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The Daughter's Sacrifice

The Daughter's Sacrifice

by Ann Fritschel

The story of Jephthah and the sacrifice of his daughter is fascinating, yet ambiguous. Jephthah, concerned about conquering the Ammonites even after receiving God’s spirit, vowed that if God gave him a victory the first person to greet him when he returned from battle would belong to “the Lord.” Jephthah vowed to offer that per- son as a burnt offering to God. Unfortunately for Jephthah (and for his daughter), it was his only child (Judges 11:29–34). And he did to her “according to the vow he had made” ( Judges 11:39).

With these brief words the story of Jephthah’s daughter comes to a dramatic conclusion.

Yet for 1,000 years scholars have argued about that conclusion. The ambiguity of the language about the vow, the emphasis on the daughter’s virginity, and beliefs about child sacrifice at the time have led some scholars to assert the daughter was not killed, but called to a celibate and recluse life or to service at God’s sanctuary.

So which was it? Was she killed as a burnt offering or did she sacrifice her future as wife and mother and remain celibate for the rest of her life?

Ann Fritschel is the Benz Professor of Hebrew Bible at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, where she has taught for 17 years.

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