Sunday, 4 March 2012

12. Jephtha's daughter - be careful what you promise

It's just Beauty and the Beast all over again - does no one ever learn?

Today is the first post about an un-named woman in the bible, but she is no less memorable for being 'someone's daughter'. All of us are someone's something; mother; sister; brother; husband; widow; regret...

Jephtha was one of those people who just had to underscore his achievements with grandiose vows before God - the sort Jesus warned about when he said 'simply let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no', anything else comes from the evil one' (Matthew 5:37). In a rash moment of pre-battle prayer Jephtha (whose name means 'he opens') opens his big mouth and out comes this:

'If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph (...) will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering' (Judges 11: 30-31).

NO, NO, can hear the readers' cries already. Obviously something, or rather, someone, very precious is bound to be first on the doorstep. 


Who should run out to meet him but his only daughter, dancing and singing and being innocent and lovely.

It is the nature of unbreakable oaths that they must be carried through. No one understands this better than this daughter, his only child. All she asks, before the dreadful deed is done to her, is that she be allowed to roam the hills with her friends and weep that she will never marry. If it were me I'd be weeping I was about to be sacrificed in the name of some dumb promise made in the heat of battle, but there you go. Her death will mean the absolute end of the family line as there are no siblings or cousins.

So think of a sad song, plait some flowers in your hair and wander the hills in memory of Jephtha's virgin daughter, sacrificed in the name of misguided religious observance, but still exuding a sort of sweet, unruffled feminine aura around the 11th chapter of the rather grim book of Judges.


  1. Noooo, he doesn't really actually do it does he?? What an idiot!! Blimey there are some weirdos in the bible. I am not sure about sweet, unruffled, feminine aura. More like subjugated, docile stupidity. What happened to the running away, getting her own life, type of bible heroine?? Oh dear it leaves me feeling all depressed. And I hate to ruin an interesting, beautiful and poetic type post with a bit of 21st Century reality, but it reminds me of a court case last week which found two Christians guilty of killing their 15 year old relative by beating him repeatedly to excise an evil spirit. Quite frankly hearing the report left me feeling 'what kind of God...'

  2. Yes, clearly that kind of thing is nuts but I think you have to judge the bible characters from within their own context before putting that against ours, so it seems that in her context she felt she was doing the only course open to her. But even in his context the father is still a fool. And unbreakable oaths were condemned by Jesus too so he is constantly reinterpreting the Israelite context and we have to interpret everything in ours too eventually.
    Thought provoking comment...ta.