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
“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.
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:
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.