Judges 11:40: Did Jephthah actually Sacrifice His Daughter?

Concerning the Vow of Jephthah many questions are wont to be posed at this point. 1. What was the matter of this vow? 2. Whether it was obligatory? 3. Whether he fulfilled this vow? 4. Whether he sinned, either in the vowing, or in fulfilling the vow? But the remaining questions generally depend upon the first (Bonfrerius). Question: What did Jephthah vow? That vow is found in verse 31, Whoever first cometh forth from the doors of my house…him will I offer as a burnt-offering to the Lord. The Hebrew words thus stand,וְהָיָ֣ה הַיּוֹצֵ֗א אֲשֶׁ֙ר יֵצֵ֜א מִדַּלְתֵ֤י בֵיתִי֙ לִקְרָאתִ֔י—וְהָיָה֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה וְהַעֲלִיתִ֖הוּ עוֹלָֽה׃. [First, there is to be consideration of the translation, in which they vary.] And there shall be one going forth which will have gone forth (others, who will have proceeded [Syriac], whoever will have come forth [Septuagint, Arabic]) from the doors of my house to meet me (Montanus, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, similarly Jonathan, Castalio, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Vatablus), it/he shall belong to the Lord (shall be before the Lord [Jonathan], shall be the Lord’s [Montanus, Junius and Tremellius], shall be for an offering to the Lord [Arabic]), and I shall offer him, or it, for a burnt-offering (Pagnine, similarly Jonathan, Arabic, Malvenda, Piscator, Munster, Tigurinus, Castalio). Others: or I shall offer for a burnt-offering (Pagnine, Vatablus, Junius and Tremellius), that is, It shall be consecrated to the Lord; and, if it be suitable for sacrifice, a burnt-offering shall be made of it (Junius). The former is promised simply, namely, the consecration of the animal that first comes to meet him: but the latter with a tacit condition, if that animal is able legitimately to be offered as a burnt-offering. For otherwise it was to be redeemed from the priest; as if it were a dog or an ass. See Leviticus 27:11-13 (Piscator). Some maintain that Jephthah spoke only of brute animals: and that either, 1. of all, whether clean or unclean; for which they charge him with rashness (certain Rabbis in Bonfrerius): or, 2. of those only that are able to be sacrificed (other Rabbis in Serarius). Others understand that he spoke only of men: first, he wanted to vow some great thing in order to obtain such a victory: then, because men alone go out to meet one returning. Other understand, and that more truly, that he spoke as much of brute animals and of men (thus Lyra, Serarius, Procopius and Chrysostom and Thomas in Serarius). It is evident from the words, and from the event, verse 35 (Serarius). [Furthermore, it is not needful to ask whether he fulfilled his vow, because this is expressly affirmed in verse 39. Whatever he vowed, he did. Thus these are able to be joined together in one question, What did Jephthah vow? or, What did he do in fulfillment? For both come to the same thing. And it divides into two opinions.] 1. Some assert that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter, and offered her as a burnt-offering. Thus the Fathers generally; Tertullian, Athanasius,[1] Nazianzen,[2] Jerome, Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, Theodoret, and a great many others (Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius, Malvenda). Thus the ancient Jews, such as the Chaldean Paraphrast, and Josephus in his Antiquities 5:9, θύσας τὴν παῖδα ὁλοκαύτωσεν, that is, sacrificing his daughter, he offered her for a burnt-offering. So also Rabbi Salomon (Serarius, thus Serarius, Lapide, Bonfrerius, Malvenda, Menochius, Cappel,[3] Martyr). I think that he actually sacrificed his daughter, although formerly I thought otherwise. And this appears to have been the corruption of that age; and, with the name changed, this was a sacrifice to Molech, the god of the Ammonites, against whom he was not about to fight. The Israelites were such strangers to the Law, that neither the Priests nor the Sanhedrin were able to teach him that his vow was able to be redeemed, but allowed him to sacrifice his daughter, content to establish an annual mourning over her. And this is likely to be the reason that the Pontificate passed from the line of Eleazar to the line of Ithamar. For, that this was done in the time of the Judges is evident from Eli, 1 Samuel 2 (Lightfoot). 