2 Chronicles 2-4: Arts & Crafts

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In these chapters, after so much build up, we finally get to see the building of the Temple. Maybe it would have made a better climax for an audience that fluently knew terms like “cubit” and “talent,” but as a modern reader, it’s a slog. Generally speaking, if your climax is a slog, you’re doing something wrong.

Oh, I’m sure that the Chronicler achieved his goals of making the Temple’s wealth seem rather impressive and presenting a sort of blueprint for the construction of Temple 2.0, but the narrative impact is sorely lacking.

With The Aid of Tyre

As in 1 Kings 5, Solomon enlists the help of Tyre. The basic story in both chapters is that Solomon asks King Huram of Tyre (who appears as King Hiram in the Samuel-Kings accounts) to provide wood in exchange for food offerings and labourers to do the actual felling. King Hiram agrees, the two kings butter each other up a bit, and everyone is happy. Of course, the differences are in the details.

In 2 Chron. 2:1, we are told that “Solomon purposed to build a temple for the name of the Lord, and a royal palace for himself.” I found that the sentence felt rather out of place with what we’ve seen so far from the Chronicler. Up until this point, the build up has been very focused on the construction of the Temple; to mention a royal palace in the same breath almost suggests and equivalence that doesn’t fit.

The second issue is with the phrase “Solomon purposed,” as if there were no plans for a Temple up until Solomon decided that a Temple would be a lovely use for that empty mount. Until this verse, it has been David who purposed the building of a Temple, driving Solomon toward that goal. This shift to Solomon’s purposes feels rather too abrupt.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Chronicler had copied this verse from another source. If he did, though, it doesn’t seem to have been 1 Kgs 5:1-6, where Solomon “purposed” to build a Temple (1 Kgs 5:5), but not a palace. He does, of course, also build himself a palace, which is described in 1 Kgs 7:1-12 (though, ironically, absent from the 2 Chron. account), but no mention of it is made during his interactions with Tyre.

It’s possible that the Chronicler had a reason to add the palace to Solomon’s To Do list at this point. After all, David already got wood for the Temple’s construction from Tyre in 1 Chron. 22:2-5. The easiest way for the Chronicler to fudge this is to add a reference to a personal palace, thus increasing the wood needed from the amount that David had anticipated.

It was a perfect plan, but if that’s the case, the Chronicler wasn’t quite as attentive to detail as he should have been. When Solomon initiates contact with King Huram, he cites David’s order of wood for the construction of his palace (2 Chron. 2:3, which is narrated in 2 Sam. 5:11), not for the Temple (which would put it in line with 1 Chron. 22:2-5). Someone fire that scribe!

We see a minor difference in the payment the two kings agree upon. Here, Solomon offers wheat, barley, wine, and oil, whereas 1 Kgs 5:11 mentions only the wheat and oil.

The interaction is peppered with performed humility and praises of God – interestingly, these latter come from Huram as well. This isn’t necessarily a problem since, as the New Bible Commentary says: “In a polytheistic society politeness to a neighbour’s god cost[sic] nothing” (p.384). The Chronicler adds a bit to this fawning, but the tone remains the same.

James Bradford Pate offers the possibility that some of the changes between our two accounts could be to implicitly put Solomon above Huram. One way of doing this is to give Huram more to say about God’s greatness. Another comes at the very beginning: In 1 Kgs 5:1, it is Hiram who initiates contact (a fairly standard check-in to make sure that an alliance remains despite a new brow under the crown), whereas it is Solomon to initiates the interaction in 2 Chron. 2 – almost implying that he commanded Huram’s service as one might a vassal.

A final difference between our two accounts is that, in his reply, Huram specifies that he will send the resources by raft to Joppa, from where Solomon can bring them to Jerusalem. The reference to Joppa is left out of the 1 Kgs 5 version.

Skilled and Unskilled Labour

In the 2 Chron. 2 account, Solomon asks King Huram to send him a skilled craftsman, someone who can work with gold, silver, bronze, and iron, as well as fabrics (specifically purple, crimson, and blue fabrics, though I’m not sure why the colour matters). As I’ve done a fair bit of work in IT, this sort of job ad looks pretty familiar in its impossibility. Could a single person really be a master in all of these crafts? For only $25,000 a year with benefits?

Building of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470

Building of the Temple of Jerusalem, by Jean Fouquet, c.1470

Despite the absurdity of the requirements, King Huram knows just the man: Huram-abi. Not only that, but he’s part Israelite, too, as his mother is from the tribe of Dan (though she is from Naphtali in 1 Kgs 7:13-14). Another difference between the two accounts is that, in 2 Chron. 2, Solomon asks King Huram to send someone, whereas in 1 Kgs 7:13-14, Solomon is said to have invited Hiram (as he is there called) directly (which is not necessarily a contraction, as the invitation could mean a request for an unspecified individual who happened to be Hiram).

The bigger difference, though, is in the requirements themselves. In 1 Kgs 7:13-14, Hiram is only a master of bronze, not of all that other stuff. This meshes with the Chronicler’s own account later on, in the list of all the things Huram-abi built for the Temple found in 2 Chron. 4:11-18: They are all bronze!

So why did Solomon request all those other skills, and why was Huram’s parentage switched over to Dan? Probably because it connects him to Bezalel and Oholiab, the craftsmen Moses puts in charge of building the tabernacle. Bezalel’s skills in metalworking (omitting iron) are listed in the same order as Huram-abi’s in Ex. 31:3-5 and Ex. 35:31-33. As for Huram-abi’s competency with fabrics, these mirror Bezalel and Oholiab’s from Ex. 35:35, write down to the colours (and so we know why Huram-abi’s competency in working with certain colours was brought up!). Finally, Oholiab is from the tribe of Dan (Ex. 31:6, Ex. 35:34), so switching Huram-abi’s parentage makes more sense.

I’ve noted before that the Chronicler seems to be trying quite hard to tie the constructions of the Temple to Moses’s constructions in Exodus, and this seems to be yet more evidence of that. As Brant Clements points out, it could be that this mirroring is intended to legitimate the Temple as a central place of worship, an acceptable replacement for the tabernacle.

As for Solomon outsourcing the skilled work, my New Bible Commentary puts it rather bluntly: “Archaeology has fully borne out Israel’s backwardness in the arts at this time” (p.384). Ouch.

As important as skilled labour might be, so is the unskilled. For this, Solomon turns again to foreigners. Specifically, he finds himself 153,600 “aliens” hanging about Israel, and assigns 70,000 to bear burdens, 80,000 to quarry in the hills, and 3,600 to oversee the rest. The figure appears in the same in 2 Chron. 2:2 and 2 Chron. 2:17-18, though there are only 3,300 overseers in 1 Kgs 5:15-16. A more important is that neither 2 Chron. 2:2 nor 1 Kgs 5:13-18 mentions that these workers were sojourners or foreigners (in fact, 1 Kgs 5:13 describes them as “a levy of forced labor out of all Israel”, strongly implying that they were native Israelites). It’s only in 2 Chron. 2:17-18 that they are cast as outsiders.

