|Judges in the Bible|
|In the Book of Joshua|
|In the Book of Judges|
|In First Samuel|
|†Not explicitly described as a judge|
Jephthah (pronounced //, also spelled Jephtha or Jephte; (Hebrew: יפתח, Yifthaḥ; Greek: Ιεφθάε; Latin: Iephte), appears in the Old Testament Book of Judges as a judge over Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7). He lived in Gilead and was a member of the tribe of Manasseh. His father's name is also given as Gilead and, as his mother is described as a prostitute, this may mean that his father may have been any of the men of that area. Jephthah led the Israelites in battle against Ammon and, after defeating the Ammonites, fulfilled a rash vow of his, by sacrificing his daughter or, according to another interpretation of the story, devoting her to a life of virginal service in a shrine.
The story of Jephthah is found in the Old Testament Book of Judges chapters 10-12. The Israelites "again did what was evil in the eyes of God...they abandoned God and did not worship him. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites ..." (Judges 10:6-7).
Jephthah, having been born illegitimately, is driven out by his half-brothers and takes up his dwelling in Tob, east of Gilead. "There gathered around him some worthless ["empty"] men, and they went out with him." (Judges 11:3) The elders of Gilead ask him to be their leader in the campaign against the Ammonites, but he holds out for a more permanent and a broader position, and the elders agree that, provided Jephthah succeeds in defeating Ammon, he will be their permanent chieftain. On behalf of Israel as a whole and in reliance on the might of God the Judge, Jephthah challenges the Ammonites. Jephthah swears an oath:
- "Whatever/whoever emerges and comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be God’s, and I shall sacrifice him/her/it as a burnt offering." (Judges 11:31) 
The victorious Jephthah is met on his return by his daughter, his only child. Jephthah tears his clothes and cries, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low!" but is bound by his vow: "I have given my word to God, and I cannot go back on it." (Judges 11:35). The girl asks for two months' grace, "... that I may go down on the mountains ... and bewail my virginity" (Judges 11:37). And so Jephthah "carried out his vow with her which he had vowed" (Judges 11:39). The story ends by recounting how "the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament about the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite" (Judges 11:40).
Later, Jephthah was forced to fight against the Ephraimites, who refused to aid him in his struggle against the Ammonites. The story is remembered for the killing of the fugitive Ephraimites who were identified by their accent; they said the Hebrew word shibboleth as sibboleth. "And there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand." (Judges 12:5-6).
This story stands in stark contrast to the Binding of Isaac in Genesis, where an angel of God directly intervenes and stops the sacrifice. Ethelbert William Bullinger, looks at the word "and" in the Jephthah's vow (Judges 11:31: "whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering"). As he explains  the Hebrew prefix "ו" that is translated in the above passage as "and" is often used as a disjunctive, and means "or", when there is a second proposition. Indeed this rendering is suggested in the margin of the A.V. Bullinger goes on to give examples from the Bible where the same word has been translated as "or". According to him, the right translation of this passage is: "whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, or I will offer it up as a burnt offering." Jephthah's daughter, being the first that came out of the house, was thus, according to Bullinger, dedicated to God. He also says: "In any case, it should have been unlawful, and repugnant to Jehovah, to offer a human being to Him as a burnt-offering, for His acceptance. Such offerings were common to heathen nations at that time, but it is noteworthy that Israel stands out among them with this great peculiarity, that human sacrifices were unknown in Israel." Adam Clarke's Commentary has an exposition of the issues at stake in this passage and contends that the vow Jephthah made was not as rash as it sounds. In the writings of Pseudo-Philo Jephthah's daughter is given the name "Seila". The Order of the Eastern Star refers to her as Adah.
Parallels with Greek mythology
The 18th-century French philosopher Voltaire noted the similarities between Jepththa and the Greek mythological general, Idomeneus, speculating whether one story had in fact imitated the other. Idomeneus had asked the gods to calm a storm, promising in return that he would sacrifice the first living thing he saw upon his return, which turned out to be his son.
The story of Jephthah's daughter is also sometimes compared to that of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia. In his play "Jephthas sive votum - Jeptha or the Vow", the Scottish scholar and dramatist George Buchanan (1506–1582) called Jephthah' daughter "Iphis", obviously alluding to Iphigenia, and Handel's 1751 oratorio, Jephtha, based on Buchanan's play, uses the same name.
Literal sacrifice view
Some have observed that the Israelites of the time were decidedly barbarous; that Mosaic law (which forbade human sacrifice) was at this time widely disrespected; and that there are several other examples of rash vows to God with similarly terrible consequences.
Seen as acceptable
Some scholars believe that the author of Judges views the sacrifice as acceptable to God.
Seen as unacceptable
Others believe that the absence of expressed judgement implies that it was not not acceptable to God. The Book of Judges has been seen as teaching a cycle of pride associated with rejection of the prophets and subsequent suffering of the people.
