Watchtower Study June 5, 2016—Being Faithful Leads to God’s Approval

The Watchtower study for this weekend is all about Jephthah’s daughter. I’ve opted to veer away from the usual way I cover the study articles because it may be more beneficial to consider what most likely happened to Jephthah’s daughter. You may be surprised to learn that the ending isn’t quite as happy as Watchtower would have you believe.

Watchtower’s Version

Then Jephʹthah made a vow to Jehovah and said: “If you give the Amʹmon·ites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Amʹmon·ites will become Jehovah’s, and I will offer that one up as a burnt offering.”

-Judges 11:30 (RNWT)

Watchtower teaches that Jephthah really didn’t mean what he said when he said it. Instead what he meant was,

Some critics and scholars have condemned Jephthah for his vow, having the view that Jephthah followed the practice of other nations, offering up his daughter by fire as a human burnt offering. But this is not the case. It would be an insult to Jehovah, a disgusting thing in violation of his law, to make a literal human sacrifice. He strictly commanded Israel: “You must not learn to do according to the detestable things of those nations. There should not be found in you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire . . . For everybody doing these things is something detestable to Jehovah, and on account of these detestable things Jehovah your God is driving them away from before you.” (De 18:9-12) Jehovah would curse, not bless, such a person. The very ones Jephthah was fighting, the Ammonites, practiced human sacrifice to their god Molech.—Compare 2Ki 17:17; 21:6; 23:10; Jer 7:31, 32; 19:5, 6.

-it-2 pp. 26-29

I cannot help but ask, who is Watchtower to say that critics and scholars are wrong? When you talk about a bible scholar you are talking about a person whose career and life has been studying the bible and ancient life. Who is more likely to be correct between Watchtower and any given scholar?

Watchtower is content to use and display scholars words when they are supportive of their views, sometimes even taking their quotes out of context specifically to make it look like they have scholarly support. But when scholars disagree? They are wrong. Easy right? So are scholars a prestigious example to point to when they agree with you or aren’t they? It seems to me Watchtower wants you to think they know better, so why ever quote them at all?

At any rate, this is their version of the story. They teach that Jephthah did not mean that he would literally offer up his family member, and that instead his daughter lived out a life of servitude at the temple – never marrying. But you should ask yourself, why wouldn’t a scholar know what Watchtower knows?

Scholarly Version

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.


Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah; and there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and with dancing. She was his only child; he had no son or daughter except her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes, and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” She said to him, “My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites.” And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: Grant me two months, so that I may go and wander[b] on the mountains, and bewail my virginity, my companions and I.” “Go,” he said and sent her away for two months. So she departed, she and her companions, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never slept with a man. So there arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

-Judges 11:30; 34-40 (NRSV)

If you are a Jehovah’s Witness, I invite you to read this carefully. I know that you are likely to take issue with the use of another version of the bible than your own, but hear me out because we are going to go into the original language used – so bible version isn’t going to matter.

So to begin, the bible (including the Revised New World Translation) specifically states that Jephthah, “did with her according to the vow he had made.” Well, the vow he made was to offer her has a burnt offering. So if he did with her according to the vow, what did he do? Notice it does not  say that he did with her according to the law, it does not say he did with her according to what he intended to mean, it says he did according to what he said he would do – burn her.

Now, you are likely thinking of several explanations for why this isn’t the case. If you’re like me, one of the explanations you thought of was Isaac. When I discovered this I excused it’s probability on the grounds that if God didn’t allow Abraham to go through with his sacrifice then he wouldn’t allow Jephthah either. Well, as it turns out, things with Isaac aren’t all they appear either and it’s important for our discussion we discuss why.

Jephthah’s Daughter, an Isaac 2.0

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.”6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill[a] his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 12 He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” 13 And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place “TheLord will provide”;[b] as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”[c]

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

Richard Elliott Friedman, author of “The Bible with Sources Revealed,” contends that this passage was written by a couple different people. This is based on evidence, not conjecture. Verses 1-10, and 16-19 are written by a completely different person from that of 11-15. This sticks out because in the original language, from 1 to 10, God is referred to as “Elohim.” Then in 11-15, he is referred to as, “YHWH.” And then it picks up again from 16-19 referring to God as, “Elohim.” Why would the author switch from consistently calling God by, “Elohim” breaking this pattern for only 5 verses before returning to it again?

The answer is he wouldn’t. What has happened is another author looked back at this story after it was written by someone else and changed it to read differently. Read it again without this amendment.

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” 2 He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” 3 So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him. 4 On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place far away. 5 Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back to you.”6 Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. So the two of them walked on together.7 Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”8 Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So the two of them walked on together.

9 When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son.

16 He said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba.

You may notice that verse 16 changes from, “and said” to, “he said.” Friedman argues in his book that the writer who changed this passage changed it from, “He” to, “and” to reflect his insertion of the angel saving the day.