2. Others maintain that she was not sacrificed, but devoted to perpetual virginity (thus Munster out of the Rabbis, Vatablus, Grotius, Junius, Piscator, Lyra, Montanus’ Commentary, Dieu, Osiander, Estius, Malvenda). He dedicated her to Divine worship (Vatablus). Men were dedicated to those ministries that present men to God: suppose, in the Sanctuary, if he be male; if a female, to prayers, abstinence from wine, and a μονάζουσαν (that is, solitary) life (Grotius). [The arguments for the first opinion thus stand: 1. They urge τὸ ῥητὸν, the thing expressed, in verse 31, and I will offer it for a burnt-offering.] The advocates of the second opinion respond that the and here is put in the place of or, a conjunctive particle in the place of a disjunctive; just as it is taken in Genesis 26:11;[4] Exodus 1:10,[5] and elsewhere frequently (Junius). Thus in Exodus 21:17, his father, וְאִמּוֹ, and his mother; in the place of which in Matthew 15:4, father, ἢ μητέρα, or mother: in Leviticus 6:3, וְנִשְׁבַּע, and he sweareth, that is, or he sweareth falsely, as it is evident from verse 5:[6] in Deuteronomy 17:9, and thou shalt come to the priests…וְאֶל, or to the judge; for in verse 12 אוֹ/or is found. That they are distinct offices is evident from the thing itself. Thus, in 2 Samuel 2:19, to the right hand, וְעַל, and to the left; which in verse 21 is expounded by אוֹ/or: in Proverbs 30:8, poverty, וָעֹשֶׁר, and riches, that is, or riches. Thus in Exodus 21:16, he that stealeth a man, וּמְכָרוֹ, whether he sell him, וְנִמְצָא, or he be found, etc. (Glassius’ “Sacred Grammar” 688). Thus in Virgil’s Æneid 2, he commands either to cast down the ambushes and suspected gifts of the Greeks into the sea, and to burn them with fire set under; in the place of, or to burn them with fire set under: Linacre’s Emended Structure[7] 2. That a conjunction is sometimes taken in the place of a disjunction, Labeo says; as in that stipulation, to me and my heir, thee and thine heir: Digest “Concerning the Signification of Words and of Things,” law 29 out of Paulus,[8] book 17 (Gataker). Thus in this place, it shall be consecrated, or it shall be sacrificed, if it is able to be sacrificed. It is a conditional vow, under a disjunction: for men were not sacrificed to the Lord (Vatablus, similarly Grotius). What? if an ass or dog had run out to meet him, ought it to have been made a burnt-offering? Certainly not. Then not one of mankind (Grotius). The patrons of the first opinion reply: Although and is able to be taken for or in the case of two distinct species, as it were, or of two individuals of the same species, it is not suitable in the case of two things, of which one is the genus, and the other the species, etc. For example, Who would endure it, if you should say, This is an animal or a man, a man or Peter? (Serarius). To belong to the Lord, or, to be consecrated to the Lord, is in any event a genus to whatever sacrifice and burnt-offering: I do not rightly say, I vow that I am going to sacrifice to the Lord a clean animal, or an ox (Bonfrerius). [Piscator disapproves the disjunctive translation as ridiculous and false, because (says he) it disjoins a genus and a species: but notwithstanding he rejects the first opinion, and thus renders this passage, It shall belong to Jehovah (that is, it shall be consecrated to Jehovah by me), and I shall offer it for a burnt-offering, namely, if it belong to things able to be sacrificed.] And thus concerning the first argument. The second argument is taken from Leviticus 27:28, 29, in which it is enacted that every Devoted Thing be put to death. There were two sorts of vows. 1. A Simple נֶדֶר/vow, which was able to be redeemed; concerning which Leviticus 27:1-27. 2. A חֵרֶם/herem vow, from which no redemption was allowed, Leviticus 27:28, 29. By a vow of this sort one was able to devote and to consecrate anything that was his, or over which he had authority, even human persons, as it is plain from the words, verse 28, Every חֵרֶם, interdicted thing, or Anathema, that a man shall devote unto the Lord, מִכָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ, of all that he hath, מֵאָדָ֤ם וּבְהֵמָה֙ וּמִשְּׂדֵ֣ה, of men and beasts and fields, shall not be sold nor redeemed, etc. Verse 29,כָּל־חֵ֗רֶם אֲשֶׁ֧ר יָחֳרַ֛ם מִן־הָאָדָ֖ם לֹ֣א יִפָּדֶ֑ה מ֖וֹת יוּמָֽת׃, Every interdicted thing, which shall be devoted of human persons, shall not be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 5). No reason of opposition, or of distinction, between a simple נֶדֶר and a חֵרֶם with respect to persons, would be apparent, if what things by a חֵרֶם were devoted were not put to death. Exception: They say that nevertheless an opposition is apparent, because, even if they be not put to death, it was not lawful to redeem them, but it was necessary that they be consecrated to God in some peculiar manner. Response: This is contrived rashly to seize upon a feigned escape route, neither is there any vestige of this peculiar rationale in the Scripture. God was certainly obliged to sanction by law what He willed to be done concerning those persons, if indeed He was not willing for them to be redeemed, nor for them to be put to death. It is not likely that God would have passed over in silence a matter of such importance, and left men doubtful and anxious in this matter, especially since He had already said in a general way, Every anathema shall surely die (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 16). Moreover, the vow of Jephthah was undoubtedly not a simple נֶדֶר, but a חֵרֶם: And this is the reason for the tearing of his garment, and of that mournful exclamation, verse 35. Exception: But in the text it is וַיִּדַּ֙ר יִפְתָּ֥ח נֶ֛דֶר, and Jephthah vowed a vow.