The first reading of today (20-Aug) is Judges 11:29-39. In it we read how Jephthah promises the person, who exits his house on his return from war, as a burnt offering to God if God delivers their enemies into his hands. That person happens to be his daughter. And the reading says that he did to her as promised to God (they defeated the Ammonites).
I am really puzzled by this as it appears to me that God approved of a human sacrifice?
In the context of the whole OT, it makes sense. Actually, Torah forbids human sacrifice as an iniquity of pagans. So God does not and did not approve of this kind of sacrifice.
What is being communicated here is a warning against making rash promises. Jephtah, apparently blinded by a desire to win the battle, promises to God that he will perform an unlawful, forbidden act. God is not pleased with this promise, so He punishes Jephtah by choosing his daughter to be sacrificed (this does not mean that he was pleased with the offering). Promises and oaths in OT are treated very seriously and are binding even if their consequences are detrimental.
God did not demand it, Jephthah offered blindly and stupidly, and was forced to honor the oath he had made to God. This was not God demanding sacrifice, but rather God making it absolutely clear that a person should not make and oath to Him haphazardly and without thought. The fact that it was his daughter that was selected was punishment for having made the oath at all. As was mentioned above, human sacrifice was strictly forbidden, Jephthah was acting against God in his desire to win in battle. The severity of the punishment (having to sacrifice his daughter) is in direct proportion to the severity of the sin the oath promised.
(Keep in mind, this is my personal understanding, and I may be mistaken. This would be a good passage to call in about tomorrow during the next Catholic Answers open forum.)
Both Jewish and Christian scholars have several interpretations. One popular interpretation is based on a close reading of the text, which translates the word “and” as “or,” a justifiable interpretation based on other scriptural verses. Thus if the first entity that Jephthah encounters is an animal, he vows it shall be offered as a burnt sacrifice; however, if it is a human being, the vow is that the latter shall be consecrated to G-d. Jephthah’s daughter is subsequently sent to the mountains in seclusion, not being permitted to marry and having to retain her virginity, but not killed by her father. This is still a harsh punishment but at least it falls short of human sacrifice.
Another interesting interpretation is that Jephthah does indeed slay his daughter in keeping with his vow. However, this is not G-d’s will and is meant to show the Jewish people that sometimes keeping one’s vow to others and even to G-d is NOT the best thing to do. This is also one (minority) interpretation of the Abraham and Isaac story of fidelity to G-d, which states that Abraham, for all his obedience to G-d, FAILED the moral test by obeying G-d and being ready to kill his son. Instead, Abraham should have wrestled more with these orders, informed his wife Sarah of his plans, and argued with G-d that this is contrary to G-d’s own moral values. The purpose of both stories is to show that blind obedience, to people and G-d, is not always justified.
A third interpretation brings another person into the didactic story: namely, Phinehas, the learned High Priest. Jephthah, who was not learned in the Law, was too proud to seek advice from Phinehas. At the same time, Phinehas was too proud to go a little out of his way by traveling to Jephthah to inform him of the error of his intentions. As a result, Jephthah’s daughter is killed and both Jephthah and Phinehas are punished for their pride.
None of the above interpretations suggests that G-d approves of human sacrifice.
Thank you for the input Meltzerboy, I always love hearing about Jewish interpretations of OT passages. I had never heard that view of Abraham’s sacrifice before. Do you have any additional reading on that?
I’m in the camp of not thinking this is referring to a human sacrifice, but instead an offering of consecration to God. If you read the end of the chapter, you see the focus is on her not knowing a man (having a husband and bearing children). And the focus on the daughters of Israel lamenting her virginity, not her death.
36 And she answered him: My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth to the Lord, do unto me whatsoever thou hast promised, since the victory hath been granted to thee, and revenge of thy enemies.
37 And she said to her father: Grant me only this which I desire: Let me go, that I may go about the mountains for two months, and may bewail my virginity with my companions.
38 And he answered her: Go. And he sent her away for two months. And when she was gone with her comrades and companions, she mourned her virginity in the mountains.
39 And the two months being expired, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed, and she knew no man. From thence came a fashion in Israel, and a custom has been kept:
40 That from year to year the daughters of Israel assemble together, and lament the daughter of Jephte the Galaadite for four days.
I honestly cannot say that I subscribe to the thought that Jephthah did something stupid. In Judges 11:29 read, “The spirit of Yahweh was on Jephthah…” and this story starts here. Is he then likely to have made such a foolish and rash promise with God’s spirit upon him?
Secondly, in verse 31 we have:
“…the first thing to come out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from fighting the Ammonites shall belong to Yahweh, and I shall sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
How does the above translate into consecration of a virgin? Is there maybe something in the original manuscripts that needs to be factored in here such as the original words and their usage not conveying the same at face value in English?
Please note that I respect all views and opinions offered. I merely ask the questions to explore all avenues as I would like to come to a conclusion that Church teaching of who God is and our understanding of Him.