Jephthah, the Hebrew Bible, and John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government

Andrew Rehfeld

Abstract: The story of Jephthah (Judges 11–12) includes such political elements as a legislative power that appears to transfer its authority directly to a third party; a denial of the Ammonites’ “native right” to intergenerational justice; and God’s active intervention in the affairs of man to deliver the Israelites’ victory in war. Perhaps the most famous aspect of the story is the vow that accompanies Jephthah’s appeal to heaven, which ends up obliging him to sacrifice his own daughter. These central elements of the Jephthah narrative run counter to John Locke’s political theory as set forth in his Two Treatises of Government, yet this work refers to the Jephthah pericope time and time again. This essay will present Locke’s repeated employment of the tale of Jephthah, particularly in the ‘Second Treatise,’ as a multi-layered problem with significant implications for future scholarship on Locke’s use of the Bible and for political Hebraism more generally.

Biography: Andrew Rehfeld is Associate Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies, and the Director of the Political Theory Workshop at Washington University in St. Louis. Rehfeld joined Washington University in 2001 after receiving an M.P.P. (Public Policy) and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Chicago. His work centers on the relationship between democracy and political representation. Rehfeld has additional interests in the political thought of the Hebrew Bible, and the relationship between political theory and the social sciences more generally. His first book, The Concept of Constituency: Political Representation, Democratic Legitimacy and Institutional Design was published by Cambridge University Press (2005). Drawing on the history of political thought, and the American founding period for historical perspective, Rehfeld argues that nations should reject both proportional and territorially based electoral systems and instead randomly assign citizens to permanent, national electoral constituencies to elect representatives to the national legislature (whether Congress, Parliament or the Knesset). Rehfeld’s second book, A General Theory of Political Representation (under contract with Cambridge University Press) explores the relationship between political representation and democratic norms. Other articles and reviews have been published in Ethics, The Journal of Politics, and Studies in American Political Development. Rehfeld is currently on the editorial board of Journal of Politics and teaches classes in the history of political thought, contemporary democratic theory, and ethics and politics.

Volume 3, Number 1 (Winter 2008) pp. 60-93