Judges 11
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Jdg 11:1 to Jdg 12:7. Jephthah’s victory over the Ammonites, his vow, and punishment of the men of Ephraim

The Ammonite invasion made it necessary for the Israelites on the east of Jordan to find a leader: there was nothing for it but to choose Jephthah, the warlike captain of a band of freebooters. Jephthah made his terms, and while at Mizpah in Gilead vowed before Jehovah that, if victorious, he would sacrifice the first person who met him on his return home. The fulfilment of the vow is told with equal skill and reserve; henceforth it became an annual custom for Israelite women to spend four days in mourning for Jephthah’s daughter. A dispute with the arrogant men of Ephraim is followed by ruthless vengeance. The story closes with the formula used for the Minor Judges.

As it stands the narrative is a composite structure. The account of Jephthah’s origin (Jdg 11:1-2) contains features which are partly late and partly based upon Jdg 11:7; Jdg 11:4-5 a practically say the same thing; Jdg 11:11 b can hardly be the proper sequel of Jdg 11:11 a, and the whole verse is inconsistent with Jdg 11:29; the negotiations with Ammon (Jdg 11:12-28) reproduce the negotiations with Moab in JE’s narrative Numbers 20, 21. The present form of the story has been explained as due to the combination of two documents, J and E, such as exists in the account of Gideon, or to the confusion of two traditions, one relating a campaign against the Ammonites, the other a campaign against the Moabites. But the distinction between two documents, or two different traditions, cannot be worked out with much certainty; and the simplest explanation seems to be that which Moore supports, viz. that the narrative as a whole has been interpolated (Jdg 11:12-28), and in places adapted by editorial hands (Jdg 11:1 b, Jdg 11:2; Jdg 11:5 a, Jdg 11:29, Jdg 12:7).

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
1. Jephthah] Hebr. Yiphtaḥ, probably a shortened form of Yiphtaḥ-el = God will open; cf. Pethah-iah Ezra 10:23. The full form occurs as the name of a town Joshua 19:14; Joshua 19:27.

the Gileadite] See on Jdg 10:3. The land of Gilead generally included the country E. of Jordan between the W. el-Menâḍire (Yarmuk), S. of the Sea of Galilee, and W. Ḥesbân near the upper end of the Dead Sea. Sometimes it included the Moabite territory as far S. as the Arnon (W. el-Môjîb).

Gilead begat Jephthah] Gilead, properly the name of a region or its population, is here and in Jdg 11:2, Joshua 17:1 f., 1 Chronicles 7:14 ff., regarded as a person, i.e. tribal history is related as though it were the domestic history of an individual; see Driver, HDB. s.v. Gilead. These words and the verse which follows evidently come from the late editor, begat is the usual term in the genealogies of P and Chron.

And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
2. And Gilead’s wife] i.e. the lawful wife in distinction from another woman (1 Chronicles 2:26). In Jdg 11:7 it is the elders of Gilead, not his half-brothers, who drove Jephthah out of his home; the present verse seems to be an attempt to provide some account of Jephthah’s antecedents by inference from his brethren (properly his tribesmen, Jdg 14:3) in Jdg 11:3, and from Jdg 11:7.

Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.
3. the land of Tob] A Syrian district near the territory of Gilead (Jdg 11:5), 2 Samuel 10:6; 2 Samuel 10:8; cf. 1Ma 5:13; 1Ma 5:2 Mace. 12:17 (probably the same place). A town now called eṭ-Ṭaiyibe between Der‘ât and Bostra perhaps preserves the name and indicates the situation.

vain fellows] i.e. worthless fellows, Jdg 9:4, and cf. 1 Samuel 22:1 f.

And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel.
4. after a while] An indefinite mark of time as in Jdg 14:8, Jdg 15:1. The wording implies that the Ammonites have not been mentioned before; this is another reason for believing that the introductory notice Jdg 10:6-18 was composed later than the present passage.

And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob:
5. And it was so … against Israel] These words, which merely repeat Jdg 11:4, presuppose that the history has already begun, and were perhaps inserted to connect with Jdg 10:17 f. In some recensions of the LXX they are wanting, in others Jdg 11:4 is omitted.

the elders of Gilead] means no more than the sheikhs of the district.

And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.
6. chief] i.e. commander in war, Joshua 10:24, Daniel 11:18 (RVm.); the same word as the Arabic ḳâḍi.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?
7. and drive me out of my father’s house] See Jdg 11:2 n. Apparently custom allowed certain rights to the sons of concubines, as in the ancient Babylonian code of Ḫammurabi; S. A. Cook, Moses and Ḫammurabi, p. 141.

