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The Sons and Daughters of Anath:

Primal Religious Influences on Jephthah's Vow

and his Daughter's Response in Judges 11:29-40

Exegetical Paper

OT506 – Old Testament Exegesis: Judges

Dr. Jeremy Smoak

September 15, 2008

Matthew Lumpkin
Fuller Box# 449
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1. Introduction:

Judges is a bewildering book for contemporary readers. It contains history of a

time of intense change as Israel began to wrestle with what it meant to "inherit" a land

already populated by people not so different from themselves. The characters are

complex and flawed. The stories that surround them are gritty and dark. The narrator's

judgement and interpretation seem at once stern and ambiguous. It is my contention that

much of our difficulty in understanding the message of Judges stems from our

unfamiliarity with the nature of religious and cultural interaction happening between the

tribes of Israel and of Canaan. Insights from anthropological study of contemporary

primal religion as well was from surviving texts from the ancient near east can illuminate

many stories that have become obscure to contemporary readers as we have moved

further away culturally from the primal, tribal worldview and way of life of the Judges


The focus of this paper is the narrative of Jephthah's vow to YHWH (Judges

11:29-40). This passage illustrates the binding power of a vow made to a deity in the

primal world-view and betrays a background in Canaanite religious thought on the part of

Jephthah and his family. This all takes place within the broader theme of men "doing

what is right in their own eyes." Jephthah, as the first human-appointed (though spirit-

possessed) judge, who delivers the tribe of Gilead from Ammonite oppression only to

come home to sacrifice his young (virgin) daughter as burnt offering to YHWH

exemplifies Israel's identity conflict. Further, I will argue that his daughter's response to

her imminent death is highly suggestive of a (re)turn to Canaanite religious ritual

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specifically the "virgin Anath" bewailing her lost lover, Ba'al. The text attempts an

etiological explanation of the ongoing observance of some annual ritual among the

Hebrew community.

2. Background:

The book of Judges attempts to meld a series of narratives surrounding a few

charismatic leaders into a chronological and cohesive history of ancient Israel spanning

from Deuteronomy to 2 Kings.1 While scholarly consensus on the precise mixture of

voices (ancient-storyteller, and religious, "Dueteronomic" editor) has evolved over time,

it is clear that the historian is putting the narrative material into a strongly theological

framework. From the earliest chapters (1, 2) the narrator points out the tribes' infidelity

in the task of ousting the Canaanites and in their appropriation of their gods and religious

practices. God's judgement comes in the form of oppression from those same Canaanite

neighbors and Israel's true repentance brings a deliverer or "judge." One wonders if

"warlords" might be a more descriptive title for the book since the deliverer is

consistently depicted as defeating and consolidating power through military action. Yet

the word, ‫שׁ ַֹפט‬, contains a range of meaning including "ruler" along the lines of the

leadership these tribal exerted.

Furthermore, when the terms "Canaanite," or "Canaanite religion" are used below

it is with a full recognition that the religion of the Canaanites and the Israelites was

profoundly influenced by the surrounding societies. The Egyptian colonial power,

Susan Niditch, Judges: A Commentary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008), 10.
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Ugarit, Phonicia and Syria all contributed and shared gods, goddesses and practices into

the religious life of all the inhabitants of Canaan. The emphasis on the broader category

of "primal religion" is intended to highlight the shared concerns and worldview

assumptions that enabled this wide exchange of religious thought. It is very difficult to

untangle this complex process but the sources of particular influences will be noted

where possible.

Another important element of the multi-layered composition apparent in the text

is the preservation of popular religious practice in early Israel. Often in contrast to the

formalized orthopraxy of Deuteronomy, this apparent folk-religion bears striking

resemblance to Canaanite religion specifically and to the universal phenomena of primal

religion in general.2 Throughout the book we will see characters dwelling, sitting,

burying, divining, prophesying and worshipping at sites likely to have had spiritual

significance to Canaan as well as Israel: trees (4:5, 4:11, 6:11-19, 9:6, 9:37), mountains

(2:9, 9:7, 11:36, 17:1ff) and rivers (4:13, 5:21). This is not to ignore the geographical

I am using the term "primal religion" in a very particular way. This concept refers to the world-
view and religious practices that are or have been present in all human societies. Primal religion can be
seen most clearly prior to encounter with any of the world’s “great” religions that build upon these primal
foundations. Religious historian Andrew Walls advocates the term “primal” over “traditional,” “tribal,”
“animistic,” or “primitive” religion both to avoid the negative baggage of those terms and to emphasize this
perspective’s “historical priority” and its “basic, elemental nature.” It would be misleading to speak of
primal religion as one monolithic phenomenon since the religious expression it describes often has distinct
contextual features. Yet there is striking uniformity both in practice and theological orientation among an
extremely broad swath of people and times, often independent of one another. Andrew Walls, “Africa and
Christian Identity” in Mission Focus: Current Issues, ed. Wilbert R. Shenk (Scottdate, PA: Herald Press,
1980), 212-13.
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significance of these features but to highlight the holistic way in which their significance

is understood in primal contexts then and now.

