Jephthah’s Daughter: A Bible Story of God and Human Sacrifice – The Conclusion

jephthah__s_daughter_by_kevissimo

The Slaying of Jephthah’s Daughter

We saw in Part I that Christian apologists insist that Jephthah did not  ritually slaughter his own daughter and offer her up as a burnt-offering to the God of Israel. Instead, apologists maintain, Jephthah’s “sacrifice” was that his daughter was fated to consecrate the rest of her life as an unmarried virgin in full devotion to God. And, consequently, Jephthah to lose the opportunity to carry on the family’s lineage.

Ancient Jewish writers, however, had no doubt the sacrifice was  carried out as Jephthah vowed it would. Thus, everything rests on the precise wording of verses 11:30-31; 39 of the Hebrew text of Judges 11.

In his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, celebrated Christian apologist, Gleason L. Archer writes:

“The Hebrew text [of Judges 11:31] excludes the possibility of any animal serving as a candidate for this burnt offering since the phrase rendered “whatsoever [actually “whoever”] cometh forth of the doors of my house is never used of an animal.”[4]

Even Keil & Delitzsch state, “The words “he did to her his vow which he had vowed,” cannot be understood in any other way than that he offered her as עולה , i.e., as a burnt-offering, to the Lord.”

Old Testament specialist, Arthur E. Cundall, writes in his Tyndale Old Testament Commentary on Judges:

“Attempts have been made to show that Jephthah had an animal sacrifice in mind and that he was taken by surprise when his daughter came out to greet him; but these cannot be substantiated, since the designation, whoever comes forth from the doors of my house must refer to an intended human sacrifice.”[5]

And so when reading Judges 11:39, “And after two months, she returned to her father, and he [Jephthah] did to her as he had vowed,” it indicates she was, indeed, sacrificed up as a burnt offering. And that’s, that. End of story. Right?

Christian Apologists Fire Back

After stating that the Hebrew “whatever” [“אֲשֶׁר“ (“ă-šer”)] of Judges 11:31 could not possibly mean an animal, Gleason L. Archer then tries to save the situation by writing:

“It would have been altogether unthinkable for Jephthah or any other Israelite to imagine he could please God by committing such a heinous and abhorrent abomination in His presence or at His altar.”[6]

Archer and a slew of Christian apologists then cite those verses where God condemns human sacrifice.[7] Then, there’s that odd request that Jephthah’s daughter be allowed two months for her and her friends roam the hills of her homeland to bewail that she would die an unmarried virgin.

Christian apologists have pounced on this as evidence that Jephthah did not  put his daughter to death. Dave Miller (PhD.) of the website Apologetics Press.org  resorts to explaining away the problem using like arguments found on any number of apologist sites:

  • “First, the two-month period of mourning that Jephthah granted to his daughter was not to grieve over her impending loss of life, but over the fact that she would never be able to marry. She bewailed her virginity (bethulim)—not her death (11:37).
  • Second, the text goes out of its way to state that Jephthah had no other children: “[S]he was his only child. Besides her, he had neither son nor daughter” (11:34). For his daughter to be consigned to perpetual celibacy meant the extinction of Jephthah’s family line—an extremely serious and tragic matter to an Israelite (cf. Numbers 27:1-11; 36:1ff.).
  • Third, the sacrifice is treated as unfortunate—again, not because of any concern over her death, but because she would not become a mother. After stating that Jephthah “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed,” the inspired writer immediately adds, “and knew no man” (11:39). This statement would be a completely superfluous and callous remark if she had been put to death.
  • Fourth, the declaration of Jephthah’s own sorrow (11:35) follows immediately after we are informed that he had no other children (11:34). Jephthah was not upset because his daughter would die a virgin. He was upset because she would live and remain a virgin.”[8]

Yet another explanation is that Jephthah’s “sacrifice” was a “spiritual” one only. We read in Keil & Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament:

“All these circumstances (i.e., that human sacrifice was an abomination to God), when rightly considered, almost compel us to adopt the spiritual interpretation of the words “offer as a burnt-offering.” [Yet] it is true that no exactly corresponding parallelisms can be adduced from the Old Testament in support of the spiritual view.”[9]

A Further Rebuttal to the Apologists

Christian apologist websites dealing with the embarrassing episode of Jephthah’s daughter take great pains to emphasize how human sacrifice is an unparalleled abomination in the eyes of God. Verses taken from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are routinely listed to “prove” the ritual slaughter of Jephthah’s daughter would have been unacceptable to God.

