some wonderful moments, but also a significant amount of horrific text, including today’s offering, when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, finally breaks through the walls of Jerusalem; the Judean king Zedikiah flees with his soldiers, is overtaken and captured, is forced to see his sons executed in front of him, then has his eyes put out before being carried off as a prisoner. This, the kind of brutality that is still with us.

Next week, I am thinking, we shall move on, and we have the interesting option of turning to an apocryphal book, that of Judith. This, a little bit like the book of Esther, presents us with challenges as to how we think of duty and the place of piety and devotion to religious law in relation to national and cultural life. I suspect that many of us might have rather hazy memories refreshed, if we choose this option, rather than the extracts from the closing chapters of Exodus and from Leviticus that are the alternative.

There is a wonderful full length oil painting of Judith in the Russell-Cotes Museum and Art Gallery in Bournemouth; her determined but calm look, her sword hanging idly in her hand, suggesting that this was just before she lured Holofernes by her beauty to her and decapitated him in his drunken stupor, rather than after. We do read some gruesome things in Scripture…..

John Mann