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Saul as king, the Israelites were ruled by judges; but often during this period they relapsed into idolatry, for which they were punished by being delivered into the hands of the surrounding nations. But from time to time the Lord raised up good and valiant men-Othniel, and Ehud, and Barak, and Gideon, and Jephthah-who successively delivered them from the power of their enemies. Jephthah filled the office of Judge of Israel for about six years. He belonged to the tribe of Manasseh. His father's name was Gilead ; his mother was not a Jewess, but probably a Canaanite. Gilead's lawful wife bore to him other sons, who were ill-disposed toward Jephthah, the son of the strange woman, and thrust him out of their father's house and excluded him from any share in the paternal inheritance. Being thus treated by his kindred as an alien and an outcast, he wandered into the land of Tob, beyond the Jordan, and there became the captain of a band of rovers, freebooters, or “ vain men.” It happened at this time that the Jews beyond the Jordan were oppressed by the Ammonites, and were in quest of a leader who should be able to redress their grievances and punish their foes. As Jephthah had already distinguished himself as “a mighty man of valor," his countrymen relented toward him, solicited his aid, and even offered to him the leadership of their affairs if he would assist them in the Ammonitish war. But the treatment which he had received at their hands made him reluctant to trust in their promises. The Israelites therefore entered into a solemn covenant with him, pledging themselves to submit to him as their captain, and on this condition he took upon himself the conduct of the war and continued in power until his death.

When Jephthah set out on his expedition against the Ammonites, he “ vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering.' So at least reads our common version, (Judges, xi. 30, 31.) What was the nature and purport of this vow? What did it require him to do in case he should return victorious from the Ammonitish war? And what, in fact, did he do, in fulfilment of his vow ? It is an old tradition of the Jews, reported by Josephus, that " Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt-offering: thus making such an oblation as was neither conformable to the law, nor acceptable to God; not weighing with himself what opinion the hearers would have of such a practice. This interpretation of Jephthah's vow seems to have been generally assented to by the Jews, who tell us that it was made a statute in Israel that no man should offer his son or daughter for a burnt-offering, as did Jephthah the Gileadite, who did not consult Phineas the priest, for had he consulted him, he would have redeemed her with money. Among the Christian fathers, Ambrose and Augustine, in the fourth century, while admitting the sacrifice, disapprove of the conduct of Jephthah, and say that in this particular he did what was forbidden by the law of Moses; and Chrysostom and Jerome, their contemporaries, declare that God permitted the performance of it to punish the imprudent father for his temerity. Josephus, being a Jew and learned in the Hebrew Scriptures, was implicitly followed, and with little reflection, by the early Christian fathers. And perhaps it is not strange that his opinion, improbable and revolting as it was, should have been acquiesced in, in an age of superstition, when nothing was too monstrous to be received as a truth of Divine revelation, provided it only had the sanction of a great and venerable name. Several of the first Christian centuries were characterized by remarkable simplicity, credulity and superstition. Tertullian says that “ The true disciples of Christ have nothing more to do with curiosity or inquiry, but when they are once become believers, their sole business is to believe on!”4 Nay it is reported that he said of some notion of his, “certum est quia impossibile est,” it is certainly true because it is quite impossible! Many a divine of the Romish Church has gone as far as Tertullian in defence of the dogmas of his sect. Thus Calmet vindicates King Solomon for putting to death Adonijah, son of David by Haggith, simply because Adonijah, after Solomon's accession to the throne, desired Abishag, David's widow, for his wife. Calmet says, “ A prince, in his judgments, can not always follow the rules of the most perfect morality: policy and the good of the state often require things to be done which are contrary to the counsels of the Gospel.” On which Adam Clarke justly exclaims, “ What a diabolic maxim!” It is useless to attempt to defend and justify what is wicked, monstrous or irrational, even if it appears to be sanctioned by an inspired writer. We must never yield our sober judgment to the mere dictum of authority, but hearken ever to the still small voice of reason and conscience. Notwithstanding the opinion of the Jews, of the fathers of the church, and of modern interpreters, that Jephthah's vow required him to make a burnt-offering of his daughter, yet we think it morally impossible that he did any such thing, or that his vow required him to do it.

