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The other night, my daughter (8) was reading the (Christian) Bible aloud. Specifically, she was reading the beginning of the book of Matthew, with the whole 17-verse breakdown of the genealogical link between Abraham and Joseph.

About halfway through, my son (10) said, "If I hear another 'begat', I think my head is going to explode!"

This got us on a conversational train that led to talking about Biblical passages that don't make much sense to us. For me, one of the biggies is the story of Jephthah in chapter 11 of Judges.

In short, Jephthah makes a vow to God that if he wins a particular battle, he'll sacrifice, as a burnt offering, whomever he sees first when he returns home. That "whomever" turns out to be his daughter -- his only child -- and, after much wailing and a grace period, he fulfills his vow.

"I have no idea what to make of that one," I told my children.

"Maybe it's 'Don't make creepy gambles'?" my son mused.

Maybe so. That's a rule I'm willing to live by, for sure.

It does remind me, though, of my lack of trusted sources to turn to when considering biblical interpretation.

I'd love to hear some recommendations. All viewpoints are welcome -- nonreligious, Jewish, Christian (of various stripes); that said, recommendations will be most helpful for me when I know what the viewpoint or perspective is, so if you could include that with your recommendation, that would be lovely.

Thanks in advance!
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Since I am a believer, I'm not as familiar with non-christian resources. That being said. a couple Christian resources I have found helpful are:

www.Crosswalk.com This is a great on-line resource, with instant availability of multiple biblical translations, as well as several commentaries.

Warren Wiersbe is a prolific Christian author, who's primary contribution what is known as the "Be" series, which is a collection of commentaries on all the books of the Bible. They are an excellent resource, and I've used them several times for a Men's Bible Study.

As far as that passage goes, I think your son had the right idea. It's a perfect illustration of exactly why we should be very careful as to how and when we make vows, and as to what we vow. A New Testament passage that discusses this further is Matthew 5:33-37

I hope this helps. Kudos to you for not just dismissing this, but trying to understand it.
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There was one passage I always wondered about where Jesus kills a fig tree for no apparent reason. Maybe he had allergies?
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I am a 96% secular humanist with 72% Zen Buddhist tendencies, and I believe that you should either sacrifice your Christian Bible on a pyre as soon as you read that passage the first time, or chop off 72% of your hand for even asking the question.
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This article does a nice job explaining some things about that story. I would like to point out one sections

Dennis Bratcher wrote:
We are supposed to recoil from the monstrosity of Jephthah’s actions. The later community of Israel who included this story in the biblical traditions knew how wrong child sacrifice was, so there would be no mistaking this for a model of right behavior. It would be another example of what happens when God’s people become confused in their thinking about who is really God and how God works in the world. This becomes another lesson for Israel that God will not be manipulated by magical incantations or bargains that we strike with him on our own terms. That is precisely what Jephthah tried to do in making his vow to sacrifice the first thing that met him on his return home, if only God would help him win a battle. God did not need that bargain to aid Jephthah. Jephthah was yet another tragic figure in Judges who had not yet learned enough about God to know that God does not respond to magic or bargains, which lay at the heart of Ba’al worship. Jephthah’s battle against the Ammonites was not won because of his vow, but because of God’s presence (11:32). His lack of faith in God, and understanding of who God is, cost him his daughter.
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Rashi comments on 11:39 that he killed her for honor, not for God or law - and so was punished. If he had gone to the priests, the vow would have been nullified.

http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15819/showrashi/...
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I'd be most interested to hear Jewish interpretations of this story.

This story was written down and passed on in a Jewish context for ?"quite some time". Unless we know what sense they were making of it and how, then we are likely to impose or discover new and perhaps novel interpretations.

Which is fine but we'll possibly miss experiencing the changes in understandings of the Christian God.

EDIT:
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Obviously Jephthah knew that either his wife, his daughter or his dog would come out to greet him first. He had a 1 in 3 shot of getting rid of the annoying dog, and he figured that the worst case scenario was that his wife would beat the dog to the door. It never even entered his mind that his daughter would beat the dog to the door. She was slovenly, and teenaged, and just hung around listening to her playlist all day. When he agreed to let her take off for two months afterward, he was really just trying to figure out how much he'd save on tuition for her veterinary college. In the alternate, Ashkenazi, version it is the neighbor's Asimo robot that opens the door and crosses the threshold first, and nobody gives a damn when Jephthah burns that thing to a crisp. Except for the neighbor, of course, who mispronounces a word and gets beaten to a pulp anyway.

I forgot before that I'm about 38% Reform Jew, and 22% Orthodox. So, there're my credentials for that interpretation, Pinook.
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Re: that passage Judges 11:29-40

The Bible does not contain any wording in that passage that condones or lauds this action. My Bible, in the summary at the beginning of the chapter, calls it a rash vow.
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MisterCranky wrote:
So, there're my credentials for that interpretation, Pinook.

