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SBL e-journal

Raanan Eichler

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2016

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Acquiring Ruth with the Land: A Text-Critical Solution for Ruth 4:5

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TheTorah.com

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https://thetorah.com/article/acquiring-ruth-with-the-land-a-text-critical-solution-for-ruth-4-5

APA e-journal

Raanan Eichler

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Acquiring Ruth with the Land: A Text-Critical Solution for Ruth 4:5

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TheTorah.com

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2016

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https://thetorah.com/article/acquiring-ruth-with-the-land-a-text-critical-solution-for-ruth-4-5

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Acquiring Ruth with the Land: A Text-Critical Solution for Ruth 4:5

How the mistaken exchange of the letter gimel for a vav corrupted the meaning of a key verse in Ruth

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Acquiring Ruth with the Land: A Text-Critical Solution for Ruth 4:5

‍Gerard Hoet (1648 — 1733)

In terms of its vocabulary and style, the Scroll of Ruth is the most readable book in the Bible. I think it contains only one verse whose basic meaning cannot be understood by a fluent reader of Biblical Hebrew. Unfortunately, the difficult verse is essential to grasp the point of the story. Fortunately, its problem has a wonderfully elegant solution that illustrates the value of textual criticism.

The Problem

In v. 4:4, the redeemer, the unnamed closest relative of Naomi’s deceased husband, Elimelech, expresses his willingness to redeem her family’s land. The next verse—the problematic verse in question—offers Boaz’s response:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר בֹּ֔עַז בְּיוֹם קְנוֹתְךָ֥ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה מִיַּ֣ד נָעֳמִ֑י וּ֠מֵאֵת ר֣וּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּ֤ה אֵֽשֶׁת הַמֵּת֙ קניתי [קָנִ֔יתָ][1] לְהָקִ֥ים שֵׁם הַמֵּ֖ת עַל נַחֲלָתֽוֹ׃
Boaz continued, “When you acquire the land from the hand of Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess the wife of the deceased you will have acquired so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate.”[2]

The story then continues:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר הַגֹּאֵ֗ל לֹ֤א אוּכַל֙ לִגְאוֹל [לִ][גְאָל] לִ֔י פֶּן אַשְׁחִ֖ית אֶת נַחֲלָתִ֑י גְּאַל לְךָ֤ אַתָּה֙ אֶת גְּאֻלָּתִ֔י כִּ֥י לֹא אוּכַ֖ל לִגְאֹֽל׃
The relative replied, “I cannot redeem it myself, lest I impair my own estate. You take my redemption upon yourself, for I cannot do it.”

This refusal paves the way for Boaz to redeem the land himself and marry Ruth. But what did Boaz say or mean to get this reaction from the redeemer? This is not the only problem with the verse, which presents the reader with three separate problems:

First, how can the relative acquire the land from the hand of Naomi and from Ruth? The land is never described elsewhere as having belonged to Ruth in any sense: it belonged to Naomi’s husband Elimelech (v. 3) and it is acquired “from the hand of” Naomi (v. 9). Ruth, on the other hand, owns nothing: she is depicted as a foreigner (2:10) whose very food is given to her as charity (2:14). She herself needs to be redeemed (3:9–13), so it would seem odd if the family’s land could be redeemed on her behalf. In addition, the text says that the land is acquired מִיַּד, “from the hand of” Naomi, but מֵאֵת, “from,” Ruth. While both terms are used in Biblical Hebrew in connection with the verb[3] קנה, the juxtaposition of the verb with two different prepositions is stylistically awkward.

Second, what does you will have acquired (קָנִיתָ) mean? You will have acquired what? There is no proximate object for the transitive verb, unless we separate “the wife of the deceased” from “Ruth the Moabitess,” which seems improbable.

Third, the problem with which we opened: Why does Boaz’s statement cause the relative to change his mind and refuse to redeem the land that he had agreed to redeem in the previous verse? As the text now reads, Boaz has offered no new information that would have caused the relative to worry about impairing his own estate.

Premodern Interpretations

Generally, premodern Jewish interpreters of the verse appear to have been especially bothered by this final question. Even though it is unclear why a redeemer would have to marry Ruth (in the law of levirate marriage in Deut 25:5–10, the requirement is only for a brother to do so), most interpreters assume that Boaz’s new information in 4:5 is that the redeemer must marry Ruth.  The commentators strain greatly to read this information into the text.[4]

You Must Acquire Ruth Too (LXX)

Thus, the Septuagint’s equivalent to קָנִיתָ, “you will have acquired,” is “it is necessary for you to acquire her also.”[5] It is conceivable that this reflects a variant Hebrew reading such as קנית גם אֺתה or קנוֹתהּ גם אַתה, but it seems more likely that it is an interpretative addition.

More elaborately, the Targum’s equivalent of the word to קָנִיתָ is חייב את למפרק ובעי ליבמא יתה למסבה לאנתו, “you are obligated to redeem and must take her as a wife in levirate marriage.”  This is an interpretive expansion, not based on a text that differs from MT.

Perpetuate the Name through Ruth – Sa’adia, Rid, Avigdor Cohen

R. Saadia Gaon (882-942), R. Isaiah di Trani the elder (Rid; ca. 1180-1250), and R. Avigdor Cohen of Vienna (mid 13th cent.) understand the unstated obligation to marry Ruth as implied in the phrase “so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate”: the perpetuation can only be achieved by marrying the widow. This is, however, nowhere stated.

