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Oct 23 2012

Telescoped Genealogies: Was Rahab the Mother of Boaz?

Recently in a discussion about the Bible’s book of Ruth, this question came up: Was Rahab the mother of Boaz? Rahab, you probably remember, was the Canaanite prostitute who hid the Israelite spies.

Was Rahab the mother of Boaz, shown in this painting of Boaz and Ruth

"Ruth in Boaz's Field" by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1828

In the book of Ruth, the young Moabitess Ruth cares for her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi. Both are destitute widows. Ruth accompanies Naomi to Bethlehem, even though she’ll have little prospect of finding a husband to rescue her from poverty. She gleans grain in the field of a rich man named Boaz, who provides food and protection. Later he plays the part of kinsman redeemer by marrying Ruth and giving her a son who can inherit for her dead husband.

The question about Boaz’s relationship to Rahab comes up because it partially explains his extraordinary care for Ruth during a time Israel and Moab were on unfriendly terms.

Matthew 1:5’s genealogy in the New International Version says, “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.” The more literal New American Standard Bible reads, “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab.” That should settle it, right?

Not quite.

The Issue

The problem is Matthew lists five generations from Salmon to David, but between Rahab’s meeting the spies (traditionally 1406 BC) and David’s birth (1040 BC) stretch 366 years, making the average age of the dads up where what little hair remains turns white and giving extra meaning to Boaz’s claim not to be young: [1]

 

Year BC

Person

Estimated Age

Event

1406

Rahab

20

Meets Israelite spies

~1376

Rahab

50

Bears Boaz

~1264

Boaz

112

Fathers Obed

~1152

Obed

112

Fathers Jesse

1040

Jesse

112

Fathers David

 

Although it’s possible Boaz, Obed, and Jesse were bearing sons as centenarians, there’s another possibility: Matthew may have skipped some names—just as he skipped three in verse 8 and one in verse 11. [2]

According to scholars, there are both translation and custom issues involved. The Greek word translated “was the father of” could also mean “was the grandfather of” or “was the ancestor of.” Additionally, unlike today, ancient Jewish writers often telescoped genealogies—that is, shortened them to the most important names.

New Testament scholar D. A. Carson explains:

Therefore approximately four hundred years (Gen 15:13; Exod 12:40) are covered by the four generations from Perez to Amminadab. Doubtless several names have been omitted: the Greek verb translated “was the father of” … does not require immediate relationship but often means something like “was the ancestor of” or “became the progenitor of.”

Similarly, the line between Amminadab and David is short: more names may have been omitted. Whether such names properly fit before Boaz, so that Rahab was not the immediate mother of Boaz (just as Eve was not immediately “the mother of all the living,” Gen 3:20), or after Boaz, or both, one cannot be sure. [3]

So was Rahab the mother of Boaz? She was his mother or grandmother or ancestress, and one of the people God used to mold Boaz’s extraordinary tenderness for the foreign widow Ruth.

***

For more on Ruth, see chapter 9 of The Story: Personal Journal and Discussion Guide.

  1. [1] Some scholars argue for a later date of 1250 BC for Joshua’s invasion. If Rahab gave birth ten years after, then the three men fathered their sons at an average age of 67 if Matthew has not telescoped between Rahab and David—more doable, though still short.
  2. [2] Verse 8 skips Ahaziah (2 Chr. 22:1), Joash (2 Chr. 22:11), and Amaziah (2 Chr. 24:27) between Jehoram and Uzziah (Azariah). Verse 11 skips Jehoiakim (2 Chr. 36:5) between Josiah and Jechoniah (Jehoiachin). Matthew 1:1 is even more telescoped: “Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.”
  3. [3] D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” Matthew, Mark, Luke, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids: Regency, 1984), 8:65.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.jeanejones.net/2012/10/was-rahab-the-mother-of-boaz/

3 comments

  1. Boone Savoca

    I would like to add something. You missed that Boaz was a kinsman of Elimelech, that is why he was the kinsman redeemer, Ruth 2:1, and verse 3. The explanation of the kinsman redeemer process is found in Ruth 4:1-13, and in Deuteronomy 5:5-10. The story of Ruth’s husbands dying is in Ruth 1:5-18. Ruth’s Husband died and left her without a child, so her closest relative, whom we are told of in chapter, would have had to marry her. He refused, so Boaz was then the closest kin, so he performed the duty of raising up a son in her dead husband’s name. I do not know for sure whether or not Rahab was Boaz’s Mother, it is very possible, but he had to play the part of kinsman redeemer, not only because his mother probably taught him to be kind, but because he had a duty to perform under God’s law.

    1. Jean E.

      Boone, thank you for your comment. Actually, I did mention that Boaz was a kinsman redeemer in the second paragraph, but I didn’t say much about it because I was addressing just the one question: Was Rahab the mother of Boaz? The group in which this question came up had already studied what kinsmen redeemers were.

      1. Boone Savoca

        I saw that, but at the end you said that Rahab molded him to be the kind man he was, which I don’t doubt to be true, but the whole book of Ruth I believe used to show the proccess of the kinsman redeeming, which is what Christ did for us, and what we should do today. Compassion, although it was taught in Ruth, it is not the moral of the story.

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