Chick-fil-A’s Biblical Family of the Day

Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy: “We support biblical families.”

Today’s Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day: Jephthah (Judges 11:30-40)

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt-offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.”

She said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.”

And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.”

“Go,” he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never slept with a man. So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

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  • So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the
    daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the

    Y’know, it’s almost impossible to read this concluding sentence (not to mention the story of the two months “bewailing her virginity”) without immediately thinking of the Cult of Dionysus and the bit where Bacchanalia started in Roman times and how that was basically a girls night out/drunken orgy in the woods…

  • Jim Roberts

    It’s a very odd bit of narrative, this. Feels very Kinlingesque, as though it’s an explanation for an existing custom, but it’s so specific, with a name and everything, that it seems unlikely.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I suspect she was not the type for a drunken orgy in the woods, but one must wonder, given that she seems to have been more concerned with dying without ever having had sex than she was with dying, if she either slept with one of those friends or had them cover for her to sneak to a town and have sex with an attractive willing man. As long as they weren’t caught in the act, there’d be no problem; it wasn’t like she was going to live long enough for anyone to notice if she got pregnant.

  • Cathy W

    Except that if it has a name, it’s the wrong name. Jephthah’s daughter gets dialogue in this scene, she’s got a four-day festival about bewailing her virginity, she goes willingly to be a sacrifice because it’s that important to her that her father keeps his promise,  and nobody bothered to write her name down?

  • Carstonio

    Bewailed her virginity? “Oh, weep for me, my companions, because I have never known the sweet touch of a caring lover, the bliss of two bodies joined as one…” Uh, I should stop now before my post reads like a Kathleen Woodiwiss novel.

  • OriginalExtraCrispy

    I like how that jackass blames his daughter for his actions. Real classy. “It’s totally your fault I have to kill you, because I said I would kill the first person to walk through the door, even though you couldn’t possibly have known that. Still … not my fault.”

  • Carstonio

    Reminds me of the Olympians’ practice of swearing by the river Styx. This unbreakable oath seemed to have little value in the stories except as a plot device to show hubris, like the Prime Directive existing to be broken. Could the Jephthah story have been influenced by Zeus/Semele and Helios/Phäethon, or vice versa?

  • Amaryllis

    She has no name, has neither face nor eyes
    they were drowned in blood
    they were burnt
    by fire

    She is a garden shut, a fountain sealed
    She sought her beloved and found him not
    no kisses of the mouth no child at breast
    no belly of heaped wheat
    she is the song of nothing
    and never

    She loved the man she called father
    a great a mighty warrior
    a rock an outstretched arm his enemies fled
    she ran after his love she praised she danced
    hallelujah father but he
    was angry

    He said she hurt him, she caused him grief
    he took her she consented he raised the knife
    she lay on stone and showed her throat she said
    blessed be he who protects and saves
    who comforts the captive and raises up
    the dead

    Her father will die at a good old age
    but where was the angel to stop his hand
    where was the sacred messenger
    who is this God of stone and knife and fire
    why does he hide, what can he see
    when a woman prays

    will he ever hear

    From the forest of our lives
    into the clearing
    rain falls on the mountaintop
    soaking the wordless stone
    year after year
    like the truth of tears

  • Amaryllis


    I desired mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.

    –Hosea 6.6

           Going forth in mourning
           returning in joy

    From the forest of our lives
    into the clearing
    weeds grow on the mountaintop
    between the stones

    Birdcalls fly from shrub to shrub
    the spirit of God
    is in their twittering
    like a truth that is sweet

    Wind increases
    shiver and listen
    is it the wind
    is it a voice

    You who lament
    you are the one
    you be my angel
    you be my messenger
    you stop the warrior’s hand

    it will take ages
    it will begin today
    you will die many times
    you will slip in blood
    you will be humbled
    you will fail
    it will take all your strength
    it will appear to take forever
    it will begin today

              we must go forth in mourning
              we will return
    in joy

    Both excerpts from Jephthah’s Daughter: A Lament, by Alicia Ostriker

  • Izzy

    To me, this is one of the most troubling passages in the Bible. And especially so, since child sacrifice was one of the charges laid against the Canaanites to justify genocide.

