The character of Boaz in TgRuth…so what?

You know, of course, that last week was the IOTS and I presented a paper on Boaz in Targum Ruth. I was going to post my paper here, but I have changed my mind. (I will post the audio as a podcast later today.) I realized that the paper is so long folks are unlikely to read it all and I will submit the whole thing as an article later this year anyway, so that can wait.

The Chair

On the other hand, I did want to share my basic conclusions as well as my thoughts on why such a study matters. The final few paragraphs of the paper will suffice.

So how has the character of Boaz changed in the Targum? His character in terms of his moral qualities remains positive, but any questions that might have existed, such as those put forward by some modern scholars, are eliminated as his reputation is now beyond reproach. But the character of Boaz within the story, the figure within this moral tale, has changed quite dramatically. He has gone from a relative unknown “prominent rich man” to becoming the epitome of the judge and sage. He is the man that all should seek to emulate.

And that brings us to some final observations. What has been done thus far is quite simple. I have set the texts next to one another and looked for the differences, to see how the Targumist has changed Boaz in his rendering of this text, and offered a simple systematization of those differences and changes. But what of it? Any such survey is mere data collection unless we reflect upon the evidence and draw some conclusions.

The first is that based on content alone we can suggest that TgRuth, if we had any doubts, is in its current form a late text. While one should always be cautious when suggesting primacy of exegetical traditions, we can say with relative certainty that in the case of TgRuth the interpretive traditions found in the Targum are well established in other and likely earlier texts. In fact, many of them such as the reference to Boaz as Ibzan seems to presuppose the audience’s knowledge of the tradition. Certainly the ruling of the sages placed in the mouth of Boaz did not originate in the Targum.

The Targumist was able to choose from a broad preexisting corpus of exegetical material and yet was relatively conservative in what was included. So why did he choose to include the reference to Joseph and Paltiel but exclude the tradition that Boaz dies on the night of his wedding? A complete answer will require a lot more thought on my part and is the primary subject of my book, but a few preliminary comments can be made now.

Whereas the biblical text was, in many ways, seeking to answer the question, how it is that King David came to have a Moabitess as a great grandmother, the Targum has become a rabbinic moral tale. Where the biblical text shows the faithfulness of Ruth to Naomi, the Targum presents her as the prototype of a proselyte. In short, each addition to the biblical text was chosen by the Targumist to exhort his audience, whether it was used for personal study, in the school or synagogue, to strive to follow the example of Boaz to be a righteous man, strong in the Law and faithful to rabbinic precepts.

If you think about it, there are quite a lot of studies out there in our field(s) that do a great job of presenting data, but rarely drawing conclusions. In my specific niche of Targum studies I think that such questions are very important for understanding what is really going on in the Targumim. Of course Ruth and the other Megilloth are small enough that the Targumist would have been able to frame and structure an overarching exegetical agenda throughout the entire work. The Targumim to the Pentateuch, for example, are not likely to have the same traits, at least not over the entire book of Genesis, for example. On the other hand, Avigdor Shinan has shown that we do find such exegetical strategies being played out over a given Parashah.

So what?

Always a good question to ask of ourselves when we get to the end of a paper, book, argument, or sermon. Don’t you agree?

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