JEPHTHAH


JEPHTHAH (Heb. חָתְפִיּ), judge of Israel for six years and victor over the Ammonites (Judg. 11:1–12:7). According to Judges, Jephthah was the son of a harlot, and his father's name is given as Gilead. Jephthah is described as a Gileadite warrior. After the legitimate sons of his father had driven him from home, he went to live in the land of Tob, where he became the leader of a band of adventurers. The elders of Gilead recalled him to repel an Ammonite invasion (see below), and Jephthah agreed on condition that he be appointed chief of the land after the victory (11:1–11). Jephthah then proceeded to negotiate with the Ammonites, seeking in vain to convince them that Israel possessed a right to its territory and that attempts to dislodge Israel from it would be futile (11:12–28). In the course of the negotiations Jephthah acknowledged that Chemosh had given land to the Ammonites. The unexpectedly brief account of the decisive defeat of the enemy highlights Jephthah's vow to sacrifice to YHWH whatever would come out of his house to meet him on his victorious return. To Jephthah's immense grief, it was his only daughter who came first to greet him, and he felt obliged to fulfill his solemn vow. The daughter resigned herself to her fate and begged only that it be postponed for two months so that she might mourn with her companions on the mountains. At the end of this period she met her tragic fate. This serves as an etiology for the observance by Israelite women of an annual four-day mourning period (11:29–40). Jephthah's victory over the Ammonites led to a war with the Ephraimites, who resented not having been included in the call to arms. Forty-two thousand of them, caricatured as stupid in not preparing (yakin) to pronounce shibbolet correctly when their lives depended on it, are said to have been slaughtered as they attempted to cross the fords of the Jordan (12:1–6). The account exhibits clear evidence of a conflation of parallel traditional material, though the discussion among critics has not been significantly advanced since the commentaries of Moore and, especially, Burney. The latter isolated a "Moabite" narrative (10:17; 11:12–28, 30, 31, 33b, 34–40) now assimilated, albeit imperfectly, to the normative tradition in 11:1–11, 29, 32b–33a, and 12:1–6. Pivotal to any such analysis is the fact that Jephthah's messengers to the Ammonite king (11:12–28) argue Israel's case with examples from Moabite history and go so far as to suggest that Chemosh is the Ammonites' god (not Milcom or Molech as to be expected from I Kings 11:5, 7). The Ammonite invasion was prompted by a territorial dispute having its roots in the Israelite conquest of Canaan, when Israel conquered some Amorite territory in Transjordan. The Ammonites in Jephthah's time claimed that this territory had originally belonged to them and were demanding its return from Israel. The Pentateuch's account of the Mosaic conquest of the Amorite territory says nothing explicit about any of it having previously belonged to the Ammonites. In the story of the conquest of the Amorite kingdom of Sihon and the Amorite city-state of Jazer, it is mentioned that Sihon expanded his territory at the expense of the Moabites. At first apparently confined to a limited territory around Heshbon, Sihon took from the Moabites everything down to the River Arnon. In this connection a snatch of an ancient battle or taunt song celebrating Sihon's discomfiture of Moab is cited (Num. 21:23–32). The account adds that the city-state of Jazer (so read, with LXX, for "Az" in Num. 21:24) marked the border of the Ammonites and that the Israelites dispossessed its Amorite population (21:32). This, and perhaps a strip of the former kingdom of Sihon, may indeed have been formerly Ammonite territory. It is possible that only such territory was claimed by Jephthah's Ammonite contemporaries, despite Judges 11:13. The name Jephthah is apparently a shortened form of Yftaḥ -Yah or Yftaḥ-El ("God opens/may open," i.e., the womb). Jephthah appears as a place-name in Joshua 15:43, and in its fuller form in Joshua 19:14, 27.

[Harold Louis Ginsberg and

Nahum M. Sarna]

In the Aggadah

Jephthah, in common with Gideon and Samson, was one of the least worthy judges of Israel. From the mention of his name together with that of Samuel in one verse (I Sam. 12:11) the rabbis deduce that "Jephthah in his generation is like Samuel in his generation, to teach that even an unworthy person, when appointed to a position of importance has to be regarded as one of the greatest" (RH 25b). He is condemned as one of the three (Ta'an. 4a) or four (Gen. R. 603) to take imprudent vows, but he was the only one who regretted his imprudence. His sinful act of immolating his daughter was due both to his ignorance and his false pride. He was unaware that he could have paid ransom to the Temple treasury in lieu of his vow, and that the high priest Phinehas could have absolved him from it. However, each refused to lower his dignity by visiting the other. Jephthah's punishment for this action was that his body was dismembered limb by limb (Gen. R. 60:3).

