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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.


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.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.