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
8. Therefore are we turned again] i.e. this being so, since we have driven thee out. Instead of answering the objection directly, the elders state the reason for the reply they give. For this idiom in conversation cf. Jdg 8:7, Genesis 4:15; Genesis 30:15, 1 Kings 22:19.

head … Gilead] Similarly Jdg 10:18.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?
9. shall I be …?] Rather it is I who am to be your head, accepting the agreement in Jdg 11:6.

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
10. witness] Note marg.; the expression only here. The invocation of Jehovah’s presence is necessary to complete a solemn agreement; cf. Genesis 31:49.

Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh.
11. The second half of the verse comes awkwardly after the announcement of Jephthah’s promotion; and as it stands his words must refer to Jdg 11:9. But would he repeat them to give additional solemnity to the agreement? He would be more likely to make the elders repeat their promise before Jehovah. On the other hand 11b would come in most suitably after Jdg 11:31. Accepting the terms offered by the sheikhs (11a), Jephthah makes his vow (Jdg 11:30-31) before Jehovah, i.e. before the altar or pillar in the sanctuary or high-place of Mizpah (Jdg 11:11 b), and then sets out to attack the Ammonites and defeats them (Jdg 11:32-33). We must suppose that the original form of the narrative has been disturbed by the insertion of Jdg 11:12-28. For Mizpah see on Jdg 10:17.

The section Jdg 11:12-28 purports to give an account of Jephthah’s negotiations with the king of Ammon. First comes a formal protest against the Ammonite invasion with a reply (Jdg 11:12-13): then the real subject of dispute follows—the occupation of the territory between the Arnon and the Jabbok. After Jdg 11:15 the Ammonites drop out to reappear in Jdg 11:27-28, and the Moabites, who were the people really concerned with this district, enter the discussion. An appeal is made to past history as recorded in JE’s narrative, Numbers 20:14-18; Numbers 21:21-24. At the period of the Israelite invasion the disputed territory was in the hands of the Amorites, from whom Israel won it by conquest (Jdg 11:22); and in it Israel settled down (Jdg 11:26). The argument, then, is aimed at the Moabites, not the Ammonites; the deity referred to in Jdg 11:24 is Moabite, and so are the cities in Jdg 11:26. In fact the whole passage has only a superficial connexion at the beginning and end with Jephthah’s campaign; it looks like an insertion made at some period when Israel wished to put forward a claim to the district, and to judge from the dependence of the passage upon JE’s narrative in Num., this period was later than the 8th century b.c. The territory in question changed masters frequently; Moabites and Amorites, Moabites and Israelites, held it in succession; see Numbers 21:26, 2 Samuel 8:2; Moabite Stone lines 5 ff., Isaiah 15:2 ff., Jeremiah 48:1 ff. The alternative course is to suppose that we have here a combination of two narratives of two campaigns, one against Ammon and the other against Moab; the above explanation, however, seems to involve fewer difficulties.

And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?
12. with me] i.e. the people represented by Jephthah; see on Jdg 11:17.

my land … from Arnon even unto Jabbok] The Arnon, now called Wadi el-Môjîb, descends from the E. and flows into the Dead Sea at a point almost in the middle of the eastern shore; it formed the southern boundary of Moab at the time of the Exodus (Jdg 11:18, Numbers 21:13). The Jabbok, now Nahr ez-Zerḳâ = ‘the blue river,’ like the Arnon, is a perennial stream; it rises to the S. of ‘Ammân (Rabbath-ammon), runs northward and hence is called ‘the border of the sons of Ammon’ (Deuteronomy 3:16, Joshua 12:2), curves round to the W., and so winds its way down to the Jordan which it enters 44½ m. due N. of the Arnon. The district between the two rivers naturally lay exposed to the incursions of the Ammonites, who lived to the E. of it (Numbers 21:24); but there is no support for the Ammonites’ claim to regard it as my land at the time of the Israelite invasion, when the territory in question was held by the Amorites, Jdg 11:21 f., Numbers 21:23 f.

those lands] Rather, the cities of the district understood (Jdg 11:33); lit. them.

And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.
And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon:
And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon:
15. nor the land of … Ammon] So Numbers 21:24, Deuteronomy 2:19; Deuteronomy 2:37.

But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh;
16. the wilderness … the Red Sea … Kadesh] The route is generalized, perhaps from reminiscences of Numbers 14:25; Numbers 20:14 (JE), as Moore suggests. It is now generally held that Kadesh is to be identified with ‘Ain Ḳadîs, 50 m. S. of Beer-sheba. Jdg 11:16-18 agree with JE’s narrative in Num., according to which the Israelites journeyed straight from Sinai to Kadesh, and abode in Kadesh (Jdg 11:17, Numbers 20:1 b) apparently till the fortieth year of the Exodus (Numbers 20:14; Numbers 20:16). D and P give divergent accounts; see Gray, Numbers, p. 260.

Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh.
17. Abbreviated from Numbers 20:14-18 JE. Edom lay to the S. and S.E. of Palestine. There is no mention elsewhere of the embassy to Moab.

Let me, I pray thee] The nation as a whole is personified, a not uncommon idiom; cf. Jdg 11:12, Jdg 20:23, Numbers 20:18 etc. In Jdg 11:19, Numbers 20:17; Numbers 20:19 the plur. and sing, interchange.

Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab.
18. compassed the land of Edom] Numbers 21:4 b; cf. Deuteronomy 2:1.

on the other side of Arnon] Clearly the country north of the Arnon, viewed from the march from the south; cf. Numbers 21:13.

And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place.
19. Again abbreviated from JE’s narrative, Numbers 21:21-24, which is further expanded in Deuteronomy 2:26-37.

Sihon … the king of Heshbon] So frequently, e.g. Numbers 21:26, Deuteronomy 2:24; Deuteronomy 2:26; Deuteronomy 2:30; Deuteronomy 3:6; Deuteronomy 29:7, Joshua 12:5 etc. The site of Sihon’s capital is now represented by Ḥesbân (nearly 3000 ft.), finely placed among the mountains, 16 m. N.E. of the upper end of the Dead Sea, and overlooking Mt Nebo, which Isaiah 5 m. to the S.W. In later times Heshbon is referred to as a Moabite city, Isaiah 15:4; Isaiah 16:8 f., Jeremiah 48:2; Jeremiah 48:34; Jeremiah 48:45; Jeremiah 49:3; it was assigned to Reuben by the Israelites, Joshua 13:17 P.

But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel.
20. Jahaz] Numbers 21:23, Deuteronomy 2:32; a strong place on the high table-land (mîshor) of Moab (Jeremiah 48:21), in the country north of the Arnon given to Reuben (Joshua 13:18 P), near Kedçmoth (Joshua 21:36 f.), and thus in the S.E. of Sihon’s territory, between Dibon and Medebah (Euseb., Onom. 264, 96); but the exact site is unknown. Generally it was a Moabite city (Moabite Stone, lines 19, 20, Isaiah 15:4, Jeremiah 48:34).

And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.
21. Cf. Numbers 21:24 a.

And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan.
So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?
Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.
24. Chemosh thy god … the Lord our God] What Jehovah was to Israel Chemosh was to Moab; Numbers 21:29, Moab. St. passim. Obviously Moabites are in the speaker’s mind, not Ammonites, whose national god was Milcom. According to ancient ideas each nation had its own god, whose influence extended over the country where he was worshipped and no further; Micah 4:5, cf. 1 Samuel 26:19, Deuteronomy 4:19 etc.; an Israelite worshipper of Jehovah would not, therefore, deny the divinity of the gods of his neighbours. A belief in the sole Godhead of Jehovah had not yet been reached.

Will not thou … giveth thee to possess] Read Wilt not thou possess (the territory of) those whom Chemosh thy god dispossesseth? omitting thee, and thus making the two halves of the verse correspond.

And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them,
25. art thou … better than Balak] Though the king of Ammon is supposed to be addressed, the question really aims at some king of Moab: is he a better man than his predecessor Balak, who did not dare to fight Israel? The verse agrees with Numbers 22-24, where no mention is made of a war between Moab and Israel; Joshua 24:9 a is probably due to an annotator.

While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time?
26. While Israel dwelt] Rather When I. settled. For her towns see on Jdg 1:27.

Aroer … Arnon] The LXX reads Jazer (cod. A) … Jordan (so Vulgate), which looks like the original text. Jazer lay on the Ammonite border, Numbers 21:24 (LXX), 32, 2 Samuel 24:5, and is associated with Heshbon in Joshua 21:39; it suits the present context better than Aroer (now ‘Ar‘âir) in the extreme S. of Moab. Moreover, since ‘Aroer and her towns’ were situated on the north side of the Arnon, the words which follow in the present text, ‘and in all the cities that are along by the side of Arnon,’ add nothing to the description; Jordan gives us exactly what is wanted.

three hundred years] The total number of years assigned to the oppressions and to the periods of the Judges in the preceding chapters comes to 319, or, omitting the Ammonite oppression, to 301. The round number 300 seems, therefore, to be calculated upon the basis of the chronological scheme introduced into the book by the editor of the framework. Thus three hundred years must have been inserted into the narrative, to the disturbance of the proper sense of the clause which follows: within that time is an incorrect rendering; the words mean at that time (cf. Jdg 3:29, Jdg 4:4, Jdg 12:6 etc.), i.e. when Israel settled in Heshbon.

Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.
27. the Lord … be judge] Cf. Genesis 31:53, 1 Samuel 24:12; 1 Samuel 24:15. Even in early Israel Jehovah could be appealed to as the Judge, who in the quarrels of men or nations was known to take the side of justice against unfair aggression. The fundamental difference between Jehovah and the gods of the nations, and His superiority to them, lay in His essentially moral character.

Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.
29. An editorial hand has attempted to pick up the thread of the narrative after the long interpolation, Jdg 11:12-28. Then the spirit of the Lord came upon J. may well have stood originally at the beginning of Jdg 11:32; for elsewhere the access of the divine spirit takes effect at once in a deed of strength or daring (Jdg 3:10 n.), and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh must refer to Jephthah’s efforts to rouse the tribes E. and W. of Jordan (Jdg 12:2); but according to Jdg 10:17 the Israelites are already assembled; the reference comes too late here. and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead; Jephthah, however, has not left Mizpah, where he made his vow (Jdg 11:11; Jdg 11:30). The last clause can only be rendered he passed over the children of A., an incorrect expression; the sentence occurs in its proper place and form in Jdg 11:32. The poor style of the verse (note the repetitions) betrays its character.

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
30. vowed a vow] The sequel of Jdg 11:11. It was a solemn vow made deliberately at a sanctuary (Jdg 11:35-36) under stress of circumstances, like Jacob’s at Bethel Genesis 28:20 f., Genesis 31:13 E, Hannah’s at Shiloh 1 Samuel 1:11, Absalom’s at Hebron 2 Samuel 15:7 f.

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
31. whatsoever … it shall be … I will offer it up] whosoever … he shall be … I will offer him up, so LXX, Vulgate, Peshitto Jephthah had in his mind a human victim1[44]

[44] Early Arabian religion before Mohammed furnishes a parallel: “Al-Mundhir [king of al-Ḥîrah] had made a vow that on a certain day in each year he would sacrifice the first person he saw; ‘Abîd came in sight on the unlucky day, and was accordingly killed, and the altar smeared with his blood.” Lyall, Ancient Arabian Poetry, p. xxviii, cf. p. xxvii.

. It is unnecessary to mention the various expedients which have been adopted in order to escape the plain meaning of the words. Nothing is said about Jephthah’s rashness; nor are we told that there was anything displeasing to Jehovah in the nature of the vow; the narrative emphasizes in the issue the grief of Jephthah and the pitiful fate of his daughter. At a crisis or under the influence of despair, when ordinary sacrifices seemed unavailing and at all costs the divine help must be secured, Semitic religion had recourse to human sacrifices. Among the Hebrews in the rude, early days such a sacrifice was possible (as here), but in time it was felt to be contrary to the spirit of the religion of Jehovah (Genesis 22); the hideous practice revived, however, in the period of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 17:17; 2 Kings 21:6 etc., Micah 6:7), and was denounced by the prophets (Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5 etc., Ezekiel 16:20 f., Ezekiel 23:39) and forbidden by the law (Deuteronomy 12:31; Deuteronomy 18:10, Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2). Among the neighbouring peoples, e.g. the Moabites (2 Kings 3:27), the Canaanites or Phoenicians (Philo Bybl., Fragm. Hist. Gr. iii. 570; Porphyry, de Abstin. ii. 56 etc.), the Babylonians in Samaria (2 Kings 17:31), the practice continued. In 1 Samuel 15:33, 2 Samuel 21:1-9 the reference is not to human sacrifice, but to a religious execution or ḥerem. Recent excavations in Palestine (e.g. at Gezer) have revealed many remains of human sacrifices; see Stanley A. Cook, Religion of Ancient Palestine, pp. 38 ff.

So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.
And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
33. Aroer] Probably not the Aroer of Jdg 11:16, but another place of the same name E. of Rabbath-ammon, Joshua 13:25, on the Ammonite border. Minnith is identified by Eusebius (Onom. Sacr. 280, 44; 140, 3) with Maanith, 4 rom. miles from Heshbon, on the way to Philadelphia (Rabbath-ammon). Abel-cherâmim according to Onom. Sacr. 225, 5; 96, 10 = Abel, 6 or 7 miles from Philadelphia. The two last identifications are uncertain. The direction of the campaign is twice mentioned (until thou come … and unto); the twenty cities come in awkwardly between the two places; probably the text has received additions.

were subdued] See Jdg 3:30 n.