James Bradford Pate notes also that the Chronicler omits the details from 1 Kgs 5:13-18, and specifically its mention of Solomon employing Israelite workers. Pate lists a few possibilities for this, including:

  • The author of Kings seems to be critical of Solomon for enslaving the Israelites, and the Chronicler generally tends to avoid unfavourable details;
  • The Chronicler may be trying to emphasize the idea that Israel is dominant over foreign peoples (with the added irony that these foreigners, who had fought against God’s people, are now being forced to build his Temple).

Construction Begins

2 Chron. 3 opens with construction beginning on Mount Moriah, where God had appeared to David at Ornan’s threshing floor. This appearance belongs to the Chronicler, narrated in 1 Chron. 21:16, but missing from 2 Sam. 24:16.

The mention here that the threshing floor was located on Mount Moriah is utterly new. Nowhere else is the Temple mound given such a name. In fact, the only other place in which the name “Moriah” appears is in Gen. 22:2, where it is the area in which the mountain where Abraham tries to sacrifice Isaac is located (not even the name of the mountain itself).

I posted a little while ago about a theory that Hebron had once been the most important Hebrew holy site, but the area was difficult to defend. So as the government changed and the need arose for an easily defensible location, propaganda began to elevate Jerusalem as the most important holy site. I mentioned the theory at the time because I like it, it has a ring of truthiness that I find appealing. But it seems odd that such a grand attempt to shift the cultural/cultic focus should only survive in this one small passage (and not even anywhere else in the Chronicler’s own account, despite being directly relevant in 1 Chron. 21).

As in 1 Kgs 6:1, though phrased quite differently, construction began in the second month of the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. Following the “narrative” of Kings, dimensions and materials are given in excruciating detail. For the sake of my sanity, I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that the description keeps pretty well to 1 Kgs 6 and the description of the pillars found in 1 Kgs 7:15-17. The differences I was able to dredge up are:

  • The vestibule’s height is given as 120 cubits in 2 Chron. 3:4, yet the total height of the Temple is only 30 cubits in 1 Kgs 6:2;
  • Without figures, 1 Kgs 6 does mention quite a bit of gold, but I’m given to understand that the 600 talents of gold mentioned in 2 Chron. 3:8 is unrealistically high. That said, 1 Chron. 22:14 has David setting aside 100,000 talents of gold and Israel’s elite contribute an additional 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics in 1 Chron. 29:7, so I’m not sure why the commentaries are so over-awed by the 600 talent figure;
  • 1 Kgs 6:31 describes the doors of the inner sanctuary, which are absent from Chronicles. Instead, 2 Chron. 3:14 has a veil in their place (which is absent from the Kings account). The most likely explanation is that we’re seeing an evolving tradition (it’s worth noting that it is the veil that wins out, as we see it being used in Matthew 27:51);
  • The bronze pillars, Jachin and Boaz, are 18 cubits high in 1 Kgs 7:15, but only 35 cubits tall in 2 Chron. 3:15.

The Equipment

The next chapter presents us with the Temple’s furnishings, and is every bit as boring as you might imagine. It mostly corresponds to 1 Kgs 7:23-51, though with a few minor differences, of course.

The most interesting difference is that the Chronicles account includes a bronze altar, which is not mentioned in 1 Kgs 7, nor even in the summary of stuff later on in 2 Chron. 4. We do see it mentioned as an existing Temple feature in 1 Kgs 8:64 and 2 Kgs 16:14, but with no mention of its provenance.

There is a bronze altar built in Exodus 27:1-5, though it seems strange to give Solomon credit for its construction (unless the Chronicler is trying to mirror Moses again by having Solomon also build a bronze altar? That seems a stretch, though).

Another possibility is that the Chronicler knew of a bronze altar, and accidentally gave the credit of its construction both to Solomon (here) and to David (1 Chron. 21:18, which was lifted from 2 Sam. 24:18-19).

We find a few minor discrepancies, as well. For example, 2 Chron. 4:5 has Solomon building 3,000 baths, whereas he builds only 2,000 in 1 Kgs 7:26.

As a point of interest, Steve Wells uses the measurements given for the molten sea to calculate that the Biblical value of pi is only 3.

1 Chronicles 1-2: The Never-ending List

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They say it’s important to begin a story in media res, start with a bang, start with something that will grip your audience and leave them salivating for more.

The Chronicler took this advice and decided to do the precise opposite. And so we begin 1 Chronicles with what is little more than an incredibly tedious list of names. This isn’t even like Genesis, where at least “the begats” were interspersed with narrative. No, not here. Our very first paragraph is composed of thirteen names and one conjunction. It certainly does set a tone!

There are, of course, many theories as to why the Chronicler should choose to begin this way. My study Bible argues that the genealogies are provided to “make it clear that he [the Chronicler] was dealing with the true Chosen People.” Personally, I liked James Pate’s thought that:

I Chronicles may have genealogies as a way to affirm a societal structure in post-exilic Israel and to connect it with pre-exilic Israel, to tell Israel who she is, and to convey that God is preserving God’s people, notwithstanding the exile.  There were a lot of people-groups that became lost once they went into exile, but I Chronicles may be trying to demonstrate that Israel did not.

In the beginning…

To being our journey, the Chronicler condenses all of Genesis 5 into these names: “Adam, Seth, Enosh; Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared; Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech; Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (1 Chronicles 1:1-4).

Here, Brant Clements notes that this is first mention of Adam that we’ve seen since Genesis 5:5, and that he will not be mentioned again in the Old Testament. “Adam actually featured more strongly in the New Testament. The ancient Hebrews didn’t put much emphasis on him at all.” It’s a very interesting observation, and clearly an indication of theological evolution. I hope that we get to find out some more about that when we finally reach the New Testament (in, oh, about five years).

Up until Noah, this is a list of generational patriarchs, a direct line from father to son to grandson, and so on. But abruptly, without any indication of change, it presents us with three brothers: Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah.

That’s because it’s with Noah’s sons that we see our first ethnic branching.

The sons of Japheth: According to my study Bible, the sons of Japheth represent Indo-European populations. The section is taken from Genesis 10, and the sons are Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.

In the next generation, the sons of Gomer are Ashkenaz, Diphath (who appears as Riphath in Gen. 10:3), and Togarmah. The sons of Javan are Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Rodanim (who appears as Dodanim in Gen. 10:4).

It’s worth noting that Javan (literally Ionia) represents the Greeks. According to James Pate, the discrepancy between Dodanim (Gen. 10:4) and Rodanim (1 Chron. 1:7) may be due simply to the fact that the “d” and “r” sounds are represented in Hebrew with letters that look similar and may have been confused at some point by some hapless copier. Pate goes on to propose another possibility:

Relying on Mefaresh’s interpretation, which is based on Genesis Rabbah 37:1, the Artscroll says that, when Israel sins, the people-group subjugates Israel and is called the Rodanim, from the Hebrew root r-d-h, which means ruling or oppressing.  If Israel controls the people-group, however, the people-group is called the Dodanim, for it is telling Israel that she is its friend, or dod.

