Why did Mahlon and Chilion die? 3

Leaving Bethlehem

Unknown artist
Illuminated Naples Bible (Ms. 1191, f.97v): Wedding of Machlon and Chillion
In the upper section, Naomi and Elimelech stand at the gate of Bethlehem as their sons Mahlon and Chilion leave. In the lower section, Mahlon and Chilion are married to Ruth and Orpah.

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.

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.

 
  1. 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. []
  2. Rabinowitz, Louis I. Midrash Rabbah: Ruth. London: Soncino, 1939. []

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3 thoughts on “Why did Mahlon and Chilion die?

  • Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

    Dear Christian,

    How interesting that this should come up!

    This past sunday in Sunday School here at Faith Community Church in Redding, CA the class was dealing with the Book of Ruth. In the discussion we came upon 1:4 dealing with the death of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion (Kilion).

    As the teacher I pointed out the following:
    1) Deuteronomy 23:3ff is quite clear about allowing Ammonites and Moabites into the congregation of Israel. In other words, the Israelites are NOT to marry outside of nation of Israel. Elimelech, as the parental head violated that commandment along with Mahlon and Chilion. Intermarriage with the Canaanites was also forbidden.

    2) It is by the grace of God that saw Ruth accept the God of Israel as her God over against the gods of the Moabites (especially the god Molech/Chemosh). The same could also be applied to Tamar, Rahab, and later, Bathsheba.

    3) Boaz did not let the grass grow green under his feet in seeking the hand of Ruth (chapter 4).

    I would add the following to that which I did not know until today
    4) In an article referenced by Dr. Claude Mariottini in Israel Today Magazine,”A Messianic Interpretation of Genesis 2:4,”
    (http://israeltoday.co.il/NewsItem/tabid/178/nid/23351/language/en-US/Default.aspx.), Jewish rabbinic interpretation links Genesis 2:4 with Ruth 4:18 based on the plene reading of “toledoth.”

    “The plene spelling toledot (generations) in Genesis 2:4 appears
    only here and Ruth 4:18, the latter verse stating “this is the
    genealogy (toledot) of Perez.” According to Jewish commentators, this
    unique spelling is that which links the two genealogies and
    juxtaposes Adam with the Messiah, the son of Perez.”

    Interesting how this fits in with your post today.

    • Christian Brady Post author

      Thanks Bryant! I am glad you found this interesting.

      I think there are still reasonable questions as to whether we ought to see Ruth as “converting” (making a clear commitment to accept YHWH over and against other gods) or simply the more common ancient practice of simply accepting that now that she would be in Israel she would worship the Israelite god. Later traditions, both Jewish and Christian, of course make this into a full conversion. In fact, that is my most recent article that I am just shipping off this week.

      As for Boaz “not letting the grass grow” he certainly did not once Ruth acted! But as I point out in another article and some posts here (as have many others), Boaz takes very little initiative with regards to Ruth, or Naomi for that matter. He knows that she is present and in need (chapter 2) but the only action he takes is to allow Ruth to safely glean. It requires the cunning of Naomi and the action of Ruth to goad him into taking the next steps.

      Finally, TgRuth also adds information to the genealogy at the end of Ruth:

      18 These are the descendants of Perez. Perez fathered Hezron.

      19 Hezron fathered Ram, and Ram fathered Aminadab.

      20 Aminadab fathered Nahshon, and Nahshon was the head of a family of the house of Judah. Nahshon fathered Salma the Righteous, that is Salma from Bethlehem and Netophah, [whose sons] did away with the guardposts which Jeroboam the Wicked placed on the roads, and the deeds of the father and sons were beautiful as balm.

      21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Ibzan the judge, that is Boaz the Righteous, through whose merit the people, the house of Israel, were freed from the hand of their enemies, and because of his prayers the famine passed from the land of Israel. Boaz fathered Obed, who served the Lord of the World with a perfect heart.

      22 Obed fathered Jesse, who was called Nahash because no sin or fault was found in him that he should be delivered into the hand of the Angel of Death to take his life from him. He lived many days until there was remembered before the Lord the counsel which the serpent gave to Eve, the wife of Adam, to eat of the fruit of the tree, those who eat of its fruit are made wise to know good and evil. Because of that counsel all who dwell on earth were condemned to death, and for that sin the righteous Jesse died, that is Jesse who fathered David, the king of Israel.

  • Bruce Killian

    Cristian,
    I Mahlon and Chilion died because they married Moabitesses, Boaz was not under the same restriction because his mother Rahab was an Ammorite and so he was separated from the congregation of the Lord by 9 rather than 10 generations. Long ago I wrote an article showing the geneologies between Ruth and David were abbreviated because of this requirement.
    Brace and peace,
    Bruce