Chap. XIV.

Of the Picture of Jephthah sacrificing his daughter.

THE hand of the Painter confidently setteth forth the picture of Jephthah in the posture of Abraham, sacrificing his only daughter: Thus is it commonly received, and hath had the attest of many worthy Writers. Notwithstanding upon enquiry we find the matter doubtful, and many upon probable grounds to have beene of another opinion: conceiving in this oblation not a natural but a civil kind of death, and a separation only unto the Lord. For that he pursued not his vow unto a literal oblation, there want not arguments both from the Text1 and reason.[2]

For first, It is evident that she deplored her Virginity, and not her death; Let me go up and down the mountains, and bewail my Virginity, I and my fellows.

Secondly, When it is said, that Jephthah did unto her according unto his vow, it is immediately subjoyned, Et non cognovit virum, and she knew no man; which as immediate in words, was probably most near in sense unto the vow.

Thirdly, It is said in the Text, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to talk with the daughter of Jephthah four dayes in the year; which had she been sacrificed, they could not have done: For whereas the word is sometime translated to lament, yet doth it also signifie to talk or have conference with one, and by Tremellius, who was well able to Judge of the Original, it is in this sense translated: Ibant filiæ Israelitarum, ad confabulandum cum filia Jephthaci, quatuor diebus quotannis: And so it is also set down in the marginal notes of our Translation. And from this annual concourse of the daughters of Israel, it is not improbable in future Ages, the daughter of Jephthah came to be worshipped as a Deity; and had by the Samaritans an annual festivity observed unto her honour, as Epiphanius hath left recorded in the Heresie of the Melchisedicians.

It is also repugnant unto reason; for the offering of mankind was against the Law of God, who so abhorred humane sacrifice, that he admitted not the oblation of unclean beasts, and confined his Altars but unto few kinds of Animals, the Ox, the Goat, the Sheep, the Pigeon and its kinds: In the cleansing of the Leper, there is I confess, mention made of the Sparrow;[3] but great dispute may be made whether it be properly rendred. And therefore the Scripture with indignation oft-times makes mention of humane sacrifice among the Gentiles; whose oblations scarce made scruple of any Animal, sacrificing not only Man, but Horses, Lions, Æagles; and though they come not into holocausts, yet do we read the Syrians did make oblations of fishes unto the goddes Derceto. It being therefore a sacrifice so abominable unto God, although he had pursued it, it is not probable the Priests and Wisdom of Israel would have permitted it; and that not only in regard of the subject or sacrifice it self, but also the sacrificator, which the Picture makes to be Jephthah; who was neither Priest, nor capable of that Office: for he was a Gileadite, and as the Text affirmeth, the son also of an harlot. And how hardly the Priest-hood woud endure encroachment upon their function, a notable example there is in the Story of Ozias.[4]

Secondly, The offering up of his daughter was not only unlawful, and entrenched upon his Religion, but had been a course that had much condemned his discretion; that is, to have punished himself in the strictest observance of his vow, when as the Law of God had allowed an evasion; that is, by way of commutation or redemption, according as is determined, Levit. 27. Whereby if she were between the age of five and twenty, she was to be estimated but at ten shekels, and if between twenty and sixty, not above thirty. A sum that could never discourage an indulgent Parent; it being but the value of a servant slain; the inconsiderable Salary of Judas; and will make no greater noise than three pound fifteen shillings with us. And therefore their conceit is not to be exploded, who say that from the Story of Jephthah sacrificing his owne daughter, might spring the fable of Agamemnon, delivering unto sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, who was also contemporary unto Jephthah:: wherein to answere the ground that hinted it, Iphigenia was not sacrificed her self, but redeemed with an Hart, which Diana accepted for her.

Lastly, Although his vow run generally for the words, Whatsoever shall come forth, &c., Yet might it be restrained in the sense, for whatsoever was sacrificable, and justly subject to lawful immolation: and so would not have sacrificed either Horse or Dog, if they had come out upon him. Nor was he obliged by oath unto a strict observation of that which promissorily was unlawful; or could he be qualified by vow to commit a fact which naturally was abominable. Which doctrine had Herod understood, it might have saved Iohn Baptists head; when he promised by oath to give unto Herodias whatsoever she would ask; that is, if it were in the compass of things, which he could lawfully grant. For his oath made not that lawful which was illegal before: and if it were unjust to murder John, the supervenient Oath did not extenuate the fact, or oblige the Juror unto it.

Now the ground at least which much promoted the opinion, might be the dubious words of the text, which contain the sense of his vow; most men adhering unto their common and obvious acception. Whatsoever shall come forth of the doors of my house shall surely be the Lords, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. Now whereas it is said, Erit Jehovæ, & offeram illud holocaustum, The word signifying both & and aut, it may be taken disjunctively, aut offeram, that is, it shall either be the Lords by separation, or else, an holocaust by common oblation, even as our marginal translation advertiseth; and as Tremellius rendreth it, Erit inquam Jehovæ, aut offeram illud holocaustum; and for the vulgar translation, it useth often & where aut must be presumed, as Exod. 21. Si quis percusserit patrem & matrem, that is not both, but either. There being therefore two waies to dispose of her, either to separate her unto the Lord, or offer her as a sacrifice, it is of no necessity the latter should be necessary; and surely less derogatory unto the sacred text and history of the people of God, must be the former.


My notes (and other people's) are in square brackets [ ]; addenda from manuscripts are in curly braces { }; Browne's own marginalia are unmarked. Ross denies any possibility other than that of Jephtha's murdering his daughter, Arcana Microcosmi II.12, with a vehemence that borders on the psychotic, and is perhaps explainable by a Protestant distaste for the cloister (or perhaps something more sinister? one never can tell with Ross).

1 Iudg. 11.39. [Judges:

[11:30] And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
[31] Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
[32] So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands.
[33] And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
[34] And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
[35] And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
[36] And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.
[37] And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
[38] And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
[39] And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
[40] That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.]

2 [Wilkin: The observations of Dr. Adam Clarke on this very interesting question, are so spirited and satisfactory, that I must insert them. Judg. xi, 31 — "The translation of which, according to the most accurate Hebrew scholars, is this — 'I will consecrate it to the Lord; OR, I will offer it a burnt-offering:' that is, 'if it be a thing fit for a burnt-offering, it shall be made one: if fit for the service of God, it shall be consecrated to him.' That conditions of this kind must have been implied in the vow is evident enough; to have been made without them it must have been the vow of a heathen or a madman. If a dog had met him, this could not have been made a burnt-offering; and if his neighbour's or friend's wife, son, or daughter, &c. had been returning from a visit to his family, his vow gave him no right over them. Besides, human sacrifices were ever an abomination to the Lord; and this was one of the grand reasons why God drave out the Canaanites, &c. because they offered their sons and daughters to Moloch, in the fire; i.e. made burnt-offerings of them, as is generally supposed. That Jephthah was a deeply pious man, appears in the whole of his conduct; and that he was well acquainted with the law of Moses, — is evident enough from his expostulation with the king and people of Ammon, verse 14 to 27. Therefore it must be granted that he never made that rash vow which several suppose he did; nor was he capable, if he had, of executing it in that most shocking manner which some Christian writers (tell it not in Gath) have contended for. He could not commit a crime which himself had just now been an executor of God's justice to punish in others."]

3 [Lev. 14, where turtledoves and pigeons are also mentioned. The AV has "birds" rather than "sparrows" per se.]

4 [Or Uzziah; 2 Chronicles 15-21. He is punished by becoming a leper and an outcast from the house of the Lord unto the end of his days.]

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