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Template:Book of Judges Jephtha יפתח is a character in the Old Testament who served as one of the 'Judges' in Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7) between the conquest of Canaan and the first king. Jephtha lived in Gilead and was a member of the Tribe of Manasseh. His father's name was also Gilead.

Being driven out by his half-brothers, he took up dwelling in Tob, east of Gilead. Here some men opposing the Ammonites put themselves under his command. (Judges 11:3) When Israel was gathering to go to war against Ammon, they looked for a God-appointed man and decided to go to Jephtha.

He is best known for a rather unfortunate episode, and is recalled in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:32) as an example of a man of faith for the same. Before leaving for the war, he made a vow to God that if he was to return home victorious, "whoever is the first to come through the doors of my house" to meet him would be given to God. He was victorious, and returned he did, but he was met by his daughter and only child. It's written that after much mourning she died as a childless, unmarried virgin.

The event has been the subject of many debates among readers. It is likely that this was a practice of dedicating women to virginity, but some have believed he really sacrificed her as an offering. (Judges 11:34) But Jephtha was a faithful servant of God, who said unto Moses that such an offering was in his eyes totally abhorrent. (Leviticus 18:21) However, Leviticus 27:28-29 makes specific provision for the sacrifice of "all that belongs" to a man, including his people - ie: slaves. Perhaps he had anticipated a slave or household servant. one does not, after all, normally keep livestock in the house, and they do not normally come out to greet one when one gets home. Alternatively, the main point of this story may be to instruct young girls as to how to behave should they ever be selected for sacrifice (verses 37-38). That is, it could be a normative tale.

Later, Jephtha went to war against the Ephraimites, who refused to acknowledge him. The story is remembered for the killing of the fugitive Ephraimites who were identified by their accent; they'd say the Hebrew word shibboleth as sibboleth. In this rebellious action, 42,000 people lost their lives. (Judges 12:5,6) It should be noted that the method, while innovative, is by no means unique and has seen use throughout the centuries - for example, at the Finnish Civil War in 1918.

  • Jephtha (Jephthah) was an oratorio (1751) by Handel based on the story of Jephtha with a libretto by the Rev. Thomas Morell, following Judges (Chapter 11) and "Jephthas sive votum" - "Jeptha or the Vow"(1554) by G. Buchanan.

Preceded by:
Judges of Israel Succeeded by:
he:יפתח הגלעדי

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