Harold Turner offers six key elements that describe the primal religious

worldview: 1.) a sense of kinship with all of nature, 2.) a sense of man’s finitude,

weakness, sinfulness and need of a power beyond his own, 3.) a deep belief in a “spiritual

world of powers or beings more powerful and ultimate than [one]self,” of both good and

evil intent, 4.) a belief that man can engage in relationship with benevolent spiritual

powers for aid and protection, 5.) a deep sense of the reality of the afterlife and the

ongoing relationship between the “living dead” and the “living living,” and finally, 6.) a

deep conviction in the sacramental nature of the universe where there are no sharp

disjunctions between the physical and the spiritual.3 Our reading of Judges 11:29-40 will

be greatly enriched by keeping this world view in mind.

3. Verse by Verse Exegetical Analysis:

29.) When the spirit of YHWH came upon Jepthah‭, ‬he traveled to Gilead and Manasseh‭.
‬Then he traveled to Mizpah of Gilead‭ ‬and from Mizpah of Gilead he crossed over to the

29 - Our passage begins with the ‫הוה‬ ַ ‫ ֣ר‬coming upon Jephthah in keeping with
֔ ָ ְ‫וּח י‬

the other judges who have preceded him. This is important since this is the first and last

active engagement we will see from YHWH in this narrative. Contemporary and

especially Christian readers need to be cautious against reading this event as some kind

of indwelling of God's spirit on analogy with the Holy spirit as conceived by the New

Harold W. Turner, “The Primal Religions of the World and their Study,” in Victor Hayes, ed.
Australian Esays in World Religions, (Bedford Park: Australian Association for World Religions, 1977),
27-37 cited in Kwame Bediako, Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience (Maryknoll, NY:
Orbis Books, 2004), 87-88.
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Testament. In Judges, it seems to come exclusively and immediately before a decisive

victory in battle. YHWH, the divine warrior, lends his power (and stratagems) to his

judges to conquer in line with his orchestration of events and sometimes in response to

Israel's cries for deliverance.4

The spirit of YHWH coming upon a judge seems to be less about divine

endorsement, commission or authority and more about empowerment for military

victory. It seems more likely that this designation is one bestowed in retrospect by the

author of the narrative, seeing the great deeds of these men and attempting to tie their

deeds into God's redemptive action.5 After YHWH's spirit comes upon him, Jephthah

travels out from Mizpah probably to gather support for his campaign from the outlying

tribal areas of Gilead and from Manasseh.6

30.) Then Jephthah swore a vow to YHWH saying‭, "‬If you will truly give7 the
Ammonites into my hand, 31.) then the one who comes out from the door of my house to
meet me‭ at my return‭ (‬when we are‭) ‬at peace with the Ammonites --(that one) will be
YHWH's for I will bring them up‭ (‬as‭) ‬a burnt offering‭.‬

30-31 - The language of Jephthah's ‫ נֶ ֶדר‬or vow is formal and dense. The vow is a

Temba Mafico argues that the coming of the spirit upon the judges might be best understood on
analogy with the spirit possession common among African primal religious specialists acting as spirit
mediums. Deborah does seem to be fulfilling a societal role similar to the these religious specialists,
"prophesying" under a sacred palm. However his argument is more persuasive in connecting the African
mediums with Samuel's encounter with bands of ecstatic prophets and the medium at Endor. The parallels
with the Judges' experience of the ‫הוה‬ ַ ‫ ֣ר‬are less clear. Temba Mafico, "Were the 'Judges' of Israel like
֔ ָ ְ‫וּח י‬
African Spirit Mediums?" in Text and Experience: Towards a Cultural Exegesis of the Bible, ed. Daniel
Smith-Christopher (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 330-343.
Many have argued that this phrase is a description of the judges' charismatic ability to inspire
loyalty and cohesion in this fractious time. This is hard to maintain since Samson, who experiences this
spirit no less than four times, inspires neither loyalty nor cohesion. But in fact he does succeed in
accomplishing YHWH's purposes in the narrative with great feats of strength and divine power.
R. T. Reis, "Spoiled Child," Prooftexts 17 (1997): 281.
G - Inf. Abs - ‫ נתן‬- note the "infinitive absolute, normally used in the condition to emphasize the
finite verb in the modal imperfect, strengthening the force of the obligation." Theological Dictionary of the
Old Testament, s.v."‫נָ ַדר‬."
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religious act creating a conditional transaction with a deity. If the deity will act in a

certain way (usually a favor or rescue of some kind) then the recipient will act in a

certain way (usually by offering a sacrifice).8 This is a common practice in OT Israelite

religion as well as the ancient near east and in primal religious settings even today.

Burned sacrifices or ‫עוֹלה‬

ֽ ָ are more potent than others.9

Jephthah's wording is intentionally ambiguous regarding "the one" he will "bring

up," as a burnt offering. Some have suggested that this is a "hasty vow," and that it's

allowance for the possibility of human sacrifice is a mistake especially given the

possibility of an animal emerging first.10 Yet it seems more likely that Jephthah is

intentionally leaving the possibility open to offering a person, even a person very dear to

him, given the tribal tradition of women (mothers, wives, daughters) coming out to meet

their men in celebration after battle. I agree with Matthews that this places him "squarely

within Canaanite religious tradition," in particular and within the primal worldview, more


In his prior exchange with the Ammonite king, Jephthah's statements suggest his

view of YHWH's relationship to Israel is parallel to Chemosh's relationship to the

Ammonites: a tribal deity (11:24). Jephthah has just been brought back into fellowship

with the tribe of Gilead when "he spoke... his words" before YHWH at Mizpah (11:11).

