(Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes.)
The authors of the New Testament did not believe that the Old Testament ought always to be understood literally. While it is impossible to escape the relevance of the literal meaning of biblical texts (after all, as St Thomas Aquinas says, we are able to use the literal meaning of the Bible to discern its “spiritual” meaning), it is nevertheless clear that the earliest Christians believed that the Old Testament contains signs and hints of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Hence St Paul refers to a rock from the Torah as Christ and understands Sarah to be a type of the Church, and the author of 1 Peter understands Noah’s Ark to be a mythical precursor to the Sacrament of Baptism. On the early Christian understanding, the Old Testament is filled to the brim with signs of future realities that were made evident in Jesus Christ.
St Irenaeus made similar observations regarding St Mary, Jesus’s Mother. Since Mary is uniquely implicated in the life of Christ (some traditions in Catholicism refer to her as “co-redemptrix”), it would not be strange to see symbols of her in the Old Testament. Irenaeus sees Mary as the new Eve, who by her obedience heals humanity just as Eve by her disobedience contributed to the Sin of Adam that cast humankind into the dark domain of the Devil. Similarly, Mary is also seen as a fulfillment of the Ark of the Covenant. As the Ark was the locus of God’s presence with Israel in the Old Testament, so also is Mary, literally pregnant with God, a physical Temple of God in Christ. The Old Testament contains signs of Mary.
A sign of Mary that recently caught my attention is found in the biblical book of Judith. The virtuous woman Judith, for whom the book is named, claims that God will deliver Israel by her hand (Judith 8:33). God’s power works through Judith to save the people of Israel. Just as Judith’s intercession is invoked for the salvation of Israel, so also are the prayers of the Immaculate Judith, Mary the Mother of God, used by God to save the new Israel, namely, the Church. One interesting way in which Judith’s representation of Mary is manifested is in Judith’s slaying of Holofernes, an enemy of the children of Israel. As Judith beheaded Holofernes, so also is Mary the woman who by her divine pregnancy and childbearing (of Jesus) crushed the head of the serpentine demon, the Devil.
Images of the eschatological realities evident in the New Testament are everywhere in the Old Testament. In order to have a fuller experience of Christ and His Mystical Body the Church, the faithful ought to commit themselves to the writings of the Old Testament.