Judges 11:29-39

In Paul Turner's Blog by Paul Turner

Q: Would you have any explanation for the inclusion of Judges 11: 29-39) in the lectionary?  I was asked this by a woman in the parish whose concern was the message the ordinary person in the pew would hear.  Her question assumes that the homilist would not deal with it.

A friend said he had never studied the history of the selection of the lectionary reading, but that you might be able to shed light on it.  Thanks


A: That reading entered the lectionary in the final changes before the publication of the first edition.

As the process began, members of the revising group asked dozens of biblical scholars to recommend passages to include in a revised lectionary. The Old Testament passages were recorded in a report from December 1965. The two schoolers who worked on the Book of Judges were Bishop Pietro Rossano, secretary of the secretariat for non-Christian religions in Rome and consultor on the Roman commission for relations with Judaism, and Brother Thadeé Matura, OFM, a native of Poland and a member of the Canadian Holy Spirit Province. Of the 21 chapters in the Book of Judges, they chose excerpts from 5 of them. However, by September of the following year, the revising group had decided to exclude the entire Book of Judges from the lectionary because it was considered too difficult for proclamation and hearing.

That plan remained in force through the drafts of the weekday readings. However, the first edition is 1969 included the four passages from Judges that now appear in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time, Year I. Of those, only two had been close to those recommended by Rossano and Matura, neither of which was the account about Jephthah’s daughter. Sometime late in 1968 someone decided to add it.

I’m unable to find helpful commentary on many of such final decisions. However, I can surmise that the group decided in the end to represent more books of the bible, so they made room for passages from Judges. Jephthah’s daughter is a vivid account that received medieval Christian commentary. Perhaps someone thought it would be good for the church to recognize this episode for its historic significance.

However, I see little redeeming value for its inclusion. The passage seems surprisingly praiseworthy of Jephthah, upon the Spirit of the Lord came, and whose daughter accepted her fate seemingly without complaint. His fulfillment of his rash vow is hardly a model for mature spirituality. I would rather have seen a different passage from Judges, or more of Ruth, who receives only two excerpts the same week, one of them on a Saturday, when many daily Mass assemblies do not meet.