Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jephthah's Daughter and Iphigeneia

Originally Posted by DCMorrison
Hi everyone. One of today's readings for Mass contained the tragic story of Jephthah's Daughter (Judges 11:29-39a). Essentially, Jephthah makes a vow to God that if God gives him victory over the Ammonites (something which presumbably God wants anyway) he will sacrifice the first person who comes out from his house to greet him on his return. Sacrifice meaning "burnt offering" with the person being burnt.

Now, I am intrigued as to how the Church understands this passage, especially in the light of the passage where God actually appears to call on Abram for human sacrifice but then relents - and which leaves the impression that God did not accept human sacrifice in part to make the distinction between Himself and the idols worshipped widely (Baal, Molech and the like). Is it merely a case of the near-east prejudice that sacrificing a daughter would be somehow acceptable but sacrificing a son would not be? How does the Church understand this apparent contradiction between Isaac and Jephthah's Daughter (who is not even named)?

## I have a theory about this

The plot is similar to some other stories. For example, in Greek mythology, Agamenon, the leader of the army against Troy, has to sacrifice his daughter Iphigeneia before the fleet can set sail. When he does so, Iphigeneia is snatched away & a doe replaces her; she herself has been taken to Tauris, among the savage Thracians, were she becomes a priestess of Artemis, the goddess whom Agamemnon (or a member of his family) offended, thereby causing Artemis to stop the fleet sailing. (In the end, although Agamemnon is murdered by his wife and her lover, his son and another daughter are re-united.)

In both stories:
  • the father sets out to go to war
  • he does something to set a god in motion: by a vow, or by offending the god
  • he loses his daughter
  • she is taken away fron everyday civilised life...
  • and is given over to the god

Isaac, like Iphigeneia, is replaced by an animal.

Genesis has quite few stories in it which are like Biblical stories outside it and which have points of contact with various non-Biblical tales.

Suggestion: the Biblical accounts are using the same sorts of motifs as the non-Biblical tales which resemble them.

Mesha king of Moab sacrificed his son to Chemosh, the national god of Moab, to gain victory over Israel - according to his account, on the "Mesha Stela", with success. A son was the most valuable possible sacrifice, because he was the person who would perpetuate the family name, and, if an eldest son, the identity of the nation. The king personified the nation in the ANE, so to kill the male heir was a pretty desperate step: and so, a good way of ensuring Divine favour - because one can hardly give a god more than one's own son. Conversely, as Greek legends and the OT show, giving an inferior offering was a gross insult, which was sure to bring severe punishment: gods tended to be rather touchy on this point.

A less deadly way of serving a god is to give one's offspring to the life-long service of a god - the gift of Samuel to the service of God at Shiloh is an OT example of this. The Iphigeneia story is another, outside the Bible. That's what an "oblate" is - someone "offered" to the service of God. ##

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