Human Sacrifice Story of Jephtha's Daughter

Judges 11:29-40
This is one Bible story I have never heard preached in any Sunday School or any Church - Protestant or Catholic. It has always bothered me because it seems such a contradition. God in this story doesn’t intervene like in the story of Abraham. There is no commentary condemming the action in the OT. Vow to God or not he murdered his own child and everyone was OK with this?? I can’t seem to reconcile church teaching on the murder of innocence and this story. It is incomprhesible to me. Can anyone shed any light on this story - it’s purpose or meaning. Has anyone heard church teaching on this story? Most Christians/ Catholics I know are totally unfamilliar wiith this story and have never heard of it. Just curious, it has bothered me for 20 some years.

from a varied protestand background now in RCIA
Smiles :slight_smile:

The text clearly implies that Jephthah vowed a human sacrifice, according to the custom of his pagan neighbors; cf 2 Kings 3:27. The inspired author merely records the fact; he does not approve of the action.

As a modern analogy, newspapers often report certain stories without necessarily denouncing the obviously immoral behavior than may be contained in the story.

Here’s a point to think about, Deanarrca:
God ordered Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
When Abraham obeyed, God intervened to save Isaac.

God did not ask for the vow Jephthah made, nor for that matter did He ask Jephthah to make any vow at all.

The story alone, without any shade of approval or disapproval is enough to make one think twice about making an oath or vow in haste or when in difficulty. Like trying to strike a bargain withGod.

If I recall correctly, Jephtha had vowed to sacrifice whoever came out of the city first. That meant that he was more then willing to kill another man’s child.

Many of Israel’s neighbors practiced child sacrifice. There is a section in the Old Testament-don’t remember where-in which God commands Israel not to put their children through the fire. Apparently, their neighbors would actually burn some of their offspring alive.So, Israel was unusual, at the time, for not doing so.

The story does not say that God approved and it is probably there to illustrate how heinous child sacrifice is.

Most importantly, Jephthah made a vow, and he kept his vow.

God also made a vow: if you eat it, you shall die.

Jephthah kept his vow by sacrificing his only child; God kept His vow by Sacrificing His only Son.

Perhaps Jephthah’s vow was not a sin, but a foreshadowing of God’s own action.

Peace and God bless!

The 1859 edition of Haydock’s Catholic Bible commentary on Judges 11.

That article was too confusing for me to read. Someone please explain it. I wasn’t sure what this story implied when I first heard it. Did he actually sacrifice her or did he just offer her up as a virgin who would never marry. Didn’t part of the story involve her asking to go weep for a while first since she would never be able to marry.

Not confusing. Biblical Text Plain
For his victory he vowed to God to sacrifice who/ what were to come out of his house and greet him (Not the City) He intended to sacrifice a member of his household. It was his daughter whp came out to greet him first. Who in submission to her father said ok, but she wanted to mourn her virginity first as she would never marry. Then she returned and it says Jephtha carried out his vow, Read it for yourself

Judges 11: 29-40 New American Standard Version

29Now (G)the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.
30Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, "If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand,

31then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering."

32So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD gave them into his hand.

33He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of (H)Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.

34When Jephthah came to his house at (I)Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him (J)with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter.

35When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and (K)I cannot take it back.”

36So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the LORD; (L)do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.”

37She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of (M)my virginity, I and my companions.”

38Then he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity.

39At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel,

40that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

Deana :slight_smile:

