A friend of mine brought this story to my attention last night. I’d never heard it framed as child sacrifice, so when she told me that’s what some people believe, I was confused. Nonetheless, I decided to do this study to find out if there was any truth to it. Would my God reward human sacrifice? It just did not line up with what I knew about scripture or about Yahuah. So, I set out to get to the bottom of this story. Here’s what I found.
Flaws in the Western perspective of this story
Let me start by saying that it is a stretch to imply Jephthah’s story in Judges 11 has anything to do with child sacrifice at all. Unfortunately, some early translators and commentators embellished bible stories to make them more entertaining and a work of fiction then the personal and public historical accounts they were originally intended to be.
In this case, we need only look at the western account of these events to see the fallacy of the child sacrifice conclusion.
First, nowhere in the story is the daughter identified as a child. Her level of independence, maturity and the fact that she had not known a man was worth mentioning would imply she was older, rather than a young child. Therefore, even if we believed Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter, it’s highly unlikely she was a young child.
So, that leaves us with the potential human sacrifice of a young woman of childbearing age. She was independent enough to consent to her “sacrifice” and reassure her father that she was willing to be “sacrificed” because it was the right thing to do. She also dictated that she would first invite her friends to go up the hill and mourn her virginity for two months before her so-called sacrifice.
Flaws from the Hebrew perspective
There are a total of 9 verses, all in Judges 11, pertaining to Jephthah’s daughter. NONE imply that anyone was sacrificed, burned, killed, or physically harmed in any way. Though, the English translation is tweaked just so to lead readers to draw such conclusions.
Below is the Hebrew translation of these 9 verses. They aren’t very well written in the first place. They don’t follow standard Hebrew writing styles and patterns and use strange word choice to tell the story but they are still very interpretable.
Just as we read in the KJV, through verse 31 Israel goes to Jephthah, whose brothers exiled him because he was an illegitimate child, for help defeating the Ammonites (children of Ammon) who wanted to retake the land Israel had conquered from the Amorites 300 years earlier. Israel promised him rulership of the Gileadite territories in exchange for his help defeating the Ammonites. After the king of Ammon refuses to see reason, Jephthah prays to Yahuah for victory.
He says this…
30 and he vowed a vow to Yahuah if it shall be given you will give the mark of the children of Ammon in my hands
31 and exist she that he will be one sent out, who he sends from my door my house to meet me in my dwelling in peace from children of Ammon and exist she to Yahuah and that offered her him that one, upon her.
Jephthah vows to Yahuah that if he gives the children of Ammon in his hands and it happens that they are sent out of the land, whoever is sent out of his own house to meet him when peace has been secured from the Ammonites will be dedicated to Yahuah on account of the peace.
Verses 32 and 33 says they won the battle with the Ammonites.
34 and he entered Jephtah the Metsphah to his house and there his daughter had gone out to meet him in tambourines and in dances and only she he did cause her solely produce to him from his portion son or daughter
35 and he existed as his perceptions her oath and ripped the mark of his clothes and he said I will exist my daughter the knee that shall kneel and the mark I will exist in my stirring up and I, I did open my mouth to Yahuah and not I will complete to turn.
When Jephthah gets home his only child, a daughter, runs out the house celebrating his victory with a tambourine and dancing. When he sees her he remembers the oath he made to Yahuah and rips his clothes saying, I’ve made my daughter the knee that kneels and I’ll be in my own troubles and I must open my mouth to Yahuah and I can’t take it back.
36 And she said to him, my father open her the mark of your mouth to Yahuah do her to me after which do her to you Yahuah like which he sent out from your mouth vengeances from your enemies from the children of Ammon.
37 and she said, to me the word the this that weak/heal/idol from my portion twenty(two) months and I will walk her and I’ll go down upon the hills and I’ll weep upon my virginity. I and my friends.
His daughter said to him, “my father, open your mouth to Yahuah. Do it to me that which your mouth did to Yahuah, like that which came out of your mouth vengeances from your enemies, from the children of Ammon.” and she said, “give me this one thing, two months of idleness from my duties so I can go up the hill with my friends and mourn my virginity.”