In the Arts

The moving and pathetic account of Jephthah and his votive sacrifice appealed to Christian writers, artists, and musicians from medieval times onward. Two of the earliest literary works based on the theme, though not written in English, were by British authors: Jephthes si-Ve votum (performed c. 1542), a neo-Latin drama by the Scots Protestant George Buchanan, and Ïεφθάε (1544?; Eng. Jephthah, 1928), a Greek academic play by the English Catholic exile John Christopherson. The latter is a study of retributive justice with contemporary religious and political undertones and echoes of other scriptural episodes, such as the *Akedah and the Crucifixion. At least as old is the English ballad "Jephthah Judge of Israel" quoted by Shakespeare (Hamlet II, ii), which Thomas Percy later included in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765). Among other works of the 16th century which dealt with the subject were the German Meistersinger, Hans Sachs's Der Jephta und seine Tochter (1555), and Jephté (1567), a French drama based largely on Buchanan's, by Florent Chrétien, a prose parody attacking the Catholic League and other enemies of Henry of Navarre. During the 17th century, the English writers Thomas Dekker and Anthony Munday staged a Jephthah (1602) which has not survived; the Dutch playwright Joost van den Vondel wrote the verse tragedy Jephta (1659); and the subject also appeared in the English Stonyhurst Pageants, and in Cumplir a Dios la Palabra o la Hija de Jefte (included in Diamante's Comedias, Madrid, 1670–74) by the Spanish dramatist Juan Bautista Diamante. The number of literary (largely dramatic) works about Jephthah multiplied during the 19th century, particularly in England, where they clearly appealed to Victorian sentimentality. Those in English included Lord *Byron's poem "Jephthah's Daughter" (in Hebrew Melodies, 1815), and William Alexander's dramatic poem Ella, or the Prince of Gilead's Vow (1847). Among the treatments in other languages were Karl Ludwig Kannegieser's German tragedy Mirza, die Tochter Jephtas (1818) and "La fille de Jephté" (in Poèmes antiques et modernes, 1826) by the French Romantic Alfred de Vigny; Ludwig *Robert's drama Die Tochter Jephthas (1813) was the first German stage production by a Jew; other works by Jewish writers included Moses Samuel Neumann's Hebrew play Bat Yiftaḥ. (Vienna, 1805) and Leibush Lewinsohn's Hebrew novel Neder Yiftaḥ. (1870). Modern treatments by Jewish authors include Yiftakhs Tokhter (1914; Jephthah's Daughter, 1915), a Yiddish play by Sholem *Asch; Ernst *Lissauer's drama Das Weib des Jephta (1928); Saul Saphire's Yiddish novel Yiftakh un Zayn Tokhter (1937); Far a Nayer Velt (1939–40), a Yiddish drama by the U.S. writer David *Ignatoff; and Lion *Feuchtwanger's last novel, Jefta und seine Tochter (1957; Eng. 1958).

In art, the two main subjects treated are Jephthah's meeting with his daughter on his return from battle and his sacrifice of his daughter. These, together with his battle against the Ammonites, are illustrated in the 13th-century French St. Louis Psalter (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris). In a 15th-century German manuscript in the Munich State Library there is a charming miniature of Jephthah coming home in armor and greeted by his daughter, who is playing on a string instrument. Jephthah's homecoming is also the subject of paintings by Lucas van Leyden (1494–1533; private collection) and Pierre Mignard (1610–1695; Hermitage, Leningrad). Jephthah's sacrifice of his daughter is illustrated in the 14th-century English Queen Mary Psalter (British Museum), as well as in the St. Louis Psalter. The subject was again painted by Lucas van Leyden. It was popular in France in the 17th century, and was treated by Pierre Mignard (Hermitage, Leningrad), Charles Lebrun (Uffizi, Florence), and Antoine Coypel (Laon Museum). There is a painting by the French 19th-century artist Edgar Degas in Smith College, Massachusetts, U.S. Enrico *Glicenstein executed a sculpture of Jephthah's daughter. The story of Jephthah was much used for tapestries, the chief example being the series made in Tournai by Pasquier Grenier (c. 1470) for Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy.