You won't get away hiding your obvious quaker-ism.
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If you want an interpretation that has the daughter only pledging life-long virginity and service to God then
http://uk.video.yahoo.com/watch/4929230

This link is fine example of why I'd like to know the range of Jewish interpretations and understandings of this story.
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Pinook wrote:
If you want an interpretation that has the daughter only pledging life-long virginity and service to God then
http://uk.video.yahoo.com/watch/4929230

This link is fine example of why I'd like to know the range of Jewish interpretations and understandings of this story.

Basically Yiftach according to most opinions did indeed kill his daughter. The story is seen as an example why one should not have a leader of the Jewish people who is not learned in Jewish law. Yiftach however was too proud to go to the leader of the Sanhedrin, Eli the Kohen, to ask the question as he should have because he felt he was the leader of the Jewish people at the time. Eli the Kohen is also criticized for not going to Yiftach when the story became known but his pride stopped him. The oath had no standing in Jewish law and certainly should not have been fulfilled. The point of the story is both that a leader needs to know our Law and that the parts of Jewish leadership need to work together, especially not putting one's own pride above the welfare and here life of a person.
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You may enjoy this sermon from my ex-colleague, who is more conservative than me, but a far more diligent exegete. My church an entire sermon series on Judges, and I like my contributions.

My take on the subject (which I thankfully missed) is that the vow was totally misguided, and a sign of ego over piety.
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An old (1901-1906) "Jewish Encyclopedia" at
http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8584-jephthah
gives interpretations.

(I find the sentences/ "However, they were particular about their honor, and as a result she was destroyed." at http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/15819/showrashi/... very chilling and evokative of honour killings.)
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whac3 wrote:

Basically Yiftach according to most opinions did indeed kill his daughter. The story is seen as an example why one should not have a leader of the Jewish people who is not learned in Jewish law. Yiftach however was too proud to go to the leader of the Sanhedrin, Eli the Kohen, to ask the question as he should have because he felt he was the leader of the Jewish people at the time. Eli the Kohen is also criticized for not going to Yiftach when the story became known but his pride stopped him. The oath had no standing in Jewish law and certainly should not have been fulfilled. The point of the story is both that a leader needs to know our Law and that the parts of Jewish leadership need to work together, especially not putting one's own pride above the welfare and here life of a person.


I think that's a great lesson for all potential leaders of the Jewish people to learn, but in the absence of a lot of candidates for that post, I take from it that crying about your virginity for two months is less productive overall than losing it.
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Cranky;

It was a hreat loss and tragedy. The navi at the time made it very clear they both had blood on their hands for having not listening to his instructions to work it out between them.

As for the rest, there are still leaders of the Jewish people today. The Jewish people just no longer is the same as a nation-state.
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Going broader than this specific passage, I would look for books on hermeneutics. These are general principles for how to interpret something, in this case Scripture.

The main hermeneutical principle I hold to is "Scripture interprets Scripture." This simply means that no text exists in a vacuum and a hard passage should be looked at in light of clearer passages.

Others will disagree on the principle, but it is important to have some perspective if you want to do some semi-independent exegesis.

If you just want to see different perspectives on a particular passage, I would check out some commentaries from the library. If you don't like what is available at your local library, try an inter-library loan. I find 3 or 4 on a book of the Bible pretty enlightening, especially where they all agree and where they all vehemently disagree.
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whac3 wrote:
Cranky;

It was a hreat loss and tragedy. The navi at the time made it very clear they both had blood on their hands for having not listening to his instructions to work it out between them.

As for the rest, there are still leaders of the Jewish people today. The Jewish people just no longer is the same as a nation-state.


Moshe, here's the thing: It's great to know and practice the law as G-d has decreed it, but you don't have to stray very far in Judges to find where "G-d forces people to forget His law when it serves His purpose" is used as a plot device that, frankly, I reject out of hand as laughably self-serving on the part of the authors.
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chiddler wrote:

The Jewish God wasn't very pleasant.

The Christian god is incompatible with the Jewish God no matter how often people insist otherwise.


Yes, yes...the Christian God was a delight at parties and always good for a laugh. Unless you were his son, then it was all "screw you, kid."
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chiddler wrote:

one, or both of these views of god is therefore false, and the Bible is the unreliable work of human beings.

Would you like to share the basis of your rejection of the possibilities that 1. the Christian understandings of God is evolving, and/or 2. God is evolving?
 
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Cranky;

You've been reading something, but not Jewish sources.
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I don't know, I think it was probably a Scrooge McDuck comic when I was about 8 or 9 years old. It probably featured the Beagle Boys. I blame them for leading me down the garden path about this stuff. I'd like to see them try to refute it, too!

