Animal Difference, Sexual Difference, and the Daughter of Jephthah

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As many commentators note, the daughter of Jephthah is given as a burnt offering while Isaac is spared by divine intervention and animal substitution. Thus the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter raises questions about the relationships among sexual difference, animal difference, and human sacrifice in the Bible. This article explores such questions in dialogue with the interdisciplinary “animal turn” in the humanities and social sciences. The daughter of Jephthah is one of several women in biblical literature whose fate involves an association with domesticated animals. Attention to both the gendered structure of biblical households and the domestication of “companion species” (Donna Haraway) is crucial for understanding their stories. In addition, Jonathan Klawans’ symbolic theory of sacrifice proposes analogical relations between Israelites and the domesticated animals they cared for, and God and the Israelites who desired God’s care. Perhaps against Klawans’ intentions, his theory helps us understand child sacrifice as a problematic but logical consequence of metaphors that structure biblical symbolism and biblical sacrifice. By virtue of their continued existence in the realm of the domesticated after marriage, daughters/women remain more vulnerable than sons to a potentially animalized fate.

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