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 343
father should carry out his vow does not mean that she thinks him
right to have made it in the first place. â€œâ€˜â€¦and bewail my virginityâ€™â€.
The phrase is peculiar. One usually bewails something that one has
lost, or is going to lose (48). Keddell (49) and Wood argue that the text
favours the idea that the girl faces not death but perpetual virginity,
but it is scarcely natural to take bewailing oneâ€™s virginity to mean
bewailing the fact that one has to remain so. Presumably she wishes to
lament the fact that she will die a virgin (50). (Having two months to
prepare herself would however, one may suppose, scarcely make her
fate any more palatable.)
The passage concludes: â€œAnd it came about that at the end of two
months she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her
that he had vowed. She did not know/had never known a manâ€
(11,39a). Sir Thomas Browne argued from the last clause that what the
former means is not that he sacrificed her but that he consecrated her
to virginity (51). The Christian Fathers, like the Rabbis, generally
accepted that what is narrated is the death of the girl. Marcus calls the
former construal consequential (she was dedicated to virginity, and
remained alive but unmarried), the latter circumstantial (she died
without having slept with a man) (52). It is true that if it is circum-
stantial the clause â€œshe did not know/had never known a manâ€ is not
strictly necessary, since the reader already knows that she was a virgin,
whereas if it is consequential it is essential. Nevertheless, if one takes
the girl to have been sacrificed, as I do, one can see great point in the
clause: it stresses the pathos of her fate.
In Gen 22 a heavenly voice stays Abrahamâ€™s hand, and (as in some
versions of the Agamemnon and the Idomeneus stories) substitutes an
animal. Phyllis Trible wryly comments: â€œThough the son was saved,
the daughter is slainâ€ (53). The text does indeed perhaps assume that
women are more expendable than men.
(49) KEDDELL, Dissertation, 77; WOOD, Distressing Days of the Judges, 290.
(50) Like Antigone in Sophocles Antigone 806-816, 876-882, and Polyxena in
Euripides Hecuba 416. Ps Philo (LAB 40) places a poetic lament of 26 lines on
the lips of Jephthahâ€™s daughter.
(51) So too, for example, G. HAKEWILL, An Apologie or Declaration of the
Power and Providence of God â€¦ (Oxford 31635) 3; W. ROMAINE, Jephthahâ€™s
vow fulfilled, and his daughter not sacrificed, proved in a sermon preached
before the University at St Maryâ€™s in Oxford, Aug. 1744 (London 21747); W.
WHISTON (tr. and ed.), The Works of Flavius Josephus (London [n.d.]) 135 n. 1.
(52) MARCUS, Jephthah and His Vow, 33.
(53) TRIBLE, Texts of Terror, 105.