... I discover something new in the pages of Scripture, especially when it is a little bit quirky.
So, if you would like a post on the profundity of Anglicanism, please read or reread last week's post on "Participation".
If you would like some biblical quirkiness then read on.
It begins a little while ago when the Dean of Dunedin, Tony Curtis, gave an illuminating talk on the Book of Ruth. It got me realising that my commentary shelves are a bit light on Ruth and, natch, I ordered a new commentary.
It is the JPS Bible Commentary Ruth by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi and Tikva Frymer-Kensky (Philadelphia, 2011).
So far I am making my way each night before lights out a few paragraphs at a time through the Introduction - some 70+ pages of erudition, beautifully written.
Yes, yes, I know, normal people read romantic novels and not commentaries on romantic novels!
A vexed question or three in respect of the lovely and flourishing romance between Ruth and Boaz concerns the nature of the law or lore or custom concerning the contracting of a marriage in ancient Israel between people with some kind of kinship tie.
For instance, is the marriage between Ruth and Boaz a "levirate marriage" - a marriage between a man and a childless widow of the man's deceased relative, contracted with the intention of producing a child who will continue the deceased relative's name.
This is discussed in the above commentary from page xxxii to xxxviii and concludes,
"But if levirate marriage does not serve as the rationale for the union between Boaz and Ruth, why does Boaz marry Ruth? And why does he go about it in the complicated, confusing manner described in the book?" (xxxviii)
The next discussion in the Introduction sets out to answer these questions.
Along the way of the levirate discussion my interest was piqued by its discussion of Ruth 4:5 which raises the question whether Boaz says to the nearer "redeemer" on the question of acquiring some land held in the name of Ruth's deceased husband, that, simultaneously, "I will acquire Ruth" or "You will acquire Ruth."
It happens that the Bible I keep at hand by my bed is the Revised English Bible, which I looked up. It reads,
"Boaz continued: 'On the day you take over the field from Naomi, I take over the widow, Ruth the Moabite, so as to perpetuate the name of the dead man on his holding'."
There is no footnote indicating an alternative reading. Something in my memory suggested this was an unusual reading.
The NRSV has,
"Then Boaz said, 'The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man's name on his inheritance."
Although there is a footnote indicating a variation in the Old Latin, Vulgate text, it is not a variation which concerns us here re "I acquire" or "You acquire".
Following the NRSV are the CEB, GNB, NEB, NJB, and NIV.
Is the REB an outlier? If one major translation can differ from others, why not mutually informative footnotes re the viability of the two possible readings?
Back to Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky. Their explanation of the possibility of two different translations is this:
"it is uncertain whether the unnamed redeemer is told that he has acquired Ruth - or will acquire her, when he redeems the land - or whether Boaz himself is acquiring Ruth. The interpretation depends upon whether one follows the written consonantal text (ketiv), kaniti, which seems to mean, "I will acquire" (namely I, Boaz) or whether one follows the Masoretic reading instructions (kerey), kanita, which means "you will acquire" (i.e. the other man). The latter would mean that the redeemers, as a redeeemer, is obligated to take the widow, an expectation not connected with any biblical law of redemption. Because redemption, not levirate marriage, has been the only subject discussed by Ruth (3:9) and Boaz (3:10-13 and 4:3-5), and because nothing indicates either the other redeemer or Boaz is a levir, Boaz's statement stands in tension with all known biblical laws." (page xxxvi)
That is, for those unfamiliar with how Jewish reading and interpretation of the text of the books we Christians call the Old Testament works, sometimes what is written in the text (usually meaning the Masoretic Text) is deemed to be not right and an alternative reading is offered in the margin of the text, a writing down of a spoken or recited tradition in respect of the text. The latter is the kerey. The former is the ketiv.
Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky observe, on p. 76,
"As a rule, the Masoretes and Rabbinic halakhah consider the kerey the preferred reading of the text."
So, the NRSV etc (indeed, Eskenazi and Frymer-Nkensky themselves) follow the kerey. The REB is a bit of an outlier, following the ketiv.
There you go!
Isn't that more interesting than an ordinary romantic novel?
But, wait, there is more. Next week, or soon after, I will come back to some other points of great and relevant interest in the Book of Ruth.
Maybe our reflection till then could be,
"What is the actual text of Scripture, from which we seek a "literal" translation?"