It was recently announced that a clay bulla of Hezekiah King of Judah (727-698 B.C.) was discovered during excavations in the Ophel area of Jerusalem. Although found in 2009, the discovery has only recently been made known to the public. While previous bullae (plural of “bulla”) of Hezekiah are known, this is the first one discovered in an archaeological context (others have appeared on the antiquites market and in the collections of antiquities dealers). A bulla is a small piece of clay, which has been impressed by the owner’s seal. Bullae were used to seal papyrus documents that were rolled and tied with a string (see picture below). In the middle of the bulla of Hezekiah is a picture of a two-winged sun disk. The wings of the sun disk point downward and it has six rays of light projecting from it (3 from the top and 3 from the bottom). On either side of the sun disk (the one on the right is most clearly visible) are ankh symbols from Egypt known as “the key of life.”
Given Israel’s aversion to symbols, especially by a King known for his sweeping religious reforms (2 Kgs. 18:1-6; 2 Chron. 29), it is somewhat surprising to find this iconography on King Hezekiah’s seal. The use of Egyptian symbols may also surprise many. As far as current knowledge tells us, Hezekiah seems to be the first king of Judah to use a royal emblem with an icon on it. It is also known from other bullae that Hezekiah adopted the use of the two-winged scarab (dung beetle), known in both Egypt and Phoenicia. Thus, we are now aware of two different images that were employed on the royal seals of Hezekiah. There are several passages which suggest a dependence on Egypt by Hezekiah, and this may be why the king’s seals show Egyptian influence. For example, when Sennacherib is laying siege to Jerusalem, the Rabshakeh (an Assyrian official) rebukes Hezekiah for trusting in Egypt (Isa. 36:4-6). Although Hezekiah is not specifically mentioned in Isaiah 30, this passage condemns Judah’s leadership for trusting in Egypt for military aid. As far as the imagery on the seal itself, given Hezekiah’s aversion to idolatry, Robert Deutsch’s conclusion seems correct. He states, “Although winged sun disks and scarabs had originated in foreign lands, by the eighth and seventh centuries BCE, when they appeared on Hebrew seals, they were already quite old and bereft of any religious significance. They were used solely for their decorative value and their connotation of power – and should be regarded as Israelite/Judahite. When Hezekiah adopted the two-winged scarab and the two-winged sun disk with six rays as royal emblems, he was simply appropriating generally accepted icons of royal power and not importing meaning from either Phoenicia or Egypt” (Lasting Impressions: New Bullae Reveal Egyptian-Style Emblems on Judah’s Royal Seals–the whole article is worth reading).
The Bulla of Hezekiah and the Ophel
As noted above, the bulla of Hezekiah was discovered during excavations of the Ophel in Jerusalem. The Ophel is the area between the Temple Mount and the City of David (see the picture on the right). The bulla was found in an ancient refuse dump near a royal building that dates back to Solomon’s time (mid-tenth century B.C.). I had the opportunity of exploring this area last Spring (2015). The bulla was discovered through a process known as wet-sifting. Wet-sifting is a process utilized by Dr. Gabriel Barkai and Zachi Dvira at the Temple Mount ever since the illegal dumping of tons of soil bull-dozed on the Temple Mount in 1999 by the Waqf. These archaeologists realized that “this discarded earth represented a treasure trove of information relating to the Temple Mount’s history” (see Temple Mount Sifting Project). Since Barkai and Dvira implemented this system of searching through the dug up soil, it has become a staple of archaeological excavations. Many smaller items, like this bulla of Hezekiah, would easily go undiscovered if this method were not employed.
Well known Israeli archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar was in charge of the excavations at the Ophel. You can watch a very interesting video here showing Dr. Mazar’s explanation of the discovery, and of the bulla of Hezekiah. The same video with an accompanying article can be found at phys.org. The bulla of Hezekiah is not only one of several bullae that exist of the Judean King, it is also one among a number of other bullae that have been discovered that refer to people mentioned in the Bible. Bullae of several of Hezekiah’s court officials have also been discovered (see the link to Deutsch’s article above). We also have a seal impression of King Ahaz, the father of Hezekiah, as well as several Judean officials from the time of Jeremiah. Whether archaeological discoveries in Israel are big or small, they continue to help us better understand the ancient world of the Bible.