Jeptha’s daughter is a difficult story.
But for me Judges 19 is just as difficult and I was NEVER taught about this even in the protestant churches.
Chapter 19:1
At that time, when there was no king in Israel, there was a Levite residing in remote parts of the mountain region of Ephraim who had taken for himself a concubine from Bethlehem of Judah.
2 His concubine was unfaithful to him and left him for her father’s house in Bethlehem of Judah, where she stayed for some four months.
3 Her husband then set out with his servant and a pair of asses, and went after her to forgive her and take her back. She brought him into her father’s house, and on seeing him, the girl’s father joyfully made him welcome.
4 He was detained by the girl’s father, and so he spent three days with this father-in-law of his, eating and drinking and passing the night there.
5 On the fourth day they rose early in the morning and he prepared to go. But the girl’s father said to his son-in-law, "Fortify yourself with a little food; you can go later on."
6 So they stayed and the two men ate and drank together. Then the girl’s father said to the husband, "Why not decide to spend the night here and enjoy yourself?"
7 The man still made a move to go, but when his father-in-law pressed him he went back and spent the night there.
8 On the fifth morning he rose early to depart, but the girl’s father said, “Fortify yourself and tarry until the afternoon.” When he and his father-in-law had eaten,
9 and the husband was ready to go with his concubine and servant, the girl’s father said to him, "It is already growing dusk. Stay for the night. See, the day is coming to an end. Spend the night here and enjoy yourself. Early tomorrow you can start your journey home."
10 The man, however, refused to stay another night; he and his concubine set out with a pair of saddled asses, and traveled till they came opposite Jebus, which is Jerusalem.
11 Since they were near Jebus with the day far gone, the servant said to his master, "Come, let us turn off to this city of the Jebusites and spend the night in it."
12 But his master said to him, “We will not turn off to a city of foreigners, who are not Israelites, but will go on to Gibeah.
13 Come,” he said to his servant, "let us make for some other place, either Gibeah or Ramah, to spend the night."
14 So they continued on their way till the sun set on them when they were abreast of Gibeah of Benjamin.
15 There they turned off to enter Gibeah for the night. The man waited in the public square of the city he had entered, but no one offered them the shelter of his home for the night.
16 In the evening, however, an old man came from his work in the field; he was from the mountain region of Ephraim, though he lived among the Benjaminite townspeople of Gibeah.
17 When he noticed the traveler in the public square of the city, the old man asked where he was going, and whence he had come.
18 He said to him, "We are traveling from Bethlehem of Judah far up into the mountain region of Ephraim, where I belong. I have been to Bethlehem of Judah and am now going back home; but no one has offered us the shelter of his house.
19 We have straw and fodder for our asses, and bread and wine for the woman and myself and for our servant; there is nothing else we need."
20 “You are welcome,” the old man said to him, "but let me provide for all your needs, and do not spend the night in the public square."
21 So he led them to his house and provided fodder for the asses. Then they washed their feet, and ate and drank.
22 While they were enjoying themselves, the men of the city, who were corrupt, surrounded the house and beat on the door. They said to the old man whose house it was, "Bring out your guest, that we may abuse him."
23 The owner of the house went out to them and said, "No, my brothers; do not be so wicked. Since this man is my guest, do not commit this crime.
24 Rather let me bring out my maiden daughter or his concubine. Ravish them, or do whatever you want with them; but against the man you must not commit this wanton crime."
25 When the men would not listen to his host, the husband seized his concubine and thrust her outside to them. They had relations with her and abused her all night until the following dawn, when they let her go.
26 Then at daybreak the woman came and collapsed at the entrance of the house in which her husband was a guest, where she lay until the morning.
27 When her husband rose that day and opened the door of the house to start out again on his journey, there lay the woman, his concubine, at the entrance of the house with her hands on the threshold.
28 He said to her, “Come, let us go”; but there was no answer. So the man placed her on an *** and started out again for home.
29 On reaching home, he took a knife to the body of his concubine, cut her into twelve pieces, and sent them throughout the territory of Israel.
30 Everyone who saw this said, “Nothing like this has been done or seen from the day the Israelites came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Take note of it, and state what you propose to do.”

Interesting, that same story was cited in *The God Delusion * page 243.

I’ve heard some people interpret the Sacrifice of Jephthah as Jephthah ‘offering’ her daughter as a virgin rather than ‘Offer’ her in the Pagan sense (Burning someone in an altar). What is the correct version? :confused:

But, Probably the reason why this and other stories like this were never taught in Sunday School is because they’re too ‘mature’. Would people tell their young children stories of people being killed, raped and tortured?

Funny. I remember the story of Jeptha’s daughter from my Sunday school days in a Church of Christ. I still have the Bible story books my mother used to read to me every night before bed. This particular story has a picture of a lovely young girl running with arms outstretched to her father. His face is one of grief.
Stories such as this were generally told to us as children in a means we could understand.
I learned the story of Jacob’s daughter Dinah and the subsequent murders her brothers commited. We were told that she was taken forcibly “in marriage” for instance.
I learned about Tamar and how Judah took her “as his wife”. We drew pictures from the story of Abraham and Sarah and Abimelech (or the Pharoah). But like the others it was explained to us on a level we could understand.
I never thought it was about human sacrifice. The Lord God of Israel did not accept human sacrifices. But he would accept a vow of servitude and virginity. He still does. I still believe that is what happened to Jeptha’s daughter.