She tells him just as he spoke his victory into existence, he must speak into existence his part of the deal. She asked only that she is able to go with her friends to mourn her virginity.
The important question here is why is she mourning her virginity and asking for a break from her duties if she’s going to be killed? What does her virginity and duties have to do with what Jephthah promised Yahuah?
38 and he said my walk (go) and he sent her oath two months and she went she and her friends and she wept upon her virginity upon the hills.
Jephthah told his daughter to go have her two mouths with her friends in the hills.
39 and he existed from the end those two months and she returned to her father and he did to her the mark of vow which vow and she not knew her a man and she(it) existed a custom in Israel
40 From the days her days they went , daughters of Israel, to give to the daughter of jephtah the Gileadite four days in the year.
Verses 39 and 40 say that at the end of the two months his daughter returned and Jephthah did as he had vowed to Yahuah, which was in verse 31 – that whoever came out the house would belong to Yahuah as an offering for the victory over the Ammonites. Meaning she could not belong to any man; hence, verse 39 says she “never knew a man“. It became customary for the daughters of Israel to bring her gifts 4 days a year.
The confusion mainly comes from the mistranslation of two words. The first is in verse 31 where the word for offering is interpreted burnt offering which is essentially a made-up western concept. It implies the young woman was burned on an altar. Something explicitly forbidden in Israelite customs. The neighboring natives, the Caananites, did perform such rituals and Israel was warned by Yahuah against doing such things. (Leviticus 18:21, 20:3 and Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 18:10) So even if we believe Jephthah burned his daughter, we cannot argue that it was rewarded by Yahuah or acceptable practice.
Truth is, the word here is olah (עולה) the one that rises or is risen up, i. e. offered up or lifted up. The idea of a “burnt” sacrifice comes from certain contexts where it is clear that food is being cooked on an altar (a fire pit usually made of stone used for cooking and properly preparing hot and clean food) and the “sweet savor” (i. e. its aroma) rises to Yahuah, which by the way is usually called a sacrifice by westerners!
The second little mishap is when the word forgive or gifts (תן) in verse 40 is mistranslated as lament. This is the only time this is ever done throughout the entire old testament, although this same word is used multiple times in this very chapter and extensively throughout scripture and is correctly interpreted. For example, verse 30 and 32 talks about Yahuah “giving” the Ammonite in Jephthah’s hand. This is the same word.
The Bottom Line
According to this author, Jephthah devoted his daughter to Yahuah’s service which had to do with her remaining a virgin and kneeling. It became customary for the daughters of Israel to go and give gifts to her 4 days per year from that point forward.
Why was this such a huge sacrifice?
When Jephthah died six years later, his lineage died with him. His only child was committed to a life of celibacy. No one would inherit what he’d sacrificed for.
Keeping their bloodline going was a very important part of Israelite and most other ancient civilizations’ culture. Think about how Abraham wailed over the thought of having to leave his inheritance to his servent because it looked like he would have no descendants to pick up the torch of his legacy. This would have been most devastating which is why verse 34 stresses that she was his absolute only child, boy or girl. She would not have children, having been vowed to Yah, as the passage states, as a result of the vow, she never “knew” a man.
This was a great sacrifice for Jephthah, but nowhere does it imply she was murdered, killed, dead, physically harmed, burned, or any such thing. His sacrifice was his bloodline, that’s what walked out that front door when he returned home that day.
Other potential references to this custom of dedicating people to Yahuah:
Judges 13:7 – Manoah’s wife’s child was to be a Nazarite (Nazarene), dedicated to Yahuah until his death as was the Messiah.
2 Sam 1:24 – Daughters of Israel
Lam 2:10 – Virgins of Jerusalem
Acts 21:9 – Prophesying virgin daughters
There are numerous other examples of this Israelite custom. Such offerings weren’t killed but kept completely pure that they may be vessels of the most high God. Our Messiah, Jesus Christ, or more accurately, Yashua HaMashiach, was given to us in this same way and was literally sacrificed at the hands of his enemies. Yet, we imagine this to be a foreign concept because we’ve heard whispers of the dramatic tale of child sacrifice.
Come’on people let’s use our wisdom for discernment and not let others dictate what we believe!
Thanks for the post idea Caron👋🏽