Kenneth M. Craig, «Bargaining in Tov (Judges 11,4-11): The Many Directions of So-called Direct Speech», Vol. 79 (1998) 76-85
This article explores the subject of speech as mediated discourse in the bargaining scene between the elders of Gilead and Jephthah in the land of Tov (Judg 11,4-11). The episode consists of the narrator's frame in vv. 4-5 and 11 and five insets wherein the elders initiate and conclude the dialogue (elders- Jephthah-elders-Jephthah-elders). The narrator informs us that the elders approach Jephthah with a plan of taking (xql) him from the land of Tov. The taking is accomplished through speech that the narrator quotes, and the perspectival shifts in narration and quotation demonstrate the Bible's art of diplomacy. The speeches are tightly woven with the narrator interrupting only to shift our attention from one side to the other in this tit-for-tat interchange. But even here, the narrator is not completely effaced. The reception acts are staged in a way that remind us of the presence of all sides in this exchange. The bargaining thus proceeds through filtered words, and the resulting insets call attention to the web of perspectives and competing interests, the offers and counter offers in the world of give- and-take, and, from our side, the fun of it all.
they would not have otherwise sought. But their offer and counter-offer have been made without any mention of loss at war as the what's-in-it-for-Jephthah possibilities have been articulated.
The focus in the conclusion is on "words," from the point of view of the elders, Jephthah, and the narrator. The elders pledge to follow Jephthah's word (rbd), and Jephthah speaks (rbd) all his words (wyrbd) before Yhwh 12. Words can stand for covenant stipulations as in the Deuteronomic formulations, found, for example, in Deut 5,22 13, but a more explicit vowing word, found in an upcoming scene (11,30), is not used here. These words spoken at the sanctuary appear to give the agreement validity, but in this context attention to "words" none spoken by Yhwh reinforces the ceremony's this-worldly cast, and, indeed, may once more leave the reader with a sense of complications on the horizon.
The mention of Mizpah (Mizpeh in 11,29), the last word appearing in the scene, harks back in narrative time to the assembling of troops in 10,17. The exact location of this Mizpah has not been determined, but it may have been a central sanctuary for worshipers south of the Jabbok and east of the Jordan 14. Our failure to locate this site so central to the Jephthah narrative should not, however, distract us from recognizing its literary function. Based on the root hpc "to look out, watch," the place-name means "Place of Outlook" or "Watch Place," and the attention given it serves to develop the plot ironically 15. Jephthah will soon fail to "look out" (i.e., "perceive") when he utters an absurd vow and then fulfills it. (Notice in 11,29 that the spirit of Yhwh comes upon Jephthah, but is he aware of it? The vow that follows in vv. 30-31 is capriciously made!) Mizpah will not be mentioned after he sacrifices his daughter. The silence is profound.
In sum, the unique play of perspectives is manifested as voices, or, more to the point, as mediated speech events framed by the narrator's own point of view in the telling. The characters never speak autonomously, but instead are always part of the narrator's constructed web. The harping on titles has made clear to the bargainers the conditions of Jephthah's acceptance, but the repetition also deprives the audience of other information. Such suppression and the stylistic features of verbal ambiguity in dialogue ultimately shed light on Jephthah himself who emerges in ambiguity. Son of an unnamed prostitute and of a father unidentified and perhaps unidentifiable he is the son of the personified