Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Genealogical List in the Book of Ruth: A Symbolic Approach

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Genealogical List in the Book of Ruth: A Symbolic Approach

Article excerpt

The Book of Ruth concludes with a genealogical list tracing the ancestry of King David all the way from Perez son of Judah.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; and Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; and Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salma; and Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; and Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David. (Ruth 4:18-22).

This genealogical list is constructed in a way that indicates a particular symbolism. In this article, we will note the symbols found in the list and determine at what point the list shifts from a historic record to a symbolic one. Additionally, we will see that the symbolic approach to this list solves a major chronological difficulty.

There are ten people listed in this genealogy, paralleling other such lists in Genesis. In Genesis 5, we have a genealogical list of the ten generations from Adam to Noah. Genesis 11:10-26 contains another genealogical list of ten generations, from Shem to Abraham. The first major era is from the Creation to the Flood. The next list is found after the description of the nations descended from Noah (Gen. 10) and the Tower of Babel narrative (11:1-9), when the world is divided into many languages. These two sections indicate that the world is now divided into many different groups. The genealogical list in Genesis 11 covers the period from the Flood until the birth of Abraham, patriarch of the Israelite people, the group on which the Bible will focus from this chapter onward. A list of ten generations is used to indicate a transition from one major era to another. These ten-generation epochs were understood to be significant by the rabbis as well. (1)

Note also that if we follow the genealogy from Adam through his descendants, Noah is the tenth in line, Abraham the twentieth, and Boaz the thirtieth. (2) The list of ancestors in Ruth was written as a ten-generation list to evoke these earlier lists, and also to indicate that here a new epoch was beginning; the epoch of the Davidic monarchy. Just as Noah began the post-Flood world and Abraham began the Israelite people in a new world divided into nations, David began the dynasty that will ultimately lead to messianic times under the Messiah son of David.

The fact that David occupies the tenth position in this list is noted in rabbinic literature as being significant. For example, Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (the Hida) explains that the reason King David's name is written with an extra letter "yud" in Books of I and II Chronicles [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]] is to indicate that he is tenth in the genealogical list found in Ruth. (3) Others ascribe mystical importance to the fact that David is the tenth from Perez. (4)

In this list the seventh person is Boaz, the hero of the Book of Ruth. In Genesis 5, the seventh person in the list is the saintly Enoch, who walked with God (Gen. 5:24). Seven is always a significant number in the Bible; the seventh person on the list would draw special attention. The figures who occupy the seventh position and its multiples from Adam onward and on all have either biblical or rabbinic significance; Enoch is the seventh, Eber the fourteenth, (5) Isaac the twenty-first, and Nahshon the twenty-eighth. (6) Even if the Bible itself did not always indicate that the seventh descendants were special, the Rabbis did feel this way and noted in the Midrash what was so significant about them. Note also that in I Chronicles 2:15 David himself is listed as the seventh son of Jesse. (7,8)

Even the term used to introduce this genealogical list, "generations [[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]]," is only found in the Torah, and nowhere else in the Prophets or Writings. In the Torah, this term is found eleven times in Genesis and once in Numbers. (9) Using this particular word in Ruth hints that the list should be viewed as part of the Genesis family of genealogical lists. Furthermore, the word toldot itself is only written using the letter "vav" at the end ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII. …

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