Saturday, September 01, 2012

Christian Brady on rabbinical commentaries about the problem of marrying Moabites in the book of Ruth

Alert readers may recall I linked to a post by Christian Brady, who was the first scholar/blogger to establish that Mark Driscoll's comments about the Targum Neofiti, a Jewish commentary on Genesis 1, was full of flat out misrepresentation. That sermon on the Trinity in the Doctrine series would eventually net observations from other scholars about the lack of integrity and scholarly competence on Driscoll's part.

Well, Brady has recently written an interesting little entry on Mahlon and Chilion in the book of Ruth with the question of why they died.

Well, first some background

Deuteronomy 23:3–6

“No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever,  because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they mhired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of nMesopotamia, to curse you.  But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned othe curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you.  You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever. 

Nehemiah 13:1-3

On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God,  because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. (Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.)  When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent.

Brady presented a paper on the Targum Ruth (I.e. a commentary on Ruth).  This commentary, Brady noted briefly, said that the reason Mahlon and Chilion died was because they married Moabite women.  

Brady mentions that one rabbinical commentary implies the men died for taking Moabite wives and another commentary is explicit.  However, this creates a new problem in light of what we've seen above in Deuteronomy and in Nehemiah:

Now of course this creates a separate problem for the Targumist which may explain why the other rabbinic commentaries side-step this explanation of Ruth 1:4. Once it is declared that M & C have been killed because they took Moabite wives, how can Boaz take Ruth to be his wife? Surely he would suffer the same fate! The Midrash alludes to the answer in reference to the “new law” and the Targum makes it explicit in Targum Ruth 2:11.
11 Boaz replied and said to her, “It has surely been told to me concerning the word of the sages that when the Lord decreed concerning them he did not decree against any but the men.
So the Targumist explains why M & C died, but Boaz did not. [emphasis mine] Why is this discussion important? Because, as I have discussed before, dating rabbinic texts is difficult and dating Targumic texts even more so. One method is to try and determine which exegetical tradition is older and who is borrowing from whom. If the Targumic reading of 1:4 is new or unique or even in conflict with other rabbinic traditions, that might be helpful in determining its date. Or not.

Of some note is a comment from Brady here:

  • August 22, 2012 at 11:50 am

    Thanks Bryant! I am glad you found this interesting.

    I think there are still reasonable questions as to whether we ought to see Ruth as “converting” (making a clear commitment to accept YHWH over and against other gods) or simply the more common ancient practice of simply accepting that now that she would be in Israel she would worship the Israelite god. [emphasis added] Later traditions, both Jewish and Christian, of course make this into a full conversion. In fact, that is my most recent article that I am just shipping off this week.

    As for Boaz “not letting the grass grow” he certainly did not once Ruth acted! But as I point out in another article and some posts here (as have many others), Boaz takes very little initiative with regards to Ruth, or Naomi for that matter. He knows that she is present and in need (chapter 2) but the only action he takes is to allow Ruth to safely glean. It requires the cunning of Naomi and the action of Ruth to goad him into taking the next steps.
    Finally, TgRuth also adds information to the genealogy at the end of Ruth:
    18 These are the descendants of Perez. Perez fathered Hezron.
    19 Hezron fathered Ram, and Ram fathered Aminadab.
    20 Aminadab fathered Nahshon, and Nahshon was the head of a family of the house of Judah. Nahshon fathered Salma the Righteous, that is Salma from Bethlehem and Netophah, [whose sons] did away with the guardposts which Jeroboam the Wicked placed on the roads, and the deeds of the father and sons were beautiful as balm.
    21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Ibzan the judge, that is Boaz the Righteous, through whose merit the people, the house of Israel, were freed from the hand of their enemies, and because of his prayers the famine passed from the land of Israel. Boaz fathered Obed, who served the Lord of the World with a perfect heart.
    22 Obed fathered Jesse, who was called Nahash because no sin or fault was found in him that he should be delivered into the hand of the Angel of Death to take his life from him. He lived many days until there was remembered before the Lord the counsel which the serpent gave to Eve, the wife of Adam, to eat of the fruit of the tree, those who eat of its fruit are made wise to know good and evil. Because of that counsel all who dwell on earth were condemned to death, and for that sin the righteous Jesse died, that is Jesse who fathered David, the king of Israel.

So if Boaz were a full-blooded Israelite it was against the law to marry Ruth.  Now here would be a suitable spot for liberal scholars and advocates of JEDP to note that if by the time the story of Ruth and Boaz developed the Deuteronomistic account had not been developed then this could explain why Boaz could have married Ruth despite the prohibition because it simply hadn't been written yet.  Either that or Yahweh didn't care in the case of Boaz and was permitting Ruth to become the wife of Boaz for some reason not spelled out in the book.  Christians, of course, can interpret Ruth being in the lineage of Christ as a foreshadowing of how in Christ the distinctions between Jew and Gentile would no longer be the barrier it previously was ... though as that goes it could be proposed that there was already no barrier if Boaz was permitted to marry Ruth and not die while Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women and died.

