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Blogs are good for every one where we get lots of information for any topics nice job keep it up !!!

Great post.

Scripture often records the actions and words of biblical heroes that are anything but heroic, at best, and downright sinful at worst (Abraham procreating with Hagar, Abraham lying about his relationship with Sarah, Noah getting drunk, Lot's daughters procreating with their father, etc). I would not be bent out of shape if I were to come to the conclusion that Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter. There's a difference between scripture recording an historical fact and scripture endorsing/approving the same.

But on the use of the participle "hayotzei" (translated "whatever comes out") with an inanimate subject (i.e., thing), see Nehemiah 3:25, 26, 27, and also Ezekiel 33:30. Further, while it is certainly unusual for animals to come out/forth and "meet" someone, a young lion came roaring "liqra'to," "to meet" Samson (Judges 14:5; admittedly, with the attention of attacking him). Sheol (an impersonal subject) was excited to "meet" the King of Babylon when he would ultimately suffer his downfall and come there(Isaiah 14:9, "liqra't boekha").

The text of Judges 11 tells us that this daughter of Jephthah was his only child. He had no sons or daughters in addition to her. We might speculate on whom or what Jephthah was anticipating or expecting when he mouthed the words of his vow. He was certainly not expecting his daughter to proceed from the house at that time. His great grief and response of tearing his clothes when she did certainly bears that out. But even more so, the expression of his vow in 11:31 includes ONLY masculine language. "Hayotzei," "whatever comes out," is the masculine participle. This can take subjects of both natural and grammatical masculine gender. Likewise, also, Jephthah's vow that this same person or thing would be the Lord's employs a masculine verb ("vhayah," qal waw consec perfect 3rd person masculine singular). And finally, Jephthah vows "I will offer him/it up;" the pronominal suffix of the verb "offer" is masculine.

So there's no doubt that Jephthah was not intending for his daughter to come out of the house and greet him upon his return. His exclusive use of masculine forms would preclude that. We also know that he had no other children. So what else could he have been expecting to proceed from his house? An animal? Probably. A servant? I doubt it.

Despite having said all this however, it appears that in honoring the words of his vow, he probably did offer up his daughter. May we not be so foolish in making rash vows.

While studying this passage I found one of the great ironies was that Jephthah essentially promised Yahweh to sacrifice his child if he defeated the Ammonites. However, Yahweh had specifically commanded the Israelites not to sacrifice their children to Molech, an Ammonite god.

Jephthah wanted to honor Yahweh by performing a religious ritual of the very people he wanted to defeat!


In a book I'm writing, I focus on Jephthah's clan of Manasseh and stories pertaining to it and so spend some number of pages discussing his daughter. Having seen some of these arguments for a literal interpretation elsewhere, I had concluded that the literal read is almost certainly correct although I also acknowledged the other.

One thing I have never come across and so would be interested in hearing more about, even just for personal knowledge (I imagine it would be far too much of a digression for the book, in which I do not even lay the case out for a literal read but just note my leaning), is the notion that having children was important for the afterlife in the Judaism (or is it the religions of the surrounding culture?) of that era. I know of the emphasis on children for present life and for heritage but not afterlife. Would you care to share more?

Thank you.

To Irving I would comment that I believe the language of the vow was intended to let Yahweh choose. It is not that he was expecting his daughter, indeed, his dearest hopes were that deity would not exact so heavy a charge. The use of the masculine forms would be typical if either male or female were possible.

In response to Deborah, yes, there is much information from the ancient world indicating that descendants played in an important role in a person's situation in the afterlife. In the cultures around Israel the care for the dead by the living included ritual meals and other forms of honor and recognition. The gods no longer cared for the dead, so it was left for living descendants to care for their needs. In Israel they often imitated these rituals just as they often adopted the gods of their neighbors. But even in orthodox behavior, descendants made sure that proper burial was given and kept the dead "alive" by remembering them and repeating their name.

Thanks Dr. Walton.