Did the Exodus happen? Many leading archaeologists and Bible scholars today say, “No.” Others argue that there may have been a small group of slaves that escaped Egypt, but the historical events didn’t happen the way they are described in the Bible. Even among evangelical scholars who accept the biblical account as historical, there is a debate regarding the date of the Exodus (this article from Wikipedia is an example of the skepticism of most regarding the Exodus). All of this confusion surrounding the Exodus led filmmaker Timothy P. Mahoney to begin a 12-year quest to discover if the Exodus really happened as it is told in the Bible, or not. The result of his investigation is a book and film entitled Patterns of Evidence: Exodus. Mahoney explains that his original reason for going to Israel and Egypt was to do a documentary about the route of the Exodus and the location of the real Mount Sinai. However, when he arrived in the Middle East, he was asked why he would want to make a documentary about an event that never happened. You can see his interview with Fox News here where Mahoney explains how this question changed the direction of his project and eventually led to the making of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus.
Patterns of Evidence: The Initial Quest
Mahoney’s initial quest led to disappointment. He was introduced to the most popular theory regarding the date of the Exodus, which is the time of Ramesses II (13th century B.C.). As the film points out, one of the bases for this proposal is Exodus 1:11, which mentions that the Israelites built the city of Ramesses. The city has a narrow history of 200 years (1300-1100 B.C.). The problem is, there is no evidence for a settlement of Israelites, or an exodus from Egypt during this period. Mahoney began to wonder if there was a city that showed archaeological evidence for a group of ancient Israelites. He heard about the excavations going on at the ancient city of Avaris, which happens to lay underneath the southern sector of the later city of Ramesses in the Nile Delta. There he was told by the director of excavations, Manfred Bietak, that a large group of ancient Semitic people (25-30,000) had been discovered. According to Bietak, these people were originally a free people who enjoyed a special status and were shepherds. This sounded to Mahoney like the biblical account, but Bietak discouraged that interpretation because he holds to the Ramesses II date for the Exodus and this settlement was much to early to qualify as an early settlement of Israelites.
Searching for Patterns of Evidence
Although discouraged at first, Mahoney decided that his search should proceed along the scientific lines of searching for patterns of evidence, wherever that evidence might lead. Mahoney chose 6 important events in the biblical chronology: 1) Israelites descent into Egypt; 2) the multiplication of the population; 3) slavery; 4) a judgment on Egyptian society; 5) a massive and sudden exodus; and 6) the conquest of Canaan. Was there a time period in Egyptian history that corresponded to these 6 events? According to Mahoney, and other scholars he interviews, the answer is “Yes.” Mahoney, along with such scholars as David Rohl, Bryant Wood, and John J. Bimson, contend that the period of Ramesses II is the wrong period to look for the Israelite exodus from Egypt (thus it is no surprise that evidence is lacking for this time period). Some of these scholars would contend for an earlier date of around 1450 B.C., which is traditionally the date accepted by some evangelical scholars. This date is based on 1 Kings 6:1 which states that Solomon began building the Temple 480 years after Israel left Egypt. It’s generally agreed that Solomon’s reign began about 970 B.C. and the construction of the Temple began around 966 B.C. Adding 480 years to these dates takes one back to around 1450-1440 B.C. Mahoney introduces a massive amount of evidence to demonstrate that there was a time in Egyptian history that corresponds with the 6 major events mentioned in the biblical account (I’ll leave it to you to watch the video. It is a fascinating and informative investigation whether you agree with the conclusions or not). There is still a problem, however. The problem is that even the early date of 1450 B.C. does not appear to be early enough. The pattens of evidence that Mahoney discusses take one back into the period known in Egypt as the Middle Kingdom, and this is a full 200 years earlier than the 1450 B.C. date!
Is Egyptian Chronology Correct?
Patterns of Evidence points out that all chronologies of the ancient world are based on Egyptian chronology. Egyptian chronology has been considered established for a long time and many (including many noted evangelical scholars) refuse to consider that there could be major errors in it. However, there is a growing number of scholars looking into a “revised” Egyptian chronology (see the example above and the link for an explanation). The current chronology that is used, not only creates problems for the biblical account, but it also requires gaps of time to be inserted into the chronologies of other ancient nations in order to make them synchronize with Egyptian history. This suggests there may be a problem. David Rohl and John J. Bimson, among others, are convinced that Egypt’s chronology needs an overhaul. Others are convinced that an early date for the Exodus (i.e., 1450 B.C.) is still the best explanation (see Bryant Wood’s arguments against Rohl’s chronology here).
