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The Book of Ruth - Seduction on the Threshing Floor?

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  • The Book of Ruth - Seduction on the Threshing Floor?

    I'm writing an interpretive commentary on Ruth, and I'm interested particularly in hearing opinions on Chapter 3 of the Book of Ruth. It's the scene with Ruth and Boaz on the threshing floor. Traditional conservative commentaries that I'm reading generally deny there was a seduction attempt or (*gasp*), any sexual act on the threshing floor. This is done in spite of significant issues with the language that heavily imply these things, and as far as I can tell generally because the traditional view is that if Ruth seduced Boaz then her noble and moral character are now called into question. I'm interested in evaluating specifically whether sexual ethics in the OT community (the broader context of all of Scripture) would condemn such behavior.

    Of course, there are related issues like that fact that Boaz marrying a Moabite was against the given Mosaic law and in spite of this, their union was blessed by God, leading to the creation of the Davidic line of Jewish monarchy. Feel free to comment on whatever aspect of Ruth you're interested in, but I am focusing on whether the our view of OT sexual ethics are really that accurate.
    "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

  • #2
    Originally posted by myth View Post
    This is done in spite of significant issues with the language that heavily imply these things...
    What issues with the language did you have in mind?

    Of course, there are related issues like that fact that Boaz marrying a Moabite was against the given Mosaic law ...
    But I don't think it was, there was a prohibition from a Moabite entering the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:3-5), but no prohibition of a Moabite becoming an Israelite, which is what Ruth did (Ruth 1:16).

    As far as the Bible condemning sexual activity outside of marriage, see for example Deut. 22:20-21:

    "But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her father’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you."

    See also Joseph's decision in Matthew 1:19, etc.

    Blessings,
    Lee
    "What I pray of you is, to keep your eye upon Him, for that is everything. Do you say, 'How am I to keep my eye on Him?' I reply, keep your eye off everything else, and you will soon see Him. All depends on the eye of faith being kept on Him. How simple it is!" (J.B. Stoney)

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by lee_merrill View Post
      What issues with the language did you have in mind?


      But I don't think it was, there was a prohibition from a Moabite entering the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:3-5), but no prohibition of a Moabite becoming an Israelite, which is what Ruth did (Ruth 1:16).

      As far as the Bible condemning sexual activity outside of marriage, see for example Deut. 22:20-21:

      "But if this charge is true, that the girl was not found a virgin, then they shall bring out the girl to the doorway of her fatherÂ’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death because she has committed an act of folly in Israel by playing the harlot in her fatherÂ’s house; thus you shall purge the evil from among you."

      See also Joseph's decision in Matthew 1:19, etc.

      Blessings,
      Lee
      Well, first there's a context of Ruth seeking for Boaz to marry her. She's bathed and put on her best clothing, and waited to approach Boaz until after he has after he has finished eating and drinking. The expression used for "feeling good" or "merry" is often used to indicate some level of intoxication. Let's also not forget that she's approaching Boaz at night on a threshing floor, which in the day were used for acts of prostitution (see, for example, Hosea 9:1).

      The verb škb "to lie down" is used multiple times in this portion of the text. Of the 213 uses of this verb, 12 are translated as "to sleep", 58 as "to lie down", but 50 as "to have intercourse with".

      The verb glh, "to uncover" is a common euphemism for exposure of intimate body parts. And the object of the verb, margĕlōtāyw, is formed from a noun which elsewhere in the Bible is a euphemism for "pubic region". For example, in 2 Kings 18:27 the masoretic traditores was intended, during public reading, to use a euphemism "water of their feet" instead of the cruder "piss".

      There's even a possible alternate translation of the phrase "turned over" as "grasped", instead. This would imply that he reached to cover himself and his hand found Ruth, though I suppose there are other implications as well.

      Then, of course, Ruth asks him to "spread your cloak over your servant". This was a way of proposing marriage in those times. And then, after he promises to marry her if the other kinsman-redeemer will not, he instructs her to stay the night (even though he's later worried that no one see her leaving).