[9] Response: נֶדֶר is a term of genus, not only of species, that is, of a simple vow. Whether the vow was simple, that is to be determined from the circumstances of the history, all which here argue to be a חֵרֶם (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 6, 2). Furthermore, if Jephthah’s daughter according to the law was able to be redeemed, it is not plausible that all the Priests and the High Priest were ignorant of this, or that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter with them unaware or unwilling, since he was greatly desiring his daughter to live; and so he was able easily to be persuaded of this; for that law is plain and open, Leviticus 27:4 (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 4). Moreover, from this law concerning חֵרֶם there are appear to have flowed among the Heathen (among whom the Devil acted the part of the ape of God), 1. the custom of devoting oneself to death for the salvation of one’s country; 2. that opinion, that the more violent anger of the gods was not able to be averted except by human sacrifices; 3. their opinion concerning those that they were calling καθάρματα/offscourings and sacred and devoted heads, whom they maintained could be killed by anyone with impunity; perhaps having arisen from this, that Jews, having been devoted by parents or masters, that they might escape death, appear to have fled, and to have wandered aimlessly here and there. Then, that this custom of devoting was made use of by the Jews appears to be gathered from the three sorts, or rather degress, of excommunication. 1. There was נִדּוּי/Niddui, whereby one was removed from the communion of sacred things. 2. חֵרֶם/Herem, whereby they were punished with the loss of means, Ezra 10:8.[10] 3. שַׁמֻּתָא/Shammuta, which is to say,שָׁם מוּתָא, death there, as the Jews themselves explain; thus it was called because, not only material means, but even the very person, יָחֳרַם, was struck with the anathema, by the great Sanhedrin, whence death was following. See what things we have on John 9:22 (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 11). [But now let us see what those that think otherwise reply against these things.] 1. The words of the law in Leviticus 27:29 are able thus to be translated, Every devoted beast, which is devoted by man, shall not be redeemed, shall certainly be put to death.[11] Response: This interpretation does not square with the Hebrew text. For, 1. that beast is inserted. 2. That מִן־הָאָדָם is to be taken here in the same sense as the term מֵאָדָם in verse 28, which they themselves translate, from, or of, men.[12] 3. If that be the sense of the law, why did he add מִן־הָאָדָם? or does the law treat of vows other than those that are expressed by men? 4. The Septuagint translates it, not ὑπ᾽ ἀνθρώπων, by men, but ἀπ᾽ ἀνθρώπων, that is, of, or from, men (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 7). 5. Even if מִן־הָאָדָם be taken in their sense, they would still not escape in this way; for it is stated universally, every anathema shall surely be put to death. Therefore, as they acknowledge that in verse 28 it was lawful by anathema to devote not only brutes, but also human persons, what is said in verse 29 is to be understood of the same, every anathema shall surely be put to death (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 15). Lyra responds that death in that place is not understood properly nor in the same sense concerning the individual things. For it is said, every consecration…shall die, and a field is said there to be consecrated to God, which nevertheless is not liable to death; yet it is said to be put to death, because it was passing into the power of the Priests or of the Temple; just as the goods of the Church are said to be amortized.[13] Likewise, the death of a man in that place, and the death of the daughter of Jephthah, was not corporal, but civil and spiritual; in the same manner in which Monks and Nuns are said to be dead, as far as they were separated from mundane activities, and totally given over to Divine services. Thus the daughter of Jephthah was sacrificed to the Lord through the observance of virginity in her prayers, fastings, etc. (Lyra). 2. They say that this law was to be understood of the devotion and anathematizing only of the enemies of the people of God, but not of their servants and children. Responses: 1. Before מֵאָדָם, of man, in verse 28 immediately precedes, מִכָּל־אֲשֶׁר־לוֹ, of all that he hath, that is, in his power or possession; which is not able to be said concerning enemies that are devoted. 2. Since after that מֵאָדָם, of man, immediately follows וּבְהֵמָה֙ וּמִשְּׂדֵ֣ה, and beast and field, it is demonstrated that that מֵאָדָם, of man, ought to be taken of those men that were under the power of the one vowing, not otherwise than sheep, fields, etc.; and that it was no less lawful to devote human persons that belong to him, than sheep, etc. (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 14). 3. It is ridiculous and harsh to restrict that מ֖וֹת יוּמָֽת׃, it shall surely die, to enemies, of whom no mention is made (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 15). 