But Christians seem to forget that God Himself ordered Abraham to ritually murder his son Isaac and offer him up as a burnt-offering (Genesis 22:1-13).

caravaggio-michelangelo-merisi-da-the-sacrifice-of-isaac

Yes, God had an angel stay Abraham’s knife-wielding hand at the last second. But Abraham was compelled to cruelly  go through with the sacrifice not knowing his hand would  be stayed. In the case of Jephthah’s daughter, God could have chosen to do the very same thing but, astonishingly, chose not  to.

If God saw no problem compelling Abraham to offer up Isaac to ritual slaughter, one can hardly be surprised by Jephthah’s sacrifice

A further fact has to be taken into consideration: the episode of Jephthah’s daughter took place at a very early time in Israelite history; at a time when the Israelites worshiped a variety of gods and not just Yahweh exclusively. Gods like Baal and Molech/Moloch were apparently widely worshiped and “honored” through the use of ritual child sacrifice. That is, until Yahwism eventually supplanted all pagan religions.

Molech 3 Cropped

Molech/Moloch and Ritual Child Sacrifice

One comes away  naturally thinking Yahweh could have simply taught Jephthah a lesson by having him endure the thought of having to ritually slaughter, proceed to do so, but then stay Jephthah’s hand as was done in Abraham’s case. But that, Yahweh choose not to do. And nowhere in Judges 11 does it definitively state Jephthah’s daughter was not  slain.

The “bottom line” is rather obvious. Jephthah did  sacrifice his daughter as he had vowed. The Hebrew text leaves practically no doubt about it. It’s just that Christians find the thought of Jephthah slaughtering his own daughter too objectionable a thought to believe true. But that was then and how sacred vows were carried out in those very early days. Jephthah and his sacrifice must be judged by ancient standards, not a modern one.

Part I Here


[1] Cf. I Kings 11:7; II Kings 23:10.

[2] Cf., Deut. 12:31, 18:10; Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5.

[3] This notion wasn’t conjured-up until the Middle-Ages. See Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/judges-11.html (verses 39-40).

[4] Archer, Gleason L., The Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), p. 164.; citing Keil and Delitzsch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, p. 385.

[5] Cundall, Arthur E, Tyndale Commentary Series. D. J. Wiseman and Leon Morris, series editors. 49 volumes. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015; Judges & Ruth, p. 146.

[6] Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 164.

[7] See, for example Leviticus 18:21, 20:1-5; Deuteronomy 12:29-31, 18:10; Jeremiah 32:35

[8] Miller, Dave. “Jephthah’s Daughter.” AplogeticsPress.org. http://apologeticspress.org/apPubPage.aspx?pub=1&issue=1131&article=2179 (Accessed on August 08, 2018)

[9] Keil & Dietzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/judges-11.html (verses 39-40).

 


4 thoughts on “Jephthah’s Daughter: A Bible Story of God and Human Sacrifice – The Conclusion
  1. Happily, there is no reason to believe this happened in real life, outside of the pages of sadistic religious fantasy fiction land… Ie. The bible.

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    • Yes. I don’t believe the story of Jephthah’s daughter to be a true historical fact. But there *is* evidence to suggest pre-Yahwist Israelites *did* practice human sacrifice. Not a few actually worshiped the pagan gods Baal and Molech/Moloch. Perhaps the Jephthah story is a take on one of those sacrifices. We must also bear in mind that even Yahweh ordered Abraham to ritually sacrifice Issac, which was a monstrously cruel thing to put Abraham through. What a “God,” eh?

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  2. I agree!

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