Of course, this presents a number of problems, but it’s certainly an interesting proposition.

The sons of Ham: Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. In the next generation, the sons of Cush are Seba, Havilah, Sabta, Raama (here spelled without an ‘h’ at the end, though he has one later in the same verse, as well as in Gen. 10:7), and Sabteca. We are also told that Cush was the father of Nimrod, who “began to be a mighty one in the earth” (1 Chron. 1:10). In the generation after that, we have the sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

Back up the line to Egypt, his sons were Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (whom the Chronicler tells us fathered the Philistines), and Caphtorim.

Next comes Canaan, for whom the pretence of personification is dropped. Rather than naming his sons, we are told instead that he was the father of Sidon, Heth, the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites.

The sons of Shem: The final son of Noah is the sire of the Semitic group, the population from which Abraham will emerge. The sons of Shem are Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, Aram, Uz, Hul, Gether, and Meshech (who appears as Mash in Gen. 10:23). This is either an error or deviates quite a bit from the Genesis 10 version, in which Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash are the sons of Aram, and the grandsons of Shem.

In the next generation, Arpachshad was the father of Shelah, who in turn was the father of Eber. Eber had two sons: Peleg and Joktan. Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Ebal (given as Obal in Gen. 10:28), Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab.

Father of sand, father of stars

We move next to Abraham, who is descended from Shem by way of Arpachshad, Shelah, Eber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, and Terah. This portion is lifted from Genesis 11:10-26. Abraham had two sons: Isaac and Ishmael.

The sons of Ishmael: This section is lifted from Gen. 25:12-16. I’ve always found it an interesting twist that Ishmael should be the first born, yet did not inherit divine attention. We see this motif a great deal in Genesis, of younger sons usurping their older brothers. It would be nice to have an explanation for this, though I suppose it could be as simple as inversion of expectation making for psychologically satisfying (and entertaining) stories. Ishmael, of course, sired the Arabic people.

Ishmael was the father of Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah.

A painting of Abraham's departure, by József Molnár 1849

A painting of Abraham’s departure, by József Molnár 1849

The sons of Keturah: Though 1 Chron. 1:28 implied that Abraham only had Ishmael and Isaac, we know from Gen. 25:1-4 that Abraham remarried after his wife Sarah’s death, a woman named Keturah. Here (1 Chron. 1:32), she is demoted to the status of concubine.

Through her, Abraham was the father of Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. In the next generation, Jokshan fathered Sheba and Dedan (the same two sons given to Raamah in 1 Chron. 1:9). Jokshan’s brother, Midian, fathered Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida, and Eldaah.

The sons of Isaac: We next move over to Abraham’s son by his first wife, Sarah. Isaac had two sons, Esau and Israel. Esau is the progenitor of the Edomites. Israel was born with the name of Jacob, but received the name Israel after an encounter with the Divine. While Genesis used the two names inconsistently, he is here referred to only as Israel.

Esau’s sons were: Eliphaz, Reuel, Jeush, Jalam, and Korah. In the next generation, Eliphaz fathered Teman, Omar, Zephi (appears as Zepho in Gen. 36:11), Gatam, Kenaz, Timna, and Amalek. Reuel fathered Nahath, Zerah, Shammah, and Mizzah. These are taken from Genesis 36:10-14, where Timna appears as a concubine of Eliphaz, not as his son, and she is the mother of Amalek.

The sons of Seir: We run into a difficulty here, since this is the first mention of a Seir. So where is he meant to fit? My study Bible notes that Seir is “another name for Edom”, referencing Gen. 36:8, and in Gen. 36:20, we learn of a Seir the Horite who lived in Edom. Yet none of this helps to explain how Seir is meant to fit into this genealogy.

In any case, Mystery Seir’s sons are Lotan, Shobal, Zibeon, Anah, Dishon, Ezer, and Dishan. He also had a daughter, named as a full sister of Lotan, by the name of Timna.

In the next generation, Lotan fathered Hori and Homam (appearing as Hemam in Gen. 36:22). Shobal fathered Alian (appearing as Alvan in Gen. 36:23), Manahath, Ebal, Shephi (appearing as Shepho in Gen. 36:23), and Onam. Zibeon fathered Aiah and Anah (he either fathered a daughter by the same name, or there is some confusion – in Gen. 36:2, Zibeon had a daughter named Anah, who married Esau). Anah (Seir’s son, not Zibeon’s) fathered Dishon. And Dishon (again, Seir’s son) fathered Hamran (appearing as Hemdan in Gen. 36:26), Eshban, Ithran, and Cheran. Ezer fathered Bilhan, Zaavan, and Jaakan (appearing as Akan in Gen. 36:27). Dishan fathered Uz and Aran.

The kings of Edom: Before Israel had a king of its own, Edom had plenty. This record may be compared to Gen. 36:31-43. They begin with Bela son of Beor, who ruled from Dinhabah. When he did, Jobab son of Zerah, of Bozrah, took over. After him came Husham, of the lands of the Temanites. Then Hadad son of Bedad, who defeated Midian and ruled from Avith. Then came Samlah of Masrekah. Then Shaul of Rehoboth. Then Baalhanan son of Achbor. Then another Hadad (appearing as Hadar in Gen. 36:39), whose city was Pai (which appears as Pau in Gen. 36:39) and whose wife was Mehetabel daughter of Matred, daughter of Mezahab.

The chiefs of Edom were Timna, Aliah (appearing as Alvah in Gen. 36:40), Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel, and Iram.

The sons of Israel: These are, of course, our twelve tribes. Israel fathered Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. This is, of course, parallel to Genesis 35:22-26.

Focus on Judah

The next few chapters cover will cover each individual tribe in excruciating detail. But we begin with Judah, who fathered Er, Onan, and Shelah, via Bathshua the Canaanite.

God killed Er for wickedness (and Onan, but not mentioned here), which leads to Judah impregnating Er’s wife, Tamar, himself. This produced two more sons: Perez and Zerah. This rather sordid story can be found in Genesis 38.

In the next generation, Perez fathered Hezron and Hamul (this corresponds to Gen. 46:12). His brother, Zerah, fathered Zimri (appearing as Zabdi in Jos. 7:1), Ethan, Heman, Calcol, and Dara. If several of these names seem familiar, it might be because they appear in 1 Kings 4:31, as the men of great wisdom to which Solomon is favourably compared. Except, of course, that the version in Kings describes them as the sons of Mahol, not Zerah.

