There are many interesting modern commentaries on Jephthah and his daughter. I am including the notes from my research here.
· 11:1-3 – Jephthah the Gileadite – son of zonah – run out by his half-brothers
o How did Jephthah end up in his father’s house?
o What Jephthah lacks to be a good judge is a father, a heritage. (AFC1-J Klein p. 25-5)
o Jephthah has no patronymic – not a son of Gilead the man, but of the tribe (BOL)
o In the Jewish-Aramaic of the Targum of the Prophets, the two women who come to Solomon, Samson’s woman in Gaza, and Jephthah’s mother are designated as “innkeeper.” Called zonot in bible. Of course innkeepers and prostitutes are not mutually exclusive. Zonah may also designate a low-status, social-legal class comprised of women who live outside of patriarchal social mores and control. The independent women may become sex professionals, which is not penalized as a crime. Gen 34.31 – Dinah is a zonah. (VHH)
· 11:5-8 – Elders of Gilead ask Jephthah to lead in battle and be their head
o Are the elders of Gilead and the sons of Jephthah’s father the same people?
o There is a difference between 11:6 kazir (military leader?) and 11:8 rosh (head?). In 9:11, the elders ask Jephthah to be both. Note that Jephthah bargains hard to be offered a higher post.
o Note that God is relegated to confirming the choice of the elders (BOL)
o Jephthah wants his election to be ratified by God. God does not initiate the choosing of Jephthah as leader. Jephthah’s words in v.11 may be an oath of office.
· 11:10-27 – Discourse between Jephthah and Ammon over who injured whom. Note 11:24 Jephthah acknowledges legitimacy of “Chemosh thy god.”
· 11:29 – Spirit of God comes upon Jephthah
o Even though spirit of YHVH comes upon Jephthah, he makes his vow out of little faith; showing the folly that comes from ambivalent faith. (AFC1-J – Beldstein p. 45-7)
o Jephthah bargains with God even though the spirit of God comes upon him. (WBC – p.76-7)
· 11:30-31 – Jephthah’s vow
o Vow is hastily given, in contrast to careful negotiation with elders
o Vow regards whatever comes through the door, not whoever.
o Jephthah is not shown as intentionally perpetuating his daughter’s demise. (AFC1-J – Fuchs p. 121)
o Jephthah is also a victim (to his own wrongheadedness). (AFC1-J – Fuchs p. 124)
o The narrative focuses on Jephthah and shows it as a tragedy to him – the reader should resist “the tendency in biblical narrative to focus on the father at the daughter’s expense. (AFC1-J – Fuchs p. 130).
o There is no word from deity to stay Jephthah’s hand. (AFC1-J – Exum p.135)
o After 11:31 YHVH gives Ammonites into Jephthah’s hand. “If not a tacit acceptance of Jephthah’s terms, this statement at least implicates the deity.” (FW p.19)
o We can’t tell if victory comes because of YHVH’s spirit on Jephthah, or his vow, or both. (FW p.20)
· 11:34-40 – Jephthah’s daughter
o “The daughter cannot but submit; within the limits assigned to her, however, she exploits the possibility left open to her. Using oral history as a cultural means of memorialization, she makes her fellow virgins feel that solidarity between daughters is a task, an urgent one, that alone can save them from total oblivion.” (B-DD p.68)
o Jud 11:29-40 “resembles the concept in Greek tragedies: heroes are caught up in crisis and calamity not because they have done wrong, but because it has been decreed by higher powers that they can neither control nor understand. (AFC2-J Valler p.48)
o Midrash gets YHVH off the hook: AFC2-J Valler p.48)
§ Jephthah was not a Torah scholar and did not know how to get out of a vow (which can be done)
§ Jephthah refused to go to a priest to get release from his vow
§ “The reader of the midrash is convinced that Jephthah forced the calamity on himself and on his daughter, electing to slay her. The whole story begins with a mistaken vow, continues with his obstinate intent to carry it out, and concludes with the daughter’s death, which is entirely Jephthah’s own distorted decision. God has no hand in the deed, except for presenting the dilemma that forced the choice. In anger and sorrow, God watched events unfold but did not guide them.” AFC2-J Valler p.60)
o Where was Jephthah’s wife? Where was the community? (AFC2-J Kramer p89)
o Where is God (think Isaac; think Saul not executing Jonathan). Where are the people? Is it because Isaac and Jonathan are sons? (WBC – p.77-8)
o “Perhaps the writer of Judges is subtly protesting this human sacrifice by never explicitly stating that Jephthah killed his daughter, or that his daughter died.” (WHC – Lieberman, p.188)
o We are spared the details of the daughter’s end, but Isaac, who is rescued, we see details. (FW p.21)
o “There is no evidence of such a ritual [the daughter and her friends mourning her virginity] apart from this story.” (FW p.33)
AFC1-J = A Feminist Companion to the Bible, Ser 1, Judges, Athalya Brenner, ed.
AFC2-J = A Feminist Companion to the Bible, Ser 2, Judges, Athalya Brenner, ed.
BDB = Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon
B-DD = Death and Dissymmetry. Mieke Bal.
B-MD = Murder and Difference. Mieke Bal
BOL = The Anchor Bible, Judges. Richard Boling
CRHB = Corporate Responsibility in the Hebrew Bible. Chapter 4 Joel S. Kaminsky.
EH = Etz Hayim.
EJ = Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2007
FW = Fragmented Women. Cheryl Exum.
HCBC = Harper Collins Bible Commentary. Cheryl Exum: “Judges.”
HTRB = How to Read the Bible. James Kugel.
J&M – Judges and Methods: Gale Yee, ed.
JPS = JPS Tanakh
JSB = Jewish Study Bible. Carol Meyers: “Joshua.” Marc Zvi Brettler: “Nevi’im” and “Canonization,” Yairah Amit: “Judges.”
VHH = The Vanishing Hebrew Harlot: The Adventures of the Hebrew Stem ZNH. Irene Riegner.
WBC = Women’s Bible Commentary: Dana Nolan Fewell: “Judges.”
WHC = Women’s Haftarah Commentary
WIS = Women in Scripture: Meyers, Craven, Kraemer
WJD = “In the Bible: A Judge Named Deborah”, Talk by Elie Wiesel Oct 2010
WW = Don Seeman “The Watcher at the Window: Cultural Poetics of a Biblical Motif.” Prooftexts 24, 1-50, 2004