Boaz in Targum Ruth

In just a few weeks I will be in Finland for the triennial conference of the International Organization for Targumic Studies. [mfn]My first ever conference was, in fact, the first IOTS conference, before it even had a name. I will never forget the discussion of whether it should be “International Organization FOR or OF Targumic Studies.” Fr. Joe Fitzmeyer settled the discussion by saying that he would rather be “for something” for a change. Hence the name….[/mfn] The program has already been published and I will be presenting a paper, The Figure of Boaz in Targum Ruth. So while procrastinating working on the paper I thought I would share a sample of what you can expect from this study.

Targum Ruth 2:11 gives a good example of how the Targumist has enhanced the character of Boaz. (“Character” is here used in both sense of the term, as a dramatis personæ and the nature of the man.)

10 She fell on her face and bowed to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes that you should befriend me since I am from a foreign people, from the daughters of Moab, who are not purified to enter into the congregation of the Lord?”

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. And it was told to me by prophecy that there will come forth from you kings and prophets because of [all] the kindness that you have done for your mother-in-law, that you have supported her after your husband died and you forsook your god and your people [and your father and mother] and the land of your birth and went to become a proselyte and to dwell among a people who were not known to you before.

Boaz, who is characterized in the biblical text as a solid bloke, is now the apotheosis of the rabbinic manhood. When confronted by the difficult situation of Ruth’s foreignness, the central challenge of the Book of Ruth which is resolved only by the fact that Boaz does marry her, Boaz of the Targum responds with the words of the sages. Once the halakhic explanation has been given Boaz the Righteous (TgRuth 1:1) and Pious (TgRuth 1:6) adds Prophet to his titles.

That the targumist offers two explanations of how it is that Ruth is acceptable in the congregation is likely based upon the dual declaration in Ruth 2:11 that Boaz has “heard fully” (NRSV) of all that Ruth had done for Naomi (‏הֻגֵּד הֻגַּד לִי). (So Beattie, Aramaic Bible, p. 24 n. 10.) Neither are new or unique to the Targum, but when placed together within the flowing narrative of the Targum the figure of Boaz becomes more fully fleshed.

So there you have a little taste that actually summarizes much of what the Targumist has done in developing the figure of Boaz. Other key “additions” are identifying him with the judge Ibzan (Judges 12:8), crediting his prayers and piety as the reason God lifted the famine on Israel, and making it explicit that nothing untoward occurred at the threshing floor, rather it states that he “restrained his desire” like Joseph “the Righteous” and Paltiel “the Pious.”

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