We then skip to a Carmi, who fathers Achar. Achar is described as “the troubler of Israel” (1 Chron. 2:7). Carmi’s link to the rest of the genealogy is omitted, and the description of Achar as “the troubler of Israel” suggests a story with which the reader ought to be familiar. One possibility is that Achar is the Achan from Joshua 7, who cursed the Hebrew army by keeping some of the spoils of war. He is identified in Jos. 7:1 as “the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, from the tribe of Judah.” This would explain his inclusion here. Except, of course, that it completely screws up the timeline of the Hebrews’ sojourn in Egypt.

In very next verse, we return to the explicit relations with Ethan, who fathered Azariah.

The sons of Perez: Back over to the line of Perez, we move down through his son, Hezron, who fathered Jerahmeel, Ram, and Chelubai. Much later, we learn that Hezron, at the age of sixty, married the daughter of Machir (the father of Gilead). Through her, he had a final son named Segub, who fathered Jair. Jair controlled 23 cities in Gilead until Geshur and Aram conquered a bunch of them.

In the next generation, Ram fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon (described here as the “prince of the sons of Judah” – 1 Chron. 2:10). Through Nahshon, we get Salma (who appears as Salmon in Ruth 4:18-22), through whom we get Boaz (the love interest of the book of Ruth), and through him Obed. Then, through Obed, we get Jesse.

The sons of Jesse: Jesse fathered Eliab, Abinadab, Shimea, Nethanel, Raddai, Ozem, and David. Though only these seven sons are listed here, 1 Sam. 16:10-11 and 1 Sam. 17:12 both explicitly state that he had eight (of which David was the youngest).

He also had daughters: Zeruiah and Abigail. Zeruiah gave birth to some rather plot critical characters: Abishai, Joab, and Asahel, who play a fairly important part in 2 Samuel and 1 Kings. Abigail married Jether the Ishmaelite (named Ithra the Israelite in 2 Sam. 17:25), and bore Amasa. It’s interesting that the children of David’s sisters should be worth mentioning, but not those of his brothers.

 

The sons of Jerahmeel: The narrative is jumping around quite a bit, making it difficult to follow. We now bounce back to Jerahmeel, Hezron’s eldest. Jerahmeel is a bit difficult, since he is listed specifically as being a member of the tribe of Judah here, yet 1 Sam. 27:10 and 1 Sam. 30:29 refer to the Jerahmeelites as if they were a separate, non-Israelite, group. To smooth this over, my New Bible Commentary argues that “it is much simpler to suppose that the descendants of Jerahmeel, who in any case were settled in the south of Judea, retained their nomadic habits longer, and so in the days of David were reckoned separately from the rest of Judah” (p.372).

Jerahmeel fathered Ram, Bunah, Oren, Ozem, and Ahijah. In the next generation, Ram fathered Maaz, Jamin, and Eker.

Jerahmeel also had a second wife, Atarah, who bore Onam. Onam fathered Shammai and Jada. Shammai fathered Nadab and Abishur. Abishur married a woman named Abihail, and they had Ahban and Molid. Nadab fathered Seled (who died childless) and Apparim, who fathered Ishi. Ishi fathered Sheshan, who fathered Ahlai.

Despite what I said just above, we are told that Sheshan had no sons (this isn’t necessarily a contradiction, as Ahlai might either have died young or been born after the events I am about to relate). To continue his line, he married his daughter to his Egyptian slave, Jarha, and they had Attai.

Brian Shwimmer (of the University of Manitoba’s Department of Anthropology) addresses this in the broader context of inheritance:

Inheritance by daughters imposed a particular difficulty, which is acknowledged in several biblical passages. After Moses first promulgates the rule (Numbers), he is confronted with a problem: if females inherit land from their fathers they will pass it on to their children and therefore into the patrimony of another tribe or lineage. His solution is to institute a parallel cousin marriage regulation. Thus a woman who inherits from her father is to marry her father’s brother’s son so that property will automatically be retained within the wider patriline. A second mechanism for maintaining the continuity of lineage holdings was to marry inheriting daughters to household slaves. Since these dependants had no partilineages of their own, their children were by default incorporated into their mothers’ lineages. The arrangement of marriages to slaves created a number of segments that originated with female rather than male founders (see I Chronicles 2:34-36 for an example.) This institution directly mirrors a solution to the reverse problem of a daughterless family among the Akan, a matrilineal people of West Africa.

The reference to Numbers, of course, relates to the daughters of Zelophehad, whose story can be found in Numbers 27 and Numbers 36.

Attai fathered Nathan, who fathered Zabad, who fathered Ephlal, who fathered Obed, who fathered Jehu, who fathered Azariah, who fathered Helez, who fathered Eleasah, who fathered Sismai, who fathered Shallum, who fathered Jekamiah, who fathered Elishama.

After all that, we move back up the line to Onam’s second son, Jada, who fathered Jether (who died childless) and Jonathan. Jonathan fathered Peleth and Zaza.

A Tale of Two Calebs

I am moving the two sections about Calebs to the bottom for special treatment. The first originally began with 1 Chron. 2:18. The mention of a Caleb is rather odd. It appears to be yet another sui genesis dynasty. In looking for more information, I am finding that the consensus makes Caleb a variant spelling of Chelubai, making him the son of Hezron, grandson of Perez. Except that that Caleb will be mentioned later on, leaving this one still without explanation.

Whoever he is, this Caleb married a woman named Azubah. The verse (1 Chron. 2:18) is rather difficult to parse out, suggesting that Caleb had sons with both Azubah and Jerioth. My interpretation was that this might refer to an arrangement similar to the one used by Abraham in Genesis 16. My New Bible Commentary, however, argues that “either Jerioth was another name of Azubah, or there is a textual corruption” (p.372). The Commentary goes on to suggest that the original wording might have had Azubah give birth to a daughter, Jerioth, who in turn had the sons who will shortly be listed. In any case, Caleb had the following sons: Jesher, Shobab, and Ardon. After Azubah died, Caleb married Ephrath (later listed as Ephrathah, compare 1 Chron. 2:19 to 1 Chron. 2:24), who gave birth to Hur.

Caleb, who apparently lived up to his name (kelev means “dog”), impregnated his father’s wife, Ephrathah – though he at least waited until his father was dead. Through her, he fathered Ashhur, who fathered Tekoa. (There is no mention of either of them being put to death, which would be required by Leviticus 20:11.)

In the next generation, Hur fathered Uri, and Uri fathered Bezalel. This appears to be the same as Bezaleel, named in Exodus 31:2.

Further down (I’m putting it here for convenience), we will get another section headed: “The sons of Caleb the brother of Jerahmeel” (1 Chron. 2:42). The two genealogies are different, though my New Bible Commentary insists that the names here are meant to supplement the ones above. To me, this suggests that either Caleb was a quasi-mythic figure in a few different spots, each with their own traditions that had to be amalgamated, or there were a few different Calebs that somehow became conflated.

