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Was Jephthah’s daughter sacrificed?

July 8, 2012

Its been a long time since I have browsed the bible blogs, but these long summer days allow for this indulgence. Thanks so much, Brian, for your list of recommendations! I would very much like to think that Jephthah’s daughter was not sacrificed, but I have been persuaded that the Hebrew implies that she was. The same language is used for Jephthah’s daughter in Judges 11:31 as was used for Isaac in Gen. 22: 2.

וְהַעֲלֵהוּ לְעֹלָה

veha’alihu leolah

And offer him for a burnt offering

וְהַעֲלִיתִיהוּ, עֹלָה

veha’alitahu olah

I will offer it up for a burnt offering

This commentator convincingly argues that the notion that Jephthah’s daughter lived out her life as a virgin is a Medieval construct, one which reflected a common Christian practice of that era. However, in Judges there was no practice of dedicating a girl to celibacy. (Hebrew text thanks to Mechon Mamre.)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. jayseidler permalink
    July 9, 2012 7:42 am

    I think the only reason anyone interprets this passage in a way other than that Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter is only doing so because they cannot accept that 1. Jephthah, the “godly” man would not do such a thing and 2. such a story should not have been recorded in the Canon as a generally positive story of Jephthah’s devotion.

  2. David Margolies permalink
    July 9, 2012 10:32 am

    It is clear that Shakespeare thought that Jephthah did actually sacrifice his daughter. In ‘Hamlet’ he has Hamlet call Polonius Jephthah (‘Am I not i’th right, old Jephthah’ 2.2.405) because his behaviour towards Ophelia suggests that he is sacrificing her well-being and turning her into a spy in order to ingratiate himself further with Claudius.

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