The story also attracted the attention of oratorio composers during the formative period of the genre at the beginning of the 17th century. Some time before 1649, Giacomo Carissimi wrote his Jephte, which has retained a place in the musical repertory. The works which followed include G.B. Vitali's Il Gefte overo Il zelo impudente (1672; libretto only extant); A. Draghi's Jefte (1690); A. Lotti's Il voto crudele (Jefta) (1712); and Il Sacrifizio di Jephta by L. Vinci (1690–1730; date of composition unknown). Michel de Monteclair's "tragédie lyrique" Jephté, to a libretto by the abbé S.J. Pellegrim, was the first opera on a biblical subject licensed for stage performance in France. It had its première at the Académie Royale de Musique in 1732 and was restaged in 1733 and 1734, but it was immediately afterward forbidden by Cardinal de Noailles. The subject, with a text by Thomas Morell after an Italian prototype, was destined to inspire Handel's last work. The annotations in his manuscript score, begun on Jan. 12, 1751, and the faltering notational image, bear witness to Handel's progressing blindness. The score was finished on Aug. 30, 1751, after a slight improvement had partially restored his sight, and the first performance took place in the Covent Garden Theater, London, on Feb. 26, 1752. A reworking by Ferdinand *Hiller has remained in manuscript. Until the end of the 18th century various other settings of the subject, all oratorios, were also written. Giacomo *Meyerbeer's oratorio Jephtas Geluebde, written in 1812 when he was 21, has remained in manuscript. During the 19th century, the operatic potential of the story could be realized, since religious restrictions were no longer a deterrent, and the gruesome ending with a human sacrifice attracted, rather than repelled, the Romantics. Two operas were even written and performed in Spain: Jephté (1845) by Luis Cepeda and La Hija de Jefté (1876) by Ruperto Chapí. Two Jephthah cantatas figure in the list of works which won their composers the Prix de Rome of the Paris Conservatory; one by Samuel *David (1858) and another by Alexandre-Samuel Rousseau (1878). Byron's Jephthah's Daughter was first set to music by Isaac *Nathan and subsequently, among others, by Karl Loewe (1826, in a German translation) and Robert Schumann (in his Drei Gesaenge, opus 95; written 1849). Among works of the 20th century are Lucien Haudebert's La fille de Jephté (1929; for orchestra); Lazare *Saminsky's The Daughter of Jephthah, "a cantata pantomime" for solo, choir, orchestra, and dancers (publ. 1937); and Ernst *Toch's "rhapsodic poem" for orchestra, Jephta (1963). A.Z. *Idelsohn's Yiftaḥ, written in Jerusalem and published in 1922, was the first opera composed in Palestine. Idelsohn wrote the (Hebrew) text himself; the music is a singular combination of the various Jewish traditions – both Western and Eastern – which he had by then collected for his ethnomusicological studies. Modern Israel works on the subject include Mordekhai *Seter's orchestral work Jephthah's Daughter (publ. 1965) and several settings in the form of a pageant, created for the kibbutzim of the Gilboa region. Two dances by Amittai Ne'eman, one slow and one debkah-like and fast, both called Bat Yiftaḥ, and danced in succession, are in the Israel folk-dance repertory.

[Bathja Bayer]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

G.F. Moore, Judges (ICC, 1900), 275–310; C.F. Burney, The Book of Judges (19202), 293–334; R. Marcus, in: BASOR, 87 (1942), 39; J. Simon, in: PEQ, 79 (1947), 27ff.; G. Landes, in: IDB. 1 (1962), 108–14. IN THE AGGADAH: Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1913), 43–47; 6 (1928), 202–4. IN THE ARTS: W.O. Sypherd, Jephthah and his Daughter (1948); M. Roston, Biblical Drama in England (1968), 79–82, 118, 142. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D. Marcus, Jephthah and His Vow (1986); R. Boling, in: ABD, 3:681–83, incl. bibliography; Y. Amit, Judges (1999), 185–212; B. Levine, Numbers 2136 (AB; 2000), 79–133; T. Frymer-Kensky, Reading Women of the Bible (2002), 102–17.


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.