      I'll check on the Moabite marriage thing. Right now I can't find the commentary that I first read. One I've found now says the traditional observance meant that Jews did not marry Ammonites or Moabites (likely because their descendants are also prohibited from entering the assembly of the Lord). But the same one also says that Jews could marry them if they actually converted to Judaism.
      "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

      Comment


      • #4
        For the sake of clarity, at this point in my study of the text, I think that it's clear there was an attempt at seduction by Ruth. I think, taken as a whole, it's quite likely that Ruth and Boaz did have sexual contact (of some type) that night on the threshing floor. However, it does not explicitly say that a sexual act occurred, so there's room for reasonable minds to differ.

        On the one hand, given the overall context of the narrative and the amount of innuendo and euphemistic expressions it is hard for me to think that the author did not wish to imply a sexual incident. Otherwise, why use the language in that manner? Why go into the detail, when one could simply say "Ruth went to Boaz and told him, you are a kinsman redeemer. Spread your wings over thy maidservant" without the scene at the threshing floor, even if it did occur.

        On the other hand, one could look at Ruth's actions as an act of utter desperation. She is seeking security and sustenance for herself and Naomi, and she is prepared (but not eager, perhaps) to do what is necessary for them to survive. If one reads this as Ruth attempting to seduce Boaz, with his response being to simply agree to marry her (with no sexual act that night), then one can read this as two people of noble character doing what they have to do. IOW, Ruth was prepared to do what circumstances forced her hand to, but because of Boaz's moral uprightness, she did not have to.

        I am not convinced by arguments that if Ruth had slept with Boaz prior to marriage this would tarnish her image as a noble or righteous woman. I'm not making flimsy excuses for Ruth to seduce someone and find a husband, but in that time woman were not able to own land and were generally viewed as property. Without a male relative or husband to provide safety and resources for them, widows were left destitute. So, in my mind at least, seeking a husband and otherwise breaking the rules....it would be more an act of desperation, an attempt to survive than it would be a sort of "gold digging" as we might see it in modern times.

        Sorry, my thoughts are all over the place on this one. Back to writing.
        "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by myth View Post
          The verb škb "to lie down" is used multiple times in this portion of the text. Of the 213 uses of this verb, 12 are translated as "to sleep", 58 as "to lie down", but 50 as "to have intercourse with".

          The verb glh, "to uncover" is a common euphemism for exposure of intimate body parts. And the object of the verb, margĕlōtāyw, is formed from a noun which elsewhere in the Bible is a euphemism for "pubic region". For example, in 2 Kings 18:27 the masoretic traditores was intended, during public reading, to use a euphemism "water of their feet" instead of the cruder "piss".
          Well, I think I'll trust the translators in these cases, that they picked the right sense of the words in question. For example בְשָׁכְבֹ֗ו in Ruth 3:4 has no object, as in "to lie with X", so it means to lie down, and similarly elsewhere, not to lie with another. And indeed "hair of the feet" and "water of the feet" are euphemisms, but I don't think "feet" by itself is a euphemism. So she uncovered his feet, is the reading, as we find in the translations.

          Blessings,
          Lee
          Last edited by lee_merrill; 08-23-2020, 08:58 PM.
          "What I pray of you is, to keep your eye upon Him, for that is everything. Do you say, 'How am I to keep my eye on Him?' I reply, keep your eye off everything else, and you will soon see Him. All depends on the eye of faith being kept on Him. How simple it is!" (J.B. Stoney)

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by lee_merrill View Post
            Well, I think I'll trust the translators in these cases, that they picked the right sense of the words in question. For example בְשָׁכְבֹ֗ו in Ruth 3:4 has no object, as in "to lie with X", so it means to lie down, and similarly elsewhere, not to lie with another. And indeed "hair of the feet" and "water of the feet" are euphemisms, but I don't think "feet" by itself is a euphemism. So she uncovered his feet, is the reading, as we find in the translations.

            Blessings,
            Lee
            I see. So, the question of whether Boaz and Ruth had sex that night aside, how do you defend that interpretation based on the overall context of the narrative in Chapter 3?

            I'm not disputing the meaning of the words, I'm asking how one can ignore all the euphemistic interpretations present in the context. She bathes, puts on nice clothes, perfumes herself with oil, waits until he has eating and drunk and was "merry" (drunk?), then approaches him alone at night, as he lays sleeping. Boaz is so concerned with her reputation, yet he specifically asks her to stay the night, risking discovery. If his primary concern was her safety, it seems like he should have told her to leave and he would settle the marriage issue later. But that's not what happened. Given all the innuendo, sexual activity is pretty heavily implied.