On this topic Bruce Killian suggests that Boaz' judgment was different because he was descended from Salmon and Rahab.
Bruce Killian

August 27, 2012 at 12:06 am
I Mahlon and Chilion died because they married Moabitesses, Boaz was not under the same restriction because his mother Rahab was an Ammorite and so he was separated from the congregation of the Lord by 9 rather than 10 generations. Long ago I wrote an article showing the geneologies between Ruth and David were abbreviated because of this requirement.
Brace and peace,

This was a curious point that becomes starker if you were at Mars Hill in 2007 when Mark Driscoll preached through Ruth and then Nehemiah all in one go.  There wasn't a clear explanation in Ruth why Mahlon and Chilion died but if Deuteronomy preceded Ruth the explanation was not long to find, they transgressed the Law and married Moabite women.  Dying at the hand of the Lord would not have been a difficult outcome to anticipate!  Conversely, whether or not that was the reason Mahlon and Chilion died the question of how and why Boaz was permitted to marry Ruth despite her being a Moabite was a big deal.  This is even more acute a problem given Nehemiah 13 is explicit that Israel disobeyed by marrying who?  Moabite women!  Had Driscoll not preached through Ruth earlier that year where the whole narrative explained how Boaz married a Moabite? Driscoll mentions that Tobiah was a Moabite.  Driscoll built a good chunk of a sermon on how the Israelites sinned by marrying Moabites and even threw in a bit about going Old Testament on some people, even in the leadership of Mars Hill.   Should you be curious as to which leaders Driscoll had in mind ... . 

It's unfortunate that for a Bible-teacher, which is what Driscoll says he is, he managed to preach through Ruth and then Nehemiah all in one year and didn't put together a rudimentary point of textual and thematic reconciliation.  If Moabites are never permitted into the assembly of the Lord even to a tenth generation then did Ruth get a pass because she was a woman, which is how one rabbinical commentary resolves the problem?  Or was it because Boaz, being descended from Rahab, was not fully-blooded as an Israelite and could therefore marry the Moabite Ruth?  The essentialy point, highlighted starkly by none other than the entirety of Nehemiah 13 is that Nehemiah looks like he would have cast Ruth out of the assembly and have gone ultimate fighting on Boaz for marrying Ruth.  Did Ruth say that Naomi's god would be her god?  Sure ... but Deuteronomy 23 gives reasons to not admit Moabites into the assembly.  The Moabites refused to offer hospitality to Israel in a time of need and even hired Balaam to curse them.

Did Yahweh permit Deuteronomy 23 to be broken so as to produce the line of David?  Depending on who you consult one answer is "no, on the technicality that Moabite women don't count".  What that says about the status of women may be troubling, however obvious that point may be.  In the world of that time that could be an explanation for why Boaz didn't die for breaching Deuteronomy 23, though.

It's also unfortunate, obviously, that when presented with some interesting challenges about how to preach through Nehemiah 13 in a city that is largely secular and has plenty of people eager and willing to highlight ways in which the Bible is considered to contradict itself that Driscoll didn't go there and consider Deuteronomy 23 holistically with both Nehemiah 13 and the book of Ruth in 2007.  He did manage to turn Nehemiah into an allegory about himself, though, and he rounded up a pathetic series that rarely got into the exegetical issues of the text with a sermon that culminated in, from the evidence we have at hand, firing two elders who disagreed with the by-laws Jamie Munson had been working on at the time.  It may be said at Mars Hill that it's all about Jesus but if it's all about Jesus and the lineage of Jesus included a Moabite mother whom Deuteronomy 23 on the simplest and plainest reading would say shouldn't have been permitted into the assembly then it would have been nice if THAT had been a focal point in a sermon on Nehemiah 13.  Driscoll apparently had more earthly legacies he was concerned about that explaining the coherence and continuity of divine commands and providence.  


The Goat's Opinion said...

Be afraid. MD is preaching on the book of Esther this fall. According to his facebook page Esther is like a sexually immoral winner of the Bachelorette.

The Goat's Opinion said...

“I’m studying Esther for the fall. It never mentions God & casts a sexually sinful winner of The Bachelor as heroine. That’s why preachers treat it like nuclear radiation.”

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

The preachers listed below must be nuclear physicists then. Just at there are 111 links to sermons on Esther.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to hear his take on Vashiti. Dignified and modest, or disobedient and unsubmissive?

The Goat's Opinion said...

VeggieTales did a version of Esther. I remember seeing it in the nursery at church.

Wenatchee the Hatchet said...

Anonymous, it will be interesting to see which direction he goes with Vashti. Disobedient and unsubmissive

Goat, if it shows up in a VeggieTales format that would seem to indicate it's not "nuclear radiation". :)

The creator of VeggieTales disavowed a lot of that work as moralistic legalism in the last four years, though.