An Evaluation of Patterns of Evidence: Exodus
Mahoney is up front about coming from a Christian family and growing up believing in the historicity of the Bible. However, he admits that when he began his investigation into the evidence for the Exodus, it created some doubt and concern. But, as he says at the end of the film, he was determined to go wherever the evidence led. Although one could accuse Mahoney of entering this project with a biased point of view, as archaeologist Bryant Wood points out in his interview with Mahoney, “everybody in the field is biased.” Not only is it impossible for a human being to have no bias, but in my small exposure to the world of archaeology I have learned that conclusions are often heavily motivated by theological or political agendas. Therefore I find Wood’s next point even more important when he states, “I can not make up the evidence, I can not plant it in the ground,” and he encourages everyone to look at the evidence and make a decision based upon it. This is what Mahoney seeks to do in the film. The film interviews scholars, archaeologists, and Egyptologists of all persuasions. Some believe the biblical story is reliable and some do not. I find Mahoney’s treatment fair, although he is clearly coming from an evangelical perspective. In the end, he does not firmly endorse one view over another, but the film does indicate, as the title suggests, that there are some strong Patterns of Evidence for believing the biblical story of the Exodus.
In my last post entitled “Jephthah’s Vow: What Did Jephthah Do to His Daughter?,” I noted that there are two views regarding the fate of Jephthah’s daughter: 1) He offered her as a burnt offering; or, 2) She became a lifelong virgin. In that post, I argued that he really did offer his daughter as a burnt sacrifice, and I sought to show the weaknesses of the arguments for the other interpretation. In this post, I will examine the strengths for the first proposal, which also happens to be the view of ancient interpreters.
Jephthah’s Daughter Was Offered as a Burnt Offering
Context–The interpretation that Jephthah’s daughter was offered as a burnt offering best fits the context of the Book of Judges. Judges 2:11-19 sets forth the theme of the Book which involves, not just a cycle of apostasy, but a downward spiral of apostasy. This is clearly conveyed in Judges 2:19 which states, “And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers….” Those, like Hugenberger, who take a more positive view of the Judges, note that it is the people who are portrayed as corrupt, not the judges themselves, in this opening statement. While there is some truth to this observation, especially with the earlier judges, the later judges clearly show evidence of both spiritual and moral degeneration. I will illustrate this degeneration in the character of the judges by noting important parallels and contrasts between Gideon and Jephthah in my second argument below.
Character parallels and contrasts–This is actually a subcategory of Context, but I have set it apart to illustrate one of the techniques used by the inspired author in showing the degeneration of the judges themselves. Using Jephthah as an example, the reader is clearly expected to compare Gideon’s treatment of the Ephraimites (Judg. 8:1-3) with Jephthah’s (Judg. 12:1-7). Each of these passages share a number of similarities including, the theme of contention, the fact that it is the tribe of Ephraim which confronts the judge/deliverer in both instances, and the importance of the expression “the fords of the Jordan.” When Gideon’s diplomatic response is compared to Jephthah’s savage treatment of the Ephraimites, it becomes obvious that Jephthah is no Gideon. Of course this does not mean that Gideon is any model of morality. Gideon also kills Israelites, but instead of nearly wiping out whole tribes, he only wipes out towns! (Judg. 8:14-17). Ironically, the towns that Gideon wipes out are in the territory that Jephthah will later exercise leadership over, thus making another connection between the two. The upshot of this comparison is: if Gideon’s actions were bad, Jephthah’s were much worse.
In spite of the good that both men are capable of, they not only show the effects of moral degeneration, but also of spiritual degeneration. When Gideon is first called by the Lord, he destroys the altar of Baal and the Asherah in his hometown (Judg. 6:25-32). However, toward the latter stages of his judgeship, he leads Israel back into idolatry (Judg. 8:27) and by the time of his death, Israel has come full-circle and is once again worshipping the Baals (Judg. 8:33). This same pattern can be found in Jephthah’s story. Jephthah’s deliverance from the Ammonites begins with a stirring rendition of Israel’s history, demonstrating that he has a good grasp of what God has accomplished for His people. However, Jephthah’s vow to offer “whatever comes out of the doors of my house” (Judg. 11:31–see below for more on this), shows that he has been influenced by the religious ideas of his enemies. The Ammonites and Moabites (both mentioned in Jephthah’s historical recital), whose gods were, respectively, Molech and Chemosh, were well-known for offering up human sacrifice (e.g., Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; 2 Kgs. 3:26-27). Just as Canaanite culture rubbed off on Gideon, leading him back into idolatry, so, it appears, Ammonite/Moabite culture had an effect on Jephthah. Both Gideon and Jephthah worshipped Yahweh, but both allowed their worship of Him to become corrupted by the influence of the surrounding culture.