Two further questions if I might:

1. Jepthah's vow, while a vow, was still spoken as a prayer. He addressed God in the 2nd person ("im naton titein," "if YOU will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, etc."). If we accept that God answered Jephthah by giving the sons of Ammon into his hand - the text tells us as much in v. 32 - are we to understand that God also intervened so that Jephthah's daughter was the first to emerge from the house to greet Jephthah upon his return? If so, this would make for a very difficult theological prospect. If the literal physical sacrifice of his daughter was the consequence of the vow, then we ostensibly have a problem with God. Whether or not God specifically caused Jephthah's daughter to exit from the house at the critical moment of Jephthah's return, at the very least, He certainly allowed it. So, if we believe that Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter, how do we reconcile that with our theology of God?

2. The second question involves the wording of Jephthah's fulfillment of his vow. The text merely says (v. 39), "Vaya'as lah et nidro asher nadar," "he did to her according to the vow which he had made." The text is decidedly terse and very unspecific here. If Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter, it is, almost, as if the biblical author were being deliberately vague and obscure here. Admittedly, biblical authors (or sometimes, the later redactors, or scribes and copyists) sometimes had this proclivity especially if some detestable and abominable practice had been committed ("ishboshet" vs. "ishbaal."). But I would think that something so potentially noteworthy as Jephthah's sacrifice of his daughter would have been forever included in the record of scripture as a lesson for Israel and all her posterity. In other words, Jephthah's literal sacrifice of his daughter would have been too significant to gloss over and obscure in the biblical record. Any thoughts? Thanks.

I have this passage on my brain now and thoughts continue to flood my thinking. Herein is something very odd. Jephthah comes home and is horrified to find his daughter coming out of the house to meet him. Now he knows the fulfillment of his vow - whatever that may have entailed - must involve his daughter. On the one hand, here is a man who feels duty-bound and compelled to keep his vow. He says (Judges 11:35), "I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back." Wow, what a champion! What a man of his word! What devotion to the Lord! On the other hand, he has no qualms about taking innocent human life and/or about offering human sacrifice, both of which are proscribed in the Law in the strongest and clearest terms. Yahweh is against human sacrifice. In fact, it is detestable to Him. Clearly, Jephthah is a man with a warped priority. If I were faced with the choice of breaking a vow or offering up human sacrifice, I would break my vow ten times out of ten. In the hierarchy of sins, humanly speaking, breaking one's vow seems to pale in comparison to offering up human sacrifice. It is just hard to imagine that Jephthah, who is so morally conflicted about breaking his vow to Yahweh, has, however, no scruples about offering his daughter in sacrifice. Go figure this one out! Perhaps the literal, physical sacrifice of his daughter is not, in fact, in view in this passage.

Then, additionally, Jephthah's daughter is moved to weep over her virginity. Is it not odd that the impending loss of her life would not also expressly cause her to shed a tear? She seems not the least bit concerned that "'od me'at," "in a little while," she is going to undergo her own little holocaust. That, to me, is worth crying over. Yet all she can lament is her virginity, not her impending loss of life. Curious! Curious, to say the least!

Another thing too. We generally laud Isaac's willingness to lie down and allow his father to bind him to the altar on Moriah. To be quite honest, the text (Gen 22) doesn't really comment on his willingness or unwillingness. Interestingly, the rabbis are actually divided over Isaac's age at the time of the Akedah. If memory serves me correctly, Rashi mentions two different ages: 3 and 13 respectively. It would obviously be much easier to tie a three-year old boy down than it would a thirteen-year old. In response to Isaac's query, "Where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham would say only, "The Lord will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering." He did not let the cat out of the bag, per se, and answer, "Isaac, you're it!" Nevertheless, we commonly laud Isaac's willingness to be the sacrifice and point to him as foreshadowing, in type, Messiah's willing sacrifice. But if Judges 11 truly has a literal, physical sacrifice in view, then Isaac clearly has nothing on Jephthah's daughter! She must be the new standard of excellence for all who would aspire to be offered up in sacrifice!


