Ruth and Boaz Doing Whatever on the Threshing-Room Floor

For Old Testament, we students reflect weekly on “some topic, aspect or concept” from the volumes and volumes of assigned reading. I am limited to one single-spaced page each week, and in every case I’ve been forced to cut myself off from writing. So read knowing that my thoughts are manifold!

If you are interested in more selections from my School of Theology Coursework, follow the link to the category of SOT Coursework. I have also set up a new category for these Old Testament reflection papers called OT Weeklies. If all goes well, each new reflection paper will be posted automatically at 2:00 p.m. each Monday, when my Old Testament class convenes.

What follows is my reflection paper from the week of November 1. Enjoy!

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The account of Ruth at the threshing-room floor (Ru 3:6-15) strikes me as a bizarre, logic-defying story. When considering whether the narrative is a historically accurate representation of an actual interaction between Boaz of Bethlehem and Ruth the Moabitess, I could not help but conclude that I was actually reading a cover-up for sexual impropriety. How could an unmarried, drunk forty-something[1], upon awakening up from his euphoric stupor, resist a foreign woman who both uncovered and took rest by his “feet,” a term used and understood to mean “genitalia?” Was he plagued by a hangover? Surely something mischievous may have taken place; even Ruth and Boaz were concerned with how the scene might appear if gossip reached the town square (Ru 3:14). But in attempting to research further support by which to decode this chapter’s sexual innuendo, I found that the author of Ruth constructed a literary masterpiece contrastive to Genesis 19 in order to exemplify both Ruth and Boaz as law-abiding all-stars. This reflection paper will elaborate on the fantastic hidden elements of Ruth 3.

A mountain of research suggests that chronologically, thematically and grammatically, Ruth may have originally been included at the end of the book of Judges, and was only removed later to form its own book.[2] But for Warren Austin Gage, lending the most credence to this theory is the correlation between the sin of Gibeah (Jgs 19) and Ruth 3 as a unit reflective of Genesis 19.[3] For example, in the stories of both Gibeah and the destruction of Sodom (Gn 19:1-28), men of the city seek visiting male strangers for sexual gratification, only for the host to offer two women as a substitute, “suggesting that the author of Judges intended his hearer to identify the sin of Gibeah with that of Sodom.”[4] That leaves the account of Lot and his daughters in their cave as a parallel to Ruth and Boaz at the threshing-room floor. If we take the texts at face value, Lot’s daughters act unlawfully, while Ruth retains her honor. Gage especially appreciates that Lot’s daughters receive their father’s seed, while Ruth receives only Boaz’s grain.[5] Boaz redeems Ruth, but in a sense, her upright actions both redeem and set the proper example for Moab, which had its beginnings in the incestuous act of Lot’s conniving older daughter.

Upon returning to Bethlehem, Naomi takes it upon herself to resolve basic problems through the instrument of Ruth. The first problem – a lack of food – is solved by sending Ruth to glean for barley in Boaz’s fields, which is consistent with Mosaic Law (Lv 23:22). On the other hand, in order to solve the more difficult problem of offspring, Naomi encourages Ruth to approach Boaz alone at night on the threshing room floor while wearing her finest clothes, and only after he had partaken in food and drink. What she asks of Ruth in this case is entirely inconsistent with Mosaic Law, and Boaz is intricately aware of this.[6] Though he must wait until the following day, Boaz responds by addressing the legal proceeding at the town gate and by first offering both Ruth and the fields of Elimelech to the unnamed nearer kinsman (Ru 4:1-12).

What really happened at Boaz’s threshing-room floor? Did Ruth give him a biblical booty call? If she didn’t, would she have if Boaz told her to do so, as Naomi instructed (Ru 3:4)?  For the author, who must have been uniquely aware of the situation he was penning, these questions were apparently less important than presenting Ruth and Boaz as standard-bearers, as personified examples of Mosaic Law gone right. By design, Boaz is a covenant-keeper and kinsman-redeemer, whereas Yahweh rewards the submissive Ruth with a son, Obed.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 198.

[2] Warren Austin Gage, “Ruth Upon the Threshing Room Floor and the Sin of Gibeah: A Biblical-Theological Study,” Westminster Theological Journal 51, no. 2 (Fall 1989), 369-370.

[3] Ibid., 370.

[4] Ibid., 371.

[5] Ibid., 373.

[6] Charles P. Baylis, “Naomi in the Book of Ruth in Light of the Mosaic Covenant,” Bibliotheca Sacra 161, no. 644 (October-December 2004), 430.

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