  • Joel Hanes

    A God who demands that a man burn his daughter does not deserve worship.

  • Carstonio

    Jephthah  sounds like Agamemnon. Another case where the father screws up and the daughter suffers from no fault of her own. (At least in the Homeric version – Euripides put a different spin on it.)

  • Hawker40

    Imagine, for a moment, if had been someone else.  The local carpenter, perhaps, fixing the roof…
    “Hey Jepthah, you’re back, congrats on winning the battle.  Why are you looking at me like that?  Hey, watch it!  What do you mean, you’re going to burn me as a sacrifice to Our Lord?”
    Would the story be written down if it had been a slave that greeted him?  Or his mother in law?  Or a random tradesman?  Or a hireling?  Enquiring minds etc.

  • GeniusLemur

    It was Jephthah who made the vow, with no prompting from God.He could just as easily vowed, “If you deliver the Ammonites to my hand, I will offer up half my sheep as a burnt offering.”

  • Magic_Cracker

     Iphigenia says “What.”

  • GeniusLemur

    This isn’t a suprising as you might think. I read a book of Japanese folktales once, 150+ stories, most with at least one female character, and the introduction pointed out that not one woman’s name is ever mentioned.  Two or three get nicknames, but not one woman in all these stories gets an actual name. It’s all, “the girl” or “the princess” or “so-and-so’s wife” or “the wrestler so-and-so’s sister”

  • GeniusLemur

    I think the plot device of “I made a vow I regret, but I can’t go back on it” is pretty universal.

  • friendly reader

    God is conspicuously silent in Jephthah’s story. The victory’s attributed to him, to be sure, but nobody seems to bother asking whether he could, say, send a ewe in his daughter’s place this time. What would have happened if he’d asked God to bend his vow (especially given that in other contexts the Bible seems to really hate human sacrifice)?

    Not so much a defense, but it’s a way that I tend to read stories where God doesn’t actively talk. Are we seeing in these tales the danger of reading divine will when none is given?

  • Funny thing: The first time I heard of this particular type of oath, it was a man making a deal with the Devil, pledging the first thing to greet him at home in exchange for a whopping great pile of cash. I think it was “The Girl Without Hands,”  as retold by the webcomic No Rest For the Wicked.

  • Carstonio

     Sure, but my point is that the worst consequences of the vow affect someone other than the person making the vow.

  • Persia

    It’s probably older than those things, even. Be careful what you promise.

  • redsixwing

    Amaryllis, that is awesome. 

    I have found the whole of “Jephthah’s Daughter: A Lament” here. Warning: it is as hard to read as one might expect.

  • CoolHandLNC

    This is probably some ancient legend, that got imported into the biblical narrative because it was a popular story. Not being a scholar of such things, I how many other versions of this story are known to exist in ancient near-eastern literature. Someone mentioned Agamemnon and Iphigenia.
    This is really a parable about making rash vows and boasts, so it really shouldn’t be read as historical narrative.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Agree. (See my oblique allusion above.) It’s a pretty standard literary device to have your hubristic hero tempt the gods and of the gods to be all “O RLY?” That Jephthah isn’t view as a tragic hero by certain Christian readers of this tale says more about them than Jephthah.

    Something I like about the ancient Greek authors is that they acknowledge their heroes are a bunch of  dicks — one doesn’t get to be a hero without being a dick — and in the end, nobody, not even the gods, likes a dick.”He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.” ~ Aeschylus

  • VMink

    Yet another story that my grade school conveniently glossed over.  Yeesh… and I thought God was being mean in the story of Issac.  “Hey, go up to the mountain and sacrifice your boy! — No, wait, it was just a test of your faith!”

    It’s possibly notable that Jephthah’s daughter is not only not named but also not spared, while Issac is named and spared by God.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Ooops! My last comment was meant to be a reply to Carstonio.

  • GeniusLemur

    They tried that in the story of the Lambton Worm. The guy’s father was so excited when he heard the signal that he ran to meet his victorious son instead of releasing the dog like he was supposed to.