2 Ant. Jud. v. 7. 8 Dr. Adam Clarke's Note. Haeret. 8. in Middleton on Miracles p. 226, n.

4 De Praescript.

I. In the first place, we should be justified in rejecting the common interpretation by an ambiguity in the text. Instead of Jephthah's saying, “ Whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt-offering,”—the marginal rendering of the last clause in our common version, is,

I will offer it up for a burnt-offering.” The Hebrew particle vau may without violence be rendered by the copulative and or the disjunctive or, as the translators admit by their marginal note, which is of equal critical authority and value with the reading admitted into the text. So that if Jephthah's daughter did come forth first to meet him on his safe return from his campaign against the Ammonites, yet there is no necessity for supposing that his vow laid him under obligations to imbrue his hands in the blood of his innocent daughter or of any human being. At the most, according to the marginal reading, it only bound him to consecrate to the Lord, in some way, whatsoever should first come forth to greet his return from the war. Dr. William Hales renders Jephthal's vow thus,—“ Whatsoever cometh out of the doors of my house, to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall either be the Lord's, or, I will offer it up (for) a burnt-offering.”

According to this rendering of the two conjunctions, vau, in the last clause is either, or,' which is justified by the Hebrew idiom ; (thus, · He that curseth his father and his


mother, shall surely be put to death,' Exod. xxi. 17, is necessarily rendered disjunctively, his father or his mother,' by the Sept., Vulg., Chald., and English, confirmed by Matt. xv. 4;) the paucity of connecting particles in that language making it necessary that this conjunction should often be understood disjunctively. The vow of Jephthah consisted of two parts: 1. that what person soever met him, should be the Lord's, or be dedicated to his service; and, 2d, that what beast soever met him, (if clean,) should be offered up for a burnt-offering unto the Lord.” That Jephthah actually vowed to make a burnt-offering of the first creature, human or brute, of the first animal,

clean or unclean, that should come forth to meet him, is not within the bounds of probability. For suppose a dog had chanced to meet him on his return home, it would have been a heinous offence to offer an unclean beast in sacrifice, and so abominable a thing would not have passed without rebuke. Suppose it had been his neighbor, or his neighbor's wife or daughter, who had first come forth to meet Jephthah, his vow could not give him any right or authority to slay them for a burnt-offering—or, in other words, to commit a murder. The sacrifice of his own daughter would have been no less a crime than the sacrifice of


person. II. But it is to be observed, further, that human sacrifices were positively forbidden by Moses' Law and were opposed to its whole tenor and spirit. One of the chief reasons for driving the Canaanites out of the land was that they offered their sons and daughters to Moloch, and the Israelites are warned against such abominable practices. “Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God; for every abomination to the Lord which he hateth, have they done unto their gods: for even their sons and their daughters have they burned in the fire to their gods.” (Deut. xii. 31.) They have shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood.” (Ps. cvi. 38.) Can any one, in view of these declarations, believe that Jephthah, a Judge of Israel, a born Jew,—at least on his father's side,-well acquainted with Moses' law, and bound by the strongest personal and official obligations

6 New Analysis of Chronology, London, 1811, vol, ii. p. 319.

to observe and enforce that law, did under any circumstances presume to offer a human sacrifice, against the express prohibition of the Divine Ordinance, and not one word of condemnation or rebuke of such impiety and cruelty be found recorded in the Bible? For ourselves we think it a most incredible and absurd supposition, and one requiring something more than an ambiguous text of Scripture, or the consent of ever so many Christian fathers, to induce us to believe it to be true. For it violates the probability and consistency of history and does equal violence to our sense of justice and to the instinct of parental love.

III. But this subject is happily relieved of all uncertainty and ambiguity by the researches of Hebrew scholars whose names are a guaranty of their fidelity and of their critical accuracy. Instead of the rendering in the common version,

“And I will offer it up for a burnt-offering,” Bishop Lowth says the proper rendering is, “ And I will offer unto him, (i. e. unto Jehovah) a burnt-offering,” by what is called an ellipsis of the preposition, of which there are so many examples in the Hebrew Scriptures.

“ The happy application of this grammatical rule to the passage relating to Jephthah's vow, has perfectly cleared up a difficulty which for two thousand years had puzzled all the translators and expositors, had given occasion to dissertations without number, and caused endless disputes among the learned, on the question, whether Jephthah sacrificed his daughter or not; in which both parties have been equally ignorant of the meaning of the place, of the state of the fact, and of the very terms of the vow.”

It is to be further observed that there are two kinds of vows mentioned in the Bible. One was called the cherem, a Hebrew word signifying anathema, or “ the accursed thing"; by which vow things and persons were devoted to destruction, and could not be redeemed, but must be put to death or destroyed. Moses lays down the law in regard to vows of devotement in Lev. xxvii. 28, 29. • Notwithstanding no devoted thing that a man shall devote unto the Lord, of all that he hath, both of man and beast, and of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed : every devoted thing

* Lowth's Note on Isaiah xiii. 16.

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