Vol. 25 New Series October, 1964 No. 5

(Judges 11:29-40)
That Jephthah performed his vow is distinctly stated in verse 39, but it is not clear what fate his daughter met. Many differing views have been put forward. Thus, Dr. Bullinger, in the Companion Bible, states that Jephthah dedicated his daughter to Jehovah by a perpetual virginity, but did not offer her as a burnt offering, "Because it was forbidden by Jehovah, and could not be accepted by Him (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5)."

First of all, we require a strict and consistent rendering of certain verses. This will demonstrate that the Hebrew text says not one word about burning, as such. Hebrew has about twenty terms rendered in the A.V. by burn or burning, but not one of them occurs in this passage.

This is Rotherham's rendering, but the word lament is different in other versions. Young has talk to; Darby has celebrate; The Oxford Gesenius Hebrew Lexicon doubtfully gives the meaning as recount, rehearse, suggesting for Judges 11 : 40 "celebrate or mourn for." If the meaning should be" to lament for" or " to mourn for," we must not conclude that the girl was therefore dead. With us a "mourner" is generally one who attends a funeral, but in Hebrew we must not thus restrict the meaning or usage. The daughters of Israel may have attended Jephthah's daughter four days yearly, in confinement, to condole with her over her seclusion to virginity.

Now the Greek Septuagint uses the word thrEnein here, which means to be weeping aloud, wailing, or mourning. The Greek name for the book of Lamentations is ThrEnoi. Our Authorized Version often forsakes the meaning of the Hebrew for the meaning of the Septuagint word, and does so here, as the Greek at least makes sense.

The Hebrew verb for lament is thanah (with radicals TH-N-E), occurring elsewhere only three times, in Hosea 8: 9, 10 (A.V. "hire"); and Judges 5:11 (A.V. "rehearse"). Rotherham in Hosea has "hire" and in Judges 5:11, he has "laud ye." Revised Standard Version has in Hosea "hire" and in Judges 5:11 "repeat."

Suggestions found in Kittel's Hebrew Bible of 1936 are to read instead of thannoth, the form qonen (in Hehrew spelt Q-U-N-N), meaning to dirge; or annoth (in Hebrew spelt O-N-U-TH), meaning to answer, assert, or respond. But these would mean a too radical change in the Hebrew. The letter Q is not like the letter TH; nor is the letter 0 (Ayin). I would propose a very much simpler alteration in the Hebrew, the reinsertion of a radical letter, A (Aleph) in place of the modern vowel which represents the "a" in the word thannoth. That is, I would spell the form TH-A-N-U-TH, instead of TH-N-U-TH, restoring an A (Aleph) to the Hebrew text as unpointed. The Massoretes appear to have dropped this Aleph and replaced it by a vowel mark written beneath the TH. Dr. Ginsburg produced many cases in the O.T. where the letter Aleph has been elided and replaced by pointing, in his Introduction to the Hebrew Bible. For example, in Genesis 4:15, anyone can observe that the word "Therefore," in the statement "Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold," is not logical and is out of place. The Hebrew text now shews L-K-N (sounded laken, one word), but the ancient versions shew that this  was originally two words,L-A K-N (sounded laken); meaning "Not so!" L-K-N, as one word, means "therefore."

There is a form found twice in the O.T. spelt TH-A-N-I-E (sounded commonly and pointed as tha'aneeyah),occurring at Isaiah 29 ': 2 (A.V. heaviness), and Lamentations 2 : 5 (A.V. mourning). This might mean complaint, or bewailing in Isaiah, and in Lamentations, lamentation and mourning.

"If we read TH-A-N-P-TH, at Judges 11:40, the meaning may be that the daughters of Israel went four days in the year to express plaintiveness for the daughter of Jeppthah. Our word plaintive might mean "complaint" or "sorrow." Actually, the Hebrew term is a feminine plural noun, and the literal sense would be that the girls went "for plaintivenesses," that is, for plaintive ceremonies or expressions of feeling.

The words rendered in Judges 11:31 in in the A.V. by "I will offer it up for a burnt offering" are in Hebrew only two in number, eolithieu oule, commonly sounded as ha'aleetheehu'olah. Both of these shew the root form O-L-E (Ayin, Lamed, He,) which signifies "ascend," "go up," or in the causative, "bring up," "cause to go up," that is, "offer." The verb occurs in the O.T. almost 900 times, and its chief renderings are, Come up (167 times); Go up (321); Ascend (20); and in the causative, Bring (up) (104); Offer (up) (78). Once it is rendered "be burnt" (Lev. 2:12), but the margin corrects to "ascend."

Now, if the verb so obviously means merely to go up, or cause to go up, how is it possible for its noun to possess an entirely different signification? All sorts of things might be made to go up, without being burnt.

The noun Olah presents a very different question. It occurs in the 0.T. 286 times, about one third of which occurrences are in Leviticus and Numbers. In the A.V. it is rendered "burnt offering" 266 times, and "burnt sacrifice" 18 times. Once it gets its real meaning, "ascent" (at 1. Kings 10:5, "and his ascent by which he went up"). The Queen of Sheba was amazed to see the Ascent by which Solomon ascended to the house of Jehovah, so that "there was no more spirit in her." Yet the very same word, from the same root, is rendered only a few verses back, at ch. 9:25, by "burnt offerings," which is very unfortunate. Even the Revised Standard Version is wrong here. The tentative, uncorrected Concordant Version reads at Jeremiah 33:18, "ascent offering" or "ascending offering."