4. That term אִישׁ, a man, in that law, Every devoted thing אֲשֶׁ֣ר יַחֲרִם֩ אִ֙ישׁ, that a man shall devote, does not signify an assembly of the people, but some individual man (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 14). 3. Maimonides says that it was lawful for a master to devote his own slaves, but he concedes this only of slaves that were of the race of the Canaanites. And that rightly; for over those servants only were the Jews having absolute dominion and the right of life and death; while Jewish servants were contracting their labor only for a time.[14] But Maimonides does not mention children devoted by parents; but neither does he deny that they also are able to be devoted, or even to be killed (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 19). 4. This law would be cruel and harsh, if taken in this sense. Is it probable either that God approved of human sacrifices, or that He gave that right to fathers or masters, that they might take away the life of their children or servants at will (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 7)? Response 1: Since God has the most absolute right of life and death over all men, no one is able to complain, or to charge Him with a law of injustice or cruelty, if, from whom He is able to take away life when and in what manner He pleases, He withdraws it from him for this reason and this cause. No one is guiltless before God. Response 2: God had just reasons for composing this law (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 13), which the law itself does not indeed disclose (for God is not bound to render a reason for His precepts), yet it is lawful for us to infer them and to search them out. 1. So that parents and masters might be held in greater honor; so that also children and servants might be more tightly bound in their duty toward them, as upon one little word of whom their life and death depends. God confirmed the parents’ same power of life and death over the children in another law, concerning the stoning of the rebellious son[15] (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 8). 2. So that He might condemn and restrain the anger and προπέτειαν/rashness of parents and masters, lest they make use of threats and imprecations against the lives of their own (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 13). God wished to deter them from these. It is evident from various and daily examples that the unjust and rash threats of parents cast against their children God has quite frequently heeded and held as ratified, as it were, with the parents afterwards grieving in vain, etc. (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 9). Let it be granted that it would be harsh for an innocent son perhaps to be killed on account of a father’s rash vow. Certainly the father would not be without blame, for whose punishment such things are done. But God is without blame, for no one is guiltless before Him (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 13). 3. There was also another reason for this law, that is, a Typical reason, so that He might teach the Jews concerning the Christ, to be devoted in the fullness of time by the Father for us, that is, when He was made by Him a κατάρα/curse,[16] and truly a חֵרֶם, or anathema (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 10). Response 3: The death of devoted children and servants was not simply and solely depending upon the will of parents and masters, since it was necessary for the judgment and sentence of the Priests come between. A knowledge of all vowed and devoted things was doubtlessly pertaining to them, Numbers 18:14, every thing devoted in Israel shall be thine. By which ordinance the Priests were constituted judges by God, who would consider and judge whether or not those vows were legitimately conceived and expressed (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 8); whether reason for the devotion had been proper to the father and master: and if the reason had been proper, the punishment of the devoted thing was rightly exacted; if the there was not reason, or it was unjust, the Anathema (as it is likely) was pronounced void (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 13). Response 4: The reason for this law was almost the same as that for the law concerning Repudiation/Divorce. For God was not approving of Repudiation, but neither was He prohibiting it.[17] Likewise, if one should be so rash that he devote a human person under his power, He was willing that he be put to death, not because human sacrifices were pleasing to Him, but for other legitimate reasons (as has been shown) (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 8). [And these things concerning the second argument.] 3. The fables of the Greeks concerning Iphigenia, sacrificed by her father Agamemnon, appear strongly to argue that Jephthah’s daughter was actually delivered to death by Jephthah. Agreeing are, 1. the Time; which Chronologers state to have been the same with respect to the matters conducted both by Jephthah and Agamemnon.