I don’t think that God wants human sacrifice either but that doesn’t neccesarily mean that Jephtha didn’t try and offer one. The story never implies that God requested his daughter nor does it suggest that God was pleased with the sacrifice.

It says somewhere in Judges (maybe more than once), that at this time “every man did as he thought right”…In other words, that there was no standard of right & wrong. People just decided for themselves if it was OK to sacrifice people, or whatever other horrible thing they cared to do.
That is, to me, the whole theme of that book. It is about what happens when no one pays any attention to what God wants; the people just make up their own rules of conduct & claim not to be hurting anybody. (Kinda like things are today, in fact…)
Judges isn’t setting up what happens as a standard of moral behaviour; it is about what happens when God’s standards are ignored & all the people just do as they please…What happens is, that you end up with child sacrifice, with rape & murder (with the victim being cut up & sent in pieces thru the mail yet!!)

Well, so: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Now, we have pedophiles trying to justify themselves by claiming that they can’;t help themselves; abortions at the rate of–what is it? Around 4000 a day?
Somebody murders a neighbor, & tries to excuse themselves by saying that they had a horrible childhood, or ate too much junk food, & it affected their sanity.
Reading Judges can feel a lot like reading the newspaper sometimes…The story of how a society falls apart morally, when it forgets about God, & makes up its own mind what it wants to do–and then calls it “right”.

I agree. Judges is a historical book; but it was also written as an argument to the Jewish people to answer, “Why do we need to follow the Law? And by the way, why did everybody freak out and demand a king?” Not everything that happened in Judges is bad, but all of it is supposed to be odd. And the bad stuff is very bad.

You will note that the terrible events of Judges 19 (with their horrible parallel to the actions of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah towards the angels staying with Lot) bring on civil war in Israel, the deaths of every woman in the tribe of Benjamin, and then forced marriage for not just the women of a town that didn’t participate, but for the women of a town that helped the war effort out. No doubt tons of lasting bitterness among local groups ensued, too.

Re: rash vows

The thing that kills me is that people get so upset about the Jephthah story being in the Bible, but they don’t complain about similar “rash vows are bad” stories in Norse literature, fairy tale books, etc. And part of the point of this story is that there was a mechanism in Jewish law to get out of rash vows; you could go to the priest, make a sacrifice, and go home slightly poorer but free.

Unlike most cultures which were big on oaths, in which you had to keep the oath or become the subject of a “breaking vows are bad” story. (Irish legend is particularly big on the story “no matter what the hero does, he is now hopelessly doomed by the bonds of his own honor to dishonor himself, thus losing his sovereignty, luck, and superpowers, and destroying all he has built”.)

I did not know that there was a means to get released from rash vows. That’s interesting.

It doesn’t make sense for Jephthah’s daughter to go into the mountains to lament her virginity when the really lamentable fact is that she was going to die. That fact alone leads me to believe that he offered his daughter as a sacrifice to the work of God, and not as a human sacrifice.


Yes, the lamenting virginity thing is weird…though I’ve read plenty of stories and seen plenty of TV shows and movies where someone’s first though upon learning of their impending death is…“Oh no! I’m gonna die a virgin!” as if that was the worst, most pathetic thing in the world. So for me, the story is ambiguous, but tradition seems to attest to a true human sacrifice.

Did God want it? It doesn’t say that. I think the whole point is that he punished Jephthah for making so rash a vow. He promises this unspecific sacrifice, and God (in Tragic fashion) has it turn out that it is his daughter that is the first thing that comes out of the house. Jephthah feels trapped (though there were probably escapes like a substitute offering) and ends up sinning and grief stricken even though he feels it is not his fault. It is sort of a Macbeth type thing, a Tragedy that doesnt approve of his offerings, but at the same time brings up deep questions about Fate and Free Will.

I have read though, that the common opinion among Early Church Fathers is that Jephtha offered her daughter as a holocaust since Jephtha was filled by the Holy Spirit when he made the vow. Can someone verify this?

The passage is also sometimes interpreted as foreshadowing the Sacrifice of Jesus.

But, whatever method that Jephtha did to offer his daughter, the Bible didn’t say ‘Jephtha is a cruel man for giving his own daughter like that’ so does it also not say ‘And the Lord was pleased with Jephtha’s Sacrifice’. It merely recorded the fact.

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