Hi. The lives in the Bible sure can get ugly! And it seems God often leaves us to our own convoluted devices, at least in the short run. As I explore this story in my book, I consider the fruit of false religious notions, their potential effects on those we steward (to my best understanding, the focus on virginity is b/c she is grieving the fact that her life purpose as she understood it--to be a mother--is not to be; our false ideas can likewise harm those in our care and inhibit them from a realization of purpose even if we are trying to raise them up for that purpose). Additionally, I explore the mourning period and the memorial that is created. That God saw to it to have the details of this memorial in scripture, even if its observance faded away, suggests to me that He is trying to emphasize some things about women's portion of purpose being placed on the altar (I look at a number of scriptures that this description of mourning calls to mind, such as that of the barren woman having many children; I also remember that in the same clan we had the daughters of Zelophehad who had asked for an inheritance; there are a number of other matters which cause me to tend to tie Manassite stories to women's stories as well). In other words, it is a lesson from which future generations less tainted by the syncretism of the day (the spirits of their age) might gain understanding, and I try to unpack a few of them. She did not understand that the God of Israel would not call her to this sacrifice, but I'd like to think she did understand that somehow paying a lot of attention to this chapter was important and purposeful in itself. Future generations would essentially be asked to wrestle with her story and learn from it. In a way, she receives her purpose manifold through us if we will pay attention to the lessons I believe to be hidden in her story.

For whatever it's worth,

Briefly, Irving, here are my responses. I believe that the evidence suggests that Jephthah understood that his vow would involve human sacrifice--all that remained a mystery was which human. Certainly God cannot be removed from cause, but all we can say is that Jephthah's pagan vow was paid for with the highest price. Sometimes God gives what we deserve.

It is true that the text's statement of the fulfillment of the vow is non-specific, but grief sometimes uses euphemism, as when we talk of a person's "passing". The details were already made clear; the fulfillment is tastefully understated.

In relation to Jephthah's prioritizing the vow above his own daughter's life, this is not atypical in the ancient world. Vows were a deadly serious matter.

Jephthah's noble daughter grieves over her virginity (betuleyah). At the first level this would have to do with the popular beliefs about afterlife--that one's situation in the afterlife is maintained only by living descendants. Afterlife is forever, so her virginity has more lasting significance than her life. Additionally a question remains concerning the precise nuance of the abstraction, betulim ("virginity"). A betulah (usually translated virgin) refers less to sexual status and more to social status (see my article in the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis). A betulah is under the authority of her father. She ceases to be a betulah when she comes under the authority of a husband--when she becomes a wife. I am not sure what the implications of that are for this narrative, but it warns against too facile a conclusion that she was mourning that she would never have a sexual experience. Perhaps Deborah is close to the mark that she is mourning that she will never grow into her adult role and womanly destiny. But it is less connected to motherhood (in which case she would have mourned her alumim) and more connected to her status as a wife with a household (of course, including children).

It IS a fascinating passage is it not?

Thanks Dr. Walton. It certainly is a most fascinating passage! Thanks too, Deborah, for your interaction and contribution.

While "Bethuleyah" may well connote social status over sexual status, it is interesting to note the commentary of the biblical author in his postscript and etiological conclusion. He says, of Jephthah's daughter, "Vehi' lo' yad'ah ish;" "She had not had relations with (Lit., "Known") a man." Thus, the author's words, at least, seem to focus more on the sexual issue than they do on the social issue.

By the way, Rabbi David Kimche (RaDak) believes (with others) that the fact that there is no specific mention of a literal, physical sacrifice is reason to believe that no sacrifice, in fact, took place. I do not offer this last piece of information to rebut any contrary opinions given above in this thread. I only offer it by way of information. In other words, do with it what you will. But this passage has no doubt sparked some very interesting dialogue. A Happy New Year to all. Power to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at Wrigley tomorrow!

Dr. Walton,

It appears I neglected to say thanks previously for your clarification. I am finally getting back to my manuscript to make revisions that it might be publisher-ready. Since my mom had read the former draft and indicated perplexity at the section on Jephthah's daughter (having been taught by her Hebrew teacher that the daughter was only kept a virgin), I have incorporated some of your comments with reference to this page.

Thank you!

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