Alternative sacrifice view
Sacrifice of sex
Jephthah was regarded as a great hero and deliverer of Israel, and a literal reading of the text may support the view that Jephthah offered his daughter as a human sacrifice and even that the author of Judges viewed it as a commendable act. This raises some difficult questions. In Hebrews 11:32–35 Jephthah is used as one of the examples of great faith. Would this case be true if he had engaged in human sacrifice, an act viewed as one of the greatest of abominations in ancient Israel? Why does Jephthah’s daughter “bewail her virginity” (Judges 11:37) rather than mourn the approaching loss of her life? After Jephthah had fulfilled his vow of sacrificing his daughter, the text states that “she knew no man” (v. 39). Bible scholars have suggested an explanation in answer to these questions.
“Jephthah was compelled by his vow to dedicate his daughter to Jehovah in a lifelong virginity. … The entreaty of the daughter, that he would grant her two months’ time, in order that she might lament her virginity upon the mountains with her friends, would have been marvellously out of keeping with the account that she was to be put to death as a sacrifice. To mourn one’s virginity does not mean to mourn because one has to die a virgin, but because one has to live and remain a virgin. But even if we were to assume that mourning her virginity was equivalent to mourning on account of her youth. … ‘it would be impossible to understand why this should take place upon the mountains. It would be altogether opposed to human nature, that a child who had so soon to die should make use of a temporary respite to forsake her father altogether. It would no doubt be a reasonable thing that she should ask permission to enjoy life for two months longer before she was put to death; but that she should only think of bewailing her virginity, when a sacrificial death was in prospect, which would rob her father of his only child, would be contrary to all the ordinary feelings of the human heart. Yet, inasmuch as the history lays special emphasis upon her bewailing her virginity, this must have stood in some peculiar relation to the nature of the vow. …’. And this is confirmed by the expression, to bewail her virginity ‘upon the mountains.’‘If life had been in question, the same tears might have been shed at home. But her lamentations were devoted to her virginity, and such lamentations could not be uttered in the town, and in the presence of men. Modesty required the solitude of the mountains for these. …’. And so, again, the still further clause in the account of the fulfilment of the vow, ‘and she knew no man,’ is not in harmony with the assumption of a sacrificial death. This clause would add nothing to the description in that case, since it was already known that she was a virgin. The words only gain their proper sense if we connect them with the previous clause, he ‘did with her according to the vow which he had vowed,’ and understand them as describing what the daughter did in fulfilment of the vow. The father fulfilled his vow upon her, and she knew no man; i.e. he fulfilled the vow through the fact that she knew no man, but dedicated her life to the Lord, as a spiritual burnt-offering, in a lifelong chastity. … And the idea of a spiritual sacrifice is supported not only by the words, but also most decisively by the fact that the historian describes the fulfilment of the vow in the words ‘he did to her according to his vow,’ in such a manner as to lead to the conclusion that he regarded the act itself as laudable and good. But a prophetic historian could never have approved of a human sacrifice.”  Compare the wording of Jephthah’s vow (see Judges 11:30–31) to Hannah’s vow (see 1 Samuel 1:11).
- Binding of Isaac
- Biblical judges
- Jephtas Gelübde, an opera on the story by Meyerbeer.
- Historia di Jephta, an oratorio by Giacomo Carissimi.
- Jephtha, an oratorio on the story by Handel.
- Jefta, een offerbelofte, a play by Joost van den Vondel (1659).
- The story of Jephthah and his daughter is the subject of Lion Feuchtwanger's historical novel, "Jefta und seine Tochter" (1957), English translation, "Jephta and his Daughter" also known as "Jephthah and his Daughter", published 1958
- In Hamlet, Polonius tells Hamlet "If you call me Jephthah, my lord, I have a daughter I love passing well."
- George Buchanan wrote a dramatized version of the episode in his Sacred Dramas.
- Karla Bombach, "Daughter of Jephthah: Bible (Jewish Women's Archive)
- Judges 10, NIV translation
- The words translated here as "sacrifice" are capable of other readings, and the ambiguity has been the subject of much discussion - see below.
- The Greek term for burnt offering is actually "holocaust" though the Hebrew עלה, (`olah) carries the meaning of "ascent".
- Great Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrew 11 (1911) ISBN 0-8254-2247-7
- "Did Jephthah really sacrifice his daughter? An analysis of Judges 11:31".
- " "clarkejud11", Adam Clarke's Commentary
- Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary
- Debora Kuller Shuger, The Renaissance Bible: Scholarship, Sacrifice, and Subjectivity, by 1998, page 136])
- "Jephta", Catholic Encyclopaedia
- "Why the Deuteronomist Told about the Sacrifice of Jephthah's Daughter", Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Sage Publications, p7
- Solomon Landers "Did Jephthah Kill his Daughter?", Biblical Archaeology Review, August 1991.
- (P. Cassel, p. 473)
- (P. Cassel, p. 476)
- (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:1:392–93.)
- OLD TESTAMENT STUDENT MANUAL GENESIS-2SAMUEL/ JUDGES 1–12: THE REIGN OF THE JUDGES, PART 1(22-28),http://www.lds.org/manual/old-testament-student-manual-genesis-2-samuel/judges-1-12-the-reign-of-the-judges-part-1?lang=eng
- Media related to Jephthah at Wikimedia Commons
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