Human more likely than animal–Since animals were usually kept on the bottom floor of Israelite houses, it has been asserted that Jephthah was thinking of an animal when he stated, “Whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me…shall surely be the Lord’s and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judg. 11:31). While it is true that “whatever” is ambiguous and can refer to an animal or human being, a number of scholars note that the words “to meet me,” are “more applicable to a human being than an animal” (Barry Webb, The Book of Judges, NICOT, p. 329). Furthermore, it was customary in the ancient world for people to greet the returning victors. In Israel this was frequently done with song (Exod. 15; 1 Sam. 18:6-7). McCann sums up the content of Jephthah’s vow when he writes, “While animals may have lived in the house in those days, so did people! Jephthah, the smart and skilled negotiator of 11:12-28, surely should have foreseen all the possibilities. Thus, given the literary context, the attempt to give Jephthah the benefit of the doubt only makes him look worse–stupid and thoughtless, as well as unfaithful” (J. Clinton McCann, Judges, Interpretation Commentary, pp. 82-83). In my previous post, I have dealt with the argument that Jephthah’s statement might be translated with the conjunction “or” rather than “and.” In other words, Jephthah says “and I will offer it up,” not “or I will offer it up” (Judg. 11:31–see the link above to my previous post for a fuller discussion). Therefore, on no level whatsoever can Jephthah’s vow be thought of as innocent, virtuous, or perfect (contrary to the post “Jephthah’s Perfect Vow“) .
Language, repetition and syntax–A careful examination of the language of the vow and the subsequent events that follow, show that the author uses repetition to drive home the tragic point that Jephthah offered his daughter up as a burnt offering. If we render the first part of Jephthah’s vow literally, he says, “The one going out who goes out of the doors of my house to meet me…” (Judg. 11:31). When Jephthah returns from the battle, we are told, “Look, his daughter was going out to meet him…” (Judg. 11:34). The repetition of words is the first clue that the daughter has become the object of the vow. Part of Jephthah’s response to his daughter is, “I have opened my mouthto Yahweh and I cannot take it back” (Judg. 11:35). Jephthah’s daughter responds saying, “My father, you have opened your mouth to Yahweh, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth” (Judg. 11:36). This repetition further confirms the wrong-headed nature of his vow and the horror it has led to. Through the use of repetition, the biblical author communicates a horrible truth in the most delicate way possible. As Phyllis Trible states, “The ambiguity of Jephthah’s vow disappears. His daughter is his sacrifice; she must die for his unfaithfulness” (Trible, Texts of Terror, p. 100).
It has been argued that the author never explicitly states that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt offering. Instead the author states, “he did to her, his vow which he had vowed” (Judg. 11:39). First, we have already noted above that the author treats the outcome of Jephthah’s vow as delicately as possible. Should we have expected the author to say, “And Jephthah slit the throat of his daughter and burned her body as a sacrifice to the Lord”? It would seem that the inspired author had no desire to speak so blatantly of an Israelite leader offering up a human sacrifice. To speak of such an unspeakable act is to give it a voice that it does not deserve. But perhaps the most important observation is in regards to the syntax of the sentence, “he did to her, his vow which he had vowed.” This is a common way of expressing in Hebrew that someone did what they were expected to do. For example, this same sentence structure is found in Genesis 21:1: “And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken.” Another example, from the Book of Judges itself reads, “So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the Lord had said to him” (Judg. 6:27). Therefore, the syntax itself clearly communicates that Jephthah offered his daughter without the author having to state it so bluntly.
