From the Book of Ruth:
At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman!
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Ruth 3:8 (NRSV) – May 23, 2013.)
There are some parts of the Bible that I am thankful I don’t generally have to read aloud in public. The story of Ruth seducing Boaz is one of them, especially this verse. I get to this verse and I’m “laughing out loud” – I mean, really, I’m like LOL! A guy falls asleep on his threshing floor and wakes up to find a woman “lying at his feet,” and not only that, he finds that she has undressed him!
The whole thing is simply ridiculous, especially with that “fun Bible fact” that adult class Sunday School teachers love to share with their students:
Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz’s “feet” (or the place where his feet are), rather than his “nakedness,” but the word translated feet is also commonly used as a euphemism meaning “private parts.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. II, pg 926)
Everyone giggles like school girls.
What is this story doing in the Bible? What are we to learn from the Book of Ruth? I’m no scholar and I haven’t studied the text extensively, but I think what the book and this tale of seduction is all about is the redemption of everyday life. The book is a story of secular redemption focusing on a Jewish tradition of property restoration – it is, in that sense, about Naomi (Ruth’s Jewish mother-in-law) getting her family property back. But as a “sacred” text it is an allegory for the redemption of God’s People through the actions of an outsider; Ruth is a Moabite, a non-Jew, a member an ethnic group specifically excluded by Jewish law. It teaches us that no one is excluded from God’s universe.
That’s a pretty good lesson to learn from a story whose climax (pun intended) is a seduction on a threshing floor, as outlandish and outrageously funny as that climax may be.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.