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Judges 11:1-13, The Language of the Story I



The purpose of this essay is to look at the use of Greek words from the LXX presentation of this section of the Jephthah story. Not only do the words selected provide an inviting entree into the story, but by comparing the two Recensions we see more clearly what choices moved the translators. I will focus on about ten terms from both Recensions.


1— The Description of the Jephthah.  Recension A has him as δυνατὸς ἐν ἰσχύι, which can be “powerful in strength” or “mighty in strength,” a pretty typical biblical description of a strong or influential person, but Recension B reads this as the unusual επηρμένος δυνάμει.  The participle comes from ἐπαίρω, which means “I lift/I raise,” and in this context is best translated, “exalted in power” or as Muraoka renders it, “outstanding in physical strength.” Not much difference in meaning, bur B has a more sophisticated construction.


2— Both Recensions use the rather rare verb ἁδρύνω, “I come to maturity/grow up,” in verse 2 to describe the youth of Jephthah.  The verb also appears in Ex. 2:10 and in Recension B of Jud. 13:24. Recension A of 13:24 employs the common verb αυξάνω, “I grow” or “increase.” We build a language one verb/word at a time.


3— Jephthah has been described in verse 1 as the son of a πόρνη, a prostitute.  When Jephthah’s brothers, the “legitimate” sons of their dad and mom, decide to throw him out because of this shameful association with a prostitute, she is referred to as an εταίρα, a “courtesan” (v 2).  


4—After being thrown out by his brothers, Recension A has Jephthah “running” from their presence, using the Aorist tense of αποδιδράσκω, though B simply says, “he fled” (έφυγεν, v 3). 


It isn’t necessary to show every minor disagreement between the two Recensions; so far the differences have been minimal.  They don’t affect meaning but just reflect reasonable translation choices of the translator.


5—Then, in verse 4, the scene shifts to the battle that Ammon was planning to wage against Israel. Recension A already has them at war in verse 4 (ἐπολέμησαν, “they fought”).  But the translators of Recension B might have thought that it was jumping the gun to have them actually at war with Israel, since there seems to be some time and discussion back and forth between Ammon and Israel before the war actually begins. Thus, Recension B uses the verb παρατάσσω, to “line up in battle formation.” This seems to be a clear instance of toning down the words of A. This same pair of verbs is used again in verses 6 and12. 


6—When the men of Galaad approach Gideon to ask him to be in charge of them for the upcoming war with Ammon, they invite him to be a ἡγούμενον, or “leader/person in charge,” while B describes him as an αρχηγών, “leader.”  No real difference.


7—Jephthah mocks the elders of Galaad, who want him now to be their leader in war.  Why are they coming for him now in their need, when they formerly wanted to get rid of him?  Nah-nah!  But the word choice is interesting. In A, Jephthah asks them why they want him ἡνίκα ἐθλίβητε, “when you have been afflicted/distressed”? (v 7). In B, the language is softened a bit, ἡνίκα χρήζετε, or “when you are in need.” The former is a past tense but the latter is a present.  The former assumes that Ammon has already moved on/attacked Israel but the latter suggests only that war impends.


8—Both Recensions have the Galaadites respond ever so briefly to Jephthah’s subtly mocking question in verse 7, but their responses are quite different and invite further comment.  A has the elders respond, οὐχ οὕτως, or “It is not like that” or “It is not so.”  That is, in A the elders are telling Jephthah that he is just plain wrong; his interpretation of what has happened in the past is incorrect.  Of course, they don’t take the time to “straighten him out” because of the exigencies of the present, but their response can be seen to add more indignity to the indignities Jephthah has already suffered.  Through no fault of his own he has been rejected by the townspeople and cast out.  Now, when he clearly is correct in interpreting what is going on, all they say is “Not so!”  B has a different phrase.  It has δια τούτο or “Just because. . .” That is, ‘We did this to you ‘just because.’’ It is another way of saying, ‘Let bygones be bygones; it happened in the deep past.  We need your help now.  Let’s forget about it.’  Of course, it always is easy for those i power to suggest to the vulnerable ones that they “forget” the past. They really are saying to the vulnerable ones, ‘Forget the way that we abused you.’  So many things could not only arouse the ire of Jephthah but induce him to refuse their invitation. But he accepts it because they solemnly swear that he will become their head (κεφαλή in A; αρχών in B, v 9) if he delivers them. 


The text is quick to add that Jephthah isn’t just agreeing to these conditions because they seem like a good deal.  He speaks these words “before the Lord” (v 11).


9—Verse 12 keeps the same pattern of vv 4 and 6, where A has the Ammonites already fighting against Israel, while B has them just “drawing up a battle line” against Israel.


10— Verse 13 records the demand of the King of Ammon.  He basically says, ‘Well, you want us to withdraw without a fight?  Well, you Galaadites took our land when you came up from Egypt.  Just return it, that is, the little slice between the Arnon and Jabbok east of the Jordan (which, of course, turns out to be a huge slice of land), and we will go away.’ The actual words in A are, “Return them with peace.” But B adds a phrase, “Return them peacefully, and I will go away.”  The departure may have been assumed in Recension A, but Recension B cleans it up.


We are about 1/3 of the way through the comparison of the two Recensions of the Jephthah story. Nothing of huge moment, but we see the translators choices and we seemingly confirm our earlier judgment that Recension B tries to simplify/clarify Recension A.  It is a wonderful story, and a great exercise to read closely a sacred text.

Judges 11:14-28, Language II

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