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 345
to his line dying out. The comparative brevity of his career as a judge
(six years: 12,7) may also be construed as a divine punishment (57).
The other judges are said to have judged Israel for periods of seven to
twenty three years (Ibzan, Jephthahâ€™s immediate successor judges
Israel for only seven years, but he is blessed with thirty sons and thirty
daughters, 12,8-9, whereas Jephthah dies without issue), and Gideon is
seemingly ascribed a career of forty years (8,28). It is possible too that
one is meant to read the outbreak of civil war between Gilead and
Ephraim, resulting in the death of forty-two thousand Ephraimites
(Judg 12,1-60), as a punishment for Jephthahâ€™s behaviour (58). The
people of Ephraim had complained to Gideon in similar terms, of
being left out of a campaign, but Gideonâ€™s soft answer had turned
away their wrath (7,23â€“8,3). Jephthah answers the Ephraimites much
less diplomatically and goes to war against the tribe of Ephraim. Our
impression is confirmed that the narrator views Jephthah with some
distaste. Man of God he may have been, but a badly flawed one.
II. Re-reading the Vow Story
One ploy for relecture of the story is to interpret it typologically.
There is an early example of such a treatment in a marble panel
probably executed in Jerusalem in the seventh century that is to be
found in St Catherineâ€™s monastery on Sinai; here the sacrifice offered
by Saint (!) Jephthah (dressed as a Roman soldier and pulling his
daughter â€™s head back by holding her hair) is represented alongside that
offered by Abraham, as a foreshadowing of the death of Christ (59).
There is an illustration of the scene in similar terms in a Bible found in
the BibliothÃ¨que dâ€™ArsÃ©nal in Paris (Cod. 5211), probably produced
in Acre in the 13th century. (The scene is also represented, though
(57) So REIS, Reading the Lines, 128. According to her, however, the
punishment is not for making a rash vow but for allowing his daughter to go off
and indulge in heathen rites.
(58) Jephthah â€œpresides over a bloody civil war in which tens of thousands of
fellow Israelites die at the hands of his armyâ€ (ALTER, The Art of Biblical
(59) See K. WEITZMANN, â€œThe Jephthah Panel in the Bema of the Church of
St. Catherineâ€™s Monastery on Mount Sinaiâ€, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964)
341-352 and plates 4-6, 14. It is interesting to note that the Ps Philo has
Jephthahâ€™s daughter remind her father that Isaac had been glad to let his father
sacrifice him (LAB 40; the sacrifice of Isaac is mentioned also in 18 and 32,
though oddly not in 8 in the account of Abrahamâ€™s life).