Jephthah’s attitude–Finally, I would argue that Jephthah’s attitude, when his daughter comes out the door, betrays his self-absorbtion, which further suggests the wrongness of his vow. As many have noted, rather than Jephthah being concerned for his daughter, his reaction is “Alas my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it” (Judg. 11:35). Notice the “you” and “me/I” language in these statements, demonstrating Jephthah’s egocentricity. “You are among those who trouble me”…really? It seems like it’s the other way around! The negative comparisons with Gideon, along with this selfish outburst, clearly portray Jephthah as the kind of person who could make such an incredibly foolish vow.
Conclusion: Jephthah’s Vow / Jephthah’s Daughter
When one adds up the weaknesses of the one position (celibacy), versus the strengths of the other position (burnt offering), it seems that the only correct conclusion can be that Jephthah did indeed offer his daughter as a burnt offering.
What happened to Jephthah’s daughter is more than an academic question. It involves the very purpose of the inspired writer which was to show that when God’s people forsake Him and compromise with the culture around them, chaos and violence are the results. The problem with those who want to redeem the reputation of Judges like Jephthah and Samson is that it distorts one of the powerful messages of the Book of Judges. Along with God’s mercy, the Canaanization of Israel (to use Daniel I. Block’s term), is the main theme of the book. This is a message that is much needed in our world today. The world revels in the idea that everyone should “do what is right in their own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). The church in many places has compromised the message of the truth. It has bowed to the culture and has decided that living among the Canaanites is not so bad. Consequently, the distinct message of the church that there is one true and living God has also been compromised. Ethics, and morality, both in and outside of the church, have also taken a severe hit. The result is a world that continues to become more and more violent and chaotic. Like the Levite’s concubine (Judg. 19), we are no longer safe at home. We are living out the Book of Judges in our own day. This is why we dare not water down its message just because that message makes us uncomfortable with some of its heroes. There are plenty of Gideon’s, Jephthah’s, and Samson’s in the leadership of the church today and all of God’s people need to hear what the outcome of such leadership will be–both good and bad. Like the days of the Judges, we would do well to humbly submit to God’s correction, repent, and seek his forgiveness. Thank God that the Book of Judges also teaches that He is incredibly patient and merciful toward His people!
Jephthah’s Vow (Part 1): What Did Jephthah Do to His Daughter?
The Book of Judges frequently gets a lot of negative press. Stories like the gang rape of a concubine (Judg. 19:25-30), and graphic descriptions of an overweight king having a dagger plunged into his belly (Judg. 3:21-25), or an enemy general having a tent peg driven through his skull (Judg. 4:21; 5:26-27), make many people, understandably, uneasy. Jephthah’s vow concerning his only daughter seems to be another example of the barbarity described in this book (Judg. 11:30-40). But is it? What exactly did Jephthah vow, and what did he do to his daughter? There are two proposed interpretations:
Jephthah offered up his daughter as a whole burnt offering.
Jephthah devoted his daughter to the sanctuary of the Lord as a perpetual virgin, or secluded her away with no hope of marrying and bearing children.
It should be noted at the outset that proponents of both of these views are genuinely seeking to understand and communicate the message of the text. While a majority of commentators opt for proposal number 1 above, there are some who ardently argue for the second proposal. It is suggested that some of the Judges, in particular, Jephthah and Samson, have received a bad rap by recent commentators. I have blogged about an example of this in my article: Samson and the Gaza Prostitute: Did He or Didn’t He?. Scholars such as Gordon P. Hugenberger, Miles Van Pelt, and Rikk Watts, argue for a more positive understanding of Samson, and the role played by the judges in the Book of Judges. One can also find various blogs on the internet defending, what some consider, the questionable actions of Jephthah and Samson (e.g., Miles Van Pelt’s article: What was Samson Doing with a Prostitute in Gaza? at thegospelcoalition.org.; or David Murray’s article: Jephthah’s Perfect Vow at headhearthand.org).
I have no illusions of solving the controversy that has raged over this passage for many centuries, but having studied and taught the Book of Judges for a number of years, my desire is to provide a response to those who look more positively on Jephthah’s vow and actions (proposal number 2 above). So the cat is out of the bag! I am among those who understand Jephthah’s vow and actions as comforming to the first proposal. Based on the language and context, I firmly believe that Jephthah did, misguidedly, offer his daughter up as a whole burnt offering. In this post, I will look at what I perceive to be the weaknesses of proposal 2. I will then follow up with another post suggesting the strengths of proposal 1.
