CONTEXT: The chapter 10 template section (Deuteronomist historian’s didactic framework for stories) is especially vivid here and concludes with a segue to our story.
            Yiftach is most remembered for making a burnt offering of his daughter in return for victory. Like Iphigenia with Agamemnon, the unnamed daughter, is a willing victim of her flawed father. (The Trojan War and Book of Judges are both 13th -12th century BCE “history.”) Our story characterizes Yiftach as born to a whore, coarse term, and thus a bastard in the vernacular and literary sense, base–cf Edmund in King Lear, 1:2. In the urgency described in chapter 10, the very ones who drove Yiftach out of legitimate society see advantage in his bastardry and invite him back to be their leader.
            Human sacrifice was not unknown among our ancestors. His city besieged in the  The 9th century King Mesha of Moav, his city besieged by kings of both Yisrael and Y’hudah, sacrifices his first born son in plain sight, on the city wall, and that act turns the tide of battle. (2 Kings 3:27) The 8th century prophet Michah lists filicide along with the agricultural offerings that Yahh requires none of. (Mi 6:7) The 7th century King M’nasheh is criticized for a list of pagan practices including passing his son through fire. (2 Kings 21:6) Yirm’yahu, in the 6th century, cries out against burning sons and daughters in GeyChinom. (Jer 7:31). Deuteronomy and Leviticus contain prohibitions of passing children through fire. (Deut 18:10, Lev 18:21) And, the Akedah story, “The Binding of Isaac,” seems to have been written to make the point that God does not demand human sacrifice even when a person is prepared to sacrifice or be sacrificed. (Gen 22) The narrator of our story has no word of condemnation for Yiftach’s act, and likely expected the audience to consider such behavior typical of a bastard. A fascinating possibility is that the entire story was made up to make sense of an otherwise bizarre annual observance (11:40) among women in Gil’ad.
            Yiftach’s detailed diplomatic appeal to the Amonite king appears to have been added later. Borders shifted depending on which nation was in ascendency. The king might have a plausible claim to territory occupied by Gad and R’uven, but Yiftach’s reply seems directed towards Moabites. B’neyAmon are not mentioned along with Edom and the Emori, to whom Mosheh is said to have made unsuccessful requests for passage. (Num 20:14-21; 21:21-30; Deut 1:5) The tribes are said to have skirted to the east both Edom and Moav, which would have brought them into Amonite territory, but most of the towns named have not been satisfactorily located. Our author turns to henotheism–one god per nation–and divine right of conquest: “Why don’t you just take possession of what K’mosh, your god, has dispossessed for you, and we’ll possess all that which Yahh, our god, has dispossessed on our account?” (11:24) K’mosh was god to the Moabites.  Milkom was god to the Amonites. Finally, whoever added the negotiation inserted it in a way that interrupts the drama. Accordingly, I have double indented the section and reattached Yiftach’s oath to his ritual at the sanctuary. Read this way, the back and forth is an appealing part of the story.
            The action takes place in Gil’ad, the mountainous area east of the Yarden, also been known as “Land of the Emori,” after an earlier Semitic group who occupied mountains on both sides of the Yarden. The shepherd tribes Gad, Reuven, and half of M’nasheh are settled there. (Num 32) The account there suggests tension between the Gil’ad settlers and those tribes who entered the Promised Land. Our story includes a bloody tribal clash where regional pronunciation becomes a key narrative element.

10:6-18            B’neiYisrael did more evil in Yahh’s eyes.  They served the ba’alim, the ashtarot, the god of Aram, the god of Tsidon, the god of Moav, the god of B’neiAmon, and the god of P’lishtim. They abandoned Yahh and did not serve him. Yahh’s nose burned against Yisrael and he sold them into the hand of P’lishtin and B’neiAmon who shattered and crushed B’neiYisrael for eighteen years, all B’neiYisrael beyond the Yarden in the land of the Emori, which was in Gil’ad. Then B’neiAmon crossed the Yarden to war also with Y’hudah, Binyamin, and BetEphrayim. Yisrael was very troubled.
            B’neiYisrael cried out to Yahh, “We have sinned against you, for we abandoned our god and served the ba’alim.”
            Yahh said to B’neiYisrael, “Have I not saved you when you called out to me from Mitsrayim, from the Emori, from B’neiAmon, from P’lishtim, and Tsidonim, Amalek, and Ma’on who pressured you? And you have left me and served other gods! Therefore I will no longer save you. Go cry out to the gods you have chosen. They’ll save in the time of your trouble.”
            Said B’neiYisrael, “We have sinned! Do to us all as is good in your eyes. But help us, please, this day.” They put aside the alien gods from their midst. They served Yahh and his passion was cut short by the effort of Yisrael.
            B’neiAmon were called up and camped in Gil’ad. B’neiYisrael gathered and camped at the Mitspah. The people (Gil’ad leaders) said to one another, “Whosoever takes up fighting against B’neiAmon will be the head of all the inhabitants of Gil’ad.

