When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth secretly came and uncovered his feet and laid down.
Later, in the middle of the night, the man was startled, he sat up and found a woman lying at his feet.
“Who are you?” he said, and she answered “I am Ruth, your handmaid. Spread your blankets over your maidservant, for we are close kin.”
“God bless you, my daughter.” he said, “You have shown even more kindness, by not chasing after young men, whether rich or poor.”
This passage in Ruth is one of my favourites in the Hebrew Bible. I also find it interesting how the story is sanitized and asexualized in countless studies and commentaries.
- Boaz is represented as an honorable and upstanding man.
- He gets drunk, and sleeps in a grain pile.
- Ruth goes and uncovers him and lays down under the blankets.
- He wakes up, sees her sleeping with him and decides he better marry her.
I find it hard to understand how an original audience would have heard the story, except as a tale of sexual manipulation.
I love Ruth. The whole book is short, and has one of the most perfectly repetitious and parallel structures, even among Hebrew writings that are typified by structures and parallels. This suggests Ruth was an oral story: the same kind of repetition is used by modern storytellers. It is memorable and gives the audience a sense of context in the story.
The thought is that this oral story was brought into Tanakh as an ancestors tale through the addition of the genealogy (which conspicuously breaks the structure). If so, then the original oral tale seems even more likely to be racy. The word I translated ‘feet’ (“margeloth”) seems to be deliberately ambiguous: elsewhere the sex organs are euphemistically called ‘feet’.
So is this romance, as James asked today? Quite the opposite, I think. A rather successful, if sly, engineering of a marriage proposal.
The pious retellings of the tale to make Ruth and Naomi somehow into moral exemplars I just cannot fathom from the text. And the notion that uncovering and laying at someone’s feet is a quite unsexual way of indicating affection seems dubious.
So not romance, no. Something far more interesting.
 I should be explicit and say that I am not suggesting that ‘margeloth’ should be translated ‘crotch’ here. Those who want Ruth to be pious rightly point out that this is overstepping the text. But the nuance wouldn’t have been lost, surely. Knowing it could be used that way, it seems a stretch to suggest it isn’t used with at least a nod and a wink.