  • GeniusLemur

    I think that’s pretty universal too. It’s a lot more dramatic/tragic.

  • Carstonio

     Again, I’m talking not about consequences of hubris in general, but the specific type where the consequences fall on someone innocent of the hubris.

  • VMink

    Amaryllis, thanks for those excerpts.  I found the full ritual online and read through some of it, finding it chilling and disturbing but compelling.  (Content note for anyone looking for it: It’s really unsettling in places, because it’s meant to be.)  I find it’s identification of Jephthah’s daughter with the Shekhina to be particularly fascinating; and the reasons given for sacrificing her — expanded from Jephthah’s stupid, stupid oath to the diminishing of women in general — to be chilling, as if trying to justify it all:

    We sacrifice this girl because her hair is long and powerful
    Sin began with a woman, and because of her we all die
    We sacrifice this girl because she danced at the wrong moment
    Her filthiness was in her skirts

    We sacrifice this girl because she asked for it.
    For all his ways are justice.

    Also?  Before I realized this was a more modern ritual, one that is trying to desperately make sense of a senseless act, and even afterwards, that last line kind of triggers RAGE.  And just because I’m feeling particularly uncharitable, this story really puts the squickiness of “purity balls” into an even more disturbing light.

    (Extra fun “I don’t think this is a coincidence” note: Jephthah’s a “Gileadite.”  I really have to force myself to read The Handmaid’s Tale someday soon because of, not despite, the awfulness of that world.)

  • AnonymousSam

    Not uncommon in the Bible. Relatively few women had their names recorded unless they were of great significance, and even then there are a few who are conspicuously anonymous and identified only by their relation to a man.

    And people say the Bible doesn’t have any misogynistic tendencies. :D

  •  God is conspicuously silent in Jephthah’s story. The victory’s
    attributed to him, to be sure, but nobody seems to bother asking whether
    he could, say, send a ewe in his daughter’s place this time. What would
    have happened if he’d asked God to bend his vow (especially given that
    in other contexts the Bible seems to really hate human sacrifice)?

    This one is especially interesting to consider in light of the Abraham and Isaac story.  In the earlier one Abraham was explicitly told to sacrifice his son, but then god called it off in the end.  In Jephthah’s story, however, god was silent even though he didn’t command anything in the first place.

    So then we get to the question of, “Was Jephthah wrong, or does god just not give a crap about girls?”  I suppose those aren’t mutually exclusive options, though.

  • Julia Sweeny talked about discovering the story of Jephthah as an adult in Letting Go Of God – noting that God didn’t say, “No, _don’t_ sacrifice your daugter to me, that’s not right” or even “Jephthah, who did you _expect_ to be the first person to greet you when you got home??”

    On the other famous child sacrifice story:

  • Magic_Cracker

    Oh, I know. I thought I made that clear with my reference to Iphigenia/Agamemnon.  (Obviously, it wasn’t clear.)

    Agamemnon vows to sacrifice to Artemis the most beautiful creature born in his kingdom, which creature turns out to be his daughter Iphiginia. When he doesn’t fulfill his promise, Artemis sends bad winds that prevent his ships from sailing to Troy. In the earlier versions of the myth, Artemis relents only after Agamemnon sacrifices Iphigenia  In later versions, Artemis pulls an Isaac and says “Just kidding! She will become my handmaiden!” (which smells suspiciously like a steaming heap of horseshit fed to Clytemnestra by way of explaining why Iphigenia didn’t come back from the sacred grove with her father). In either case, Agamemnon sets sail for Troy, wages war, gets a bunch of other people killed. Comes home. Gets murdered by an angry wife. Angry wife gets murdered by angry son. Etc. Etc.
    “Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed. You can look it up later.” ~ Zoe Washburne/Joss Whedon, Serenity

  •  Nobody’s mentioned King Idomeneus yet?

    Am I wrong for thinking the Greek gods come off slightly better than Yahweh here? They don’t think to warn the guy off either, but at least they make it plain he was a jerk for doing it.

