Bible Review 7:4, August 1991

Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?

By Solomon Landers

Did the ancient Israelite judge and warrior Jephthah actually kill his own daughter? Perhaps rashly, he vowed to sacrifice as a burnt offering “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return” if the Lord would only grant him a victory over the Ammonites (Judges 11:30–31).1 He succeeds in battle and returns home. Jephthah’s daughter, his only child, rushes out to meet him with timbrel and dance! After two months, “he did to her as he had vowed” (Judges 11:39).

The “inhuman sacrifice” of Jephthah’s daughter qualifies Judges 11, to use Phyllis Trible’s phrase, as a “text of terror.”2

Trible is not alone in being troubled by this text. If guilty, Jephthah has committed toevah (abomination)— the abhorrent, abominable, unmentionable murder of his only child, offered up as an olah (a burnt sacrifice to Yahweh). The story raises many questions.

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