[18] 2. The Name; Iphigenia appears not absurdly to have been used as if in the place of Jephtigenia. The former was the sole and dearest daughter of the King of the Greeks, the latter of the General of the Israelites; both were virgins, both devoted by their fathers when they moved against the enemy camp: the latter for two months wandered through the mountains with her companions; the former is feigned to have been transformed by Diana/Artemis into a deer to wander through mountains and forests. Thus you may find a certain shadow and image, and obscure and fleeting vestiges, as it were, of the more ancient histories of Sacred Scripture in the ancient fables of the Greeks: which could be demonstrated by manifold comparison (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 12). Something similar is narrated concerning Idomeneus, King of the Cretans,[19] who, being troubled by a storm, vowed that he would sacrifice to Neptune the thing that first came out to meet him. As it happened, when his son had first came to meet him, and him, as some say, he had sacrificed, or as others, he had willed to sacrifice, he was driven from the kingdom by the citizens on account of cruelty: Servius[20] on Æneid 11 (Grotius). [These things concerning the arguments for the first opinion. Let us see what arguments are produced against it.] Argument 1: Ἀνθρωποθυσίᾳ (that is, by human sacrifice) God is not at all pleased; indeed, He prohibits and condemns it, Deuteronomy 12:31: and so He commanded the firstborn to be redeemed.[21] And, if the sacrifice of Isaac, which He had commanded, He refused, how much less would He accept a thing offered in fulfillment of a vow (Junius)? Therefore, that the daughter of Jephthah was sacrificed by him, a man whose faith is commended in Hebrews 11:32, is not plausible to me (Grotius, similarly Junius). [Those that think this answer:] He that does such things by the command or instinct of God does not sin; as it is evident from Abraham[22] (Serarius). It could be said that Jephthah did these things by the impulse of the Holy Spirit (whom it is said he previously received), not as if God willed others to imitate the thing done, but so that men by it might understand that Christ would die for our salvation (Martyr). Argument 2: It appears unthinkable, and not to be admitted in any way, that Jephthah’s daughter was actually offered as a burnt-offering and expiatory sacrifice by the Priests, to whom the care and administration of sacrifices was entrusted by God. Response: It is not necessary to think that she was offered to God upon His Altar for a burnt-offering: it is enough, if only she was put to death according to the law of Devoted Things. For what things were not suitable for sacrifice were only slaughtered; which sort were beasts that were unclean according to the Law, of which sort were horses, camels, etc., and likewise human persons. And so the words of Jephthah’s vow are thus to be taken, Whatever cometh forth from my house shall belong to the Lord (that is, as a thing sacred by anathema), and I will offer that for a burnt-offering, that is, if it be such that could be offered (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 26). It is not likely that Jephthah, a prudent man, did not hold a conference concerning his vow with men wise in the Law: but no such man would have advised that the innocent daughter should be killed. And the Hebrews openly declare that his vow was released by Phineas himself (Lightfoot). [Thus Doctor Lightfoot in this place: but it is to be kept in memory that we cited him at the beginning of this inquiry, where he frankly acknowledges that he changed his opinion.] If Saul was prevented by the people, 1 Samuel 14, from killing Jonathan, it is strange how, in the space of two months, either the daughter was not rescued from the hands of the father by the people, or the father was not otherwise persuaded. To these things add that she asks for the space so that she might bewail, not her death, but her virginity (Estius). [And these things are able to suffice concerning the first opinion. Let us come to the second, belonging to those that affirm perpetual virginity was appointed to her.] This is had from the very text itself, verse 39, where it is said, He did with her the vow that he had vowed. What then was that? It follows, and she did not know a man (Glassius’ “Sacred Grammar” 688). She had not known a man, that is, She was perpetually preserving her virginity (Vatablus). For Virgins that were vowed to God were not given in marriage, but were shut away (Vatablus on verse 37). [Against this opinion those of the other thus dispute:] 1. That singular manner of consecrating to God a person by a vow of perpetual Continence or Celibacy is an invention rashly devised by them, of which no vestige appears in the whole Scripture (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 27). Response: An example of celibacy having been appointed to women, and that under custody, is found in 2 Samuel 20:3 (Grotius). Related to this was the example of Anna the widowed Prophetess, Luke 2:37. Compare the counsel of Paul, 1 Corinthians 7:25. Moreover, just as it was