Oh, okay, I felt a little guilty about blaming the blameless Beagle Boys for my behavior. Let's pull the relevant passage from those Goyim at jewishencyclopedia.com to which I was hazily referring:

—In Rabbinical Literature:

Jephthah is represented by the Rabbis as an insignificant person. That vain men gathered about him (Judges xi. 3) was an illustration of the proverb that a sterile date-palm associates with fruitless trees (B. Ḳ. 92b). His name being mentioned in connection with Samuel's (I Sam. xii. 11) shows that even the most insignificant man, when appointed to a position of importance,must be treated by his contemporaries as if his character were equal to his office (R. H. 25b). He is classed with the fools who do not distinguish between vows (Eccl. R. iv. 7); he was one of the three men (Ta'an. 4a), or according to other authorities one of the four men (Gen. R. lx. 3), who made imprudent vows, but he was the only one who had occasion to deplore his imprudence. According to some commentators, among whom were Ḳimḥi and Levi b. Gershom, Jephthah only kept his daughter in seclusion. But in Targ. Yer. to Judges xi. 39 and the Midrash it is taken for granted that Jephthah immolated his daughter on the altar, which is regarded as a criminal act; for he might have applied to Phinehas to absolve him from his vow. But Jephthah was proud: "I, a judge of Israel, will not humiliate myself to my inferior." Neither was Phinehas, the high priest, willing to go to Jephthah. Both were punished: Jephthah died by an unnatural decaying of his body; fragments of flesh fell from his bones at intervals, and were buried where they fell, so that his body was distributed in many places (comp. Judges xii. 7, Hebr.). Phinehas was abandoned by the Holy Spirit (Gen. R. l.c.).

The Rabbis concluded also that Jephthah was an ignorant man, else he would have known that a vow of that kind is not valid; according to R. Johanan, Jephthah had merely to pay a certain sum to the sacred treasury of the Temple in order to be freed from the vow; according to R. Simeon ben Laḳish, he was free even without such a payment (Gen. R. l.c.; comp. Lev. R. xxxvii. 3). According to Tan., Beḥuḳḳotai, 7, and Midrash Haggadah to Lev. xxvii. 2, even when Jephthah made the vow God was irritated against him: "What will Jephthah do if an unclean animal comes out to meet him?" Later, when he was on the point of immolating his daughter, she inquired, "Is it written in the Torah that human beings should be brought as burnt offerings?" He replied, "My daughter, my vow was, 'whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house.'" She answered, "But Jacob, too, vowed that he would give to Yhwh the tenth part of all that Yhwh gave him (Gen. xxviii. 22); did he sacrifice any of his sons?" But Jephthah remained inflexible. His daughter then declared that she would go herself to the Sanhedrin to consult them about the vow, and for this purpose asked her father for a delay of two months (comp. Judges xi. 37). The Sanhedrin, however, could not absolve her father from the vow, for God made them forget the Law in order that Jephthah should be punished for having put to death 42,000 Ephraimites (Judges xii. 6).S. S. M. Sel.

Read more: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8584-jephthah
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Pinook wrote:
chiddler wrote:

one, or both of these views of god is therefore false, and the Bible is the unreliable work of human beings.

Would you like to share the basis of your rejection of the possibilities that 1. the Christian understandings of God is evolving, and/or 2. God is evolving?


If God can only be truly known through Scripture and Scripture is God revealing Himself, then the Christian understanding of God can't evolve in the real since of the word. I might see the argument that we can better conform, but in truth, I don't think anything new has been brought to the table that is genuinely Christian in a long time.

As to your second point, if God is complete he cannot evolve.

What would you postulate that God evolves into anyway?

The tactic I would take is to point out Chiddler's shocking lack of Biblical literacy and general willingness to make extreme and unfounded assertions. He says that the Jewish God is unpleasant and leaps to the assertion that God in the OT and God in the NT are completely incompatible based on absolutely nothing.

He then uses that unfounded assertion to claim that the Bible is the unreliable work of human beings.

The funny things is that he is one of the loudest proponents of rationalism here, but there is nothing rational about this argument.
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But you must ask yourself the fundamental question: Does he give a damn whether anybody takes his opinions on this topic seriously? Because if he doesn't, then it all starts to make sense.
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Benjro wrote:

If God can only be truly known through Scripture and Scripture is God revealing Himself, ....

I disagree with this. If there is a God then that God seems free to continue revelation in whatever manner.

Benjro wrote:
As to your second point, if God is complete he cannot evolve.

What would you postulate that God evolves into anyway?

I'm unsure that God is complete. So "more God". Perhaps in a similar way to "more Benjro". (I'm not much of a Biblical Christian.)

Benjro wrote:
The tactic I would take is to point out Chiddler's shocking lack of Biblical literacy and general willingness to make extreme and unfounded assertions. He says that the Jewish God is unpleasant and leaps to the assertion that God in the OT and God in the NT are completely incompatible based on absolutely nothing.

He then uses that unfounded assertion to claim that the Bible is the unreliable work of human beings.

The funny things is that he is one of the loudest proponents of rationalism here, but there is nothing rational about this argument.

I was trying to sneak up on him and catch him unawares.
I had't got to what to do after that though. Push him into a pond?
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