Jephthah (also spelled Jephtha; from Hebrew יפתח "Yiftach" / "YipthaIPA|χ)" is a character in the Hebrew Bible's Book of Judges, serving as a judge over Israel for a period of six years ("Judges" 12:7). He lived in Gilead and was a member of the Tribe of Manasseh. His father's name was also Gilead.


The Israelites "again did what was evil in the eyes of God...they abandoned God and did not worship him. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites ..." (Judges 10:6-7).

Jephthah is driven out by his half-brothers, and takes up his dwelling in Tob, east of Gilead. "There gathered around him some worthless ["empty"] men, and they went out with him." (Judges 11:3) The elders of Gilead ask him to be their leader in the campaign against the Ammonites, but he holds out for a more permanent and a broader position, and the elders agree that provided Jephthah succeeds in defeating Ammon he will be their permanent chieftain. On behalf of Israel as a whole, and in reliance on the might of God the Judge, Jephthah challenges the Ammonites. The spirit of God comes upon Jephthah and he swears an oath:

:"Whatever/whoever emerges and comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be God’s, and I shall sacrifice him/her/it as a holocaust." [The words translated here as "sacrifice" are capable of other readings, and the ambiguity has been the subject of much discussion - see below.] (Judges 11:31 - a holocaust is a burnt offering).

The victorious Jephthah is met on his return by his daughter, his only child. Jephthah tears his clothes and cries, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low!" but is bound by his vow: "I have given my word to God, and I cannot go back on it"(Judges 11:35). The girl asks for two months' grace, "... that I may go down on the mountains ... and bewail my virginity" (Judges 11:37). And so Jephthah "carried out his vow with her which he had vowed" (Judges 11:39). The story ends by recounting how "the daughters of Israel went four days each year to celebrate about [The translation is uncertain: it might mean "celebrate/recount/talk about", or alternatively "lament", or even "to talk with".] the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite" (Judges 11:40).

Later, Jephthah went to war against the Ephraimites, who refused to acknowledge him. The story is remembered for the killing of the fugitive Ephraimites who were identified by their accent; they said the Hebrew word "shibboleth" as "sibboleth". "And there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand." (Judges 12:5-6).

He is commemorated as one of the Holy Forefathers in the Calendar of Saints of the Armenian Apostolic Church on July 30.

Link to painting of JEPHTHAH by John Opie RA (THE CORNISH WONDER) [ link title]

See also

*Biblical judges
*"Jephtas Gelübde", an opera on the story by Meyerbeer.


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  • JEPHTHAH — (Heb. חָתְפִיּ), judge of Israel for six years and victor over the Ammonites (Judg. 11:1–12:7). According to Judges, Jephthah was the son of a harlot, and his father s name is given as Gilead. Jephthah is described as a Gileadite warrior. After… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Jephthah — biblical judge of Israel, from Gk. Iephthae, from Heb. Yiphtah, lit. God opens, imperf. of pathah he opened (Cf. pethah opening, entrance ) …   Etymology dictionary

  • Jephthah — [jef′thə] n. [Heb Yiphtáh, lit., God opens] Bible a judge who sacrificed his daughter in fulfillment of a vow: Judg. 11:30 40 …   English World dictionary

  • Jephthah — /jef theuh/, n. a judge of Israel. Judges 11, 12. * * * ▪ Hebrew leader       a judge or regent (often a hero figure) of Israel who dominates a narrative in the Book of Judges, where he is presented as an exemplar of faith for Israel in its… …   Universalium

  • Jephthah —    Whom God sets free, or the breaker through, a mighty man of valour who delivered Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites (Judg. 11:1 33), and judged Israel six years (12:7). He has been described as a wild, daring, Gilead mountaineer, a… …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • Jephthah — An Israelite ‘Judge’ for six years, probably in the century before the establishment of the monarchy of Saul (c.1050 BCE). After a period of exile, Jephthah was recalled to Gilead by the elders and persuaded to lead an expedition against the… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • Jephthah's vow —    (Judg. 11:30, 31). After a crushing defeat of the Ammonites, Jephthah returned to his own house, and the first to welcome him was his own daughter. This was a terrible blow to the victor, and in his despair he cried out, Alas, my daughter!… …   Easton's Bible Dictionary

  • Jephthah — (fl. c. 12th cent, BCE)    Israelite judge. When Gilead was threatened by the Ammonites, he went to war against them. Before he engaged in battle, he vowed to sacrifice to God whatever came first from his house should he return safely. To his… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • JEPHTHAH —    one of the Judges of Israel, famed for his rash vow in the event of victory to offer in sacrifice the first object that came out of his house on his return, and which happened to be his daughter and only child, and whom it would seem he… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Jephthah — /ˈdʒɛfθə/ (say jefthuh) noun Bible a judge of Israel. Judges 11–14 …  

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