Jephthah - Encyclopedia


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JEPHTHAH, one of the judges of Israel, in the Bible, was an illegitimate son of Gilead, and, being expelled from his father's house by his lawful brethren, took refuge in the Syrian land of Tob, where he gathered around him a powerful band of homeless men like himself. The Ammonites pressing hard on his countrymen, the elders of Gilead called for his help, which he consented to give on condition that in the event of victory he should be made their head (Judg. xi. I - xii. 7). His name is best known in history and literature in connexion with his vow, which led to the sacrifice of his daughter on his successful return. The reluctance shown by many writers in accepting the plain sense of the narrative on this point proceeds to a large extent on unwarranted assumptions as to the stage of ethical development which had been reached in Israel in the period of the judges, or at the time when the narrative took shape. The annual lamentation of the women for her death suggests a mythical origin (see ADONIS). Attached to the narrative is an account of a quarrel between Jephthah and the Ephraimites. The latter were defeated, and their retreat was cut off by the Gileadites, who had seized the fords of the Jordan. As the fugitives attempted to cross they were bidden to say "shibboleth" ("flood" or "ear of corn"), and those who said "sibboleth" (the Ephraimites apparently being unused to sh), were at once put to death. In this way 42,000 of the tribe were killed.' The loose connexion between this and the main narrative, as also the lengthy speech to the children of Ammon (xi. 14-27), which really relates to Moab, has led some writers to infer that two distinct heroes and situations have been combined. See further the commentaries on the Book of Judges, and Cheyne, Ency. Bib., art. "Jephthah." (S. A. C.)

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