Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Jephthah's daughter greets him (Image #1) and She mourns with her friends and submits to death (Image #2)
  • Creator: Master of Rebecca, Illuminator
  • Description:

    The left page of the folio depicts a man in chain armor with a brown tunic over on a white horse with three soldiers behind him in similar dress. He is frowning and holding onto his tunic. On the right, a woman in a blue dress is smiling and holding a square tambourine above her head, with three other women behind her. There are two Gothic arches above them reminiscent of a chapel's rose windows. In the panels on the right side of the page there are two scenes. On the left, the same woman in the blue dress has her hands clasped and is looking down, while three other women facing her gesture in worry and distress. On the right, the man in armor from the previous page holds a sword above his head. He has a smile on his face and with his other hand he is holding the hair of the young woman. She is crouched, frowning, on a table. These two scenes are framed by the same architectural arches and rose windows of the previous page and found throughout the Psalter framing the miniatures.

    These pages illustrate the story of Jephthah and his daughter recorded in the Bible in Judges 11. Jephthah, a leader of Israel's armies, vows before a battle to sacrifice the first thing that comes from his house when he returns victorious. Upon his triumphant return, his only child, an unmarried virgin daughter, greets him. He tells her of his vow, and she encourages him to fulfill his vow and requests from him two months to bewail her virginity with her friends. Jephthah grants her request, and on her return, he does to her what he had vowed. The first scene depicts Jephthah returning from a successful military campaign, and his daughter greets him, playing the tambourine. In the second scene the daughter and her companions weep on the hillside and in the final image Jephthah holds a sword in the process of beheading his daughter.

    Louis IX ruled France from 1226 to 1270, and was canonized as a saint in 1297. Louis IX took the throne at age 12 and had a goal of being an ideal Christian ruler. This psalter was commissioned after his return from an unsuccessful crusade in 1253, where he had been captured. A psalter is a prayer book for personal use. This psalter contains 78 illustrations of Old Testament scenes, the 150 psalms, and canticles and hymns. In the context of Louis IX's psalter, Drewer theorized that the Jephthah pictures are an exhortation to Louis about his kingly duty not to forget the power of his vows and the cost and consequences of war on those who are innocent.

    The Biblical book of Judges emphasizes the flawed system of tribal leadership and prepares for the institution of the monarchy as a stabilizing influence. The stories of the judges, or leaders, like Jephthah which are recorded all have both admirable and abominable qualities. Historically, scholars and commentators have wrestled with the Jephthah narrative, because the actions of vowing and then executing his daughter are not condemned by God, by the community or by the participants. In the Biblical text, the daughter is identified by her sexual category, a virgin. Interestingly, in the Biblical narrative the daughter bewails not her death but her virginity. There is earlier Biblical prohibition in Deuteronomy 18:10 against human sacrifice. Most church fathers condemned Jephthah's action as a warning not to make foolish vows. They exonerate God in the story, saying that the Divine allowed Jephthah to go through with his vow as a lesson to future generations. The exceptions to condemnation of Jephthah's vow are Aphraates (ca 344) and Ephraem the Syrian (ca 303-373), who praise Jephthah's and his daughter's actions. Ephraem, writing in the tradition of other Greek sacrificial narratives, equates the value of the sacrifice to her sexual purity, and posits that the sacrifice of a virgin is a sacrifice of her value as a wife and a mother to her family of origin.

    Pseudo Philo, writing about Jephthah's daughter in the first century, gives her the name Selia. He writes a lament for the girl, honoring her willingness to sacrifice herself. In writings and art from the 6th century onward, this story is connected with the earlier text of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, found in Genesis 22. In that text, God requests the sacrifice of Abraham's son as a test of Abraham's faith, and when Abraham attempts to comply, God stops the sacrifice before Isaac is killed. St. Catherine's monastery at Sinai and St. Antony's have the most famous art examples, with parallel frescos dating from the 6th century. Anastasias Sinaites, living at St Catherine's in the 7th century, compared these two sacrifices. Beginning in the 12th and 13th centuries, writers including Thomas Aquinas, parallel the sacrifice of Jephthah's daughter with the sacrifice of Christ. In Abelard's writings in the 12th century, the Jephthah story is looked on favorably and as an example of parents being able to commit their child to a religious order without the child's consent. In the early 13th century literature, Jephthah's daughter becomes a prototype for a Christian nun, forsaking marriage and the world. In the Speculum Humanae Salvationis in the 14th and 15th centuries, she served to heighten the greater importance of Mary’s virginity.