  • Jenny Islander

    God is not mentioned in this story, but God repeatedly sent prophets to tell the people that their rituals were pointless without justice and mercy.  So it doesn’t fit.  Maybe it’s an attempt to “Judaize” the apparently ineradicable tradition of going up into the hills to mourn for Tammuz (mentioned elsewhere in the OT) or explain some other local tradition. 

  • Jenny Islander

    Reading accounts of what the Bacchantes reputedly did to men who intruded on their revels, I have to wonder whether the stories were spread around by the women in order to keep the men out so they could party without being bothered by, well, pricks.

  • GeniusLemur

    It may be that was originally part of the story, because the next verse has a bunch of armed men coming to kick Jephthah’s butt and burn his house.

  • Launcifer

    I actually had a discussion about this story with a guy who’s quite attached to doorstepping me every few weeks or so. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea that God didn’t intervene as He had with Isaac or, failing that, made a public attempt to distance Himself from the fallout after Jephthah’s actions given that quite of the writers seem to believe that God is not down with human sacrifice as a form of worship.

    Then again, given this, Isaac, that Jesus chap and so on, I reckon God’s just all over the map on this one. Well, either that or the various writers are…. 

  • Carstonio

    In the original story, Agamemnon is murdered by Clytemnestra’s lover and it seems unrelated to what he did to Iphigenia. Clytemnestra is almost a nonentity. The Aeschylus version is far richer, with Clytemnestra almost a force of nature in her righteous vengeance, and this should be considered in a category separate from the original story and the Jephthah story. I like your suggestion that the fate Euripides gave Iphigenia was actually Clytemnestra outwitting her husband.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    It shows that in the tribal cultures of that area, human sacrifice was THE way to get a god’s attention and show you meant business.  And child sacrifice — maybe because they had the most unlived life, their lives were the most magickally powerful?

    To most of the stories like this, all I can say is “Welcome to the world of Iron Age Semitic Tribes.”

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    And as others have pointed out, it conforms to an archetype of story.  This may be just the Jewish version of that archetype.

  • It’s true that God is silent in this story but I’ve always thought that the fact Jephthah got his ass kicked almost immediately after was supposed to tell us what God thought of that. In Judges people God approves of don’t lose battles.

    Plus, yeah, the oath leading to unintended human sacrifice is quite a common myth.

  • VMink

    Is that right, though?  I just read the following verse, and while some Ephiamites come over to kick Jeph’s butt, the Ephiamites loose badly.  Jeph and the Gileadites hold the ford at the river Jordan and make anyone trying to cross say ‘Shibboleth.’  If they (mis-)pronounced it like an Ephiamite, they were killed.

    Jeph ‘judged’ Israel for six years afterwards.  While I agree that the God of Judges tends to smite whomsoever doth displeaseth him, he… didn’t exactly rush to strike down Jephthah either directly or by proxy.

    I could be reading this very wrong, however!

    ETA: Also, “Jeph and the Gileadites” is not the name of my next prog-rap novelty band.

  • Matthew Kirby

    Didn’t the bible prohibit human sacrifice?

  • I remember thinking this the first time I heard this story as a child and still feel this way now. 

    My advise to you, GuysDaughter, is to spend those two months walking as far in a single direction as your feet will take you and then keep going   And as for your unwanted virginity, you’ll find a certain amount of freedom in being an outlaw, I’d say use it for all it’s worth. 

  • Ross Thompson

    They tried that in the story of the Lambton Worm. The guy’s father was so excited when he heard the signal that he ran to meet his victorious son instead of releasing the dog like he was supposed to.

    That’s not the version of The Lampton Worm that I know…

  • GeniusLemur: I think the plot device of “I made a vow I regret, but I can’t go back on it” is pretty universal.

    One of my favorite storylines in the webcomic El Goonish Shive (Sister II) dealt with a wizard who swore an oath of this kind. The way the author resolved it was pretty satisfying.

  • Kiba

    Bewailed her virginity?

    This made me think of two poem fragments by Sappho.

    Virginity, virginity, where have you gone and left me?
    Never again with I come to you, never again.


    Do I really still long for virginity?

  •  Eeep… you’re right…

    Somehow I got two battles out of it not one.