In any case, the Caleb specifically identified as the brother of Jerahmeel fathered Mareshah, who fathered Ziph and Hebron. Hebron fathered Korah, Tappuah, Tekem, and Shema. Shema fathered Raham, who fathered Jorekeam. While Rekem fathered Shammai. Shammai fathered Maon, who fathered Bethzur.

This Caleb also had a concubine named Ephah, who bore Haran, Moza, and Gazez. Haran also fathered a Gazez, though hopefully a different one.

There is another sui genesis patriarch listed among the descendants of Caleb: Jahdai. Jahdai fathered Regem, Jotham, Geshan, Pelet, Ephah, and Shaaph.

Caleb had yet another concubine, this one named Maacah. She bore Sheber and Tirhanah. We are told that she was also the mother of Shaaph (if the same as above, the implications are even more headache-inducing). Shaaph fathered Madmannah and Sheva. Sheva fathered Macbenah, and was the father of Gibea.

Finally, Caleb had a daughter, Achsah. It is on this basis this Caleb is identified with Caleb the Kenizzite, who appears, for example, in Joshua 14:6, and who also had a daughter by the same name (Jos. 15:17). The theory, if I understand it correctly, goes that he may have been an honorary Israelite, perhaps adopted into Hezron’s family.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that several of Caleb’s descendants are also the names of towns. So are we to understand that Caleb (and his lineage) founded those towns? Or that these individuals gave their names to the towns that they founded?

The sons of Hur: I am continuing this out of order, just to keep Hur in the same section as Caleb. Hur was the son of Ephrathah (called Ephrath in 1 Chron. 2:19), Caleb’s second wife. He fathered Shobal (who “fathered” Kiriath-jearim), Salma (who “fathered” Bethlehem), and Hareph (who “fathered” Beth-gader).

Shobal’s sons were Haroeh, and half of Manuhoth. Yeah, I’m scratching my head as well.

The families of Kiriath-jearim were the Ithrites, the Puthites, the Shumathites, and the Mishraites. From these came the Zorathites and the Esthaolites. The families of Bethlehem were the Netophathites, Atrothbethjoab, the Zorites, and half of the Manahathites. The families of the scribes who lived in Jabez were the Tirathites, the Shimeathites, and the Sucathites. These, we are told, were the Kenites who came from Hammath, the father of the house of Rechab.

And now I think I need to go detox my brain for a while.

1 Kings 5-7: Time for building up

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When David tried to build a temple to house the ark, God told him that it was a job for his offspring (2 Sam. 7:12). Now that the offspring is on the throne, it’s time to get cracking!

As I’ve learned from my many watchings (and re-watchings) of Bob the Builder, the first step to any construction project is to make sure you have all your materials (well, actually, Bob is quite clear that the first step is planning, but I assume the narrator is just skipping over that stage). For help, Solomon sends to King Hiram of Tyre, who had provided cedar trees, carpenters, and masons when David had built his palace in 2 Sam. 5:11-12, and who is described as having been a good friend of David’s. The narrative actually has Hiram contact Solomon first, when his reign begins, to remind him of what good friends he and David were. I’m sure that was political, though, and not a bid for a big construction contract.

In his message to Hiram, Solomon explains that David had been unable to build a temple “because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him” (1 Kgs 5:3) – a different explanation from what we were given in 2 Sam. 7, though they aren’t mutually exclusive. Now that there is peace, Solomon has the time to focus on his great works. He offers to send servants of his own to supplement Hiram’s, and to pay wages for Hiram’s workers. Hiram agrees with the stipulation that Solomon pay him in food for his household, and makes arrangements to send the wood down by sea from Lebanon. Both parties agree, Solomon sends Hiram 20,000 cors of wheat and 20,000 cors of beaten oil per year, and the two make a treaty.

Solomon’s next problem is finding the labour. Rather than offering appealing wages and other incentives, he decides simply to raise a levy of forced labour, to be directed by Adoniram, mentioned in 1 Kgs 4:6, and presumably the same person as the Adoram in 2 Sam. 20:24. Thirty thousand people are conscripted, to serve in groups of 10,000 for one month each in rotation (one on, two off) in Lebanon. Solomon also procures 70,000 burden-bearers and 80,000 hewers of stone to work in the hill country, presumably forced labour as well.

Paul Davidson has a great discussion about the various forms of slavery in the Bible that doesn’t fall under the category of “private ownership of slaves.” The term he uses in place of levy is “corvée,” – “the “right” of the king to force his subjects into mandatory labour as a sort of taxation for public works and other projects” (whereas “levy,” at least in my mind, carries the connotation that the services is to be military in nature). Davidson continues to explain that the nature of the slavery described here is one of temporary service for a specific task, citing 1 Kgs 9:22 (“But of the Israelites Solomon made no slaves”) to argue that this forced labour was socially considered to be a separate class from slavery.

Also, if the list in 2 Sam. 20:24 is correct, it seems that the practice of this kind of forced labour was already happening under David, and not a Solomonic invention to deal with the building of the temple. Another detail I noticed is that the levies are only said to be raised “out of all Israel” (1 Kgs 5:13), whereas the nation has generally been referred to as “Israel and Judah” for the last little while. I’m not sure of this is significant and Solomon is only “recruiting” from tribes other than his own, or if his is just a different source that is reverting to the earlier use of “Israel” to refer to the whole populace.

Solomon also brought in men from Gebal to do the hewing and preparation of the materials for construction, as well as a master stonemason named Hiram of Tyre, who was  the son of a Naphtali woman and a Tyrian man (1 Kgs 7:13-14).

Construction

We’re told that construction on the temple began in the 418th year since the Hebrews came out of Egypt, and the fourth year of Solomon’s reign. Even more specifically, it began in Ziv, which would be somewhere around April-May. According to my New Bible Commentary, there are a few problems here, the first being with the number of years since the exodus, which “would put the Exodus about 1447 BC, which is not in keeping with other evidence, either biblical or extra-biblical. There are indications that this verse may be a late gloss in the text. It is inserted two verses earlier in LXX, and reads ‘440’ instead of ‘480’” (p.328).

There’s another issue with the beginning month. Ziv is said to be the second month of the year in the text, yet it “was the second month of the later Babylonian calendar, but the eighth month of the pre-exilic calendar. LXX omits in the month of Ziv” (p.328).

What follows is an incredibly long description of the temple. The TL;DR version is that it’s pretty small for something that was meant for congregation-based worship activities, so it was likely used more for priestly rituals. All the stone used in the construction was prepared at the quarry  to reduce the amount of noise at the site – the reason is not stated, though I’m sure we’re to assume that it was for cultic reasons and not because Solomon lived nearby and liked to sleep in.

There was an innermost chamber to house the ark, and an outer nave or entryway that was a bit larger. Surrounding both were chambers. If I understand correctly, there was another structure surrounding this inner centre with a courtyard buffer. The inside of the temple was panelled with cedar and either foiled or inlaid with gold – the inner sanctuary entirely so, so that none of the stonework could be seen. This panelling was apparently quite ornate, as mention is made of images of gourds and open flowers.