Jephthah’s Vow: Weaknesses of Proposal 2
I will begin with what I believe to be one of the greatest weaknesses of the proposal that Jephthah did not offer his daughter as a burnt offering. Ancient testimony is uniform (both rabbinic and church fathers) in understanding that Jephthah did indeed offer his daughter as a burnt sacrifice. It was only in the Middle Ages that an alternative was first suggested by the respected rabbi, David Kimchi (1160-1235 AD). The following lengthy quote is taken from Keil and Delitzsch’s Old Testament commentary on Judges:”With regard to Jephthah’s vow, the view expressed so distinctly by Josephus and the Chaldee was the one which generally prevailed in the earlier times among both Rabbins and fathers of the church, viz., that Jephthah put his daughter to death and burned her upon the altar as a bleeding sacrifice to Jehovah. It was not till the middle ages that Mos. and Dav. Kimchi and certain other Rabbins endeavoured to establish the view, that Jephthah merely dedicated his daughter to the service of the sanctuary of Jehovah in a lifelong virginity” (Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F., 1996, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 2, p. 280).
The argument I consider the strongest for proposal 2 suggests that the Hebrew conjunction (waw) can be translated as “or” rather than “and” in Jephthah’s vow. Here then are the 2 possible ways of translating Jephthah’s vow in Judges 11:31: a. “Whatever comes out of my house to meet me…shall surely be the Lord’s and I will offer it up as a burnt offering”; or, b. “Whatever comes out of my house to meet me…shall surely be the Lord’s or I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” The biggest problem with accepting the translation “or” instead of “and” is related to the previous argument above. No one in the ancient world (who arguably knew ancient Hebrew better than we do) understood Jephthah to be saying “or.” Furthermore, Trent Butler points out that Jephthah’s vow has 2 presuppositions: 1) God will give Ammon into Jephthah’s hand; and 2) Jephthah will return in peace. Butler then comments, “To the two presuppositions are attached two promises: whatever comes from Jephthah’s house to meet him will be given ‘to Yahweh,’ and such gift will be given by means of a burnt offering” (Trent C. Butler, Judges, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 8, p. 287). Therefore, the translation “and” makes more linguistic sense as it shows how the 2 promises made by Jephthah fit the 2 presuppositions he requests from the Lord.
Those who advocate proposal 2 note that when Jephthah’s daughter asks for 2 months, it is in regard to weeping for her virginity (Judg. 11:37), not weeping because she will be put to death. This argument, however, overlooks the fact that one of the greatest tragedies in the ancient world was not death itself, but the inability to have chidren, and even more so, the extinction of the family line. Thus mourning her virginity is an understandable response. Furthermore, long ago Matthew Henry had one of the greatest rebuttals for this argument when he stated, “Besides, had she only been confined to a single life, she needed not to have desired these two months to bewail it in: she had her whole life before her to do that, if she saw cause” (quoted in Dale Ralph Davis, Judges: Such a Great Salvation, p. 147).
It is sometimes argued that Jephthah had the Spirit and therefore he would not have made such an ungodly vow. This statement is clearly incorrect, as many people who have the Spirit continue to commit sin. The Spirit does not automatically make us perfect people, nor does the Spirit take our free will away from us. Examples of this include Gideon, who in spite of being filled with the Spirit, did not trust God but asked for further confirmation (Judg. 6:34-40); Samson, who received the Spirit on numerous occasions, but frequently ignored his Nazirite vow (Judg. 14-16); Saul, who received the Spirit (1 Sam. 10:10) but continually disobeyed the Lord (1 Sam. 13:13; 15:11) until God finally removed His Spirit (1 Sam. 16:14); and David who committed adultery and murder, but pleaded with the Lord not to remove His Spirit (Ps. 51:11). Those of us who are Christians could also testify to the fact that, although we have the Holy Spirit, we are capable of doing terrible things.
This view also argues that people (men and women) could be devoted to the Lord and serve at the sanctuary. Exodus 38:8 mentions women serving at the sanctuary, as does 1 Samuel 2:22, and the young Samuel is an example of someone who was dedicated to God’s service through the pronouncement of a vow (1 Sam. 1:11). The problem with this assertion is that none of these passages state that virginity was a part of this service. Samuel certainly did not remain celebate all of his life (see 1 Sam. 8:1-3), and the women mentioned in 1 Samuel 2:22 were far from paragons of virtue! Leviticus 27:1-8 is also mentioned as an example of vows concerning people, but as Dale Ralph Davis points out, this passage “has nothing to do with serving at the sanctuary” (Judges: Such a Great Salavation, p. 146), and I would add, it says nothing about celibacy either.
