The Bible is filled with some major players. Jephthah’s daughter is one from the Old Testament.
The story of Jephthah’s daughter is found in Judges 11. Jephthah was a great warrior. He was the child of Gilead and a prostitute. When his father’s other sons got older, they drove Jephthah out of town because of who is mother was. He forms together a band of desperadoes and stay at a place called Tov – the Land of Good.
The Ammonites attack Gilead, and the elders ask for Jepthah’s help. He says he will after he is promised that he will be made head of the council. Before going into battle, he makes one last vow to God. He promises that if he is granted a victory over his enemies, he will offer the first thing that comes out of his door when he returns home as a sacrifice.
You see where this is going.
He and his band of desperadoes win the battle. When he returns home, the first thing to come out and great him is his daughter, “his only child” (Judges 11:34). Jepthah is heart broken! He cannot break his promise to God. Ironically, his daughter does not protest. The only thing she asks for is two months to be alone.
And so, she retreats to the mountains and wails for her virginity. A modern reader of this tale may find this strange that she would want time to mourn for her virginity. It would seem more appropriate that she would mourn her own death. This ancient society, however, puts a huge amount of importance on the woman’s role as child bearer. As Virginia Stem Owens writes, “One was protected forward in time on the catapult of continuing generations.”
When two months had passed, she returned to her father, and he did to her what he had promised. She had not known a man intimately. But she gave rise to a tradition in Israel where for four days every year Israelite daughters would go away to recount the story of the Gileadite, Jephthah’s daughter. (Judges 11:39-40, Common English Bible)
Jephthah’s daughter turned a tragedy into a tradition.
What women in your life have inspired faith traditions for you?
Resources: Owens, Virginia Stem. Daughters of Eve. NavPress, 1995.