Friday, August 9, 2013

Judges 11

So I'm listening to the Catholic radio station on my way to the gym this evening and they were playing a show called Catholic Answers Live. The guest was a priest, Father Trigilio, I believe.

A gentleman called in and was questioning a story that he had read in a children's Bible. It was, as you might guess by the title of the post, the story contained in Judges 11, the story of Jephthah. For those unfamiliar with the story, the text is below:

11 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute.  
Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.”  
So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.
Some time later, when the Ammonites were fighting against Israel,  
the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 
“Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.”
Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?”
The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.”
Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?”
10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.”  
11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: “What do you have against me that you have attacked my country?”
13 The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, “When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.”
14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king,  
15 saying:“This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites.  
16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh.  
17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.
18 “Next they traveled through the wilderness, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.
19 “Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his troops and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
21 “Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and his whole army into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country,  
22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.
23 “Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over?  
24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.  
25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them?  
26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time?  
27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”
28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.  
30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands,  
31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 
33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.  
35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”
36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 
37 But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”
38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 
39 After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.
From this comes the Israelite tradition  
40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

Right. So the man was questioning what the purpose was of having a story like that in the Bible, where a man sacrifices his own daughter to God. And the Father answered him, talking about the inadvisability of making such general, sweeping vows and the illicitness of making vows that go against God's law such as human sacrifice.

All fine and good. And then the host chimes in and is all, 'Well if you read to the end of the chapter he didn't end up sacrificing his daughter. It goes into another battle....and....'

Which is the point where I eyed my radio real hard. It bugged me so much that I made a point to remember to look up the chapter when I got home. Because I remember this story. Jephthah *did* uphold his vow.

Now there's some discussion over whether he killed his daughter or she was turned over to the Temple as a virginal servant or something like that. I'm pretty sure that sanil, our resident seminarian and knower of such things, did a post on this on her old blog, but it's gone now. Or..wait. Actually I think it might have been Susanne. Hang on.

Bugger. I can't find the post there either. But it does exist. Somewhere.

Susanne found it! Here it is.

I personally come down on the side of human sacrifice here, but there is some room for debate as to her actual fate. Regardless, one way or the other Jephthah's daughter was sacrificed.

This *really* bothers me, that the radio host said this. It's blatantly false!

Jephthah vowed to make a burnt offering out of whatever came out of his house first to greet him. Verse 39 says 'she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed'. I'm not sure how you get 'they went another way...' from that.

He killed his daughter and there is no textual criticism of him for doing so. The book goes on to talk about another battle that he fought and won and then he dies, supposedly from natural causes since it's not laid out.


  1. More later, and I'm not trying to promote my own blog, but...

  2. Thank you! I knew we'd had a discussion about this chapter before and I just could not find it!

    Feel free to promote your blog all you like Susanne. :D

  3. Oh good, I'm glad you found it! I couldn't find it in my emails, that conversation must have been before I learned to subscribe to comments.

    Sounds like the radio host was probably skimming more than actually reading and didn't focus much on the unpleasant parts. I've been there, some of these stories get kind of boring. Preparing lessons for an adult Sunday school class was a lot of fun because I had to pay more attention, and then I found out everyone else in the class skips too. I would point out really strange or offensive verses and no one believed they were there even though we'd all just read the same passage. People are weird.

  4. I can't believe these radio hosts dismissed this as not happening. Hmmm. Something that did come to mind as I remembered this story was in Judges. The whole book has quite a lot of bad things in it and an oft-repeated refrain seems to be every man did what seemed right in his own eyes. I am now wondering if one lesson is not to say GOD commanded you do something when we all know (or hope!) that God is above that sort of evil. Then again, God does command some weird stuff (e.g., sacrificing Isaac, purity baths, the whole sacrifice system re: animals, genocide). BUT then again I am reminded of Thom Stark's book I read last year about the Bible as a mirror. (In case you forgot: ) I sometimes want to dismiss those yucky passages with this instead of thinking God would really ask people to do these horrible things!


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