Because Jepthah is mentioned in a positive light in both 1 Samuel 12:11 and Hebrews 11:32, it is therefore argued that he could not possibly have committed such a despicable sin. In my opinion (you’re free to disagree), I believe that this is what motivates and underlies the proposal that Jephthah did not offer up his daughter as a burnt offering. Out of a desire to either defend Jephthah, the Scripture, or both, a misguided attempt is made to explain away the clear meaning of the text. There seems to be a certain amount of embarassment that the Bible would record such an incident, and that a person of faith could be capable of such a thing. Although unintentional, this view presents the unrealistic argument that people of faith can’t make serious mistakes. I have addressed this to a certain extent in argument 4 above regarding the Spirit, but I will expound on it a bit further here. Abraham is also lauded for his faith in Hebrews 11, but this does not mean he is without serious sin. Genesis records 2 occasions when Abraham puts his wife Sarah, as well as God’s promise, in serious jeopardy by lying about her to foreign dignitaries (Gen. 12:10-20; chapter 20). Lot is an excellent example of one who is called righteous in the New Testament (2 Pet. 2:7-8), but an examination of his character in Genesis leaves only a little room for this evaluation. Finally, I have already cited David (see #4 above), a man after God’s own heart, and yet guilty of adultery and murder. Considering these examples (and many others which could be added), to speak of Jephthah’s faith in Hebrews 11, no more acquits him of committing a terrible sin, than it does anyone else. In fact, Judges 12:1-7 demonstrates that Jephthah is capable of the worst kind of sin. Which is worse, to offer one’s daughter as a burnt offering or to slaughter 42,000 fellow-Israelites (from Ephraim)? Clearly, both acts are alarming, but Judges 12 is evidence that “godly” Jephthah is capable of great sin.
In my opinion, every argument employed to explain away Jephthah’s vow as a pious, or at worst, slightly misguided vow, falls apart upon closer examination. In the next post, I will look at the reasons why we should understand the story to clearly teach that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. I will not only argue that this is the correct interpretation, but that to substitute an incorrect interpretation (i.e., the one we have been scrutinizing here), does damage to the inspired message of the Book of Judges–a message desperately needed in the age in which we live.
A good wordplay catches the eye and often communicates an effective message with wit and humor. The names of companies such as “Cane and Able Mobility Healthcare,” or “Curl Up and Dye,” the name of a beauty salon in London, capture people’s attention, while at the same time effectively communicating what their business is about. This particular type of wordplay is known as paronomasia. Puns are also favorite devices for communicating ideas with wit and humor. Among the better known puns, at least among musicians, is Douglas Adams’s statement, “You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Unless of course, you play bass.” For those of a more philosophical bent, Oscar Wilde once quipped, “Immanuel doesn’t pun, he Kant.”
The Use of Wordplay in Samson’s Riddle
Some may not be aware that the Old Testament is also filled with various kinds of wordplay. Of course the wordplay occurs in Hebrew and, therefore, it is not usually possible to communicate it in our English Bibles, but translators give it their best shot when possible. For example, Samson’s riddle to his wedding guests in Judges 14:14, comes through quite well in most English translations. Based on his exploit of killing a lion and later discovering honey in its carcass, which he proceeds to eat, Samson poses the following riddle: “From-the-eater out-came eat[s] and from-the-strong out-came sweet[s]” (translation from Daniel Block, Judges, New American Commentary, p. 433). Although the Hebrew version of the riddle doesn’t rhyme (as Block’s and other English translations do), Samson does use assonance (the use of similar vowel sounds), alliteration (the use of same sounding consonants), and word repetition.