It is not far fetched to imagine Jephthah's vow emerging from his years, exiled from

Israel, making a name for himself in battle. It is likely this was not the first pre-battle

Ibid, 244.
Cf. prayer vow of Hittite Queen Puduhupa. James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts
Relating to the Old Testament (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 394f.
Robert G. Boling, The Anchor Bible: Judges (New York: Doubleday, 1969), 209-10.
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vow Jephthah had uttered, the difference being that now he is fighting under and for

YHWH. It seems Jephthah knew what he was saying and worded his vow carefully in

order to allow the deity to name his price for the favor requested, up to and including the

most potent offering of burnt human sacrifice.11

Note how this vow pre-supposes the sort of deterministic control over events by

the divine necessary for the primal belief in the efficacy of divination, casting lots,

omens and the like.12 Further, with this reading we see Jephthah expressing elements

two, three and four of Turner's six-part description of primal religion noted above.13 Both

Jephthah's context and vow seem consistent with Green's conclusions regarding patterns

of human sacrifice in the ancient near east. He describes the role of human sacrifice "as

an expiatory sacrifice to various gods in times of national emergency in which children

were burnt in the north Syro-Palestinian region during the Iron Age to the sixth century

B.C."14 Further, he states that the evidence suggests it was used in the context of

"political or domestic crisis... usually that of a degenerate civilization attempting to find

solutions to problems based on a misunderstanding of the past."15 Though the tribal crisis

of Gilead isn't national in scale the immediate context of the vow, the broader narrative

arc of a degenerating society suggest Jephthah's mentality might have been shaped by

For a more detailed and nuanced treatment of the plausibility of human sacrifice being within
the norm within Israel, let alone for a "robber-captain" recently returned from exile, see Alberto R. Green,
The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, American Schools of Oriental Research Dissertation
Series, 1 (Missoula, MN: Scholars Press, 1975), 162-3. For a succinct but helpful explanation of the way in
which the "war ideology" of the ban or ‫ ֶח ֶרם‬contains within it the concept of human sacrifice to YHWH as
whole cities and peoples are "devoted to destruction," see Niditch, Judges, 133.
Paul G. Hiebert et al, Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Response to Popular Beliefs
and Practices (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 183-7.
See footnote 2 above.
Green, The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, 1975, 201.
Ibid, 202.
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this pattern of human sacrifice, particularly of burnt offering of children.

32.) So Jepthah crossed over‭ to ‬the Ammonites and made war against them and YHWH
gave them into his hand‭.‬ 33.) He fought16 them from Aroer until he entered17 into
Minnith --twenty cities, as far as Abel-Keramim. (It was) a very great campaign and the
Ammonites were humbled before the Israelites.

32-33 - Jephthah "crosses over" into the contested border region between

Gilead and Ammon, moving south. Regardless of whether or not he was sure of

it prior to battle, he likely interpreted his sweeping victory as YHWH's favor.

The text's brevity in describing the battle highlights the author's emphasis upon

the vow and its consequences. In contrast with with Barak and Gideon's lengthy

battle narratives (chapters 4-8) these two verses don't distract us from the fact that

YHWH, though silent, has fulfilled the condition of the vow Jephthah put upon

him and now only Jephthah's obligation remains.

34.) Then Jephthah went back to Mizpah to his house and saw his daughter coming out to
meet him18 with timbrels and twirling dances, and she was the only one.19 He had no
other son or daughter. 35.) And when he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, "Ahh!20
My daughter, you have brought me very low21 and now you have become my trouble, for
I have opened my mouth to YHWH and I am not able to turn back."

34-35 - As the original hearers would likely have anticipated, given the

aforementioned tribal custom, Jephthah's daughter comes out in celebration to

G - vci - 3ms + 3mp suff. - ‫ נכה‬- to strike
G - inf const. + 2ms suff. - ‫ בוא‬- to go in
G - inf. const. + 3ms suff - ‫ קרא‬- to call, or to meet
I follow Susan Niditch here in emphasizing the text's simultaneous identification of his daughter
as the "one" alluded to in the vow and the "only one," that is, child, he has. Niditch, Judges, 128.
I follow Boling here in reading ‫ ֲא ָ ֤ההּ‬as an onomatopoeic exclamation of regret and pain.
Boling, Judges, 208n.
H - Inf Abs. - ‫ כרע‬- to bow down
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meet him. Every father of a daughter's heart sinks when he imagines the young

girl, twirling, care-free out to meet her dad.

The text informs us that she is both the only individual he has seen and the

only child he has begotten. The word here, yahidah (‫ידה‬

֔ ָ ‫)יְ ִח‬, immediately

connects the reader to the Genesis 22 narrative of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac,

yahidka (=‫)יְ ִח ְיד‬, his only son. Jon Levenson suggests a linguistic connection

between these two Biblical stories of sacrifice and a prior Phoenician myth of the

god "El" who, in a time of national crisis sacrifices his son, called Iedoud or

Ieoud: "the only begotten."22 Levenson notes the close association of the Hebrew

word, yahid, with Biblical stories of child sacrifice and suggests this Phoenician

myth of "El," later made synonymous with YHWH or Israel, had a formative

influence on the way Israel thought of the sacrifice of children. This background

also adds further justification for my suggestion that Jepthah considers the

possibility of child sacrifice to be an appropriate response to his situation.