lawful for a young woman placed under the power of her father to vow a vow to Jehovah concerning the affliction of her soul, and hence concerning the avoidance of intercourse with a man, as it is evident from Numbers 30:4, compared with verse 13, so also it was lawful for the same to approve the vow of her father concerning the same matter (Piscator). [Thus they respons: But Cappel pursues the argument further.] I ask, Whether all the other virgins that were able to be devoted by their parents in like manner ought also to have been shut up in Monasteries? If they answer in the affirmative; then there were cloisters of virgin Nuns publicly erected among the Jews. Which opinion is unheard of among the Evangelists. If they answer in the negative; what will they say was done with the rest of those devoted virgins? Next I ask, Could it be that that forced perpetual virginity was pleasing to God? Or, when a master was devoting a wicked servant, in what manner was he able to be consecrated to God? since according to their opinion it was not lawful to kill him. The course is necessarily blocked up at this point (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 18). By this interpretation we appear to confirm monastic vows, which are plainly repugnant to the Sacred Books. I submit that Jephthah did not expect the consent of the girl before he had vowed (Martyr). But his daughter accepted the terms, verse 36, Do to me, etc. I likewise vow the same, and transfer myself from my father’s power to God alone. Thus she ratifies the vow of her father, and further establishes that she is going to be a Nazirite,[23] as it were, to the Lord forever (Junius). 2. If Jephthah did not offer his daughter, but merely consecrated her a perpetual virgin to God, what is the reason for such a lamentation, verse 35? The virginity was glorious and commendable. Or, if she wished to bewail her virginity, this was to be done in the monastery, where a sufficiently long time of mourning was abounding to her; but, before she was shut up, it was fitting rather with friends, etc., to celebrate her happy life. And why did the custom develop, verse 39, that they assembled yearly לְתַנּוֹת, that is, to lament, as the Chaldean and Rabbi Salomon translate it, or rather, to celebrate (for the Arabic תני signifies to celebrate, and to make someone illustrious with praises), the daughter of Jephthah, if she was only shut up in a monastery? Was that really so harsh a punishment? What they say appears clearly refuted, that Jephthah, disappointed of the hope of offspring, thus exclaimed; which was common to him with many others, who did not therefore burst forth in miserable wailing. But, say they, that word לְתַנּוֹת signifies to discuss, as Kimchi testifies. But, 1. I cannot easily concede, what they take for granted, that that custom only endured as long as the daughter of Jephthah lived; for neither is that phrase, it was a statute in Israel, used without good reason, unless of a custom perpetual, or at least of long duration. 2. תַנּוֹת signifies something else, as mentioned (Cappel’s Concerning the Vow of Jephthah 2, 3). 3. What might he do to a person devoted in that way? Might he make him a Nazirite? He was indeed able to vow this, but its execution was in the power of that person. Did he dedicate her to the Sanctuary? But she was not able to minister there, since she was not a Levite. Did he separate her from the world? He was indeed able to sentence her to prison. Otherwise the payment of that was in the hands of the devoted person. And what if either his wife, or any one of his servants that had married, had come forth to meet him? what would he have done to them? With these things taken into account, I believe that she was offered (Lightfoot). [And these things concerning the first and principal question. The rest do not merit prolix inquiry.] Question: Whether Jephthah sinned in this vow either in the vowing or in the execution, or not? Responses: 1. Some altogether deny that he sinned (Serarius, Salian in Lapide). They commend this deed as pious, because it proceeded from the Holy Spirit. Thus Anselm.[24] Augustine and Jerome also favor this (Lapide). 2. Others acknowledge that he sinned (thus Lapide, Bonfrerius). That the vow was impious and parricidal, Tertullian, Ambrose, Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and Procopius judge (Lapide). God abominated human sacrifices among the Canaanites, and prohibited them to the Israelites[25] (Bonfrerius). It could be said that he did this by the impulse of the Spirit of God; but I think rather that he sinned (Martyr). Nevertheless, Jephthah is able to be excused either in whole, or in part, through ignorance and an erring conscience (Lapide, Bonfrerius), and Religious zeal; because in his simple, candid, and pious mind he was thinking himself to be obligated to this. This was a rude age, and ignorant of cases of conscience. Jephthah was a military man, etc. Hence Jephthah is not read to have been reproved by any Prophet or Priest, but rather praised by the Apostle and Churchman. Why then should we condemn him (Lapide)?

