Check out this video of a performance of The Daughter of Jepthah, a retelling of the Bible story from Judges by Rev. Kathleen Stone. It was performed in the chapel of the Church Center for the United Nations on Thursday, October 25th, 2012.
The ancient story of the rise of Jepthah to a judgeship (Judges 10 and 11) in Israel is attested to by the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:39) as a story worthy of the label “faithfulness.” Yet, the unresolved effects of harsh judgement upon Jepthah because his mother was not his father’s wife (a harlot) (Judges 11:2), his degenerate rampant raiding of villages (Judges 11:3), his eventual official warrior/leader status in Israel (Judges 11:5-11), his ability to sacrifice his own daughter (Judges 11:29), along with his rise to judgeship (Judges 12:7)? From womens’ eyes in the 21st century, all these “qualifications” must be questioned.
And so we did. In this retelling of the ancient story during the World Council of Churches’ expert consultation on the upcoming CSW 57 topic “violence against women,” we perused the effect of men’s decisions on the lives of women. While the story went on around them, three dancers represented the lives of women, their bodies, minds, children and community suffering disproportionately. A Greek chorus also provided commentary.
When Jepthah’s messenger (11:12-28) shares with the King of the Ammonites the extensive reasons they must go to war, we find Jephthah harboring three hundred years of injustice which the King of the Ammonites must acknowledge and respond to or even more violence will take place. We know that violence will disproportionately affect women and children. When does it end?
Jepthah holds onto his vow to sacrifice whoever comes to him first when he returns home IF God will make his battles a success– His vow is made not from God’s request (such as Abraham) but his own need to win battles at the expense of his daughter’s full life. He destroys twenty villages before arriving home to find that he must now continue to live violently, making of his daughter a sacrifice.
In Hebrews, Jephthah is named as a faithful ancestor. How deeply should we question such traditional interpretations and definitions of actions of faithfulness? And when do women’s eyes begin to transform traditional interpretations? We know that this definition of faithfulness violently humiliated men, women and children. Is that what faithfulness is about?