Basically, it looked like this:

1 Kings 6

Perhaps as part of the temple complex, he made two free-standing pillars of bronze, one named Jachin and the other Boaz. My New Bible Commentary says that: “the use of free-standing columns in front of the Temple is attested in coins which were found at Sion and on the sculpture which tells that the pillars before the Baal temple at Tyre held a fire which glowed at night. It has been suggested that the pillars in front of Solomon’s Temple may have contained a sacred fire reminding the Israelites of the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night of the wilderness period; but all suggestions are largely speculative” (p.330). In other words, for all the ink wasted in the description of the temple, frustratingly little information actually comes through.

On the names of the pillar, my New Bible Commentary explains that Jachin meant “he establishes” and Boaz meant “in him is strength” (p.331), both perfectly plausible literal names.

There was also a “molten sea” (1 Kgs 7:23) – a round structure filled with water and standing on twelve oxen – three facing out toward each compass point. According to Collins, “the symbolism of these objects is not explained, but the sea recalls the prominence of Yamm (Sea) in the Ugaritic myths” (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.135).

All through the temple were images of various flowers, fruits, and animals – which is difficult to reconcile with the rather clear prohibitions in Exodus 20:4, Leviticus 26:1, and Deuteronomy 27:15.

In addition to all of this were stands, lavers, pots, shovels, and basins. Once the construction was over, Solomon brought in all the stuff David had already begun collecting and dedicating for storage in the temple’s treasuries.

The entire construction took seven years to complete.

It seems that the temple may have been part of a building complex that included Solomon’s personal apartments (which seem to have been called the House of the Forest of Lebanon), his Egyptian wife’s apartments, a Hall of Pillars (whatever that might have been used for), a Hall of the Throne (from which he made his kingly pronouncements), and a Hall of Judgement (in which he presumably saw petitioners like the two prostitutes in 1 Kgs).

As fancy as the temple seem to have been, it took only seven years to build. Solomon’s own house took thirteen. As Brant Clements puts it, “That may say something about how YHWH rates….”

Ruth: Conclusion

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Slotted between Judges and 1 Samuel (thought the Jewish scriptures place it in the Kethuvim, or Writings), Ruth is a complete change of pace. The story is longer (for all that happens in it, it would have barely made a verse or two in any other book we’ve read so far), calmer, and it takes time to show the interactions between people. More refreshingly, it takes the time to show the interactions between women – between Naomi and her daughters-in-law, of course, but also between Naomi and the unnamed women of Bethlehem.

While Boaz is a major character and takes a central role in mediating the redeeming of Elimelech’s land, the focus of the narrative is clearly on Naomi and Ruth. The Ruth/Boaz plotline reads more like a business transaction, while the Ruth/Naomi relationship expresses love, loyalty, and friendship. Previously, we’ve only heard of the relationships between women when it’s negative, when the fights between women become so big that they impact the lives of men (such as the relationship between Sarah and Hagar in Genesis 21), but here, it’s the focus of the story.

It was also refreshing to read a “small story,” one that isn’t about clashes between ethnic groups or households, but just a pastoral story of politically insignificant (except insofar as their genealogies are concerned) people finding ways to survive.

Background

There are numerous connections between the story in Ruth and the Patriarchs of Genesis. Perhaps the most obvious is way Ruth’s story mirrors Tamar’s – both women wish to honour their late husbands through a Levirate marriage, but both are denied, though for different reasons. In both cases, the women hide themselves (Ruth does so literally, while Tamar hides her identity by disguising herself as a prostitute) in order to approach the man that they intend to use to fulfil the obligations of Levirate law. In so doing, both are rewarded with the son they sought. The connection between them is made explicit by having Boaz be descended from Tamar’s son.

Ruth and Naomi, at the Saint James Anglican Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Ruth and Naomi, at the Saint James Anglican Church, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

As Adele Berlin points out, the “Book of Ruth, too, is about exile and return, land and people. Like Abraham, and like the family of Jacob (see the story of Joseph), the family of Elimelech was forced by famine to leave its home in the land of Israel and to preserve itself in a foreign land. When the famine abates, Naomi returns to Bethlehem.”

The dating of the story seems rather unclear. From what I’ve read, it seems that it mostly hinges on the political agenda the scholar is reading into the text. For example, the genealogy linking Ruth to David suggests to some that the text was written to explain why it’s okay for David to have a Moabite grandmother despite passages like Deut. 23:3.

Others see it as a postexilic text. As Collins explains:

On this reading, the story was composed as a polemic against the stringent rejection of marriage to foreign women by Ezra. The placement of the book in the Writings lends some support to the postexilic date, since many of the Writings date from this period. Against this view, however, Ruth does not read like a polemic, and the point of the story is not to affirm mixed marriages. Mixed marriage, in fact, is not acknowledged as a problem at all. It seems entirely natural that the sons of a man from Judah who grow up in Moab should marry Moabite women. When the women accept the God of Israel, as Ruth does, there is no problem whatsoever. The viewpoint of Ruth is entirely different from that of Ezra, but it does not necessarily follow that Ruth was composed as a polemic against Ezra. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.270-271)

I think it’s also important to remember that there are two separate filters – the original writing and the choice to include the book in the canon of scripture. It would be a mistake to assume that the motivations of both are necessarily the same.

I also think that the Book of Ruth contains enough details that would argue for its inclusion without there needing to be any political motive. In the beginning, the text situates itself in the time of Judges (Ruth 1:1). Then, the genealogy of Ruth 4:22 weaves the story into David’s history. These two details provide ample explanation for why a compiler, who may be interested in completeness, would have thought to include it.

Ruth 4: Buy one land, get one wife free!

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As promised, Boaz heads to the city gate – where all business is supposed to be transacted – and takes a seat. When the nearer relative comes by, Boaz accosts him and invites him to have a seat. He then finds ten city elders to sit with them, presumably to act as witnesses.

With everyone gathered together (except, you know, the actual person who currently owns the land – Naomi), Boaz explains that Naomi has returned and seeks to sell her late husband’s land. According to the laws laid out in Leviticus 25 (or, more specifically, Leviticus 25:25), Elimelech’s relatives must be given the opportunity to redeem the land, keeping it in the family. Boaz offers dibs to the nearer kin, since he is the closer relative. If he doesn’t want it, Boaz explains, then Boaz is the next in line as potential redeemer.

The nearer kin announces that he wants the land, but pulls back when Boaz adds the stipulation that buying the land also means “buying Ruth the Moabitess” (Ruth 4:5). Gross language, but the purpose, says Boaz, is to “restore the name of the dead to his inheritance.” In other words, he is attaching the rules of the Levirate marriage to the sale of the land rather than to the sibling relationship. It’s not clear what gives him the authority to do this.

