Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Sun Jan 27 15:41:23 EST 2002

Dear Jonathan,

The acceptance of human sacrifices neither accords with the 
personality of YHWH as it is described in the Tanach, nor with the 
laws therein. Even a criminal who were hanged on a tree as a curse 
was first killed. I agree that there is no condemnation of human 
sacrifice in the account of Jephrah's daughter, but that is because 
such a sacrifice was not at stake - as I understand the account.

I agree that the most natural antecedent of the suffix HU of the verb 
(LH in Judges 11:31 is "the one who comes out of the door" (= 
Jephtah's daughter). However, we shall not forget that the writer of 
Judges and his contemporaries had a common "presupposition pool" that 
we lack. Because of this, we can overlook nuances that can point in a 
different direction than our first apprehension.

The text does not say that Jephtah's daughter really was sacrificed, 
but there are clues that suggest othervise. The promise of Jephtah 
included two things, the person should be the property of YHWH, and 
s/he should be sacrificed.  Jephtah faught against the Ammonites who 
practiced human sacrifice to their god Molech. This was, according to 
the law, detestable for YHWH (Deut 18:9-12). When Samuel became the 
property of YHWH, animal sacrifices were offered up (1 Sam 1:11, 
22-28). I therefore think that the understanding of the 
contemporaries of the writer of Judges, was that animal sacrifices 
were offered rather than Jephtah's daughter herself. This accords 
both with the phenomeon of speech that God (and other persons) are 
said to have done something when it actually is done by others 
("indirect expression") the practice of redemption, a value or a 
price can be taken in the place of something else (e.g. money for the 

Three clues in the account speaks in favor of this interpretation:

1) Jephtah's daughter did not weep because she thought she would die, 
but rather because she would never marry.
2) The words of 11:39 L) YD(H )Y$ most naturally refer to the time 
*after* her father had carried out his vow. If that was not the case 
the words would be superfluous, because she is specially said to have 
been a virgin (v 37).
3) The young Israelite women (her friends, mentioned in verse 37) 
went to Jephtah's daughter four days a year to speak to her. I take 
TNH in the same sense as it is used in 5:11 ("recount", "rehearse"). 
This suggests that she was alive and served at the sanctuary as a 
"given one".

Abraham's attempt to sacrifice Isaac was, according to the text, 
ordered by YHWH to test his faith, and it was, according to the text, 
never YHWH's intention that it should be carried out. So my 
understanding is that none of the writers of the books of the Tanach 
would condone human sacrifice.



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

>The rashness of Jephthah's vow comes across very clearly in the narrative,
>as does the rashnes of Saul's in 1 Sam. 14. But there is no condemnation by
>the author, either overt or implied, of human sacrifice. The same goes for
>Saul's intention to sacrifice Jonathan - the people condemn the intention to
>sacrifice the hero of the day and redeem him, but nowhere is there
>condemnation in principle  of human sacrifice. Likewise Gen. 22, the Binding
>of Isaac - the angel stops Abraham in the act of sacrifice and a ram is
>discovered to take Isaac's place; but nowhere in the narrative is there
>condemnation, neither overt nor implied, either by God or by the author of
>the very practice of human sacrifice.
>Jonathan D. Safren
>Dept. of Biblical Studies
>Beit Berl College
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Glenn Blank" <glennblank at>
>To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at>
>Sent: Saturday, January 26, 2002 2:24 PM
>Subject: Re: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..
>>  ----------
>>  >From: "Jonathan D. Safren" <yon_saf at>
>>  >To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
>>  >Subject: Re: Monotheism was: "admittedly syncretistic..
>  > >Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2002 11:02:12 +0200
>>  >
>>  > The God who accepts human sacrifice in Jud. 11 is not the same God who
>>  forbids it in >Deuteronomy.
>>  God accepting human sacrifice?  No, but a man who made a rash vow, never
>>  intending it to be a human sacrifice, but determined to keep his vow to
>  > letter.  Jud. 11 gives no indication of God's reaction to this sacrifice.

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