[1] Athanasius (c. 298-373) was bishop of Alexandria, and a great defender of Nicean orthodoxy.


[2] Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389) was Archbishop of Constantinople, and a Doctor of the Church, known as the Trinitarian Theologian.


[3] Louis Cappel (1585-1658) was a Huguenot divine of broad and profound learning. He served as a minister of the gospel and Professor of Hebrew and Theology at Saumur. Although his expertise in the Hebrew language was beyond question, his denial of the authority of the vowel points and of the absolute integrity of the Hebrew texts was hotly contested. He wrote a work De Voto Jephthaæ.


[4] Genesis 26:11: “And Abimelech charged all his people, saying, He that toucheth this man or his wife (בָּאִ֥ישׁ הַזֶּ֛ה וּבְאִשְׁתּ֖וֹ, this man and his wife) shall surely be put to death.”


[5] Exodus 1:10: “Come on, let us deal wisely with them; lest they multiply, and it come to pass, that, when there falleth out any war, they join also unto our enemies, and fight against us, and so get them up out of the land (וְעָלָ֥ה מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ׃, or, or get them up out of the land).”


[6] Leviticus 6:4, 5: “Then it shall be, because he hath sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he hath deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, or (אוֹ) all that about which he hath sworn falsely; he shall even restore it in the principal, and shall add the fifth part more thereto, and give it unto him to whom it appertaineth, in the day of his trespass offering.”


[7] Thomas Linacre (c. 1460-1524) was an English humanist and scholar. Among his pupils were Erasmus and Sir Thomas More. His De Emendata Structura on pure and elegant Latin prose was a standard work on the subject and reprinted many time.


[8] The Digest is a compendium of Roman laws, compiled by order of Justinian I (who ruled from 530-533). About one-sixth of the Digest was drawn from the writings of Julius Paulus Prudentissimus, a second century Roman jurist.


[9] Verse 30.


[10] Ezra 10:8: “And that whosoever would not come within three days, according to the counsel of the princes and the elders, all his substance should be forfeitedיָחֳרַ֖ם) כָּל־רְכוּשׁ֑וֹ), and himself separated from the congregation of those that had been carried away.”


[11] Hebrew: כָּל־חֵ֗רֶם אֲשֶׁ֧ר יָחֳרַ֛ם מִן־הָאָדָ֖ם לֹ֣א יִפָּדֶ֑ה מ֖וֹת יוּמָֽת׃


[12] Leviticus 27:28: “Notwithstanding no devoted thing, that a man shall devote unto the Lord of all that he hath, both of man (מֵאָדָם) and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed: every devoted thing is most holy unto the Lord.”


[13] Latin: amortizata, derived from ad/to and mors/death. That is, put into mortmain, the status of lands held inalienably by the Church.


[14] See, for example, Leviticus 25:38-46.


[15] Deuteronomy 21:18-21.


[16] See Galatians 3:13: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse (ἐκ τῆς κατάρας) of the law, being made a curse (κατάρα) for us: for it is written, Cursed (ἐπικατάρατος) is every one that hangeth on a tree…”


[17] See Matthew 19:2-12.


[18] Chronologers in the tradition of Ussher set Jephthah in the twelfth century BC; the Trojan War is believed to have taken place about that time.


[19] Idomeneus, King of the Cretans, was one of the commanders of the Greek forces in the Trojan War.


[20] Maurus Servius Honoratius was a fourth century Roman commentator on Virgil.


[21] See Exodus 13:2, 11-13; 34:19, 20; Numbers 18:14-16.


[22] Genesis 22:1-19.


[23] See Numbers 6.


[24] Anselm (c. 1033-1109) was a Benedictine monk, abbot, philosopher, and theologian. He served as Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109. He is most remembered for his Ontological Argument for the existence of God and his Satifaction Theory of the Atonement.


[25] See Deuteronomy 12:31, for example.

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ABOUT US

Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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