Jephthah and his daughter

Ron Rhoades rrhoades at
Sun Sep 13 00:31:42 EDT 1998

Bryan Rocine wrote:
> Dear B-Haverim,
> I find it very difficult to believe Jephthah sacrificed his daughter by
> killing her(Judges 11).  Might he have put her away to a life of seclusion or celibacy? 

Hello Bryan,

Many great minds down through history have bowed to hyper-literal
reasoning and accepted the view that Jephthah practiced human sacrifice.

However, I feel that careful evaluation of the record refutes the charge
that Jephthah made a human sacrifice of his child. And many scholars
throughout history have given convincing scriptural evidence that his
daughter was not killed.

Here is what I have gathered on this subject: (Sorry if it is a little

First, a sacred ban did not always mean destruction. Articles, animals,
and even fields could be "devoted" (che'rem) to Yahweh and thus become
holy items for sacred use by the priesthood or in temple service. "As a
field devoted; the possession thereof shall be the priest's."--Le
27:21,28-29, Eze 44:29.

Keil and Delitzsch say "The rules laid down in the law respecting the
redemption of the first-born belonging to the Lord, and of persons vowed
to Him (Ex. 13:1,13; Num. 18:15,16; Lev. 27:1 sqq.), show clearly how
the Israelites could dedicate themselves and those who belonged to them
to the Lord, without burning upon the alter the persons who were vowed
to Him."

Koehler and Baumgartner define che'rem as a “thing or person devoted (to
destruction *OR SACRED USE* and therefore secluded from profane use).”--
(Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, Leiden, 1958, p. 334) 

The "Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament" says: "he dedicated his
only daughter to lifelong service in the tabernacle, as seems at least
possible" and the idea of "burning is essentially secondary to the
giving of the whole creature to Yahweh."

Second, the only humans who were ever unredeemably devoted to
destruction were those viewed as willfully wicked or apostate
individuals. Jephthah's daughter does not fit this mold and it would
also make her the only human sacrifice made by anyone faithful in the
Scripture accounts.

Third, It would be an insult to Yahweh, a disgusting thing in violation
of his law, to make a literal human sacrifice. He strictly commanded
Israel from before Jephthah's time, to long after, not to sacrifice
their children: "Thou shalt not learn to do after the abominations of
those nations. There shall not be found with thee anyone that maketh his
son or his daughter to pass through the fire...For whosoever doeth these
things is an abomination unto Jehovah, and because of these abominations
Jehovah thy God doth drive them out from before you." De 18:9-12, 2Ki
17:17; 21:6, Jer. 7:31.

God would curse, not bless, such a person. Yet, God heard his vow with
favor, and the Ammonites were subdued.—Jg 11:32, 33."The spirit of
Jehovah came upon Jephthah" shortly before he made this vow (11:29). It
is therefore reasonable to conclude that what Jephthah vowed was
entirely in harmony with God’s holy spirit, which would reject even the
mention of a human sacrifice.

Fourth, it would make Jephthah a hypocrite. The very ones Jephthah was
fighting, the Ammonites, practiced human sacrifice to their god Molech.
One of the rules of interpretation is that you do not needlessly make
the author contradict himself. To make Jephthah destroy the Ammonites
because of their human sacrifice and then claim he sacrificed his own
daughter to celebrate is beyond reason or logic when a figurative
meaning for the words "burnt sacrifice" perfectly fits and is allowed

Jephthah is given honorable mention, without reserve or censure, among
other champions of faith by both the prophet Samuel and the writer of
the book of Hebrews (1 Sam. 12:11; Heb. 11:32). "A prophetic historian
could never have approved of a human sacrifice; and it is evident that
the author of the book of Judges does not conceal what was blame-able
even in the judges themselves".--Keil & Delitzsch

Fifth, Jephthah’s daughter "had no relations with a man."(NAS) Had these
words applied only to the time prior to the carrying out of the vow,
they would have been superfluous, for she is specifically said to have
been a virgin. That the statement has reference to the fulfilling of the
vow is shown in that it follows the expression, "He carried out his vow
that he had made toward her." Actually, the record is pointing out that
also *AFTER* the vow was carried out she maintained her virginity. 

Keil and Delitzsch say "This clause would add nothing to the description
in that case, since it was already known that she was a virgin. The
words only gain their proper sense if we connect them with the previous
clause, he 'did with her according to the vow which he had vowed,' and
understand them as describing what the daughter did in fulfillment of
the vow...i.e.; he fulfilled the vow through the fact that she knew no
man, but dedicated her life to the Lord, as a spiritual burnt-offering,
in a lifelong chastity...Her friends went to lament her virginity."

Sixth, Jephthah’s daughter was visited "from year to year" by her
companions to "give her commendation." (Jg 11:40) The Hebrew word
TA·NAH', used here, also occurs at Judges 5:11, and in that text is
variously rendered, "rehearse" (KJ), "recounted" (AT), "repeat" (RS).
The word is defined in "A Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon" (edited by B.
Davies, 1957, p. 693) as "to repeat, to rehearse." At Judges 11:40 the
King James Version renders the term "lament," but the margin reads "talk

And last, the very submissive attitude of his daughter speaks eloquently
in favor of Jephthah. She did not think the vow foolish nor did she
censure her father for making it. Also, had she been facing certain
death, would she have wanted to mourn merely her virginity? Keil and
Delitzsch say "that she might lament her virginity, would have been
marvelously out of keeping with the account that she was to be put to
death as a sacrifice. To mourn one's virginity does not mean to mourn
because one has to die a virgin, but because one has to live and remain
a virgin...this must have stood in some peculiar relation to the nature
of the vow....The still further clause in the account of the fulfillment
of the vow, 'and she knew no man,' is not in harmony with the assumption
of a sacrificial death. 

Thus we also note that, after the record states that her father carried
out his vow regarding her, it says: "As for her, she never had relations
with a man." Would that have been the outstanding thing about her if she
had been the only human that had ever been actually sacrificed as a
burnt offering on an altar by one of God’s servants? That comment does
not seem to make sense unless we understand that she kept on living, but
as a virgin.—Judg. 11:39. 

And, too, there is nothing said elsewhere in the scriptures about the
regulation of the women visiting Jephthah's daughter. Why not? No doubt
because it only lasted as long as she was alive, after which it ceased.

It, therefore, does not seem reasonable to conclude that Jephthah
intended to offer up literally whoever came out to meet him as a burnt
offering. Such a course would go against God’s law about the sanctity of
human life and would be the only instance in the whole Bible where a
human was actually sacrificed by another person who had God’s approval.
Rather, it seems reasonable to conclude that what Jephthah intended, and
what he did, was that whoever came out to meet him was to be dedicated
to God’s service and that he used the expression "burnt offering" merely
as a figure of speech.—Gen. 9:6.

See references to others "devoted to the temple." 1Sa 1:11, 22-28; 2:11,
Jg 13:2-5, 11-14, Nu 30:3-5, 16.

Best regards,

Ron Rhoades

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