Jephthah and his daughter
iriegner at concentric.net
Tue Sep 15 11:51:29 EDT 1998
Dear List People,
I vowed not to respond to the question of Jephthah's sacrifice....
perhaps I should be sacrificed
What is the book of Judges? Basically, it's a bunch of tribal legends
that have been gathered and edited by the deuteronomic school and placed
within a frame, also provided by the deuteronomic editors. Remove the
deuteronomic frame and all we have are a bunch of unrelated tribal
legends of undetermined origin and date. The frame gives
coherence---chronological and ideological---to tribal legends.
The deuteronomic frame is an attempt to make sense of these legends by
putting them into a context of Yhvh's actions---reward and
punishment---and in a context of yhvh worship vs worship of other gods.
As such, they skirt the margins of a kulturkampf, Yhvh'ists vs
Philistines, Ammonites, Midianites, etc., but many of the "judges" do
not fit the deuteronomic mold. They were not Yhvh'ists in the
deuteronomic sense nor did they know about the deuteronomic "code."
Some of the judges had personal altars. Gideon tore down his father's
altar to Baal, built one to yhvh, but after his victories, built an
ephod (?) which was worshipped. Michah built an image to Yhvh and had
terraphim. The distinction between the Israelites of the judges and
their neighbors was at best hazy---perhaps the only difference was in
the names of the deities while the rituals were similar.
The deuteronomic frame, written at least 500 years after these events,
wants us, as readers, to see a much stronger distinction than that which
exists when the legends are removed from this frame. The deuteronomists
understood these legends from the perspective of the 7th cent (?), 6th
cent (?), 5th cent (?) BCE., but the stories had been around for
centuries, at least half a millennia. The deuteronomist is already
interpreting them. Likewise in using Hebrews or any late text to
understand Jephthah or Judges---these later texts see Jephthah through
more than a millennium of interpretation and through eyes far removed
from the cultural, social and economic structures of the period. They
tell us more about the interests of the interpreters than about the
stories they interpret.
If Judges illustrates a break down in human society, it is because we
are reading the text through a pro-monarchic or at least the
pro-centralization stance of the deuteronomic editing. References to
the period of the judges---LBA/IA 1---describe it as a time when "each
man walked in his own way". And yes, one might read the story of Micah
as a break down in human society but it can also be read as a problem of
an expanding population and the need for land. N. Gottwald sees this
period, late bronze / early iron 1, as an ideal time in Israelite
history, a period of small political units with local participation (at
least by the men) and a period of relative economic and social
equality---compared to the monarchic period (see Amos).
If we ask about celibacy, we are looking at the text through Christian
(and perhaps Greek) eyes. As far as my plain understanding of the
Hebrew text and early "Israelite" social organization is concerned,
celibacy is not an issue nor a part of the value system nor an option
for Israelite women. Is there a word in biblical Hebrew for
The scholarly issue surrounding women and temples in ancient Israel and
Canaan and Ugarit does not concern the role of celibate women but women
and temple "prostitution." In a society where the first commandment is
"be fruitful and multiply" and where childless women feel scorned, there
isn't any room for celibacy. Nor does there appear to be a social role
for celibate women. In a yearly ritual, the daughters of Israel mourn
(if "ltnwt" does mean "mourn") the daughter of Jephthah not because she
died but because she died a virgin.
The statement "and she did not know a man" follows the etnacha which
divides vs 39 and changes the point of view from father to daughter.
Since vs 37 also says she's a virgin, this repetition is unnecessary.
The next phrase "and it became a custom/law in Israel" is separated from
the previous phrase by two vertical dots (zqf qt.wn = zaqayf qaton)
indicating disjunction but not as strong a disjunction as an etnacha.
It seems to me this disjunction represents a switch to the narrator's
voice. The narrator changes the thrust of the story from one of human
drama to etiology---why young women go to the hills to perform a yearly
ritual to Jephthah's daughter. And the answer to this is because she
did not know a man---she died a virgin---something which young women in
Israel did not want and which they wail about. This is the reason for
the repetition of the information.
Vs 37 has an interesting phrase. J's daughter says "let me go and I
WILL GO DOWN (yrd) ON THE MOUNTAIN." One usually goes UP a mountain
(<l> = alah, to ascend). I'm not sure what to do with it.
To be a bit facetious: Had Jephthah's daughter (unlike Isaac, she is
nameless) not been killed, her father would have probably found a ram in
By the way, what does a herem (xrm) have to do with Jephthah. I don't
think its even mentioned in that particular story? The vow (ndr) is the
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