Picture
Jewish Museum/Art Resource, New York, NY
A presentiment of doom seems to haunt Jephthah’s daughter, whose calm, faintly smiling gaze contrasts with the swinging tassels and flapping garments that animate her figure. Titled Jephthah’s Daughter, this watercolor by the French artist James Tissot (1836–1902) depicts the young woman playing her tambourine as she emerges from her house to greet her father, an Israelite judge and warrior who had rashly vowed, in exchange for victory over the Ammonites, to sacrifice “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me on my safe return” (Judges 11:31).

Tissot modeled her exotic headgear, including two ear-wheels, on a famous bust, the Lady of Elche, found in Elche, Spain, in 1897. Archaeologists of the day cited Near Eastern parallels for some of the bust’s characteristics and called the style Greco-Phoenician, leading Tissot to assume that the headgear represented a typical fashion for biblical women.

The Bible’s terrifying conclusion to the Jephthah story—“he did to her as he had vowed” (Judges 11:39)—has troubled readers for centuries. Now author Solomon Landers suggests a new interpretation of the story’s conclusion: that Jephthah “sacrificed” his daughter by consigning her to be a cloistered virgin dedicated to God.