Friday, June 03, 2011

Is Ruth a reply to the story of Judah and Tamar?

"Some Guy" suggests:
The Ruth story is in many ways a reaction, I think, against the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38, so the reversal of structure is not so surprising. Judah has power and stature, and when the opportunity arrives for him to abuse these, he conspicuously does so. Judah's unethical actions result in the birth of Peretz and Zerach under a cloud of shame. There are no blessings given, and the episode ends abruptly without resolution.

Boaz likewise has power and stature (hence his name), but when the opportunity arrives for him to abuse these, he conspicuously does NOT. Indeed, his behavior is the very opposite of Judah's. He is caring, self-sacrificing, and sensitive to the intent as well as the letter of the law. And through his kind and ethical actions, he literally and figuratively "redeems" what Judah had previously corrupted. And the blessings can now be given: "May your house be like the house of Peretz, who Tamar bore to Judah.
This is a very interesting idea, with much to recommend it, but I think the underlying premise is incorrect. The way I read it, Judah neither abused his power nor behaved unethically. To the contrary, he could have ignored the articles of proof his daughter-in-law presented; instead he accepted her rebuke, and publicly acknowledged his error. The birth of Peretz and Zerech is the resolution of the story. Their arrival is the "happy ending" that gave Judah the descendants his own sinful sons were never able to produce, and an appropriate reward for his correct and courageous behavior at his daughter in law's trial. A lesser man would have let her burn, and covered up his own dalliance.

Moreover, in that culture consorting with a prostitute was no sin; the scandal was that Judah had cohabited with his daughter in law, a scandal Judah brought upon himself by confessing. The reader saw Tamar was disguised, and knows that Judah didn't recognize her, but if Judah's local gossips were like ours the mitigating detail was probably lost in the joy of repeating the story. Anyway, how could Judah prove he slept with her by mistake? It's not like he could hand out copies of the Bible.)

Readers, how do you see it?

No comments: