Monday, December 10, 2007

Jepthath's Daughter: What do you think?



Judges 11

Did Jepthath offer his daughter as a burnt offering, or did he make her a perpetual virgin?

Some commentators say she was killed, others say she became a virgin priestess.

What do you think?

Jepthath's daughter is perhaps one of the most famous nameless characters in the Bible. No doubt in heaven, everybody will want to meet her and ask her what really happened.

22 comments:

Andrew said...

Tricky question! I can see both sides of the argument so I sit on the fence on this one. However I thought Merrill gave some good reasons why the view that she became a virgin priestess is correct (An Historical Survey of the Old Testament, p. 169-170):
1) The narrative states that Jephthah was filled with the Spirit of God so human-sacrifice would be unlikely.
2) Surely Jephthah would have been aware of the possibility of his daughter coming out of the house on his return.
3) In verse 31, the conjunction "waw" could be translated "or" thus reading something like, "whatever comes out of the door of my house... will be Yahweh's or I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."
4) Jephthah's concern over the vow was that the family name would not be carried on.
5) The daughter bewailed her virginity rather than the brevity of life.
6) The text reads, "she knew no man" which makes more sense in the view that she lived in perpetual virginity.

However I can see how the view that she was put to death also makes sense because even in that case, it would be reasonable to lament the discontinuation of the family name.

Tricky! What do you think?

God bless,
Andrew

Trent said...

Wow, no comment. If she was offered as a burnt sacrifice however, he sinned, and sinned big.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Andrew, I think he did not offer her up. I think she became a virgin priestess.

The first reason that Unger gives is a little problematic, however.

If we say that he did not kill her because he was filled with the Spirit, are we then to say that his vow was also made in the spirit and not, as is generally held, a morally reprehensible vow?

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Trent,

No comment? That looks very much like a comment to me.

Good point. If he did kill her, he did a terrible thing. Would the author of Hebrews praise the perpetrator of such an act?

Rachel said...

The following links are very good regarding this issue:

The most thorough and my favorite for this issue:
Article on Tektonics

This one provides a few insights as well (the brief discussion of Jepthah's daughter is almost all the way to the bottom of this link):
Article on Christian ThinkTank

A couple of pertinent items/quotes from the above links. First, "[d]id [Jephthah] make this vow knowing that a human might come walking out of his house? It is common for conservatives to appeal to Jeppie's ignorance in this case, and note that houses of the Biblical period typically had a stockyard that surrounded the house, so that Jephthah could very well have supposed that an animal would be the first thing to meet him."

Also, a summary: "We therefore conclude that while Jeppie was not a particularly bright fellow, he neither promised nor committed a human sacrifice in this instance. We can surmise that there is a bit of literary "trickery" here...the abrupt ending of the account and the non-specific "he did to her as he vowed" is perhaps designed to shock the reader and make them wonder, "Hey...did he? He didn't!" This would be in perfect keeping with the purpose of Judges as a mirror of Israelite moral anarchy in this period. The reader is shown in various places how bad things got; and this story easily encourages one to wonder just indeed how bad things did get. It is yet another case of the Bible, the Word of God, forcing us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, warts and all."

Daniel said...

Whenever I read that story I am reminded of Saul's rather hasty oath in 1 Samuel 14 ("Cursed be the man who eats food until it is evening and I am avenged on my enemies..."). In verse 43 Jonathan admits to taking some honey, and even though Saul's oath was plainly the most stupid thing in the world, yet Jonathan was willing to lose his life rather than see a solemn oath to God go unfulfilled.

Yet it seems that Saul cared more about what the people thought of him than about following through on a binding and solemn promise he made to God Almighty. Killing Jonathan would have upset the people. It is interesting that [1] Jonathan was willing to surrender his life even though the oath was clearly foolish, and that [2] Saul didn't follow through because it wouldn't have been a popular thing to do. Had the people not interfered I believe Saul would have kept his vow if he thought it would have made him popular to do so.

Now, I don't think it was right for Saul to make that kind of oath, just as I don't think it was right for Jephthah to make a similar oath regarding his daughter. Furthermore I don't God is honored when a person breaks a commandment in order to keep an oath. It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul, as they say - paying your debts is a good thing, but stealing to do so cannot be justified. Thus I don't think that Saul would have been justified in keeping his vow, and if in keeping his vow Jephthah did offer his daughter as a burned sacrifice, I would not consider it justified on account of his oath.

That being said, I have no problems accepting that Jephthah's vow was carried out in full. I don't think it was God's will for him to do so, I think it is tragic, but I also think that such "warts" are common enough and while they testify to the stupidity of man, they in no way harm the character of God.

Which is to say that I think a lot of people spend a lot of effort defending the character of Jephthah for no good reason. It isn't like God told Jephthah to make such a vow, or to keep such a vow.

Antonio said...

Good points, Daniel.

Andrew said...

Good point Matthew. (It was Eugene Merrill by the way - not Merrill Unger!)

Blessings,
Andrew

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Andrew, I think Merill Unger discusses this subject, does'ent he?

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Daniel,

"Which is to say that I think a lot of people spend a lot of effort defending the character of Jephthah for no good reason."

A good reason for defending his character is that the author of Hebrew identifies him as an hero of faith.

Of course, he was a sinner like you and I.

