Jephthah and his daughter

Ita Sheres isheres at
Sun Sep 13 02:52:58 EDT 1998

While your detailed response to some very difficult questions regarding
the Daughter is interesting and worth while remembering, it is important
to also note that Jeph. is not portrayed as spiritually whole as you
suggest; he is a warrior first and foremost; he is an outcast who is
brought back by the elders of the tribe only because they believe that he
has the physical prowess to ultimately defeat the Ammonites.  Jeph. is
thus somewhat insecure and not too clear on his position in Gilead; in
fact when his family throws him out he is joined by what the text calls
"empty people."  Moreover, when he makes his infamous vow, God's spirit
was already with him - why did he then need the vow? Even more curious,
when he sees his Daughter in a welcoming mode rushing to celebrate his
victory, he tears up his clothes and blames her for "bringing him low" -
as if his vow was "her fault."  If the whole thing is about spirituality
as you suggest in your interpretation - why is there so much mourning
going on?  In the last verse of Jud.11 "the daughters of Israel" go to
"letanot" which also means to mourn!  You are right to point out that the
word has other meanings and that it can stand for a elebration thus
placing the Daughter in the center of the whole story - she is the one who
is remembered here, not her father who dies with no children and no real

Ita Sheres. 

On Sat, 12 Sep 1998, Ron Rhoades wrote:

> 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
> long).
> 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
> linguistically.
> 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
> with." 
> 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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