Jephthah now has his answer for what such a bounteous victory will cost:

his line of descendents. The very act that restored him to status within his clan,

indeed, catapulted him into headship over it has been reversed by his vow that he

now understands will obligate him to cut off his chance at a male heir.

His response of placing blame upon his daughter is curious. Did he not

expect the deity to arrange for a sacrifice on par with the favor granted? Did he

Jon Douglas Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son : The Transformation of
Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993) 26-27.
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have in mind a last minute, Genesis-22-style substitution? Did he expect that

YHWH would not finally demand child sacrifice? Perhaps he simply had held

out hope that someone less dear, a slave perhaps, might have emerged. If, as I

suggest, this is not the first time Jephthah has made such a vow, it is possible he

the family might have been aware of his tendency to lay them on the line and he

might therefore have expected them to behave accordingly. We will soon see that

his daughter needs no explanation of the vow's content and her fate.23 If he had

reason to expect her to be aware of the vow his blame of her seems less strange.

He informs her of the the vow and his inability to "turn" from it. As

contemporary readers we must remember that in Jephthah's primal world, spirits,

gods and the power they wield are very real. He "is not able" to turn, I suspect,

not because he is a pious observer of Deuteronomic ordinance, as Boling

suggests, but because there is no escape from the deity or his obligation.24 The

words have already gone out of his open mouth and have taken on a binding force

of their own ratified by divine action. Further, as the new head of Gilead,

It is certainly not the first time such a warrior as Jephthah has received such a boon from a deity
and had to pay a much higher price than he had anticipated. Niditch makes much of the literary parallels
between Jephthah and other "epic heroes" from the Greek epics involving reluctant fathers sacrificing
daughters for military gain. Niditch, Judges, 134. Cf. also the Nigerian Yoruba tribal tradition of Moremi
who made a vow to the river goddess, Esinminrin, to pay the greatest sacrifice she could afford, if her ruse
to infiltrate a rival oppressive tribe and overthrow them was successful. She did succeed and returned as
Queen to her people only to have the goddess demand her eldest son whom she eventually offered as a
sacrifice. M. I. Ogumefu, Yoruba Legends (Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2007), 13ff. I have also
personally encountered this theme in conversations with acquaintances in Indonesia haling from tribal
villages, expressing primal religious world views. It is widely believed in the primal milieu that the
ultimate price in a covenant with a spirit or deity (to be offered for a favor or taken as a penalty for failing
to keep one's vow) is the untimely death of one's first-born child. This theme is also clearly present in the
Exodus and passover narratives.
Even if the author/editor is seeking to redeem Jephthah as a follower of the law in not turning
back from a vow to God, he is hardly exemplary in this regard given his acquiescence to delay the
execution of the vow by two months. Cf. Boling, Judges, 209-10.
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whatever penalty he would bring upon himself and his family for breaking a vow

to the deity would also now come upon his whole tribe. In his world, he really

has no option.
36.) But she said to him, "My father, as you have opened your mouth to YHWH, do to
me according to (what) came out of your mouth after what YHWH has done for you:
vengeance from your enemies, the Ammonites." 37.) And she said to her father, "Let this
thing be done25 for me: give me two months and I will go, I will go down26 upon the
mountains and I will mourn my virginity, I and my friends.

36-37 - We should not be too surprised to find Jephthah's daughter as able

a negotiator as her father.27 Interestingly she seems to know already what the vow

was and that it effects her directly, which suggests that the vow might have been a

recurring formula.28 Her response turns his blame back on him with subtlety,

littering her sentence with the recurring =,֙ "you" suffix and casting his victory as

mere "revenge."

She asks to be sent, presumably with male escort for security, "down to

the mountains" to mourn her virginity with a group of other young women. Her

language at first seems redundant and strange. She says, "I will go/walk/depart, I

will go down," when one would expect one or the other of the verbs to be

N - I (Jussive) - ‫ עשׂה‬- to do or make
G - vcP - 1cs - ‫ ירד‬- to go down
Compare Judges 11:1-15.
Reis argues that this suggests that Jephthah made the vow publicly at Mizpah and uses it to
support her thesis that the sacrifice is not truly a burnt offering but a forced seclusion and life of celibacy.
This conclusion seems to ignore the order in which the vow comes (after Jephthah has traveled back
through Mizpah and has "crossed over to the Ammonites,") as well as the lack of any clear precedent for
ֽ ָ to mean anything other than burnt offering. Still, one wonders why, if she knew the vow, she would
willingly come out first to meet him? Reis, "Spoiled Child," 1997, 282.
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sufficient.29 However wider examination of OT literature reveals that this is not

an uncommon use of the two verbs in conjunction. The first carries the meaning

of "departing" and the second describes the course that will be embarked upon:

"going down," usually in elevation. There is no apparent cultic meaning intrinsic

to the double verb-phrase. And yet, the meaning of "go down" with reference to

the mountains is unclear.30

The Mountains

As was pointed out earlier, mountains almost always serve a cultic

function in primal Canaan. Most of the long-standing cultic sites of Canaan

(including the ones that become significant within Jewish religious history) are

mountains. Given Jephthah's family's time spent outside the Israelite community

in the land of Tob and given the widespread adoption of Canaanite religious

practices by the Israelite community itself in the Judges period, we cannot ignore

the possibility of cultic significance of the mountain setting for this mourning.

Coupled with the two verb phrase, it may simply describe a course of travel down

from a higher elevation to a lower elevation while still remaining within a

mountainous region, as I will suggest below.

