A Biblical Spit-Take ("The 'Blazing Saddles' of the Bible", Pt. 2)


          These words, found at Ruth 1:16, are among the most beloved in all scripture.  They can be found on painted signs...

          ...wedding invitations, cuff links, pillow sets, wedding rings...

          ...sound wave art...

...globes, embroidery patterns, giant vinyl decals to put above the bed, nursery pictures to put besides the crib, the casing that protects our cell phone (our most valued possession)....


          In the Bible, these cherished words Ruth speaks to her mother-in-law Naomi. Both are newly-widowed, and with this vow Ruth commits herself to journey with Naomi back to the latter's home as both move on to whatever is next.  Ruth could easily have abandoned Naomi at this point; indeed, Naomi at first insists her young daughter-in-law stay put and begin life anew where things will be much more comfortable and familiar.   

          But Ruth refuses to leave Naomi’s side.  No matter what.  Even if this means traveling to a new land and adapting new customs and putting her trust in a new deity.  

          Ruth is the ultimate example of “ALL IN.”  Yes?

          That’s why she’s the ultimate example of a loyal young woman and the perfect "biblical bride."

          Especially because the Ruth's story is going to lead to romance.  Great romance.  Between Ruth and the wealthy, totally smitten Boaz.  

          Scripture doesn’t get any swoon-ier than with the Book of Ruth and especially 1:16.  Can't you just hear the "Ahhs...." that follow the period?


         I can't help but wonder if the Book of Ruth's original hearers would have responded to 1:16 in a much different way.  In fact, if they'd been drinking milk, it might have then come through their noses.  

          “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge I will lodge….” 

           “Oh boy!” the hearers of the story then chortle with giddy anticipation.  “Wait til the people who Naomi is traveling to and related to in Bethlehem get a load of her traveling companion!!!

          “And Your God will be my God…”

          Now the howling starts.  "This is gonna be great!"

          Why all the unbridled laughter? 

           Because Ruth is a Moabite.  This is a fact that the author of the Book of Ruth wants to reiterate over and over and over again.  Moabites were the most unwelcome foreigners of Israel ever.  (See my earlier blog The “Blazing Saddles” of the Bible as to why.)

           In fact, what I'm guessing the original hearers of Ruth were imagining as Ruth walks purposefully into Bethlehem with Naomi at her side is not unlike that signature scene we find in "Blazing Saddles," when Bart, Rock Ridge's new (black) mayor, saunters into town. 

           And here is that scene, once more, for your viewing enjoyment (and challenge....)

         We laugh at this scene in B.S. because of and despite the awful racism of the moronic townspeople.  It is painful laughter, because it makes us realize the sad state of race relations that continues today, at least in some (less evolved of course) places of our nation.  In addition, if we're anglo and honest with ourselves, this laughter also reminds us of the prejudice that yet remains, no matter how evolved we may be, in our own heads. 

        It is powerful, pointed laughter that comes from this dramatically daring comic scene. 

        I'm guessing the Book of Ruth's original hearers were Ancient Israelite counterparts to we "liberal" white people of today who find the state of race relations in our community and world still shamefully and woefully underdeveloped.

       As I discussed in my previous blog, scholars think Ruth was written in the "post-exilic" period of Israel's history, contemporaneous with Ezra-Nehemiah and its radically conservative command that all foreign-born women presently living in Israel and married to Israelite men leave the country immediately and take their "half-born" children with them.  This way, the Israelites could prove themselves pure in God's eyes, making them worthy of divine love and protection from hereon in and evermore.

       Here's the visual of that infamous scene of Israel's history, also from my previous blog:

      The fact we have the Book of Ruth in our canon clearly communicates not everyone of Ezra's time thought this policy was good or even God's intention.  By lifting up Ruth's story -- whose ultimate purpose is to remind the Israelites that King David, their biggest hero, was significantly filled with foreign blood and not just any foreign blood, Moabite blood (because Ruth & Boaz produce a son who becomes David's grandfather) -- their nation's present racist policies are put to shame.  And the message is conveyed satirically humorously, by telling Ruth's story in a lovely lilting way.  And coyly but surely describing her as a beautiful and sexy woman (even if she is Moabite) who manages to steal Boaz heart.  After her shockingly ballsy but honorable announcement that she most certainly will do right by her mother-in-law and plant herself in far away Bethlehem, because that's what girls who faithfully play by God's rules (ie Israelite leverite marriage customs) do.

       I can't help but think the writer of the Book of Ruth winks his (her?) eye after he/she has Ruth state unequivocally, "Where you go I will go, where you lodge I will lodge, and your God will be my God."

      Take that, you *$%^&@ discriminators!

       While we can now see Ruth's precious promise in a new, sharply funny light, what happens in next in her story isn't as we may have presumed.  It's not like the reception Bart receives in the Brooks film.  As our two protagonists enter town there aren't gasps of horror and then absolute silence as the giant papyrus scroll inscribed with “Welcome Naomi and Daughter” suddenly rolls tightly up like a window shade.    

        Ruth the Moabite is not openly ostracized by the locals but allowed to glean along with the other peasants.  Perhaps this is because she is very poor like everyone else, and, for better or worse, poverty tends to trump all 'isms.'

        Or maybe, just maybe, her acceptance stems from the fact that her virile boss took one look and had the hots for her like nobody's business, Moabite or not.  There's nothing like the male sex drive to engender colorblindness and a drive to do whatever it takes to protect the object of affection...and in Boaz' case, it's protection primarily from his younger male competition. 

        What happens once Ruth hits town becomes a pretty hilarious "sex comedy" that also develops the text's satiric voice, now moving on to also speak out, ironically, on the exceedingly complex and archaic laws of traditional leverite marriage that were a significant part of Israel's past and, perhaps, a continued burden in her post-exilic present.

         More on that next time.