Judges 11:34, Human Sacrifice to Yahweh

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.

//One of the more troubling, and thus passionate, debates among scholars is whether or not Israelites at one time sacrificed children to their god, Yahweh. The practice is roundly condemned by the prophet Jeremiah, and the book of Numbers indicates that a person guilty of human sacrifice is to be stoned. Yet verses in the Bible seem to indicate it was an acceptable practice at one time. I addressed this in a two-part series some time ago:



However, outside the story of Abraham and Isaac, we find no examples of it happening, except this one in today’s verse. Jephthah, victorious in battle, vows to give God the first thing that meets him as he returns home. It turns out to be his only daughter.

This story is significant because Jephthah knows God expects him to complete his vow. He knows that his daughter is an acceptable sacrifice to God, though he wishes dearly it were not the case (see v. 35). Even his daughter recognizes that God expects her to be sacrificed (v. 36).

So in verse 39, Jephthah carries out his vow, and offers his daughter as a burnt offering to God.


  1. I know before Josiah became King that the Israelites practiced Child sacrifices but that was because they left the cult of yahweh. It’s difficult at times for us to completely understand the Israelites during the time of the old testament since most of the information we know is only about the religion of yahweh and nothing else. It was not the only practice of the Jews at that time. Most people never realize this. I read one book that was excellent, ” The Hebrew Goddess” written by Patei. It talked about a cult of Hebrews who continued to worship a goddess and even diefied shekinah into somewhat of a goddess…but I detour from the original. Sorry. I do believe that even though the yahwehists forbade human sacrifices we find many instances where the Jews at times burnt many temples to other g-ds, and destroyed many idols in their land. We can only assume from this that the jewish people were divided in their religious practices just as we are our day. There does seem to be ample evidence that says so.

  2. This is a deceptive post. Nothing indicates a human sacrifice is acceptable to God. Full context, from HCSB:
    29: The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah, who traveled through Gilead and Mansaseh, and then through Mizpah of Gilead. He crossed over to the Ammonites from Mizpah of Gilead.
    30-31: Jephthah made his vow to Yahweh: “If You wil hand over the Ammonites to me, whatever comes out of the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites will belong to Yahweh, and I will offer it as a burnt offering.”
    32-33: Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and Yahweh handed them over to him. He defeated 20 of their cities with a great slaughter from Aroer all the way to the entrance of Minnith and to Abelkeramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the Israelites.
    34-35: When Jephthah went to his home in Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was his only child; he had no other son or daughter besides her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “No! Not my daughter! You have devastated me! You have brought great misery on me. I have given word to Yahweh and cannot take it back.”
    36-37: Then she said to him, “my father, you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me as you have said, for Yahweh brought vengeance on your enemies, the Ammonites.” She also said to her father, “Let me do this one thing: Let me wander two months through the mountains with my friends and mourn my virginity.”
    38-40: “Go,” he said. And he sent her away for two months. So she left with her friends and mourned her virginity as she wandered through the mountains. At the en of two months, she returned to her father, and he kept the vow he had made about her. And she had never been intimate with a man. Now it became a custom in Israel that the four days each year the young women of Israel would commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

    HCSB Scholarly Assessment:
    11:29-33: The spirit of the Lord came on Jephthat, empowering him for action. He toured Gilead and Manasseh to muster his troops and headed out against the Ammonites. Yahweh in return gave him victory over the Ammonites, from Aroer all the way to…Minnith and to Abel-keramim, three towns that defined the traditional border between Israel and Ammon. In between empowerment and victory, though, there was an intervening episode that undermined Jephthah’s triumph. Jephthat sought to ensure the Lord’s favor by vowing to sacrifice as a whole burnt offering whatever [or whoever] came out of the doors of his house to greet him after he had won his victory.
    It seems probable that Jephthah had a human sacrifice in mind, since animals do not normally come out to greet the returning troops. Just as he confused Chemosh and Molech in the previous section, so now he confused Yahweh with Chemosh and Molech. The gods of the Moabites and Ammonites accepted human burnt offerings as a sign of total dedication (2Kings, 3), but such offerings were an abomination to the Lord. Yahweh would have delivered Israel anyway, without Jephthah’s rash vow.

    11:34-35: After the victory, Jephthah’s vow came back to haunt him. The one coming out to meet him was his daughter, with tambourines and dancing, the traditional greeting for a returning hero. She was his only daughter and so sacrificing her left him childless. Jephthah tore his clothes and mourned her loss, though his mourning was not so much for her but for himself.

    11:36-40: Jepthah’s daughter was very different from her father. She had no recriminations for him, only and exhortation to fulfill his vow, just as Yahweh had fulfilled the conditions. Unlike Abraham, whose faithfulness to God’s demand resulted in a multitude of descendants, Jephthah’s offer of an abomination resulted in the complete cutting off of his line. That is part of what made the fact that she would die a virgin something to be mourned. She died unfulfilled because she would never get married and have children. Such a fate would normally condemn someone to be numbered among the unremembered in Israel. However, though Jephthah’s daughter has no name in the text, the young women of Israel honored her memory year after year.

    • deepika pathak

      Thank you so much for the beautiful interpretation of the excerpt! As it is mentioned in Eccle5:2 “be not rash with your mouth nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God.”

  3. deepika pathak

    Thank you so much for the beautiful interpretation of the excerpt! As it is mentioned in Eccle5:2 “be not rash with your mouth nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God.”

  4. He did not sacrifice her. He knew enough that ,Yahweh detested human sacrifices and also there is a way of redeeming a burnt offering. Phineas was high priest at that time and would definitely not allobe human sacrifice. Most likely he redeemed his daughter but she spent her life as a virgin. That’s why the maidens mourn S her virginity

    • Dr. Ramón de Torres

      Jepthah’s daughter seemed unusually compliantfor someone about to be executed. Yes?

      Why is it of all things one thinks of before death, she mounrned her virginity?

      Because Jeptha never sacrificer her to Yahwe. in scripture there are ways to substitute or redeem a sacrifice. He obviously redeemed her but the price was that she would never marry nor have children.

      This article is a fraudulent expose of something that never needed explication.

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