Friday, July 26, 2019

Ruth at the Threshing Floor

Alice C. Linsley

The book of Ruth is short narrative, but it is rich in anthropologically significant data.

In Ruth we read about a custom involving a blanket that has been observed in various cultures. Boaz has fallen asleep at the threshing floor after a day or hard labor. While he sleeps, Ruth lifts up his blanket and covers herself with it. This is her way of seeking marriage to Boaz, a ruler of Bethlehem.

The photo above, titled "A Sioux Wedding", was taken in 1912 by Julia Tuell. Among the Dakota Sioux it was the custom for the maiden to agree to marriage by stepping into her suitor's blanket. E. Irving Couse's painting "The Wedding" (below) also depicts this custom.

In Ruth 3, we read that Ruth went to the threshing floor where Boaz was sleeping and quietly "uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!" 

Some have interpreted this as a seduction based on the supposition that "feet" is sometimes a euphemism for testicles. However, the plain meaning of the text is that she covered herself at his feet so quietly that Boaz did not wake. A man's testicles are very sensitive and had this been a seduction, he would have awakened. Further, when he wake, he asks, " “Who are you?” Ruth makes her intention clear when she responds:

“I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family."

In the ancient world, daily activities like cooking, sowing, harvesting, and threshing grain had religious significance. Threshing floors were associated with the Sun and with solar cycles. They had ritual use as well as practical use. 

Threshing floors were owned by the local chief and were sacred places at high level elevations where the wind could carry away the chaff. Araunah, a Jebusite ruler, sold David a threshing floor upon which David constructed an altar.

The solar symbolism of the ancient Horite Hebrew is evident in the pattern of some of the threshing floors (shown above). There is a connection to the grain that was ground to make bread. The solar image often appears on loaves. This Irish Maslin bread is an example. Maslin bread is the oldest known bread eaten by the Celts. It was the bread of common folks, containing a blend of wheat and rye flours.

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