38.) And he said "Go." He sent her two months and she went, she and her friends, and
she mourned her virginity upon the mountains. 39.) And after two months, she returned
to her father and he did to her what he had vowed. And she did not know a man. And

Reis reads this in contrast to the people of Israel who "go up" to weep before YHWH. Instead
she is going down to weep before other gods. Without elaborating on what Jephthah's daughter may be
taking part in, Reis suggests that it is a Canaanite religious ritual or festival of some kind. Though I have
difficulty with her broader thesis, I agree that it is difficult to avoid seeing Canaanite cultic themes in the
broader context of the narrative. Ibid, 286.
It could be an allusion to her coming demise as the verb, ‫יָרַד‬, is often used to describe "going
down" into death or "Sheol." Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v."‫יָ ַרד‬."
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she became31 a custom in Israel: from year to year, the daughters of Israel go to
commemorate32 the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite, four days each year.

38-39 - Jephthah's one word response anticipates another short word to a different

condemned (or already dead?) woman in chapter nineteen. He acquiesces and sends her

and her friends on this final trip. They are going there to "mourn" her virginity. While it

is clear that virginity was highly prized and seen as the principal value of women in this

time, it is an instrumental good. She will never be able to use the virginity she and her

family have protected.

Connections to the Goddess Anath in the Text

Anath: The Virgin Mourner

Mourning and lament are often more ritualized in tribal contexts than our

contemporary American setting there seems to be more going on here than we might

assume. We know of ritual mourning in a variety of settings from the OT, yet Jephthah's

daughter is in the unique position of being able to mourn her own death before it comes.33

Yet she and her friends are mourning not just her death but it's consequent perpetuation

of her virginity.

Though ritualized mourning of one's virginity may not an immediately accessible

act to us, it seems she has no shortage of companions who will join her in it. Further the

G - vci - 3fs - ‫ היה‬- to be, become
P - Inf Const - ‫ תנה‬- to recount; same verb used to describe the song of Deborah.
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v."‫בּ ָכה‬."
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act becomes a "custom" for Israel. It is precisely with regard to her virginity that I

believe we can begin to see explicit connections to Canaanite primal religion. The

goddess, Anath, was worshiped as widely as Egypt and Syria in the ancient near east.

Despite her primary role as a consort of Ba'al, is regularly known by the title: "the Virgin,

Anath." Her non-ending virginity, youth, beauty and apparent lack of offspring are

thought to be the source of this designation.34 All of these attributes are shared by

Jephthah's daughter.

Further, Anath is associated with ritualized mourning. She is the archetypal

mourner who annually weeps over her dead lover, the fertility god, Ba'al, with the

coming of winter and its accompanying drought and death.35 In the Ugaritic epic the

story is more nuanced. El, father of the gods hears of Ba'al's death and "comes down" to

sit on the ground in mourning with dust and ashes, cutting himself in grief. The virgin

Anath arrives and follows suit but adds to her mourning, great cries and weeping. After

burying Ba'al, Anath, also known for being a great warrior, goes down into the

underworld to confront Mot, that is, death itself. Amazingly, she destroys him, restoring

Ba'al to life and life to the land whose rivers once again "flow with honey."36 Women

were likely the principal participants in this ritual mourning with the virgin Anath.37

The Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v., "Anath."
Delbert Hillers, The Anchor Bible: Lamentations (New York: Doubleday, 1972), 21.
For a succinct and helpful description of this episode within the larger Ba'al epic, see Delbert
Hillers, "The Roads to Zion Mourn: Lamentations 1:4" Perspective, v12 no. 1-2 (Spring 1988): 128-129
(121-134). For the complete text of Ugaritic epic translated into English, see James B. Pritchard, ed.,
Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 1969, 137-141.
Both Hillers and Hamp sees echoes of this in the women "weeping for Tammuz" at the
Jerusalem temple described in Ezekiel 8:14. Hillers, "The Roads to Zion Mourn," 1988, 129. Hamp,
"‫בּ ָכה‬,"
ָ in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament.
Lumpkin 16

Anath: The Warrior

Anath's status as a warrior goddess of unapproachable prowess in battle would

make her an appealing Canaanite deity to Jephthah and his family who survived in exile

by his skill as a warrior.38 We also have three of the four mentions of Anath to be found

in the OT within the pages of the book of Judges (1:33, 3:31 and 5:6).39 The last two of

those references seem to indicate that the father of the early warrior-judge, Shamgar, bore

the name Ben-Anath, or "Son of Anath." Keel attests this that title is indicative of "the

warrior class... in both Late Bronze Age Ugarit and Egypt and in early Iron Age Canaan.40

While he is careful to limit his suggestion of Anath's religious influence to "specific

social classes" he limits it to the very social class of which Jephthah is a part: the warrior


Though the text is by no means explicit, the elements of Jephthah's daughter's

request are strongly suggestive of a desire to return to participate in some prior religious

practice had left behind in their return to Gilead from exile in Tob. If, as I argued above,

Jephthah's vow was influenced by Canaanite primal religion then it is also not far fetched

