MAR-SBL paper: Boaz Centrally Marginalized

This morning marks the beginning of the Mid-Atlantic Regional SBL (and AAR) meeting. There are some interesting papers but this morning I need to try and finish my paper for tomorrow. I thought I would share the general premise here. Feel free to critique it and if I have the time I will incorporate your thoughts!

Boaz Centrally Marginalized

Royal 6 E VI f. 204v Booz (Boaz) Description: Detail of a historiated initial ‘B'(ooz) of the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. Origin: England, S. E. (London)

Ruth and Naomi are rightly understood by most commentators as the central figures of the book of Ruth. Almost every modern commentator agrees that Ruth and Naomi are the initiators of all action and Boaz merely the respondent. In many ways Boaz is only marginally relevant to the story, he is present because only a male figure could accomplish the deeds necessary to secure Ruth and Naomi’s future.

Yet there has been a tremendous amount of attention paid to Boaz over the centuries. Older and more traditional commentaries, going back to the rabbinic midrashim and as recent as Frederic Bush,1 depict Boaz as the righteous and benevolent savior of Ruth and Naomi. Often to the extent that the women are displaced from their central roles. More recently, however, we find commentators like Fewell and Gunn who focus upon Boaz precisely with the purpose of diminishing in some way his role.

Boaz has thus been centrally marginalized in two instances. In the first case the narrator since the story itself places Boaz in a distinctly tertiary role relative to Ruth and Naomi, and in the second case by the scholars who seek to reduce his actions to those of a horny old man.

Summary

(1) The story itself presents Boaz as a figure who is key to the story, he is a necessary element of the preservation of Ruth and Naomi, but it is made clear in a number of ways that he is merely a tool,2 used and manipulated by the women, with very little value of his own aside from his role as “redeemer.”

(2) While Boaz is not a central figure many scholars have recently have sought to marginalize or diminish Boaz by making him a horny old git, reacting primarily to his primal urges rather than out of any altruistic or religious motives. This is no doubt in reaction to many of the equally lopsided interpretations of Boaz as the pious pillar of the story. The result is that while his actions are important for the movement and culmination of the story, his character is impugned and his motives are reduced to physical impulse.

So, what do you think?

 
  1. E.g., “[Boaz’s] magnanimity knows no bounds.” Ruth, Esther, Word Biblical Commentary, (Dallas: Word Books, 1996), p. 54. []
  2. Boaz is a tool! That makes me giggle. Sorry. I am juvenile. []

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