Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


§ I.

It is evident from the text of the Book of Judges that Jephthah promised to sacrifice the first person that should come out of his house to congratulate him on his victory over the Ammonites. His only daughter presented herself before him for that purpose; he tore his garments and immolated her, after having promised her to go and deplore in the recesses of the mountains the calamity of her dying a virgin. The daughters of Israel long continued to celebrate this painful event, and devoted four days in the year to lamentation for the daughter of Jephthah.

In whatever period this history was written, whether it was imitated from the Greek history of Agamemnon and Idomeneus, or was the model from which that history was taken; whether it might be anterior or posterior to similar narratives in Assyrian history is not the point I am now examining. I keep strictly to the text. Jephthah vowed to make his daughter a burnt offering, and fulfilled his vow.

It was expressly commanded by the Jewish law to sacrifice men devoted to the Lord: “Every man that shall be devoted shall not be redeemed, but shall be put to death without remission.” The Vulgate translates it: “He shall not be redeemed, but shall die the death.”

It was in virtue of this law that Samuel hewed in pieces King Agag, whom, as we have already seen, Saul had pardoned. In fact, it was for sparing Agag that Saul was rebuked by the Lord, and lost his kingdom.

Thus, then, we perceive sacrifices of human blood clearly established; there is no point of history more incontestable: we can only judge of a nation by its own archives, and by what it relates concerning itself.

§ II.

There are, then, it seems, persons to be found who hesitate at nothing, who falsify a passage of Scripture as intrepidly as if they were quoting its very words, and who hope to deceive mankind by their falsehoods, knowing them perfectly to be such. If such daring impostors are to be found now, we cannot help supposing, that before the invention of printing, which affords such facility, and almost certainty of detection, there existed a hundred times as many.

One of the most impudent falsifiers who have lately appeared, is the author of an infamous libel entitled “The Anti-Philosophic Dictionary,” which truly deserves its title. But my readers will say, “Do not be so irritated; what is it to you that a contemptible book has been published?” Gentlemen, it is to the subject of Jephthah, to the subject of human victims, of the blood of men sacrificed to God, that I am now desirous of drawing your attention!

The author, whoever he may be, translates the thirty-ninth verse of the first chapter of the history of Jephthah as follows: “She returned to the house of her father, who fulfilled the consecration which he had promised by his vow, and his daughter remained in the state of virginity.”

Yes, falsifier of the Bible, I am irritated at it, I acknowledge; but you have lied to the holy spirit; which you ought to know is a sin which is never pardoned.

The passage in the Vulgate is as follows:

“Et reversa est ad patrem suum, et fecit ei sicut voverat quæ ignorabat virum. Exinde mos increbruit in Israel et consuetudo servata est, ut post anni circulum conveniant in unum filiæ Israel, et plangant filiam Jephte Galaaditæ, diebus quatuor.”

“And she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed, to her who had never known man; and hence came the usage, and the custom is still observed, that the daughters of Israel assemble every year to lament the daughter of Jephthah for four days.”

You will just have the goodness, Mr. Anti-philosopher, to tell us, whether four days of lamentation every year have been devoted to weeping the fate of a young woman because she was consecrated?

Whether any nuns (religieuses) were ever solemnly appointed among a people who considered virginity an opprobrium?

And also, what is the natural meaning of the phrase, he did to her as he had vowed —“Fecit ei sicut voverat?”

What had Jephthah vowed? What had he promised by an oath to perform? To kill his daughter; to offer her up as a burnt offering — and he did kill her.

Read Calmet’s dissertation on the rashness of Jephthah’s vow and its fulfilment; read the law which he cites, that terrible law of Leviticus, in the twenty-seventh chapter, which commands that all which shall be devoted to the Lord shall not be ransomed, but shall die the death: “Non redimetur, sed morte morletur.”

Observe the multitude of examples by which this most astonishing truth is attested. Look at the Amalekites and Canaanites; look at the king of Arvad and all his family subjected to the law of devotion; look at the priest Samuel slaying King Agag with his own hands, and cutting him into pieces as a butcher cuts up an ox in his slaughter-house. After considering all this, go and corrupt, falsify, or deny holy Scripture, in order to maintain your paradox; and insult those who revere the Scripture, however astonishing and confounding they may find it. Give the lie direct to the historian Josephus, who transcribes the narrative in question, and positively asserts that Jephthah immolated his daughter. Pile revilings upon falsehoods, and calumny upon ignorance; sages will smile at your impotence; and sages, thank God, are at present neither few nor weak. Oh, that you could but see the sovereign contempt with which they look down upon the Rouths, when they corrupt the holy Scripture, and when they boast of having disputed with the president Montesquieu in his last hour, and convinced him that he ought to think exactly like the Jesuits!

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01