Jephthah’s Daughter – Bon Boullogne (1649–1717)
The puzzling story of Jephthah’s daughter falls into two opinions among scholars. Most of the Christian commentators feel that Jephthah killed his daughter, where most of the Jewish commentators say that she lived out her life serving in the tabernacle.
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If thou wilt give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whoever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the LORDs, and I will offer him up for a burnt offering.” Judg. 11:29-31
He won the war.
34 Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances; she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And when he saw her, he rent his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! you have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me; for I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” 36 And she said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone forth from your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” 37 And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 And he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had made. She had never known a man. And it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. Judg. 11:34-40
The Daughter of Jephthah 1876 by Edouard Bernard Debat-Ponsan 1847 – 1913
Those that feel Jephthah killed her, stress that she told him to do according to what he vowed.
Those who think she lived out her life in the tabernacle, stress that her companions bewailed her virginity and not her life. This period of lamenting did not continue, nor are we informed when it stopped. It seems to have been a very localized custom as it is not mentioned during the time of the kings or when they return from Babylon.
Some point out that women were not allowed in the temple. That is true of the second temple. But they seemed to have been allowed in the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple, e.g., Hannah seems to have been in the outer court of the tabernacle. [1Sam. 1:9 -11] The Alamoth were singing in the tabernacle or temple. (See Also: Psalms 46, According to the Alamoth)
According to the Torah, humans could be living sacrifices.
. . . and Aaron shall offer the Levites before the LORD as a wave offering from the people of Israel, that it may be theirs to do the service of the LORD. Num. 8:11
And the Levites purified themselves from sin, and washed their clothes; and Aaron offered them as a wave offering before the LORD, and Aaron made atonement for them to cleanse them. Num. 8:21
It seems unlikely that the daughter of Jephthah was a burnt offering sacrifice. More likely she served in the tabernacle for the rest of her life. But the Text is unclear.
So why are the Scriptures vague in some instances? Well, the main point of the Bible is that the Creator wants a personal intimate relationship with each and every human. (which is also the whole point of this blog). If something is not really pertinent to that essential point it is often left out because it is inconsequential to that end. The point of the tail of Jephthah’s daughter is to stress that one should not make hasty vows to God without full consideration of the consequences.
Later in Jewish tradition, vows were not made without a written contract. This gave the vower time to consider.