Fun With Names: Paronomasia in the Book of Judges
Although the Book of Judges is not the only book in the Old Testament to play with people’s names, it does have some particularly amusing examples of paronomasia. One of these is found in Judges 3:8, 10. In this short story the Israelite judge, Othniel, battles Cushan Rishathaim from Aram Naharaim. Even in English we can pick up the obvious rhyme between Rishathaim and Naharaim. The NKJV spoils this rhyme by translating Aram Naharaim (which means “Aram/Syria between the 2 rivers”) as Mesopotamia. Besides the obvious rhyme which is a lot of fun to say (try repeating “Cushan Rishathaim from Aram Naharaim” about 5 times!), the name Cushan Rishathaim also is a clever wordplay. The word “Rishathaim” means “doubly wicked.” Cushan may also mean “dark,” and so Cushan Rishathaim means, “the dark doubly wicked one!” Clearly this is not the name that Cushan’s parents gave him! Rather, it is a clever twisting or substituting of vowels to produce a pun that mocks their adversary. The Israelites, and their later Jewish descendants, were famous for making a pun on a name simply by changing a vowel or two. Such a device is similar to modern political cartoons that poke fun at a rival by exagerrating some characteristic of their opponent. Another example of this can be found in Judges 9 when a man named Gaal Ben Ebed strolls into the city of Shechem. Gaal Ben Ebed means “Loathesome son of a slave,” hardly the man’s real name. In cases like this, we will never know the real name of the individual, but we can take an educated guess. For example, by changing a couple of vowels, Gaal becomes “Goel” which means “redeemer.” Were the Israelites making fun of this man whose name may have meant “Redeemer” by calling him “Loathesome?” Remember that when writing ancient Hebrew (much like modern Hebrew) only consonants were used. Therefore, Gaal and Goel would look the same when written out. These examples demonstrate that making fun of a person’s name is not a modern phenomenon, it is a human phenomenon dating back many millennia. While these name changes are not easily detected in English, a good Bible commentary will help identify this use of wordplay.
Words That Look and/or Sound the Same
The technical terms for this kind of wordplay are homographs (words that look the same–“graph” meaning “to write”), homophones (words that sound the same but are spelt differently) and homonyms (words that look and/or sound the same but have different meanings–e.g., “right” and “write”). The prophets were well-known for using this type of wordplay. For example, when Jeremiah was called to be a prophet God says to him in Jeremiah 1:11, “What do you see Jeremiah?” The young prophet responds, “I see a branch of an almondtree.” The Lord responds, “I am watching over my word to perform it” (Jer. 1:12). In Hebrew the word for almond tree is shaqed, while the word for watching is shoqed. Since the almond tree was the first tree to bud in spring, the point of the wordplay is that God’s word will soon come to pass. Once again, only a good commentary will help the English reader, since this wordplay is not obvious in English. In this case, the words are homographs–they look the same–but they are pronounced slightly differently.
My favorite wordplay of this kind occurs in the story of Eli found in 1 Samuel chapters 1-4. We are told on two occasions that Eli has a weight problem. In 1 Samuel 2:29 the Lord accuses Eli and his sons of making themselves “fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel.” Later when Eli dies, the narrator tells us that Eli broke his neck when he fell backwards off his seat because he was old and heavy. The word heavy in Hebrew is kabed. It is from the same root as the Hebrew word for honor which is kabod. The story of Eli emphasizes that he has not honored the Lord (1 Sam. 2:30). Eli’s heaviness is directly related to the lack of honor that he has shown for God because it is his consumption of the stolen meat from the sacrifices that has contributed to his weight problem. The wordplay between kabed and kabod emphasizes the correspondence between the stolen sacrificial meat and the lack of honor given to God. But there is still more to this story. The word kabod which means honor, can also be translated glory in English. After Eli’s death, his daughter-in-law gives birth to a child that she names Ichabod (notice the word chabod, or kabod–it can be spelt either way—in this name). Ichabod means either “no glory,” or “where is the glory?” The child is named Ichabod because, as Eli’s daughter-in-law states, “the glory has departed from Israel” (1 Sam. 4:21-22). When we follow the wordplay through, we come to realize that the story is telling us that because Eli made himself heavy (kabed) and did not honor (kabod) the Lord, the glory (kabod) departed from Israel. I explore this wordplay in more depth in my book Family Portraits: Character Studies in 1 and 2 Samuel.
These are just a few examples of the different ways that the Old Testament uses wordplay. The discovery of wordplay in the Old Testament not only enhances our appreciation for its artistry, more importantly, it helps us to connect with the theology and messages in the biblical text that we might otherwise overlook. For those of you who enjoy a good wordplay, I would love for you to share some of your favorites from the Bible in the comment section below.