Today's reading, Jephthah


In today’s first reading, Jephthah offers his daughter as a burnt offering to God? I never saw this reading before. God accepted a human sacrifice? This is very troubling to me. Is it to be taken literally? Jephthah really did this? God didn’t stop him the way he stopped Abraham from sacrificing Isaac?


Indeed it is a difficult reading. In answer to your question: YES we are to take it literally, BUT as with all biblical readings, context is very important.

When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God had no intention of allowing the sacrifice to be completed. It was all a test, meant to teach Abraham total trust in God, so as to get the chosen people—Abraham’s descendants—started off on the right foot, so to speak.

In this story, Jephthah, on his own initiative, without God’s asking him, made a vow to offer a sacrifice if he were successful in battle. To understand what that vow signified, and what happened as a result of it, let’s examine the underlying psychology of the characters involved.

Jephthah had been born as the illegitimate son of a harlot, and the legitimate members of his family disinherited him. Doing what many persons do when feeling victimized by their families, he acted out his anger through disobedience, taking up the life of a rogue bandit. Harboring a grudge against his family, he held them in no esteem, and when they came to him in need, asking for his help, he said, “Are you not the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you are in distress?” (Judges 11:7).

Considering this attitude, we can understand the vow he made. Outwardly making it seem like an act of thanksgiving to God, he really imagined that his vow to offer in sacrifice “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me” **would be a perfect opportunity to inflict revenge on his family. **He was hoping that the victim of his sacrifice would be a nice “pay back” for his own injuries. Remember, it never entered his mind that this “victim”—this cunning revenge for his having being victimized—would be his own beloved daughter, rather than some despised relative.

Now, speaking of Jephthah’s daughter, let’s look at the psychology of her demise.

On hearing the news of her father’s victory, Jephthah’s daughter made a flamboyant show of triumph with dancing and music—much like sports fans do today when a favorite sports team wins a game. It was this show of vanity that doomed her, for if she had stayed quietly at home giving thanks to God in modesty and humility, things might have been different.

In the end, the vow had to be fulfilled. God didn’t let Jephthah off the hook. Why? To make a point about two grave sins: triumph and revenge.

When Jephthah’s daughter mourned her virginity (Judges 11:37), she had to reflect on the fact that she would die childless. She had to lament the fact that her vain show of triumph had denied her father his progeny. And Jephthah had to lament the fact that his desire for revenge had denied him his own progeny. Thus, unlike Abraham’s sacrifice that set his progeny off on the right foot, Jephthah’s sacrifice put an end to his progeny before it got started.

In this story, then, the deep meaning of Christ’s sacrifice is foreshadowed. On the cross, Christ put an end to triumph and revenge, and He left us a Bloodless Sacrifice to sustain us in our journey to our own crosses.

By way of full disclosure, I cribbed this from an old homily I did, but I can’t recall the source of this commentary.


Thanks for the explanations. I understand it more now.

That being said, if it were me, I’d have broken the vow and handed my fate over to God.


I think Jephthah would have too, left to his own devices (as would probably I) but it was his daughter who insisted he keep his word to God, and that is a credit to her faith.


I was going to post the same question! I read the reading this morning and I was like “WAIT, WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?”

Thank you both for the post. :thumbsup:


I just read this on another thread, what do you think of this interpretation?


It is directly contradicted by the words of the passage (she came back to her father; and he fulfilled his promise, and she died unwed.) and is generally rejected by Catholic and Jewish commentators (and many protestant commentators too).