The Hebrew word for FIRE is A-Sh (pointed to sound ish) from which comes the word A-Sh-E (pointed as isheh), rendered in the A.V. by "offering (made) by fire" 52 times, and by "sacrifice made by fire" 12 times. All but five of the occurrences are found in Leviticus and Numbers. Rotherham renders by "altar-flame," and appears to do so throughout the Old Testament. Thus it will be seen that the Ascending Offering must be carefully distinguished from the Fire-Offering. Dr. Bullinger in his, Companion Bible, has a useful Appendix (No. 43) dealing with the words for "Offer" and "Offerings." The question that lies before us is, Can there be an Ascending-Offering to Jehovah apart from fire? We shall now examine the opinions of various parties, to see whether any light can be cast on the problem.

Horne's Introduction to the Scriptures (1828), a vast compendium of Scripture knowledge in four volumes, thinks the daughter of Jephthah was probably not sacrificed. He reasons that she went to bewail her virginity, not her sacrifice. Quoting partly from Calmet's Dictionary to the Bible (Calmet died in 1757), he says, " Now, if in the course of two months no person could have suggested to Jephthah a ransom for his daughter, yet surely she must have been alive, though dead to him and his family (as his only child), and to the world by her seclusion, if the Israelitish women went to console with her." It is further worthy of remark that it is not afterwards said that he actually sacrificed her, but that 'he did with her according to his vow.' The sacred historian subjoins, 'she knew no man;' if she were sacrificed, this remark is frivolous; but if she were devoted to perpetual virginity, this idea coincides with the visits of the Israelitish women. On the whole, we may safely conclude that Jephthah's daughter was not sacrificed, but consecrated to a state of celibacy. Horne cites various verses as prohibiting the sacrifice of children, including Deut. 12:31; Psalm 106:37-38; Jeremiah 7:31; Ezekiel 16:20-21. Perhaps the first and third passages are apposite. We must not, however, pick out verses which condemn the passing of children through the fire of Baal and to Molech, as the same as offering up children by fire to Jehovah, as Dr. Bullinger did in the two verses cited at the beginning of our enquiry. Thus, in Jeremiah 19:5, Jehovah says that it was not He who commanded the Israelites to burn their sons with fire, ascending-offerings unto Baal. Nor did such a thing enter His mind. Yet in making this statement, the inference would be that Jehovah did not wish the same practice done to Himself, as it is reasonable to expect He would have added directions, had He meant the sons to be offered to Himself, in place of to Baal. The impression got is that what never came into His mind was the burning of sons to anyone.

The Temple Dictionary of the Bible (Edinburgh, 1910) is emphatic that Jephthah sacrificed his own daughter. "Infinitely pathetic is the brave acceptance of her fate by that heroic maiden. Two months were granted for bewailing her virginity. To die unwed and childless was heavy grief. Then she died by her father's hand. . . . . It is quite futile to argue that she was only condemned to perpetual virginity. The language of the vow shows that Jephthah contemplated a human sacrifice. Such offerings were known among the Hebrews (2. Kings 16:3; Ezekiel 20:26, etc.), as among other peoples (2. Kings 3:27)."

Ahaz, according to 2. Kings 16:3, made his son pass through the fire, it is true, but this is stated to be an abomination, and not right in the sight of Jehovah. Ahaz was a Baal worshipper (2. Chron. 28:3) and could not have sacrificed his children to Jehovah. Nor can the evil passing through (fire) of children referred to in Ezek. 20:26 be taken as the fulfilment of vows to Jehovah.

The "Imperial Encyclopedia of Biblical Knowledge" (Edinburgh, London and Dublin, 1878) devotes a long article to the case of Jephthah, about which it states "volumes have been written." His vow has "caused an immense controversy." This is a discussion which "must ever remain undecided," and the subject is "difficult and obscure." The "conclusions are still uncertain." The writer states that the balance of authority, Jewish and Christian, is in favour of the opinion that Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter to Jehovah. He says-the practice of devoting females to perpetual virginity is contrary to Mosaic Law; when Jephthah made his vow, he must have expected a human being to come out of his door to meet him, for if he had intended merely the sacrifice of a bullock, there was no necessity for such a solemn vow, and he would rather have vowed the offering of hecatomb's than of a single animal on an occasion so important. It is admitted that "very powerful objections" have been advanced against the view that the girl was sacrificed. He did with her according to his vow, but "it is not said what he did with her," and it is not stated that she was sacrificed. It is pointed out that it was, and still is, a custom universal in the East for persons to go once a year to lament over the graves of their deceased friends. The strongest objection is said to be that a sacrifice of the girl would be "decidedly against the Law of Jehovah, and could not have been done at Jephthah's altar, by his high-priest, or by any regular and faithful member of the priesthood." Dr. Hales points out that "No father merely by his own authority could put an offending, much less an innocent child to death upon any account, without the sentence of the magistrates and the consent of the people" (Deut. 2l:18-21).

Jephthah could hardly be the wild and daring freebooter and adventurer some declare he was, when he is enumerated among the ancient worthies of the Hebrews Epistle as an illustrious example of the power of faith. He must have known therefore that to slay his own daughter was contrary to the Law, and so devoted his girl to perpetual celibacy.

The writer then shews that those who were "devoted to God were not doomed to perpetual celibacy" so far as known, and there is no other case of a woman being thus devoted. "It is difficult to ascertain in what respect under their Law a woman could be consecrated to Jehovah, or what services she could perform when so consecrated. There is nothing in the scriptures to sanction the practice of female celibacy on religious grounds, such as those maintained by the Roman Catholic Church, and nothing to denote that it existed in Israel either before or after Jephthah's time."

A.T. Last updated 23.2.2006