            One has to assume the author knew the various euphemistic readings of the words used, yet he/she still constructed a scene where the entire trajectory is one of romance. The euphemistic possible interpretations isn't really in dispute, I'm more concerned with why we should infer one meaning from the words rather than another. Most conservative commentators I've read avoid acknowledging the scandalous nature of the language, with one even admitting that the interpretation is not plausible because of the importance of Ruth's moral character. Which, honestly, seems awfully like an admission that he's imposing his own sexual ethic on the text, rather than reading it for what it is.

            David was viewed as such a great king and yet even he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband. Solomon was regarded as an extremely important king, yet he ignored the law and married many women, eventually being lead to idolatry by some of his foreign wives (ok, maybe Solomon isn't such a great example, so maybe Abraham instead?). These men can still be regarded highly despite their sexual mistakes, yet if Ruth was willing to sleep with Boaz to convince him to marry her (especially given how destitute widows were in that day) that somehow completely undermines her moral authority? I'm not even making the argument that Ruth having premarital sex with Boaz was morally, legally, or religiously appropriate. But the arguments I've read so far have been less than stellar, and I'm honestly I'm hoping there's more to the commonality of thought than a desire to read the passage with our own sexual ethics in mind.

            Charles Halton, with the Houston Baptist University, acknowledges all of this sexual innuendo in his article, "An Indecent Proposal: The Theological Core of the Book of Ruth" in the Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament. His interpretation is that Naomi instructed Ruth to seduce Boaz (or, as he says others believe, entrap him in a compromising situation), but Ruth veers from those instructions, causing Boaz to agree to marry and thus eliminate the need for an actual seduction. But I don't see how Halton can acknowledge all of the above, and then conclude that no sexual act occurred (aside from dogma, I suppose). Halton even comments that some ancient Jewish interpretations agreed they had sex, counted it as a mistake that should not be imitated, even though God blessed their union.
            "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by myth View Post
              I'm not disputing the meaning of the words, I'm asking how one can ignore all the euphemistic interpretations present in the context.
              Well, I conclude they are not euphemisms! There was some indiscretion in having a woman at the threshing floor, but no sexual activity.

              Blessings,
              Lee
              "What I pray of you is, to keep your eye upon Him, for that is everything. Do you say, 'How am I to keep my eye on Him?' I reply, keep your eye off everything else, and you will soon see Him. All depends on the eye of faith being kept on Him. How simple it is!" (J.B. Stoney)

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by lee_merrill View Post
                Well, I conclude they are not euphemisms! There was some indiscretion in having a woman at the threshing floor, but no sexual activity.

                Blessings,
                Lee
                Thanks for your response. I'm not trying to attack your opinion, I'm looking for the reasoning behind it. What's the rationale? What's the argument here for why the phrases are not euphemisms?

                I actually don't "like" the conclusions I'm reaching here regarding the narrative, so I'd actually like to hear a well reasoned argument. But stuff like "I trust the translators" or, in one commentary I read: "there's not simply not enough evidence" are not actually good arguments, it's just a simple statement of disagreement.
                "If you believe, take the first step, it leads to Jesus Christ. If you don't believe, take the first step all the same, for you are bidden to take it. No one wants to know about your faith or unbelief, your orders are to perform the act of obedience on the spot. Then you will find yourself in the situation where faith becomes possible and where faith exists in the true sense of the word." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by myth View Post
                  Thanks for your response. I'm not trying to attack your opinion, I'm looking for the reasoning behind it. What's the rationale? What's the argument here for why the phrases are not euphemisms?
                  Well, based on a previously posted argument: For example בְשָׁכְבֹ֗ו in Ruth 3:4 has no object, as in "to lie with X", so it means to lie down, and similarly elsewhere, not to lie with another. And indeed "hair of the legs" and "water of the feet" are euphemisms, but I don't think "feet" by itself is a euphemism, I can't think of anywhere in Scripture that this does not just mean "feet".

                  Blessings,
                  Lee
                  "What I pray of you is, to keep your eye upon Him, for that is everything. Do you say, 'How am I to keep my eye on Him?' I reply, keep your eye off everything else, and you will soon see Him. All depends on the eye of faith being kept on Him. How simple it is!" (J.B. Stoney)

                  Comment

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