However, it seems questionable that such a monstrous act would be perpetrated by a man that is praised by the inspired Word.

The vow he makes seems very questionable. However, the fact that he was under the influence of the Holy Spirit before making it does raise the question of whether it was the foolish oath that most commentators call it.

Every Blessing in Christ

Matthew

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Antonio, I take it you think he killed her?

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Rachel, thanks for visiting.

The articles are good. I particularly like the idea about a literary trick.

God Bless

Matthew

Andrew said...

Hi Matthew, I'm sure Unger does discuss it in places but I haven't actually read any of Unger's work to be honest.

God bless,
Andrew

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Neither have I.

Trent said...

Hey Matthew, dont forget who else is a Hero of the Faith... Samson. :)

Peter said...

This was a rather low point in Israel's history, and it seems clear that she was killed and Jepthath's oath was very unholy and not what God required. This is the same book where a concubine gets sent in pieces all over after being tortured for a night, and the tribe of Benjamin nearly gets eliminated by his brethren.

Someone offering up their daughter doesn't seem unusual at all in the context, and was consistent with what was being done in the pagan nations around them, which had they finished what they started in Joshua, wouldn't have been there influencing them.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Trent, Samson did a lot of bad things, but he did not offer an human sacrifice.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Peter, I disagree.

It is not at all clear that she was killed. Firstly, because there are questions about what the oath involved. Secondly, because the text does not say he killed her.

The judges were flawed figures. They made mistakes, but they were God's response to the idolatry and abominations that Israel was in danger of falling into.

Not all of the judges are mentioned. Jepthath is.

If Jepthapth became involved in such an abominable thing as an human sacrifice, he would have been the worst of all the judges; the biggest failure of them all. It seems odd that would then be identified by Hebrews as an hero of faith.

With regard to the historical context of Judges as a time of national apostasy, I will repeat the suggestion that Rachel quoted above:

"We can surmise that there is a bit of literary "trickery" here...the abrupt ending of the account and the non-specific "he did to her as he vowed" is perhaps designed to shock the reader and make them wonder, "Hey...did he? He didn't!" This would be in perfect keeping with the purpose of Judges as a mirror of Israelite moral anarchy in this period. The reader is shown in various places how bad things got; and this story easily encourages one to wonder just indeed how bad things did get. It is yet another case of the Bible, the Word of God, forcing us to take a long, hard look at ourselves, warts and all."

Every Blessing in Christ

Matthew

Daniel said...

Matthew said, A good reason for defending his character is that the author of Hebrew identifies him as an hero of faith.

David, after discovering that his adulterous affair with Bathsheba had impregnated her, murdered the innocent and faithful Uriah in an attempt to cover up his sin.

Moses murdered an Egyptian and buried his body in the sand to cover up his crime.

Rahab was a harlot.

Samson, a womanizer.

Abraham on more than one occasion practiced deceitful in not identifying Sarai as his wife.

Jacob deceived his own father to cheat his brother out of a blessing.

I don't see how Jephthah would be disqualified from this list because of a bone-headed choice to fulfill a disastrous vow.

These people made this list, not because they were flawless, but because they were faithful.

I don't see Jephthah's character as needing to be defended in order to qualify for this list.

Am I wrong here?

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Daniel, the fact that there are doubts as to whether he did this gives us reason not to presume his guilt.

The judges were God's answer to Israel's drift into apostasy.

Had Jepthath offered an human sacrifice, he would be mixing the worship of Jehovah with abominations. The religious character of this alleged sin distinguishes it from the other sins that you mention. Had he done such a thing, he would have failed in the very purpose that the judges were called to.

It would have made him the worst of all the judges.

Yet he is one of the few of the judges who is singled out for praise in the book of Hebrews.

Every Blessing in Christ

Matthew

Daniel said...

Matthew,

The doubts as to whether or not Jephthah did this do not sprout from the text however, but sprout from a presumptuous defense of Jephthah's character.

Which makes your position seem rather cyclic to me:
[A] we do not presume his guilt because there is reason to doubt, and
[B] we have reason to doubt because we presume his innocence.

I hope you can see how unconvincing that would be for me.

I agree - Jephthah's vow -was an abomination, but it was abominable whether he slew his daughter to keep it or not. His vow was about as pagan as you can get: "dear spirit, give me this, and I will give you that" - it was a gross mixing of worship and abomination.

Given that your doubt seems to be formed from a circular form of reasoning, and given that your main protest (abominable worship) is applicable even if Jephthah's daughter wasn't sacrificed; I find myself unpersuaded - at least by the course of your reasoning.

I don't offer up any proof that Jephthah did one way or the other, that is, I don't argue that my opinion is right, rather I am explaining why I am not persuaded by the reasons you give for your opinion.

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

Daniel, I do not see that I am using circular reasoning.

My arguments are inductive rather than deductive.

Jepthath's vow is very questionable in its theology.

However, the Caananites were not condemned for making foolish vows. They were condemned for human sacrifice.

While there are instructions in the law for the keeping of vows, there is little in the law that would have served Jephath as a guide to whether such a vow was or was not appropriate. We should be careful of judging Jephath by the fulness of God's revelation to man.

Regardless of whether Jepthath understood the folly of this vow, he would have known full well that human sacrifice was wrong and that a burnt offering of a daughter was not acceptable to God.

God Bless

Matthew