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Wednesday, May 09, 2007
(8:28 AM) | Stephen:
Ruth And Naomi

Part one here.

The Metropolitan Community Church has been running a provocative ad campaign centered around the question, "Would Jesus Discriminate?" They have identified 5 places in the Bible that they say show not only that Jesus would not discriminate against people based upon their sexual orientation, but actually that homosexuals have appeared in the Bible and have been accepted. I decided to take a look at each of the examples and offer my thoughts, going through them from what I consider to be their weakest argument to their strongest. Last was the story of David and Jonathan, now we will consider Ruth and Naomi.

The book of Ruth is one of only two in the Bible named after women, though given historic attitudes toward women in all cultures it's significant that there are any books of the Bible that focus upon the stories of women. The male characters in Ruth are clearly secondary. Naomi's husband is not even named, and though Naomi's two sons are given names, their story is told quickly: they lived in Moab with their parents, their father died, they got married, they died.

Naomi, Orpah and Ruth find themselves bound to one another by men who are now dead. Naomi's retirement policies, as it were, are no more. Orpah and Ruth, despite ten years of marriage each, are childless. That's significant, for it shows why they were not immediately snapped up by widowers; they were barren, considered cursed by God.

Naomi realizes that she has no future in Moab and decides to go home and rely upon the charity of her relatives. Her daughters-in-law start to go with her, but she turns them away and tells them to go to their parents' homes, to find new husbands. Ha! All three of them know that won't happen. This scene is of three women without prospects, without hope. Orpah does go back to her parents' home. Ruth, however, does not. Perhaps her parents are dead as well, perhaps they're just jerks. In her refusal, Ruth speaks these words, beautiful certainly in Hebrew and representative of the heights to which the King James Version can soar:
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried
These words have formed a significant portion of many weddings. My wife made this vow to me at our wedding, as a surprise. I didn't know she had included this vow. She has stayed true to her word, and for my part, even though I did not say these words at our wedding, I have attempted to live up to them as well.

So I understand the power of these words, and certainly I know of their association with romantic love in our culture. But in terms of the idea that Naomi and Ruth had a romantic relationship, which is what the Metropolitan Community Church proposes, our culture's association of these words with wedding vows seems to be the foundation of their claim.

They also want to make much out of the Hebrew word dabaq, which is translated as "clung" and was used within the context of Adam and Eve and the idea that when getting married, a man will cling (dabaq) to his wife. The problem here is one of context and euphemism. "To know" someone, as anyone who was sent to Sunday School eventually found out, meant that the people in question had a sexual relationship. Adam "knew" Eve and they had a son. We can hardly apply that meaning to every instance of that word in the Hebrew Scriptures. Deuteronomy 28:15-45 is a list of all the terrible things that will happen to the Hebrews if they don't obey God's commands. Verse 21, speaking of diseases that God will send upon them, says that they will "cling" to the people until they are totally destroyed by them. It's the same word, dabaq. Obviously it's a strong word in Hebrew, but it does not only apply to romantic love.

The comparison with Adam and Eve probably has more to do with the fact that like them, Naomi and Ruth were alone in this world and had only each other to rely upon.

There is more evidence, as it were. None of it is especially convincing to me, you can check it out at the link. The following statement, however, is far more compelling:
Some may object, saying, “But the Bible doesn’t come right out and say Ruth and Naomi were lovers. It’s fine for women to live together and care for each other . . . just nothing else.” These people seem to think the main difference between modern lesbian relationships (which they condemn) and the biblical portrayal of Ruth and Naomi (which they accept) is that the Bible doesn’t explicitly mention that Ruth and Naomi were sexually intimate.But we challenge that notion. Whether or not Ruth and Naomi were physically intimate, we believe it is the mere idea of two women living in loving, covenantal relationship that many Christians object to.
They go on to suppose that two women approached their pastor saying that they had decided to live together, to join their lives, and though they were not going to have a sexual relationship they wanted a ceremony at which they would publicly proclaim their commitment together, using the words that Ruth spoke to Naomi. What would a pastor who is against the idea of homosexuality say to that?

That's really their best point. Ruth and Naomi clearly had an unusual relationship, even given the unique pressures of their situation. And the quoted text speaks to how the Christo-European tradition has always viewed women and relationships between them with suspicion. The book of Ruth does not, in my view, necessarily tell us the story of a lesbian relationship. However, it does show us that human relationships are far more complex than anti-gay rhetoric would have us believe. Ruth and Naomi had something that was not "normal" for that day and age, yet they were not shunned by the community and were in fact embraced, it seems from the story itself, because of the unique nature of their relationship.



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