Keel asserts that Anat "was a warrior goddess from the outset." Othmar Keel and Christoph
Uehlinger. Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient Israel. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press,
1998), 88.
Smith argues that the paucity of references in the Biblical literature to Anat (as opposed to Ba'al
and Asherah whose worship is repeatedly confronted by the Biblical writers) suggest that there was no
active cult of Anat in Israel during the period of the Judges. While that may be the case the ongoing use of
Anat in names as well as the apparent persistence of the warrior class known as the "Sons of Anat" or Ben-
Anat suggests that there was ongoing regard for her as patron deity of warriors very possibly along-side the
view of YHWH as a patron deity of Israel on a tribal level. Further, as I will argue below, Jephthah and his
family while living in exile from their tribe were likely more subject to religious influence from their
Canaanite neighbors. See Mark S. Smith The Early History of God : Yahweh and the Other Deities in
Ancient Israel, Vol. The Biblical resource series. 2nd ed ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans
Pub. Co, 2002.
Keel, Gods, Goddessess and Images of God in Ancient Israel, 1998, 126-128.
Ibid., 128.
Lumpkin 17

to assume his daughter was similarly influenced. But where would she be going to take

part in this ritual and why would it take two months? While there are a few likely options

one is most strongly connected to both the narrative and the cultural milieu of Canaan:


Anath: Pilgrim to Zaphon

Zaphon: the city to the northwest of Mizpah on the east bank of the Jordan. To

travel there from Mizpah would likely involve traveling into and through the mountains,

but ultimately down in elevation towards the Jordan river valley. Hence, Jephthah's

daughter would "go down to the mountains." In the chapter immediately following, the

men of Ephraim will confront Jephthah in Zaphon about failing to include them in his

raid on Ammon leading to further conflict.

The connection to Anath comes, again, from the Ugaritic Ba'al epics. In one

passage, after apparently engaging in some kind of sexual contact, Anath ascends the

mountain associated with Ba'al's throne and rulership: Zaphon.43 The damaged text is

obscure as to who exactly the mother is, but some sort of buffalo is born and offered there

as Ba'al's offspring. While far from conclusive these connections between present

influences in the lives of Jephthah and his family and the cult of Ba'al and Anath are

highly suggestive of their involvement with Anath. Indeed, the author of Judges goes to

great lengths to make us aware of Isreal's embrace of Ba'al worship and Canaanite

It is possible she wants to return home to Tob to carry out this ritual mourning. A second option
may be the Beth-Anath or "House of Anath" alluded to in Joshua 19:38 and Judges 1:33 as a Canaanite city
Israel failed to take. A third option springs from an Egyptian stele dating to Rameses III depicting Anath
holding a scepter and a "sign of life." It belonged to an Egyptian official at Beth-Shean where he served
during Canaan's days as an Egyptian vassal. The Anchor Bible Dictionary, s.v., "Anath."
James B. Pritchard, ed., Ancient Near Eastern Texts, 1969, 142.
Lumpkin 18

religion. In this context, it is difficult to imagine any ancient hearer as familiar with the

Ba'al mythos, to miss the immediate mention to Zaphon in the story alongside the

aforementioned thematic connections to Anath.

Reis argues that Jephthah's daughter may be seeking another deity's aid in getting

out of the trouble she is in with regard to the vow.44 For someone in Jephthah's daughter's

position, an appeal to a powerful, youthful, feminine, fellow-virgin, goddess who is

known to have power over death just might be a last ditch effort to avoid execution by

divine intervention from a rival deity. However, if this was her intent, it apparently

failed as she ultimately returns to Jephthah and he finally brings to completion what he

had promised two months earlier.

4. Holistic Observations:

I recognize that much of the above argumentation amounts to speculation beneath

the level of the text in its current form. However, it seems that the religious or

Deuteronomic voice is using the vow and sacrifice narrative in its current form as an

etiology explaining and somehow sanctifying a ritual mourning practice apparently

ongoing among the Jewish community. Yet the suggestive elements of the only child,

mountains, mourning, "the virgin," and the family's association with the warrior class are

still quite intact.

Immediate Context

Reis, "Spoiled Child," 286.
Lumpkin 19

I have attempted to show above that these several elements contain too many

themes and connections to the primal myths of Canaan (Phoenicia and Ugarit, especially)

to ignore their influence upon the narrative. Did this influence come in the unfolding of

the historical events themselves or in the reshaping by the Deuteronomic editor? Again,

this calls for speculation. What I am suggesting is both. First I believe it likely that

Jephthah's family was involved in some sort of devotion to Anath in his capacity as a

warrior. Second, the book itself makes apparent that "Canaanite" religious practices had

been widely embraced by Israel, even by the judges. How much more, those dwelling

outside the tribal community as Jepthah's family was?

With regard to the editor, one of his goals is to show God's faithfulness in the face

of Israel's unfaithfulness and the ever-greater cost of this ongoing cycle of disobedience

and rescue. He has no problem highlighting what he views to be the religious failures of

other Judges (cf. Gideon and Samson). This story is no different. I read the inclusion of

the daughter's request and Jephthah's approval of it as editorial condemnation and

fulfillment of YHWH's mockery in 10:15 "Go and cry out to the gods which you have

chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress." Further, the people of Israel's

response in 10:16 anticipates Jepthah's vow: " to us whatever seems good to You;

only please deliver us this day." Like Gideon and Samson, the editor presents Jephthah

as the means of God's deliverance but simultaneously one who is just as caught in the

cycle of disobedience, heading ever-downward into chaos.

