Jephthah and his daughter

Stephen Knapp sknapp at
Tue Sep 15 11:26:28 EDT 1998

Ron Rhoades wrote:
> However this doesn't really have a bearing on his "sacrifice" being
> approved by God. The text makes it clear that he was acceptable to
> God, and later Bible writers support this approval, which would be
> incongruous if it were a literal human sacrifice. Something that he
> was fighting against and at Jehovah's direction no less. His vow may have
> been rash, but it could not have been against his own standards and
> God's commands.

The problem here is the way the Biblical Theology hermeneutic is being
applied to this text.  The story does not say Jephthah was fighting the
Ammonites because they practised human sacrifice, nor does it say he was
commanded by God to fight them on that or any other ground.  The only
reason ever given in the story for his fighting the Ammonites is because
the Gileadites were being harassed ("oppressed") by the Ammonites and
called on Jephthah's raiding band to lead the battle against them.  This
motivation is made an explicit part of the story in 12:2-3.

In the story world, the character of Jephthah does not seem to have a
problem with offering a vow of human sacrifice in the first place.  He
knows nothing of any prohibition of such a thing.  If he had thought of
human sacrifice as abhorrent to Yahweh, how could he have imagined that
Yahweh would respond positively to the offer?  So the setting of the
story recalls a time when Yahweh was worshipped according to a different
set of rules than those which governed the religious community of Israel
that canonized the text.  Some kind of stringent law concerning devoted
things does influence this character, but not the prohibition of human

Unless we are ready to make some pretty hefty assumptions about why such
stories are told in the Bible, why would we assume that Jephthah had to
act against his principles at any time?

Stephen A. Knapp, sknapp at
PhD candidate, Old Testament Biblical Studies
Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
Part time faculty: Department of Theology
Valparaiso University (Indiana)

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