Bernard P. Robinson, «The Story of Jephthah and his Daughter: Then and Now», Vol. 85 (2004) 331-348
In Judges 11 Jephthah is an anti-hero, his rash vow and its implementation being for the Book of Judges symptoms of the defects of pre-monarchical Israel. The daughter is probably sacrificed; the alternative view, that she is consigned to perpetual virginity, has insufficient support in the text. The story speaks still to present-day readers, challenging them not to make ill-considered judgments that may have disastrous consequences; inviting them too to detect a divine purpose working through human beings in their failings as well as their strengths.
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The Story of Jephthah and his Daughter: Then and Now 341
had neither son nor daughterâ€ (11,34) (37). The point is to highlight the
fact that the death of his daughter would cut off Jephthahâ€™s line.
11,35-38 presents a dialogue between Jephthah and his daughter.
As Webb notes, each of the five episodes in the Jephthah story carries
a dialogue, and â€œit is in the dialogue that the real dramatic interest of
each episode is centredâ€ (38). The first speaker here is the father:
He tore his clothes, and said, â€œAlas, my daughter! You have brought
me very low! It is
you who are the cause of my calamity!â€ (11,35).
One gets a strong impression that Jephthah has not reckoned with
the possibility that it would be his daughter that would meet him.
Augustine suggests that he was rather anticipating taking the knife to
his wife; the appearance of the daughter will, Augustine thinks, be
Godâ€™s punishment for his wicked plans (39). That would, however, be
very hard on the girl, and would make the story even more indi-
gestible than it otherwise is. Perhaps he is to be thought of as
expecting one of his domestics to be the hapless victim. What is clear
is that Jephthah, like Agamemnon, wastes little sympathy on his
daughter, indeed he as good as blames her for his troubles; his
thoughts are all centred on himself. One may suppose that he feels
sorry for himself not just because he is to lose his daughter but
because, since she is his only child, his line is to be abruptly cut
short (40). One is left in no doubt that he has brought this on himself,
for he â€œhas debased religion (a vow, an offering) into politicsâ€ (41).
Just as the elders of Gilead had earlier offered Jephthah an
inducementâ€“â€“that he should be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead
(11,8) â€“â€“ in order to get him to fight for them, so now Jephthah has
(37) wnmm is strictly speaking masculine, meaning â€œfrom himâ€. Hence Kimchi
inferred that Jephthah was married to a widow with children that he had adopted;
this daughter was the only child that was Jephthahâ€™s own. (See A. COHEN â€“ A.J.
ROSENBERG (eds), Joshua, Judges [SBBS; London â€“ Jerusalem â€“ New York
1987] 44). More probably the masculine stands here, as not uncommonly (GKC
135 O), in place of the feminine.
(38) WEBB, Judges, 73.
(39) PL 34.812.
(40) If an intertextual allusion to Gen 22 is to be detected, one may note that
Godâ€™s vow to Abraham issues in countless descendants, while that of Jephthah to
YHWH leaves Jephthah childless. See E. LEACH, Genesis as Myth and Other
Essays (London 1969) 37-38 (â€œthe two stories appear as mirror images of each
otherâ€); MARCUS, Jephthahâ€™s Vow, 38-40.
(41) WEBB, Judges, 74.