The daughter of Jeftah died?

Polycarp66 at Polycarp66 at
Mon Jun 3 08:18:55 EDT 2002

In a message dated 6/3/2002 7:24:56 AM Eastern Daylight Time, sh at 

> Sorry for not having answered before. Was on my way from Copenhagen to
> Jerusalem. I should possibly have kept out of this, as I don't have a
> well-thought-out and "finished" interpretation of the Yiphtach episode that
> I want to promote. All I wanted to say was, if we focus on the historical
> referent of the text (the past event), and so limit interpretation of the
> text to questions of how that EVENT is to be understood ("an early stage in
> Israelite reliogion" vs "an early perversion of Israelite religion") we
> might be entirely overlooking issues of how the TEXT is to be understood,
> which might have nothing to do with what may or may not have happened in the
> past, but rather with how the world was perceived by the author and his
> community of faith. I wouldn't necessarily call it a morality tale (as the
> point could be about matters other than the strictly ethical) and certainly
> wouldn't say it was "just" a morality (or any other brand of) tale, as tales
> may often have more, and not less, to tell us than eye-witness reporting.
> I'm not sure whether the text offers an answer or not, but it seems to me
> quite obviously to be raising a philosophical question buy asking something
> like "is a man to blame if he involuntarily commits himself morally (by
> making a promise) to carrying out an utterly immoral act like sacrificing
> his child? And what is God's role in this?". Actually I think this is rather
> close to the problematic Soren Kierkegaard took up in writing about the
> Aqedah/Abraham's proposed sacrifice of his son -- thanks Ben Crick for the
> reference -- and I can't believe the ancients were so much more callous than
> Kierkegaard that they couldn't perceive the horror of killing one's child.

Ah, yes, good old "Fear and Trembling."  I recall reading it in a class in 
Existentialism with Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff years ago.  It was 
comprehensible compared to "Sickness unto Death" which rather had my head 

Regarding whether this account reflects actual events, I rarely expect that 
any of our texts do.  Rudolf Bultmann lead us to see the gospels as the 
creation of the NT church and its kerugma rather than reflective of history 
(or if they are, that is incidental).  I think we can say the same for the OT 
passages with the possible exception of the prophets. 

My take on this, however, is that the story cannot be understood to be 
totally unreflective of history.  In this case this would not mean that such 
an event took place to a particular individual at a particular time under 
particular circumstances whom we call Jephthah.  It rather would indicate 
that historically such things did happen.  Regarding the 'morality play' 
idea, I am inclined to think that, although some searching for a moral in the 
story is simply a fishing expedition to attempt to resurrect the status of 
the text as important in the canon, there is an inherent chill which settles 
over one when he reads this which would lead to the impression that one 
should be very careful when he makes any vow or promise.  Perhaps that is the 
moral if it indeed has one.

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