What are we to make of the annual ritual that the editor informs us stems from

this event? This is unclear and complicated by the fact that we have no other record of
Lumpkin 20

such a ritual within the Jewish community. It is possible it is an attempt at sanctifying an

ongoing cultic practice that derived from some Canaanite source, perhaps even the

observance of whatever cultic rite I am suggesting Jephthah's daughter herself wanted to

go and take part in.45 Despite my arguments above to suggest that child sacrifice was not

outside the realm of possibility for this period, this is not to say that it wasn't seen as a

deeply powerful and even tragic event for a leader to sacrifice his child. It is possible that

the "custom" described was simply a relatively short-lived ritual commemoration of this

sacrificed daughter's loss; a means for the daughters of Israel to identify with and

participate in the loss and suffering no doubt many of them experienced in this brutal

time of social upheaval.

Book Context

With regard to the how this strange narrative fits within the broader context of the

book, I think that Jephthah's vow, though not explicitly described as such, fits within the

pattern described by the refrain of men "doing what is right in their own eyes," rather

than what is right in the eyes of YHWH. It is one more scene in a sequence of scenes in

which the people are delivered from their oppressors but often at great cost. Jephthah fits

within the developing pattern of powerful but religiously and culturally compromised

judges (Gideon, Jephthah, Samson).

Keel suggests that Deborah serves a similar "sanctifying" purpose in chapters 4-5 as a sort of
stand-in for the warrior goddess Anath, directing Barak in battle. This is suggestive of the Deuternomic
editor cleaning up the older narrative as it had been passed down by purging it of religious influences that,
in retrospect are inconsistent with the worship of YHWH as understood at the time of final composition.
Keel, Gods, Goddessess and Images of God in Ancient Israel, 1998, 167.
Lumpkin 21

The Ephraimites who angrily confront Jephthah in the immediately following

passage for failing to invite them to take part in the battle with the Ammonites recalls

their prior confrontation of Gideon. The key difference being that Jephthah is unable to

assuage their anger and is forced into battle resulting in the deaths of forty-two thousand

Israelites at his hand. This foreshadows the growing arbitrary divisions among the tribes

as dialect is used as a tool to discern friend from foe.

Another theme that runs throughout the book is that of burnt offering or ‫עוֹלה‬
ֽ ָ to

YHWH. Jephthah's offering of his daughter is quite distinct from the two narratives

which tell of offerings the deity accepts. These sandwich Jephthah's action on either side

(6:21 and 14:20). Ultimately the scale of the unacceptable offerings grows until the

whole tribe of Benjamin is "devoted to destruction," in chapter 20, not on God's

command but according to the schemes of men.

Canonical Context

Jephthah's vow and sacrifice is often contrasted with the Isaac narrative in Gen.

22. In some ways it almost reads as a parody or satire of that foundational story. Almost

all the roles and responses are reversed. God initiates the sacrifice and Abraham is silent.

Isaac doesn't protest or attempt to evade while Jephthah's daughter has an elaborate prior

request. God provides the way out while, if we follow my reading, Jephthah's daughter

seeks refuge in another deity. Yet, in spite of all these contrasts, we cannot escape the

reality that the story surrounding Isaac sets the precedent for a request for human

sacrifice within the canon.46 Primal religion everywhere and at all times has placed great

A precedent, as stated before, quite possibly originating in Phoenician myth. See page 9 above.
Lumpkin 22

religious significance on the shedding of blood and on sacrifice as a means of relating to

the spirit world. It seems rooted in the spiritual vernacular of humanity. We shouldn't be

surprised to find it rooted deeply in the heart of the Jewish and Christian canon even

spoken of as "faithfulness." I too think we have a great deal to learn from Jephthah and

his "faithfulness."

Ministry Application:
Audience: Altadena Baptist Church - a congregation of about seventy-five from all
generations, mostly Americans of African and European origin but with a significant
population of ex-pats, internationals and third-culture-kids.
Forum: Sunday evening Bible-study follow-up to Sunday morning sermon on the same
passage. The congregation has heard the sermon and is familiar with the passage. I
would read through the passage once more and then begin.

Jephthah was scared. He was a warrior and a powerful one but he also knew

that this was no small raid. His entire future and the future of his family rested upon his

victory. If he won, he would get everything. If he lost, he would lose his chance to prove

himself to his family, his clan, his tribe. So he decided to make a vow. It had worked

before. "This is how you pray when you're going off to battle. Besides, God is in

control, right? He would never ask me to sacrifice my own child. And if he does... well

it's on Him."

He rode out to battle and God was good to him. He and his army succeeded.

Surely this was the blessing of God upon him and his house. Now nothing was left but to

ride home and offer thanks with a burnt offering and a great feast. But when he got

home, he knew something had gone horribly wrong.

Lumpkin 23

Jephthah's daughter was scared. She had been so excited when she saw the

dust rising from the road and knew her daddy was coming home. She hadn't been happy

to leave her home in Tob, all her friends, all those suitors. None of them were ever good

enough for Dad. Not from the right family. And he had been pushing her so hard to find

a husband since they had relocated to Mizpah. She was still mad that they had left before

she could attend the festival upon the mountains. She had been waiting her whole life to

go down and mourn her lost love and celebrate as She, the goddess, defeated death and

brought Ba'al, the great lost Husband back from the grave. But in spite of all that, she

was happy to see her dad alive, healthy, bouncing on his horse, packed down with loot

returning from the battle. But why was he staring at her like that? Hadn't she chosen her

most beautiful dress? Wasn't she dancing well? When he fell to his knees she knew

something had gone horribly wrong.

