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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344 Bernard P. Robinson
11,40 is a little enigmatic: â€œThe daughters of Israel went four days
each year twntl, to celebrate/recount/talk about, the daughter of
Jephthah the Gileaditeâ€. hnt is found in the sense â€œrecountâ€ at Judg
5,11. The Versions have â€œlamentâ€, which may presuppose a different
reading (with perhaps the verb Ë†nq). Browne, citing the translation of
Immanuel Tremellius (54), took twntl to mean â€œto talk withâ€ [so KJV
margin] quoting the verse in favour of his interpretation of v. 39 in
terms of consecrated virginity. This, though, is without parallel. The
text probably has the young women recalling the memory of the
sacrificed maiden and by implication deploring the making and
implementation of Jephthahâ€™s vow. At the last the daughter gains
recognition; it is she not her father who is remembered, for a whole
four days each year.
That the story of Jephthahâ€™s daughter is historical, and that an
annual ceremony of commemoration existed at one time in Northern
Israel, is quite possible (55). Or perhaps there was a tradition, whether
among Israelites or Canaanites, of a four-day period of lamentation
that generated, aetiologically, a story of the sacrifice of a young girl, or
led to the adoption of such a story from outside Israel, where, as noted
earlier, the motif was not uncommon. Who can say? It is more
profitable, I think, to proceed as I have done, by seeing how both the
sacrifice and the commemorative practice function in the Book of
Judges as it has come down to us.
5. Judg 12,1-7: Jephthah and Gilead versus Ephraim. Jeththahâ€™s
Death and Burial.
Jephthah was punished for his improper oath and its
implementation, according to Jewish tradition. Judg 12,7 (MT) says
that he â€œwas buried d[lg yr[b, in the cities of Gileadâ€: â€œthis teachesâ€,
says Leviticus Rabbah, â€œthat limb after limb fell off his body and he
was buried in many placesâ€ (56). yr[b is probably in fact an error for
wr[b, â€œin his cityâ€ (cf LXX, Pesh). It was sufficient punishment in the
eyes of the narrator, one may think, that Jephthahâ€™s action should lead
(54) Testamenti Veteris Biblia Sacra â€¦, Jud 11,42 IbËt filiae Israelitarum ad
confabulandum cum filia Jephthaci Gilhaditae, quatuor diebus quotannis. She
became, says Juniusâ€™ note, a perpetual female Nazirite.
(55) Epiphanius (Adv. Haer. III.2.24) asserts that at Shechem (Neapolis, in his
day) there was a custom of commemorating KorË‡ [Persephone]. He opines that
this rite will have been occasioned by the sacrifice of Jephthahâ€™s daughter.
(56) LevR 37,4; similarly GenR 37,4 and QohR 10,15.