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
34. his daughter … with timbrels and with dances] For women celebrating a victory cf. Exodus 15:20, 1 Samuel 18:6, Psalm 68:11. The last half of the verse is phrased with much beauty, lost in the translation.

And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.
35. thou hast brought me very low] thou hast struck me down utterly: the same verb as in Jdg 5:27 (he bowed).

thou art one of them that trouble me] The first pron. is emphatic; ‘thou, my beloved, dost appear in the character of my worst enemy.’ For the Hebr. idiom (beth essentiae) see Psalm 54:4 [Hebrews 6], Psalm 118:7. Trouble is a feeble equivalent for the strong word in the original, which occurs only under circumstances which arouse unusual passion; see Genesis 34:30, Joshua 7:25-26, 1 Samuel 14:29, 1 Kings 18:17-18. The Versions give a free paraphrase of the two words bowed down, trouble me (kara‘, ‘akar), but do not necessarily presuppose a different text.

I have opened my mouth] lit. opened wide, Jdg 11:36, of a solemn utterance; cf. Psalm 66:13-14.

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
36. The daughter has her share of the hero’s blood, and a larger share of the heroic temper: ‘My God, my land, my father’! Tennyson, ‘A Dream of Fair Women.’

And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
37. and go down upon the mountains] A slight emendation (weradhti for weyaradhti) improves the sense: and roam or wander restlessly; cf. Jeremiah 2:31 (‘we roam at large’).

bewail my virginity] To be neither wife nor mother was considered a punishment and a reproach: cf. Genesis 16:1-5; Genesis 30:23, 1 Samuel 1:10-11; 1 Samuel 1:15, Isaiah 4:1, Luke 1:25. The ancient Greeks felt similarly1[45].

[45] See Livingstone, The Greek Genius (1912), p. 83 f.

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
39. who did with her according to his vow] The language is marked by a fine reserve, but the plain sense of it is that Jephthah offered the tragic sacrifice. Early Jewish interpretation took it to mean this; Talm. Ta‘anith 4 a (where the sacrifice is compared with that of Isaac and of Mesha’s son); Midrash Bereshith Rab. § 60; Jos., Ant. Jdg 11:7; Jdg 11:10. The same view was adopted by the Christian Fathers and Church writers (e.g. St Augustine, Opera, t. iii. 812 ‘procul dubio nihil aliud quam hominem cogitabit’; St Ambrose, Op. t. ii. 177, 178 and 281, 282; St Chrysostom, Op. t. ii. 147). In the Middle Ages, however, the natural meaning of the words was explained away, first by the Jewish commentators (e.g. by Ḳimḥi in loc. ‘he made a house for her and brought her into it, and she was there separated from mankind and from the ways of the world’), and following them by Christian interpreters. More recently it has been suggested that Jephthah dedicated the maiden to Jehovah as a virgin priestess or vestal in the local sanctuary; cf. Code of Ḫammurabi, § 181, which alleges the case of a father dedicating a votary to a god; Benzinger, Hebr. Arch.2 (1907), 360.

and she had not known man] she being a virgin (for the Hebr. idiom see Driver, Tenses, § 159). The sacrifice, therefore, was all the greater; her father’s race perished with her. Similarly in early Greek myths the human victim is nearly always a virgin; see Murray, Rise of the Gk. Epic, 121–123. Cf. Virgil, Aen. x. 518–520 (note juvenes).

That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
40. And it was] And it became, altering the verb from fern, to masc. The verse is wrongly divided. For went render used to go (frequentative).

to celebrate] So translated to agree with Jdg 5:11 (rehearse), the only other place where the word occurs: the Versions give to lament. In both places the rendering is merely inferred from the context. There is no sufficient reason to doubt that Jephthah’s sacrifice was an actual incident in history; but the yearly festival which commemorated his daughter’s fate may have had a remoter origin. It is not unlikely that the incident was associated in the course of time with a primitive myth; for there are traces elsewhere of human sacrifices being connected with an annual mourning for the death of a god. In the parallel story of Iphigenia the heroine is really a form of an early goddess identified with Artemis. The present narrative suggests to some scholars reminiscences of Tammuz-Ishtar worship, which celebrated the annual death and revival of the divinity. In later times the daughter of Jephthah was worshipped by the Samaritans in Sichem as Korç, the heavenly virgin; Epiphanius, adv. Haeres. iii. 2, 1055. A. Jeremias, Das A. T. im Lichte d. Alten Orients2, p. 478.

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