But there is still more evidence. Do you remember that scripture that says Isaac and Abraham returned from the mountain to greet everyone? That is a trick question.

After that Abraham returned to his servants, and they got up and went back together to Beersheba and Abraham continued to dwell at Beersheba.

-Genesis 22:19 (RNWT)

I guess Abraham forgot to untie him? Yes, there is very strong evidence that Isaac was actually killed in the original story.

That Genesis has more than one author is something strongly indicated by the way it reads in the original language. The author that wrote the story of Isaac’s sacrifice wrote him as having been killed, then much later other authors changed it. The other sections of Genesis that are written by this author never mention Isaac again. He is only mentioned by different writers.

In summary the evidence that Isaac was killed is:

  • The penmanship and verbiage of Genesis 22:11-15 does not match the surrounding verses, as God is inexplicably referred to as YHWH instead of the otherwise consistent “Elohim.”
  • Removing these verses causes the passage to flow quite well with the rest of the chapter, and indicates the death of Isaac.
  • Only Abraham returns from the mountain.

How This Relates to Jephthah’s Daughter

So why discuss the story of Isaac at this length when we were originally talking about Jephthah’s daughter? Well because it’s extremely likely that the story told to both Jephthah and his daughter about Isaac was very different from the one you know. How privileged would his daughter have felt to get to be like Isaac? And before you start thinking to yourself that no parent would do that, I invite you to consider how many Witnesses are shunning their own children. That is something that no parent would normally do either. Also think of the fact that there are families in fundamentalist Islam that celebrate the death of their children when they blow themselves up and kill innocent people. This phenomenon of child sacrifice is still very much alive today both metaphorically (with disfellowshipping) and literally (with certain forms of fundamentalism). So please, do not  quickly dismiss that this is a real thing that happens.

Now, let’s examine the evidence in the case of Jephthah’s daughter.

Why She Was Sacrificed

We’ve just seen that Israel would not have been a stranger to the idea of offering up a person as a sacrifice to Jehovah. Isaac was believed to have been such an example. What gives it away that this is true about Isaac is the original language involved, and the same is true of Jephthah’s daughter.

When she comes out to greet him, how does he react? He tears his clothing, and says that she has broken his heart (according to RNWT). Tearing ones clothing was a serious expression of emotional distress because clothes were very costly back at that time. All told, his reaction is significantly severe if his vow only meant that she was going to serve at the temple. Then there is her request for a time to mourn. You might think this was only because she would never be allowed to marry, so she mourned her virginity. That may be an adequate explanation if not for the way the story ends.

In verse 40 of Judges 11, Watchtower deliberately misleads you. In their translation of the bible it says,

From year to year, the young women of Israel would go to give commendation to the daughter of Jephʹthah the Gilʹe·ad·ite four days in the year.

There is no possible way this verse should be translated in this way, and no other bible in existence does so. According to Strong’s Concordance, the hebrew word they translate as, “commendation” is,

tanah: perhaps recount, rehearse
Original Word: תָּנָה
Part of Speech: Verb
Transliteration: tanah
Phonetic Spelling: (taw-naw’)
Short Definition: commemorate
NAS Exhaustive Concordance
Word Origin
a prim. root
Definition
perhaps recount, rehearse
NASB Translation
commemorate (1), recount (1).

The word is translated mostly as lament or commemorate, some bibles even translate it as, “mourn.” Some translations use the word celebrate, but this would not be a happy sort of occasion. It would be “celebrate” as in hold a gathering to recognize something. In this case the word carries with it a meaning of lamentation. But it is an outright lie to render it as, “give commendation” because it twists the meaning and contorts the message of what happened. 

So lets keep a tally of our evidence so far:

  • Isaac was very likely sacrificed according to how the story reads if you remove the parts that were added in by some other writer.
  • It’s likely the story that Jephthah and his daughter knew of Isaac was the one that originally included his sacrifice.
  • Jephthah, in fact, promised to offer up a person as a burnt sacrifice.
  • The bible says that he did, “according to his vow.”
  • The bible supports that she was killed, by saying that the girls of Israel would lament, or mourn for her every year.

Please Think Carefully…

I will include links for further reading as I have been with regard to the original story about Isaac. Of course, you must judge this evidence for yourself. I included the discussion of Isaac because of how it correlates with what clearly did happen to Jephthah’s daughter. Even if you disagree, even if you refuse to accept the probability of the Isaac story being different – how can you refute the evidence in favor of Jephthah’s daughter actually being killed? This evidence comes straight from the bible’s own words.

And what of Watchtowers blatant attempt to change the passage by rendering the hebrew word “tanah” in a way that it absolutely shouldn’t be rendered at all? This deliberate attempt to cover up the original language speaks volumes to the reality of what is supposed to have happened to this poor innocent person.

