Friday, February 21, 2014

A Son Has Been Born to Naomi

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?

2 comments:

benbyerly said...

I'm no expert, but in the African kinship context, the "in-laws" are genuine sons and daughters, and the grand-children belong to the grand parents. In many contexts they even give the grandson/grandaughter the same name as the grandparent, and if the grandparent has died, the grandchild IS the grandparent.

All this is to say, that in this context, you'd expect someone to say the child has been born to the grand-parent.

Jared Calaway said...

Interesting cross-cultural example. It, indeed, might end up having some bearing on this case.