Ruth, Naomi, and Obed (detail), by Simeon Solomon

Ruth, Naomi, and Obed (detail), by Simeon Solomon

The nearer kin backs down, saying that he can’t take the land if it comes with Ruth “lest I impair my own inheritance” (Ruth 4:6). It’s a little confusing, but I think the point he is making is that if Ruth has a child, then it will be officially her husband’s, but it will also be the kinsman’s son. Therefore, his own inheritance will pass into the hands of someone who is legally another man’s son. Which is all a little weird – if Ruth’s first born is considered her late husband’s, wouldn’t only subsequent children count as her new husband’s?

It may just be a “plot critical” issue, so, moving on.

The text then gives us an interesting historical lesson: “Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel” (Ruth 4:7).

This is a really weird twist on Deut. 25:9-10, which specifies that if a man refuses to impregnate his brother’s wife, in the situations where a Levirate marriage applies, she is to remove one of his sandals and spit in his face.

Here, rather than Ruth removing his sandal and spitting in his face, he removes his own sandal and hands it off to Boaz, and this is played out like it’s some sort of transaction receipt.

The transaction concluded, the elders give their blessings, which includes linking Ruth and Boaz to Tamar and Judah – another situation where a woman managed to secure a Levirate marriage by disguising/hiding herself to sexually approach her intended target.

Interestingly, while the elders heap their blessings on Boaz, they hope for his prosperity, but completely fail to mention the continuance of Elimelech’s household – which is the stated purpose of the marriage in the first place.

After Boaz “went in to” Ruth (Ruth 4:13), she bore a son named Obed. Naomi nurses her grandson (which is a rather impressive feat, by the way), and the women exclaim: “A son has been born to Naomi” (Ruth 4:17).

The women also tell Naomi that Ruth “is more to you than seven sons” (Ruth 4:15). According to Claude Mariottini, “seven sons” was a sort of generic blessing for a woman, since it falls quite safely within the “heir and a spare” requirement (and, presumably, because seven is a symbolically popular number). For her loyalty, Ruth is even better than the standard great blessing for a woman.

It is the women who gathered around Naomi and welcomed her home in Ruth 1:19-20, and it is the women who celebrate with her here. Once again, this is a woman’s story, and time is actually spent on the relationships between women in the neighbourhood – something that’s been almost entirely lacking up until now.

Genealogy

In the final portion of Ruth, we are told that Perez, the son born of Tamar and Judah in Genesis 38, was the father of Hezron, who fathered Ram, who fathered Amminadab, who fathered Nahshon, who fathered Salmon, who fathered Boaz.

Boaz fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who fathered David.

So the story of Ruth and Boaz is linked to both Tamar and Judah (as the elders reference in Ruth 4:12, though without indication that they know Boaz’s parentage), and to David (yes, that David, the one who will one day be king).

The significance of the genealogy is apparently quite debated:

Some scholars argue that this genealogy is the starting point for the story of Ruth. On this reading, the purpose of the book is to put a positive spin on the fact that David’s great-grandmother is a Moabite, by showing how she won the Lord’s favour. But Ruth is not a political story. David is only mentioned at the end, in a virtual appendix. It seems much more likely that the genealogies were added secondarily, to justify the inclusion of the story about a Moabite woman in the scriptures of Israel. (Collins, A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.270)

The timeline of the genealogy doesn’t make too much sense within the biblical narrative. Even if we assume that each generation did not have kids until they were 50 years old, and we assume that Perez spent most of his life in Egypt (which I think is being very generous), it would still place Boaz’s birth in Egypt, since we are told that the Israelites spent ~400 years there (Exodus 12:40). Not only that, but Boaz does not seem a newcomer in Bethlehem. There has been time for a settling, a famine, and a return… This story makes far more sense if we assume that Israel’s founding was a slow process of mini-migrations and assimilation, rather than great exodus event.

Ruth 3: On the threshing floor

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This next chapter is extremely interesting, both because of how risqué it is, and in how far many readers will twist themselves to keep Ruth a chaste and modest paragon of “womanly virtue.”

Naomi, who assumed responsibility for her daughter-in-law when Ruth chose to follow her instead of returning to her family, bemoans Ruth’s situation. She decides that, as Ruth’s substitute parent, it falls to her to find a home and family for Ruth. Like many mothers, she latches on to that nice boy Ruth was talking about the other day and immediately hears wedding bells.

But rather than, say, approaching Boaz as some marital mediator, Naomi instead proposes something a little more RomCom. She tells Ruth to wash and anoint herself, put on her best clothes, and go to the threshing floor where Boaz is working late. She should hide until Boaz has finished working and lies down for a nap, then “uncover his feet and lie down” (Ruth 3:4). I think it should be rather clear that “uncover his feet” is a euphemism, yet for some reason a whole lot of people insist on imagining that Ruth is really just to go in, lift his blanket off his feet a little, and… I don’t even know what the purpose of that is supposed to be.

The fact that it all takes place on the threshing floor may make the implied action a little clearer. According to Collins:

The threshing floor was not only a workplace but also a place of celebration, where men relaxed at the end of the harvest. Hosea accuses Israel of acting like a prostitute on all the threshing floors (Hos. 9:1). These were apparently places where prostitutes might expect to find customers. (A Short Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, p.269)

So Ruth follows Naomi’s instructions and heads over to the threshing floor. She waits while Boaz eats and drinks, and we are told that “his heart was merry” (Ruth 3:7). I think that the implication here is that he’s drunk. If so, it’s an interesting possibly literary reference. The only other time that I can think of where a sexual encounter was initiated by a woman was in Genesis 19:30-38, where Lot’s daughters have sex with him. Like Boaz, Lot was also described as drunk during the encounter. Even more interesting, one of the children born from Lot and his daughters is Moab, forefather of Ruth’s people.

Ruth and Boaz at the Threshing Floor, by Ben-Zion

Ruth and Boaz at the Threshing Floor, by Ben-Zion

At midnight, Boaz is startled awake by the woman at his feet, and he asks her who she is. Ruth gives her name, identifying herself as his maidservant, and asking him to “spread your skirt over your maidservant, for you are next of kin” (Ruth 3:9).

As a reader of the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin, this grabbed my attention. In the series, part of the Westeros wedding ceremony involves the groom removing the bride’s cloak (which bear her natal family’s colours), and placing his own cloak (with his family’s colours) over her shoulders. The symbolism is rather obvious, switching her allegiance from her natal family to her married family. It also signifies protection – by placing his bride under his cloak, the groom is signifying that she is now under his protection.

That appears to be exactly what is going on in Ruth.

Denise Dick Herr adds another level of detail:

In Hebrew, the word for skirt, kanap, is the same one that Boaz used when he first met her: “A full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings [kanap] you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12). To Ruth, the blessing of God that Boaz gave her is not enough. To receive the blessing, she needs a human agent, and she calls upon Boaz to be that agent.

Notice, also, that Ruth justifies her request by calling Boaz her “next of kin” (Ruth 3:9). While Boaz is not legally bound by the rules of the Levirate marriage, Ruth is invoking the spirit of the law to sway him.