Jephthah and his daughter like all of Israel at that time were deeply influenced by

community they were a part of. In spite of Joshua and God's warnings to put away other

gods it is impossible to separate culture from religion and when you live next-door to

people you will start to become like them. In fact none of us are "purely Christian." We

all bring our own culture, language and ways of thinking --whether from family, from our

home-town, from other nations-- with us when we set out to follow Jesus. We bring

ideas about money, government, relationships, sex, food, drink and even ideas about how

God works. But it doesn't stop there.

You are a fish and the water you swim in is culture. It is all around you but you

can go through the day without noticing it or giving it a second thought. The only way to
Lumpkin 24

really see how much it effects every aspect of your life is to drop yourself into a different

bucket. That's the way it was for Jephthah and his daughter. Even when Jephthah was

trying to serve God he did it in a way that probably came from the surrounding Canaanite

culture and tradition. And when the chips were down and his daughter was facing death

where did she turn? She turned back, to go back to the old ways, the old life the old

culture that had been a comfort to her in the past. She even interpreted her misfortune in

Canaanite terms.

One of the clearest messages of the book of Judges is that small things have big

consequences. A household idol here, a fertility festival there. What harm could it do?

By the end of our passage a father is burning his only daughter as an offering to God,

and what's more, believing that this is what God wants! A few chapters later a whole

tribe will almost be wiped out by their own cousins in a war so brutal, those who started

it end up begging God to let them stop. All in the name of God.

Oh but we would never do something like that. We would never allow ourselves

to be whipped into a war-frenzy that would destroy more and kill more than we have the

stomach to finish. Or would we? The danger of being un-aware or uncritical about how

your culture and how your community effect you is that it will change the way you think

and act. Which will change the way you think about and act towards God. It will change

the way you pray. Which will change the way your children pray.

Does God want you to drive a Lexus? Most of us here think "probably not or I

wouldn't be driving this Geo Metro." But that's exactly the same way Jephthah thought

about life. "If it happens then it must be what God wants." Is it? Is God's silence the
Lumpkin 25

same as His endorsement? Choose your communities carefully. Embrace your culture

critically. They will shape your God and your children's. And none of us wants to be

guilty of bowing to an image of God we made.

5. Conclusion and Broader Implications:

Reading this narrative with an awareness of the primal religious elements present

in the historical setting and preserved in the narrative has taken an obscure text and made

it more accessible to us as contemporary readers, far removed from the tribal, primal

milieu. Within the text itself we find clues as to the motives and intents of the characters

as well as the subtle critiques and spin offered by the narrator(s). Approaching the text

with familiarity with the contemporary religious literature expands helps us see

competing religious systems as full, rival mythologies vying for the hearts and minds of

those living in Canaan. Suddenly we discover Israel is not being tempted away from

YHWH by stone altars and wooden idols but by vibrant, dynamic, elemental beings who

are very real to them and deeply integrated into the rhythms of life death and the land.

We learn that it is entirely possible that some of these competing gods and goddesses

could very well have been known to them in Egypt and have been brought to Canaan

during Egypt's rule over the region immediately prior to the Exodus event. Through

careful analysis of the text and supplementary materials we are able to see the fullness of

the tragedy of this episode in a series of building tragedies culminating in Israel tearing

itself apart because it can no longer discern the difference between itself and those that

are destroying it.

Lumpkin 26

Works Cited:
Bediako, Kwame. Jesus and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience. Maryknoll,
NY: Orbis Books, 2004.
Boling, Robert G. The Anchor Bible: Judges. New York: Doubleday, 1969.
Green, Alberto R. The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East. American
Schools of Oriental Research Dissertation Series, 1. Missoula, MN: Scholars
Press, 1975.
Hiebert, Paul G. and others. Understanding Folk Religion: A Christian Response to
Popular Beliefs and Practices. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.
Hillers, Delbert. The Anchor Bible: Lamentations. New York: Doubleday, 1972.
____________. "The Roads to Zion Mourn: Lamentations 1:4." Perspective, v12 no.1-2
(Spring 1988): 121-134.

Keel, Othmar, and Christoph Uehlinger. Gods, Goddesses, and Images of God in Ancient
Israel. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1998.

Levenson, Jon Douglas. The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son : The
Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity. New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1993.

Mafico, Temba. "Were the 'Judges' of Israel like African Spirit Mediums?" in Text and
Experience: Towards a Cultural Exegesis of the Bible. 330-343. ed. Daniel Smith-
Christopher. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.
Niditch, Susan. Judges: A Commentary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2008.
Ogumefu, M. I. Yoruba Legends. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2007.
Pritchard, James B. ed. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969.
Reis, R. T. "Spoiled Child," Prooftexts 17 (1997): 279-298.
Smith, Mark S. The Early History of God : Yahweh and the Other Deities in Ancient
Israel. Vol. The Biblical resource series. 2nd ed ed. Grand Rapids, Mich: William
B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2002.

Turner, Harold W. “The Primal Religions of the World and their Study.” in Australian
Esays in World Religions, ed. Victor Hayes. 27-37. Bedford Park: Australian
Association for World Religions, 1977.
Walls, Andrew. “Africa and Christian Identity” in Mission Focus: Current Issues. ed.
Wilbert R. Shenk. Scottdate, PA: Herald Press, 1980.