The lesson is supposed to be that faith in God leads to his approval, and the Watchtower study even ends saying,

The Bible urges us to “be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:12) May we be like Jephthah and his daughter by living in harmony with a fundamental truth that there lives highlight: Faithfulness leads to God’s approval.

Could you be like Jephthah and burn your own children in the name of God because of a vow that you hastily promised? And why are you promising to burn your loved ones in the first place? Could you be like his daughter and just go along with it because it was his word and you should obey? This is a very sad and twisted story.

I’ve stated many times that I have no intention to try to talk any of you readers out of your beliefs in God, and I stand by that. I hope nothing written here is taken as an assault on your belief in God. I will even freely admit that there are truths to be found in the bible and even good moral lessons. This story, however, is most certainly neither moral, good, or loving. We cannot ignore the bad parts of this book because good parts exist. We cannot twist the bad parts, in the way that the ancient scribe did the Isaac story or Watchtower does Judges 11:40, to fit how we would like things to read.

In closing, I must thank my fellow author on this site, Toru El, for the assist with some of these references and pieces of information. Toru is very knowledgable when it comes to the history of the bible and continues to gain more knowledge with all the reading they do. If you have any further questions on these subjects, especially on the fact that Genesis had several different authors, please feel free to use the contact form on this website for more information or see the links below. Remember, prove to yourself what is true and what is not.

-Rich

Further Reading:

Richard Elliott Friedman, “The Bible with Sources Revealed”

When Abraham Murdered Isaac

When Abraham Killed Isaac

Online Interlinear/Strong’s Concordance

If you do not have your own copy of Strong’s Concordance this last link can prove to be an invaluable tool. I encourage you to get a Strong’s concordance however, as it includes commentary that isn’t always to be found in this online concordance.

7 comments

  • Good essay, but Isaac had two sons Esau and Jacob.
    So you hav to re write.

    Like

  • Hello there Veaney! Thanks for the comment and this was a good observation, but one that does have an explanation

    Isaac does not father Jacob and Esau in the Elohist tradition, at least not that we know of. Rich was making reference to the Documentary Hypothesis when he referred to an author that refers to “Elohim” suddenly switching to “YHWH”. The use of Elohim is typical of the “Elohist” (which is why he has that moniker), one of the four primary sources for the Torah. The Elohist, however, DOES NOT use YHWH until after Exodus 3. In fact, this is a very important aspect of his writing. This is why verses 11-15 are so out of place. The Elohist is the author of the Binding of Isaac passage with the exception of the probable redactor’s verses from 11-15. However after this narrative, Isaac never again appears in Elohist passages. That is remarkable.

    However, you do bring up a difficult problem. Jacob DOES appear in Elohist passages, so where did he come from? The Elohist mentions Abraham having another wife names Keturah and it could be through her that Jacob is born. But there is no proof of this. IF the Elohist had Isaac born of a woman other than Rebekah, then certainly any redactor (perhaps the same redactor who added the angel of YHWH saving the day) would have removed it and allowed the Yahwist’s narrative to explain the family line (the Yahwist was another of the four contributors, including the Jacob and Esau narrative). But we just don’t know and may never know.

    That’s why the “Isaac was sacrificed” hypothesis isn’t certain. But the fact that verses 11-15 aren’t written by the same author (Elohist) as the rest as well as Isaac’s disappearance from Elohist passages and that he is not mentioned returning with Abraham must have a reason. It just so happens that one of the explanations is that Isaac was actually sacrificed in the original tale but the redactor of the multiple documents that make up the Torah thought it repugnant and made the change. Why would a redactor change it at all if that was the original tale? That’s part of the mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Great read. Being familiar with the Documentary Hypotheses thanks to Richard Friedman, I should really pick up his other book sometime about the Bible with Sources Revealed. I didn’t realize how different some of these Hebrew stories could actually be when the Redactor’s work is taken apart. Should make for an interesting read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Since you are familiar with Friedman does that mean you’ve read “Who Wrote the Bible”? I just finished that book myself in the last couple of days. I really think it should be published WITH “The Bible with Sources Revealed”. Both works are excellent and make so much more sense of the Torah than Mosaic authorship. TBSR is great in how it uses different fonts for different sources in the Torah, allowing you to read each narrative on its own and see how all the evidence converges. It’s a remarkable hypothesis. I’d like to see a Richard Carrier style Bayesian analysis done on it (see: “Proving History” by Richard Carrier). Anyway, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of The Bible with Sources Revealed. I think I now appreciate the Bible more than I ever did as a believer but for totally different reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Pingback: First mention of a solution against death 7 Human sacrifice – Messiah For All

  • Pingback: Oklahoma City Regional Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

  • Pingback: Jehovah’s Witnesses Circuit Assembly and a Pillar to freedom | Belgian Biblestudents - Belgische Bijbelstudenten

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s