Last month I presented my paper on the conversion of Ruth in Targum Ruth. I noted, in passing, that the Targum also explains why the two sons/husbands died in Moab.
4 They [Mahlon and Chilion] transgressed the decree of the Memra of the Lord and they took for themselves foreign wives from the house of Moab.
After my paper a man came up to me and asked where this was, saying that he had never read such a judgment in rabbinic literature. Now, I did not know the man so I do not know his experience or expertise and I do not claim to have complete or thorough knowledge of all rabbinic haggadah but I was fairly confident it was at least in Ruth Rabbah.1 And it is close…but perhaps not quite the same.
9. AND THEY TOOK THEM WIVES OF THE DAUGHTERS OF MOAB (1, 4). It was taught in the name of R. Meir: They neither proselytised them, nor gave them ritual immersion, nor had the new law, Ammonite, but not Ammonitess, Moabite, but not Moabitess, been propounded, that they should escape punishment on its account.2
To my reading, the Midrash is saying, since these exceptions had not yet been promulgated in the time of Mahlon and Chilion “they should not escape punishment” therefore they died. It seems to me that the Targum is simply making explicit what is implicit in Ruth R II:9.
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. 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.
IMAGE: I found this great image at “The Visual Midrash.” I need to do more research into this MS; it is beautiful. It is fascinating that there is a Christian priest officiating this wedding! A whole new realm of “wrong” as far as the unions of Mahlon and Chilion to their non-Jewish brides.
- b. B. Bat. 91a states that the “sin” of Elimelech and his family was “to go forth from Palestine to a foreign land” before all supplies and options were exhausted. It does not mention the taking of Moabite wives. Again, I do not claim complete knowledge so please direct me to other sources, if they exist. [↩]
- Rabinowitz, Louis I. Midrash Rabbah: Ruth. London: Soncino, 1939. [↩]