As a child and teenager, I had an intense interest in scripture, particularly the Old Testament. I read online, I memorized, and researched. I cut all the interesting quotes and diagrams I could from the Seminary Manuals and glued them into my scriptures. Being female, I found particular interest in the women in the stories. I seemed to find a great many more in the Old Testament, than the New, or the Book of Mormon or the Doctrine and Covenants…and for some strange reason, I never really seemed to understand the implications of the absence of women in most of my religious readings.
I reveled in Deborah, in the two loves of Sampson’s life, in Rahab, and Eve, and Ruth and Esther. My father, I now realize, is a very progressive man, and always told each of us the story of Adam and Eve with a very pro-Evian vision of things: Eve was the active one, the powerful, smart one. She was the one with the revelation to know the plan, to get things going. I thought that this was a standardized Mormon view of things and as I grew up, I used that point (along with an acknowledgment of a Mother in Heaven) to defend my religion. I was very proud of my religion. As I have grown, I now see that not every Mormon in the church thinks that way. This is a scary thought.
Each time I found a more obscure “woman story” mentioned, I read it over several times and made it a point to tell everyone the story. I just thought they were interesting…also, I was a showoff.
I remember being quite disturbed as I read the tale in Judges 19, of the man who threw his concubine out into the street to be raped all night and save himself from a group of perverted men who were banging down the door. When he woke up, he saw her laying on the front porch, with her hand on the door. And he said unto her, “Up and let us be going. But none answered.” (Judges 19:28) That’s because she was dead.
I asked my dad if a concubine was the same thing as a wife (as I had been told before) and if she would be sealed to that man when she died. His answer, “I’m sure it will all be worked out” and for a brief moment in my life I realized that nobody really cared for that woman. That or nobody wanted to think about it.
The man is the hero of the end of that story, getting the city that the atrocity happened in wiped out. But he threw her out into the street. It bothered me…but I was young and I pushed it aside.
But this post isn’t about the many things of a religious nature I thought in my childhood. Things were acknowledged, beautiful things were imagined, things were revealed, things were stretched and pounded until they made sense, and things were subconsciously pushed into the back of my mind and ignored. That’s not what this post is about. This post is about Jephthah’s Dancing Daughter.
Jephthah’s daughter was one of the more obscure “woman stories” I found in late elementary school. It is found in Judges 11.
The gist of the story, at KJV face-value is this:
Jephthah, son of a Hebrew and a local harlot, gets kicked out of the house and loses his inheritance when his father dies, because, hey, dude’s the son of a prostitute. So, he goes off and lives on the outskirts of town, hangs out with the bums and the idolaters. Also, he has this daughter. Only child.
So, the Israelites go to war with the Ammonites, and they need Jephthah, who is apparently a tactical genius, to help out.
After making the Israelites promise to make him their leader, Jephthah, makes an oath to the Lord. If the Israelites defeat the Ammonites, then Jephthah will make a burnt offering of the first thing he sees when he goes home.
Jephthah goes home, and low and behold, the first thing he sees when he gets home…is his daughter, his only daughter, dancing and playing a small hand drum. She’s completely rockin’ it out in celebration of her father’s return.
As a result she has to get sacrificed, much to her dad’s despair. She asks for a few days to go with her friends to mourn her virginity, and then get’s sacrificed.
For some reason, I really liked this story. I even told my dad he should paint it. He didn’t, not because he didn’t like the story, but because he doesn’t believe in painting religious works for money. He’s got a point. I mean, Dewey’s supermodel Jesus’s are painted to make money. I’m not sure I’m a fan. Good daddy. I love the man.
There was something romantic, and heroic about her sacrifice.
Around the beginning of my third year of college at BYU, I had realizations. Quite a few realizations. Realizations that made me feel a little like Jephthah’s Dancing Daughter.
I awoke to the realization that, in much of my religion, we sacrifice our “daughters” and women in the name of convenience, and comfort, and tradition. All the while, the daughters we sacrifice are dancing and supporting and enjoying the success of Israel, but find, to their astonishment, that they have been sacrificed without their knowledge, without their say; without their realization.
Their is another side of the story though. In seminary my teacher clarified, saying that in actuality, it was much more likely that Jephthah’s Dancing Daughter was not killed, but simply was dedicated, Hannah and Samuel style, to the Lord, and wouldn’t marry.
Keeping this in mind, I did some research. So, let’s look at some Biblical facts ( research compiled and provided here).
All burnt offerings HAD to be male under the biblical code
Jephthah’s vow would have had to have been made in the public square, in the town where he lived in. So Jephthah’s Daughter would certainly have known about it…or at least heard about it.
Human sacrifice..frowned upon in Israelite tradition. Really, Really frowned upon. Check out Abraham’s early years in the book of Abraham…that facsimile looks frowny to me…and the only other mention of ceremonial human sacrifice seems to be stopped by a friggin angel (lucky lucky Issac). Nephi, even had a beef with sacrificing Laban, for the good of a civilization.
Only daughter…probably spoiled.
They lived on the outskirts, hanging out with pagans, in the rough and tumble world of Judges era Israel. It’s very possible that Jephthah’s daughter had a little paganite in her (see Pamela Reis, “Spoiled Child: A fresh look at Jephthah’s daughter”). All that dancing.
The vow was much more likely a vow to free the first male servant that he saw, in accordance Lev. 27, freeing them from housework, and devoting their lives to God.
Also, there’s the whole logic thing…
JD :”Oh NO! Daddy’s going to sacrifice me!”
Friend: “That’s terrible!”
JD:” And do you know what the WORST part is?
JD: “I’ll never get MARRIED! WAAAHH!”
So, I offer this , more probable, alternative story.
Enter Jephthah’s Daughter, paganite girlscout, Hebrew girl, mildly spoiled only child. She, therefore, understands a bit of the oppression that being a Hebrew man’s wife, and wouldn’t mind having no housework for the rest of her life either. She hears her dad making a vow to dedicate the first person that he sees when he comes home. Hears that dad comes home, busts out the tambourine and books it to the door-flying past the other servants running to the door, jumpin’ over tables and chairs and gets there…just in time.
Boogie Down Nameless Daughter. Boogie Down.
Not only was she now free from housework, but free from an oppressive marriage. She also got a few days a year to um…mourn…her virginity with her pagan and Hebrew girl-friends up in the mountains…painting their toenails, dancing the night away, chillin’ out with the phases of the moon..and you know…the earliest known recorded feminist retreat.
This story was much, much less bleak, and it showed me how a girl can work within the system if she has brains and guts. Now, I can identify with both versions of Jephthah’s Dancing Daughter, and this blog, along with my fellow “daughter” bloggers’ entries, will be a place for discussing religious thoughts, opinions, grievances, and other issues and blessings of being a young, free-thinking, Mormon woman.
This blog, I admit, has been in existence for about seven months, but never written on. I made it when I first discovered the dancing daughter inside myself. I made it so that I might have a place to mourn my sacrifice, celebrate my freedoms, and talk about other stuff that a daughter would do with her free time in the mountains. Here goes!
20 year old BYU student, recently realized, newly left leaning, can’t pick me out of the crowd,
Catch me if you can!