Ruth Won’t Sell Unless You Marry Her – Rashi, R. Joseph Kara

Rashi (1040-1105) argues that the requirement is implied in the phrase “and from Ruth the Moabitess”: the redeemer must also acquire the land from Ruth, and she will not agree to sell unless the redeemer marries her. R. Joseph Kara (ca. 1065-1135), similarly, maintains that Ruth has a lien on the property and so it cannot legally be acquired except by one who marries her.[6]

Text-Critical Solution

The premodern solution, that Boaz was saying that the redeemer must marry Ruth, is undoubtedly correct.  Yet none of the grammatical solutions for how to translate the words to mean this is convincing.

A Parallel Verse

An important clue for how to solve the problem comes from a comparison of our verse with a very similar verse which appears slightly later in the text. After carrying out the redemption in place of the anonymous relative, Boaz declares to the witnesses what has just transpired.  In the following verses, parallel elements appear in bold:

Ruth 4:5

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר בֹּ֔עַז בְּיוֹם קְנוֹתְךָ֥ הַשָּׂדֶ֖ה מִיַּ֣ד נָעֳמִ֑י וּ֠מֵאֵת ר֣וּת הַמּוֹאֲבִיָּ֤ה אֵֽשֶׁת הַמֵּת֙ קניתי [קָנִ֔יתָ] לְהָקִ֥ים שֵׁם הַמֵּ֖ת עַל נַחֲלָתֽוֹ׃
Boaz continued, When you acquire the land from the hand of Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess the wife of the deceased you will have acquired so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate.”

Ruth 4:9-10

וַיֹּאמֶר֩ בֹּ֨עַז לַזְּקֵנִ֜ים וְכָל הָעָ֗ם עֵדִ֤ים אַתֶּם֙ הַיּ֔וֹם כִּ֤י קָנִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֶֽאֱלִימֶ֔לֶךְ וְאֵ֛ת כָּל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְכִלְי֖וֹן וּמַחְל֑וֹן מִיַּ֖ד נָעֳמִֽי׃ וְגַ֣ם אֶת ר֣וּת הַמֹּאֲבִיָּה֩ אֵ֨שֶׁת מַחְל֜וֹן קָנִ֧יתִי לִ֣י לְאִשָּׁ֗ה לְהָקִ֤ים שֵׁם הַמֵּת֙ עַל נַ֣חֲלָת֔וֹ וְלֹא יִכָּרֵ֧ת שֵׁם הַמֵּ֛ת מֵעִ֥ם אֶחָ֖יו וּמִשַּׁ֣עַר מְקוֹמ֑וֹ עֵדִ֥ים אַתֶּ֖ם הַיּֽוֹם׃
Then Boaz said to the elders and to the rest of the people, “You are witnesses today that I have acquired all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon from the hand of Naomi. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife, so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate, that the name of the deceased may not disappear from among his kin and from his home town. You are witnesses today.”

In this repetition, the redemption as it pertains to Ruth is described as follows: וְגַם אֶת־רוּת הַמֹּאֲבִיָּה אֵשֶׁת מַחְלוֹן קָנִיתִי, “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon.” This, I would argue, points to the original form of v. 5.

The Text-Critical Solution: An Ancient Scribal Error

All three of the problems noted above are eliminated entirely and with no strain if we assume, as proposed or accepted by many text-critical scholars,[7] critical commentators,[8] authors of English Bible translations,[9] and others,[10] that a single letter was mistakenly changed in the transmission of the text: an original gimel became the orthographically similar letter waw, and the two words were combined to create the present וּמֵאֵת. (Note: ending letters, אותיות סופיות, as distinguished from regular letters were a later development.)[11]

גמ את  ←  ומאת

If so, the original text would have read, like in v. 9:

ויאמר בעז ביום קנותך השדה מיד נעמי גם את[12] רות המואביה אשת המת קנית להקים שם המת על נחלתו:
Boaz continued, “When you acquire the land from the hand of Naomi you will have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess the wife of the deceased so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate.”

The original form of the verse posited here is not hypothetical, as it is reflected in an ancient witness to the text. The Vulgate’s equivalent to the Masoretic Text’s word וּמֵאֵת is quoque, which means “also,”[13] namely[14] גם את.

To return to the three questions noted above: the land is thus acquired exclusively “from the hand of” Naomi, as in verse 9 and in accordance with verse 3. The object of you will have acquired is thus “Ruth the Moabitess the wife of the deceased.” The statement causes the relative to change his mind because it introduces the information that redeeming the land will entail acquiring Ruth the Moabitess the wife of the deceased as well (“so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate”), and for whatever reason—not the topic of this piece—though he was willing to redeem the land, he was unwilling to marry Ruth.[15]

Published

June 7, 2016

|

Last Updated

November 29, 2019

Footnotes

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Dr. Raanan Eichler is a Senior Lecturer of Bible at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He received his Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and completed fellowships at Harvard University and Tel Aviv University. He is working on his first book, The Ark and the Cherubim, to be published with Mohr Siebeck. His recent publications include “Jeremiah and the Assyrian Sacred Tree”, Vetus Testamentum 67/3 (2017): 403–413.