11:1-11            Yiftach the Gil’adi was a mighty warrior, the son of a whore, fathered by Gil’ad. Then Gil’ad’s woman bore him sons. They grew up and drove out Yiftach, saying to him, “You shall not inherit among our father’s house for you are the son of a different woman.” Yiftach fled on account of his brothers and dwelled in the land of Tov. Reckless men gathered around Yiftach and went out with him.
            It happened, after a while, that B’neiAmon warred with Yisrael. As the war went on the Gil’ad elders went to fetch Yiftach from the land of Tov. They said to him, “Come. Become our general and we’ll war against B’neiAmon.”
            Yiftach said to the elders, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why do you come to me, now when you have trouble?”
            They said, “So we have returned to you that you go with us and war against B’neiAmon. And you will become our head, for all the dwellers of Gil’ad.”
            Said Yiftach, “If you bring me back to war against B’neiAmon, and Yahh gives them before me I shall be head for you?”
            They said, “If not, Yahh be hearer between us. As your word, so shall we do.”
            So Yiftach went with the Gil’ad elders and the people placed him over themselves as head and general. {®30f}He vowed a vow to Yahh, saying, “If you totally give B’neiAmon into my hand, it shall be that the one who comes out, who comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return in shalom from B’neiAmon, that one shall be Yahh’s and I will send that one up as a burnt offering.” Yiftach spoke all his words before Yahh, at the Mitspah.
v.12-28            Yiftach sent messengers to the king of B’naiAmon, to say, “What is it between me and you that you have come to me to war in my land?”
            The king said to the messengers, “It’s because Yisrael took my land, from Arnon to the Yabok to the Yarden, when it was ascending from Mitsrayim. So now return these to me in peace.”
            Yiftach again sent messengers to the king, “Thus says Yiftach, ‘Yisrael did not take the land of Moav (,the land of B’neiAmon.) For, in their ascent from Mitsrayim, Yisrael walked through the wilderness to YamSuf and arrived at Kadesh. Yisrael then sent messengers to the king of Edom, to say, “Please, I would cross through your land.” But the king of Edom did not listen. Messengers were also sent to the king of Moav and he did not consent. So Yisrael dwelled at Kadesh. Then they went through the wilderness around the land of Edom and the land of Moav and arrived from the east of the land of Moav and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the border of Moav. Yisrael sent messengers to Sichon, king of the Emori, king of Cheshbon, “Please, I would cross through your land to my place.” And Sichon did not trust Yisrael to cross through his border. He collected his people and camped at Yachtsah and warred with Yisrael. And Yahh, god of Yisrael, gave Sichon and all his people into the hand of Yisrael and they struck them. And Yisrael took possession of all the borders of the Emori who dwelled in that land, from Arnon to the Yabok and from the wilderness to the Yarden. And now that Yahh, god of Yisrael, has dispossessed the Emori on behalf of his people, shall you take possession? Why don’t you just take possession of what K’mosh, your god, has dispossessed for you, and we’ll possess all that which Yahh, our god, has dispossessed on our behalf?
            “ ‘Are you that much better now than Balak benTsipor, king of Moav?  Did he ever strive with Yisrael?  Did he ever war with them? For three hundred years Yisrael has dwelled in Cheshbon and her daughters and in Ar’or and her daughters, and in all the cities near Arnon. Why haven’t you rescued them in all that time? I have not sinned against you and you do me bad to war against me. May Yahh, the Judge, today judge between B’neiYisrael and B’neiAmon!’ “
            But the king of B’neiAmon did not listen to the words Yiftach had sent him.
v. 29-40            Spirit of Yahh was on Yiftach. He crossed the Gil’ad and M’nasheh, to Mitspeh Gil’ad, and from Mitspeh Gil’ad  to B’neiAmon to war with them and Yahh gave them into his hand.  He struck them from Aroer to where you come to Minit, twenty towns, and as far as EvelK’ramim. It was a very great strike and B’neiAmon was subdued before B’neiYisrael.
            Yiftach arrived at Mitspah, to his home, and there was his daughter coming out to meet him! With drums and dances!  And only she, his sole child. He had no other son or daughter. So it happened. When he saw her he ripped his clothes and said, “Aah, my daughter. You have struck me to my knees. Y back.”
            “My father,” she said, “You opened your mouth to Yahh? After what Yahh has done for you: revenge from your enemies B’neiAmon, do to me as went out of your mouth. Let but this be done for me: hold off for me two months so that I may go down in the mountains and weep over my maidenhood, I and my girlfriends.”
            “Go,” he said, and freed her for two months.
She went on the mountains, she and her friends, and wept over her maidenhood. And then, at the end of two months she returned to her father and he did to her according to his oath, that he had sworn. She had not known man! And from time to time the daughters of Israel go to tell of the daughter of Yiftach the Gil’adi.  It became a fixture in Yisrael, four days of the year.

12:1-7            The men of Efrayim were called together and crossed northward.  They said to Yiftach: “Why did you cross to war with B’neiAmon without calling us go with you? We’re going to burn your house over you with fire.”
Yiftach said to them, “I have been a great adversary with B’neiAmon, I and my people, and I did call out to you and you did not help save me from their hand.  When I saw that you were not helping save, I put my life in my grip and crossed to B’neiAmon, and Yahh gave them into my hand. So for what have you come up to war with me this day?”
Yiftach gathered all the men of Gil’ad and warred with Efrayim. The men of Gil’ad struck Efrayim. Gil’ad captured the fords to Efrayim on the Yarden so that when an Efrayim fugitive said, “I cross over,” they said to him, “Are you Efrati?” If he said, “No,” they would say to him, “Please say ‘shibolet.’” If he said “sibolet,” not being capable of correct pronunciation, they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Yarden. There fell of Efrayim, at that time, 42 battalions.
Yiftach  the Gil’adi judged Yisrael for six years. He died and was buried in his city in Gil’ad.

© Rabbi David L. Kline            http://good-to-be-a-jew.blogspot.com/

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