Jephthah and his daughter

Bryan Rocine 596547 at
Tue Sep 15 17:37:38 EDT 1998

Hi Irene,

You wrote:

> From: Irene Riegner <iriegner at>
> To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
> Subject: Re: Jephthah and his daughter
> Date: Tuesday, September 15, 1998 11:51 AM
> Dear List People,
> I vowed not to respond to the question of Jephthah's sacrifice....
> perhaps I should be sacrificed

Ha, ha!  Gotcha!   ;-)

> 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

Maybe.  You have to admit some conjecture here.  Be that as it may, let's
give proper regard to this deuteronomist's literary saavy.  The frame is a
formidable control which I have in a previous post called the text's own
moral viewpoint.  Expert literary critics like Alter, Berlin, Fokkelman, et
al have been able to demonstrate that a number of "problem texts," texts
some might call inconsistent, are indeed thematic and effective when read
correctly.  Take the seeming intrusion of the Judah and Tamar episode into
the life of Joseph as an example.  In the Jephthah account, I don't guess
that the redactor was so lapse or bound in a literary tradition as to
attempt "force-fitting" stock narratives into the didactic frame which were
all or partly contradictory to the frame. 

On the other hand, I will admit to the Biblical narrator's propensity for
writing a two-sided story.  Few characters of Biblical narrative are
positive role models, positive representations of the "text's moral
viewpoint" from the beginning to the ending of their time on stage.  Yet
the narrator won't let the inconsistencies escape censure or penalty; in
this way, even bad acts are used as good examples which present the moral
viewpoint in negative relief.  This we know is the Biblical rule of
narration, but it is violated in the Jephthah episode *if* indeed Jephthah
killed his daughter.  

Even those of us who accept the text as a historical record, must regard it
as a fiction in another sense.  All narrative, "fiction" or "non-fiction,"
is fiction in the sense that a story-teller chooses what to tell and what
not to tell.  Clinton has admitted to an improper relationship with ML. 
The relationship is a historical source for narrative.  There are any
number of versions of the narrative though, Monica's, Bill's, Starr's,
David Letterman's, etc., all fictions in a sense, however true are the
facts in any of them.  They're fictions for no other reason than no one
tells *all* the facts.  All pick and choose depending on the point they
want to make.  Everyone's building a case.

I expect that the Biblical narrators are at least as good at case-building
as any of us.  So it troubles me to think that the narrator let his case
slip by including a story about an otherwise righteous man, an otherwise
approved man, who murders his daughter to fulfill a vow.  It makes me
suspect I am not reading properly, and it makes me want to look for every
excuse to doubt he did it.  This is not to be mistaken for a personal
revulsion to the act.  It is a literary suspension of disbelief(in the
narrator's craft).


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