Obed the Son of Boaz: Is the Marriage of Ruth and Boaz a Levirate Marriage?
According to the law of a levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, a levirate marriage aims to “succeed to the name of the deceased brother, so that his name may not be blotted out of Israel”(v. 6). The marriage of Ruth and Boaz in the book of Ruth is often considered a levirate marriage. If Boaz’s marriage is a levirate marriage, Obed should be the child who will succeed to the name of Ruth’s deceased husband, Malone. However, Obed is included in Boaz’s genealogy, not in Malone’s (4:21; cf. Matt 1:5). It can be assumed that Obed’s inclusion in Boaz’s genealogy caused no issues in the minds of readers at the time of the writing of Ruth. Given that the book of Ruth does not give any explanation of Obed’s inclusion in Boaz’s genealogy, the inclusion of Obed in Boaz’s genealogy can be understood as a generally acceptable case at the time of the writing of Ruth.
Through the study of a levirate marriage in Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and Genesis 38, I propose that the marriage of Boaz and Ruth cannot be seen as a levirate marriage. First, Naomi and Ruth recognized that they could not expect a levirate marriage from the land of Moab. Even after returning to Bethlehem, they had no one to ask for a levirate marriage. Second, Boaz had no obligation to fulfill the duty of husband’s brother (yābām), since he was a close relative, that is, gō’ēl, not a brother who lived with the deceased Elimelech or Malone. Third, Obed, the first son born of the marriage of Ruth and Boaz, is included in Boaz’s genealogy, not in the genealogy of the deceased Malone’s, contrary to the main purpose of a levirate marriage. It can be understood, therefore, that the marriage of Ruth and Boaz is not a levirate marriage. We can understand that the marriage of Ruth and Boaz is based on Boaz’s high-level of moral obligation beyond his duty as gō’ēl or his genuine love for Ruth.