“The obvious import of the narrative is that the daughter of Jephte was offered up as a human sacrifice, and in fact, **such has been the unanimous interpretation of it in Jewish, as well as in early Christian, tradition. **Some modern apologists, however, shocked by the idea that a judge upon whom came “the spirit of the Lord” (xi, 29) could commit so barbarous an act, have endeavoured to prove that the words of Jephte’s vow should not be taken literally, but as referring to perpetual celibacy to which his daughter was to be condemned. The arguments to this effect, which are far from convincing, may be found in Vigouroux, “Dictionnaire de la Bible”, s.v. They ignore the barbarous ethical condition of the Israelites at that relatively remote epoch—a condition which is evident from other narratives in the same Book of Judges (v.g. that of chapter 19).” (emphasis added)


Brilliant! Just brilliant!! :tiphat: :clapping:


SMOM has a great explanation, unfortunately almost no one at mass today will hear it. At best most people will go “Oh that must be one of those things that’s allegorical…”

I have heard, from a Catholic Answers apologist, though, that the rendering of it can mean he gave her to the Temple as a Temple Virgin.

I know someone put up something that is against that idea, but given that the Church has not made an official declaration on this passage - that I’m aware of anyway - I think we’re on solid ground going either way, or looking for meaning in both.

Just my 0.02,
God Bless, :signofcross:
Poor Knight for Christ and His Church


ty, tyvm. :tiphat:


Not necessarily. Judaism has a long tradition of arguing with G-d. On Yom Kippur Eve, all vows made in the coming year are dissolved in advance. As I mentioned in the other thread devoted to this topic, there is an interpretation of the Abraham and Isaac trial which states that Abraham did NOT do the morally right thing by obeying G-d; IOW, he FAILED his test. Instead, he should have informed his wife, Sarah, of his intention to kill their son and wrestled with G-d regarding the morality of what G-d commanded of him. The lesson in both instances–Abraham and Jephthah–is that blind obedience, even to G-d, is NOT admirable.


I must disagree. This is indeed one of the Jewish interpretations of the story and is a justifiable translation based on the Hebrew text, in accord with other similar language constructions in the Hebrew Bible.


I can certainly understand a Jewish interpretation this way. I don’t think Catholics can necessarily take this interpretation. Not because any text in the Jewish scripture argues against it, but because of our understanding of the new testament books we use. Catholics place a lot of importance on the sacrifice of Isaac being a type of Jesus’ passion, and generally assert that Isaac was a willing and obedient son, who carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain.

Of course God does not want human sacrifices, but Catholic understanding based on our own beliefs generally require that Abraham and Isaac passed this test.


Fair enough. And there are also Jewish interpretations which disagree with this one.


I think what really bothers me about this reading, is that such an idea of human sacrifice was even mentioned…as though it were a commonplace thing.

Where would he have made the sacrifice?

The place of sacrifice was already established. The tabernacle–the people were commanded to only offer sacrifice in the place where God would show them. Abraham was told to offer his son in the place where God would show Him. So for Abraham to offer Isaac on a hill someplace was totally acceptable, because it was the place where God would show him.

But in today’s reading, God did not show him the place, because it was not God who ordained this. So he could have hardly taken his daughter to the Tabernacle and asked the priest to slay her.

I really like SMOM’s explanation, but what really bothers me, is since it was mentioned at all, was it a common practice for Israelites to sacrifice their children to “God”? God had already told them not to engage in the practice of sacrificing their sons/daughters to Molech–a false God. But why would Jephthah even think of such a thing as sacrificing a living person to God?


Here’s the passage from the Douay-Rheims 1899 version, which is not modern. The focus is on her virginity, and they mourn her virginity, but not her.

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.


Perhaps because Jephthah was not learned in the teachings of Judaism. Here is where Phinehas, the learned High Priest, enters the scene and refuses to voluntarily advise Jephthah, who also refuses to receive Phinehas’ advice. Both are later punished by G-d for being stubborn due to their pride.


Also from the Douey Rheims 1899 version:

30 **He made a vow **to the Lord, saying: If thou wilt deliver the children of Ammon into my hands,

31 Whosoever shall first come forth out of the doors of my house, and shall meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, the same will I offer a holocaust to the Lord

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:

The focus is on his fulfilling his vow.


John Chrysostom held that God allowed Jephthah to kill his daughter in order to prevent similar rash vows being made in the future and that it was for that purpose, not to mourn her virginity, that the annual bewailing of the event took place as a constant reminder. John Chrysostom, “Homily 14 on the Statues”, 7


really good answer. Thank you!

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