Here is a quick question to everyone out in cyberspace. This past week I was teaching my "Sex, Gender, and the Bible" course and we were reading Ruth (among other things).
One of the things that caught a student's eye (but which did not catch mine) was Ruth 4:17, where the women of Bethlehem proclaim that the baby boy that Ruth gives birth to is Naomi's: "A son has been born to Naomi."
So, some thoughts that I had that I think are all wrong:
1. This has something to do with the levirate marriage. The problem is that the point of the levirate is that the child continues the name of the dead husband (Mahlon); not the name of the living mother-in-law. One might argue that the levirate law has already been stretched a bit in Ruth (since it is being used for a non-Israelite), but this interpretation seems really pushing it to me.
2. This is adoption. But the text says that Naomi becomes his nurse - and I am unaware of such "adoptions" occurring for nurses elsewhere, but perhaps this is my ignorance? There is no real adoption formula; Naomi does not directly claim the child as her own - the declaration is in the mouths of the women.
My student noted - and I see it more and more every time I read the passage (and the earlier covenant that Ruth makes with Naomi [1:16-17]) - that Naomi is almost acting like the child's father and Ruth's husband.
What do you think is going on here?