The next of kin

Is it just me, or is Boaz’s answer to Ruth’s request in Ruth 3:10-13 rather bumbling? When I played the scene out in my head, he seemed to be gushing with words, clearly flustered by Ruth’s presence, her forwardness, or perhaps shame that he did not think to do more for the beggar who is his kinswoman.

He also seems concerned with his reputation – he wants to make sure that it is not known “that the woman came to the threshing floor” (Ruth 3:14). It seems that he is willing to comply with Ruth’s request because she has a good reputation (Ruth 3:11), but that reputation may not last if it is known that she came to the threshing floor like a prostitute, as Collins suggested above.

Unfortunately, while he is willing to marry Ruth, there is a nearer kinsman than himself. Before Boaz can marry Ruth, she has to be offered to the nearest kin. If he refuses her, Boaz agrees to take her.

In the morning, they rise while it’s still too dark for them to be seen or recognized. Boaz instructs Ruth to spread out her cloak, and he fills it with barley.

When Ruth returns to Naomi, she tells her mother-in-law what happened.

Ruth 2: The first meeting

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Chapter 2 introduces us to Boaz. He is “a man of wealth” (Ruth 2:1) – though this means only that he’s an upper level farmer – and a kinsman of Noami’s husband, Elimelech. He isn’t closely related enough to be legally responsible for the women, as would be the case in a situation where the Levirate marriage applies.

To feed herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth decides to go out to the fields (it’s harvest time) and do some gleaning. This refers to the charitable structure in which remnants from harvesting are to be left in the fields for the poor to gather (Lev. 19:9-10, Lev. 23:22, Deut. 24:19-22).

When Ruth gets to the part of the field that belongs to Boaz, he calls out to the reapers: “The Lord be with you!” (Ruth 2:4), and they all respond in kind. Then he notices Ruth and asks his servant, the overseer of the reapers, who she is: “Whose maiden in this?” (Ruth 2:5). The overseer explains that she is a Moabite who returned with Naomi, mentioning that she has been gleaning ” from early morning until now, without resting even for a moment” (Ruth 2:7).

This passage is mentioned in Bill Gothard’s Advanced Seminar Textbook. In his section on the Seven Phases of a Godly Courtship, he uses the story of Ruth to illustrate each phase. In the first step, where the man is to show “the richness of his preparation,” his test is to show a desire to learn about his intended’s family. This makes an assumption about the cultural context of the question – one that really doesn’t seem justified. As Libby Anne puts it:

This is accompanied by the verse where Boaz asks his servant “whose damsel is this?” Contrary to Gothard’s interpretation, this could simply have been the ancient equivalent of asking for a girl’s phone number. More seriously, Boaz asks this when he first arrives on the scene, before being impressed by her. So perhaps this is simply the equivalent of asking “hey, who’s the new girl?”

(Incidentally, her blog post goes through each of the seven phases and is worth reading for anyone who can stomach evangelical patriarchal conceptions of courtship.)

I think that Libby Anne is correct. This is not Boaz initiating courtship by taking an interest in his intended’s family, but rather a way of establishing the identity of a new face on his field. It’s a far less creepy interpretation than the one put forward by Gothard.

Special Favours

Boaz now addresses Ruth directly, telling her to keep gleaning his fields and not move on to another. He positions her among his servants, telling her to follow his female servants, gleaning after them, and to drink from the water that’s been drawn for his working servants if she gets thirsty.

In response, Ruth prostrates herself and asks him why she should be considered special, even though she is a foreigner.

Boaz pouring barley into Ruth's veil, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c.1650

Boaz pouring barley into Ruth’s veil, by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c.1650

Boaz responds that he’d heard of her faithfulness to her mother-in-law. To this, Ruth responds that he’s being very kind, “you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not one of your maidservants” (Ruth 2:13).

On the surface, it seems that Boaz is just extending a favour to someone he’s heard good things about, and Ruth is being duly grateful.

In a 5 Minute Bible episode, Tim Bulkeley suggested a slightly different interpretation. Have a listen the episode, but what I took from it is that he presents this story as being something of a culture clash: Boaz, a farmer, comes from a rigid culture in which roles are well-defined. As someone who is reasonably high up in his society’s hierarchy (he is described as a “man of wealth” in Ruth 2:1), he sees himself as a sort of benevolent dictator. He condescends to notice Ruth and her situation, and to help out in a very uninvolved way (he lets her glean his fields, which he must do anyway, and lets her drink the water that has been drawn by the labour of his servants).

Ruth, for her part, comes from a semi-nomadic society where roles are more fluid. She asked Boaz’s taskmaster, out of courtesy, for permission to glean after the workers. Boaz then swoops in acting a bit pompous in his role of saviour. It’s possible, then, that Ruth’s response is a little snarky. Rather than humbly gushing about how kind he’s being even though she isn’t in his household and doesn’t consider herself worthy of being so much as a servant to him, perhaps she is using a little snark to remind him that she isn’t one of his servants.

I’ve followed Bulkeley’s advice and read the book twice, once seeing her character as humble and once as snarky. While I feel that both fit, I like snarky Ruth a whole lot better.

Denise Dick Herr looks at how Ruth and Boaz typify the differences between male and female speech. Her article covers the whole of Ruth and is a very thought-provoking read. In this particular conversation, she notes that Boaz approaches Ruth first, indicating that he knows the problems she faces (though, notably, focusing only on Ruth’s material needs), and lists the solutions he is willing to provide. His speech is written in imperatives – she may follow his reapers, she may drink his servants’ water.

Ruth, on the other hand, shows a focus on establishing her place in her relationship with Boaz. She does not thank him for what he is giving her, but rather asks him why she has found favour with him.

Dick Herr notes, also, that Boaz uses significantly more words than Ruth, pointing to modern research showing that when men and women talk to each other, men tend to dominate the conversation and speak a great deal more than women.

So there are many different ways to approach this text, and many ways to view the characters. It’s a short story, but rich in complexity and realism.

The rest of the day

At mealtime, Boaz calls Ruth over and offers her some bread dipped in wine. When she finishes, Boaz instructs his reapers to let her glean “even among the sheaves” (Ruth 2:15), and even to pull some out from the bundles and leave them for her. As my study Bible puts it, “he authorizes a little generous cheating on her behalf” (p.326).

By evening, she had gleaned a whole ephah of barley!

She returned to Naomi and shared with her what was left from the meal Boaz had given her earlier. Naomi, impressed with Ruth’s gleaning, asks her where she worked and who gave her the food. When Ruth tells her about Boaz, Naomi recognises him as a relative.

In closing, Naomi is pleased that Ruth has been given permission to stick close to Boaz’s female servants, since if she were alone, she might be molested (Ruth 2:22). There’s safety in numbers, apparently.

So until the end of the barley and wheat harvests, Ruth continues to glean from Boaz’s fields.