Monday, November 03, 2008

Moreover Ruth the are witnesses this day. (Ruth intro)

The book of Ruth is actually one of my favorite books for a number of both straightforward and odd reasons. The straightforward ones are mostly pretty self-evident. In the aftermath of the sex and violence of the book of Judges, (and yet, chronologically in the middle of it!) we finally see a story that's largely built in a framework of love, kindness, devotion and faith. This is a love story, which is unfortunately very rare in the Bible, unless of course you're willing to see the Bible as a whole being a love story between God and mankind.

Actually, it's that very sort of perspective that is the basis for the odd reasons that I love this book. This is by no means my own original point of view, but rather a conglomeration of thoughts that I have heard and read in various places: This book is, in a bizarrely symbolic way, something like the entire Bible in miniature, an allegory of the whole of God's relationship with His people, both the chosen nation of Israel and the gentile nations that eventually come into a relationship with Him. It's largely for this reason that I am going to approach my discussion of this book in a manner that is different from the manner in which I have discussed previous books.

The other reason that I am going to diverge from my usual apologetic style is the fact that the book of Ruth is not largely a book that has many reasons to take issue with its content. Yes, there are issues, but those issues are few and far between, and easy enough to respond to. The fact that Ruth is from Moab is an issue because Deuteronomy 23:3 says that "[a] Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:" This is noteworthy, as of course the very reason the story of Ruth is in the Bible is that she is the great-grandmother of King David, a person we might assume to have entered "the congregation". While apparently some might want to call this a contradiction, at worst we can only say that the law as outlined in this verse was not followed in the case of this family. It may actually be that this is an injunction against a male Moabite only, in which case Ruth is clear, since she was married to an Israelite. (Interestingly, David escapes the injunction of the law in the previous verse of that chapter, as he is ten generations removed from Pharez, the bastard child of Judah. It has been suggested to me that technically this is a non-issue as well, since the term translated "bastard" means something slightly different to Israelites, but I'm not clear on the full technicalities of that.) Pretty much all other issues of the book have to do with cultural differences between ancient Israel and modern western culture. Something that astute readers pick up is the very risqué nature of the premarital relationship between Ruth and Boaz; while it's not 100% clear that they had sex nor that they refrained from sex, they are in many moments shown in a rather compromising position, what with Ruth sneaking into Boaz's bed at night and asking him to cover her with his own clothing. Even if there was no actual physical contact between them, in that era and culture, this was pretty scandalous--and yet served a specific calculated purpose on the part of the players involved. The fact that some of the phrasing may be a euphemism for sex isn't conclusive in my mind; Ruth and Naomi may simply have been using such phrasing to hint at their interest in Boaz as a husband for Ruth. In the end, Boaz "buys" Ruth to be his wife, not because she is some sort of commodity to be bought or sold in herself, but because the fortunes of Naomi's family are caught up in a debt that was incurred before Ruth became her daughter-in-law, and all of what we see unfold in this story is framed in ancient Israelite customs of real estate, debt and inheritance that I will discuss in greater detail later, as it turns out to have larger implications than just this story.

In order to fully understand those customs and what they imply, a deep look into the themes of this book will need a look into related passages throughout the Bible ranging from Genesis 2 through Revelation 5. Let's see what I can do with this...

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