  • Source: Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Bible Exegesis- Judges Bible- Old Testament in Art Bible- Old Testament- Women in Children Daughters Fathers in Art Jephthah's Daughter (Biblical Figure) Jephthah's Daughter (Biblical Figure) in Art Murder Sacrifice Submissiveness Virginity Virginity in Art
  • Geographic Area: France
  • Century: 13
  • Date: ca. 1253-1270
  • Related Work: Psalter of Saint Louis, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 10525.
    Jephthah’s daughter in three panels, The Morgan Old Testament Picture Bible, ca. 1244-1254, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.638, fol. 13v. In the fourth panel Abimelech and companions kill his brothers.
    Jephthah (detail), Fresco at St. Catherine's Monastery Sinai, Egypt ca. 7-8th century AD.
    Meeting of Jephthah and his daughter and her lament with companions Octateuch manuscript Vat.gr. 747, fol. 247r, ca.1100, Vatican Library
    Jephthah’s daughter meets her father and is killed by him, Psalter, English, 1212-1220, Morgan Library and Museum, MS M.43 fol. 14v
    Jephthah makes his vow and prepares to kill his daughter,The Queen Mary Psalter, 1320, The British Museum
  • Current Location: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 10525, fols. 53r and 54v
  • Original Location: Paris, France
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images ; Manuscript illuminations ;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Vellum (parchment); Paints; Gold Leaf
  • Donor: Layman or Laywoman ; Louis IX, King of France or Blanche of Castile, wife of Louis XIII of France ; attributed by internal evidence rather than external documentation.
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 21/15/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources:

    Baumgarten, Elisheva. "'Remember that glorious girl': Jephthah's Daughter in Medieval Jewish Culture." Jewish Quarterly Review 97, 2 (2007): 180-209.

    Brockman, Sonya. "The Legacy of Jephthah’s Daughter: Chastity, Sacrifice, and Feminine Complaint in Chaucer's Franklin’s and Physician’s Tales." Medieval Feminist Forum 46, 2 (2010): 68-84.Available open access.

    Drewer, Lois. "Jephthah and His Daughter in Medieval Art: Ambiguities of Heroism and Sacrifice." Insights and Interpretations: Studies in Celebrations of the Eighty-Fifth Anniversary of the Index of Christian Art. Edited by Colum Hourihane. Index of Christian Art, Department of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University in association with Princeton University Press, 2002. Pages 35 - 59.

    Galona, Yergen. "Triumphant Martyrdom and Inglorious Victimhood: Abelard’s Exegesis of Jephtha's Daughter’s Sacrifice." Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and renaissance Studies 50, 1 (2019): 1-19.

    Schroeder, Caroline T. "Child Sacrifice in Egyptian Monastic Culture: From Familial Renunciation to Jephthah's Lost Daughter." Journal of Early Christian Studies 20, 2 (2012): 269-302.

    Sjoberg, Mikael. Wrestling with Textual Violence: The Jephthah Narrative in Antiquity and Modernity. Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2006.

    Stahl, Harvey. Picturing Kingship: History and Painting in the Psalter of St. Louis. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2008.

    Tore, Makmur, and Nelci N. Ndolu. "The Political Vow of Jephthah in Judges 11:30-31." Verbum et Ecclesia 42, 1 (2021): 6 pages.

    Weitzmann, Kurt. "The Jephthah Panel in the Bema of the Church of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai." Dumbarton Oaks Papers 18 (1964): 341–52.

    Zucker, David. J. "Jephthah: Faithful Fighter; Faithless Father Ancient and Contemporary Views." Biblical Theology Bulletin 52,1 (2022): 37-47.