QUESTION: When Ruth 3 says that Ruth uncovered Boaz's feet, does it actually mean that she exposed him (i.e., his private parts), as in she uncovered more than just his feet?

ANSWER:

Those who make this claim both do and do not have a point. True, in the Old Testament the expression "feet" can be a euphemism for private parts, and uncovering "feet" could imply that. However, there is also no other way to phrase uncovering literal feet. There is scholarly debate on this very issue, with people taking both sides. Context must be one's guide.

Here are some main points:

1. Boaz clearly understood this as a marriage proposal (3:10-12). There are many marriage customs in the Bible. It is conceivable that in those times it could have worked for them to decide, "We're married," and that was that. In Isaac's case he took Rebekah into his deceased motherís tent and she became his wife (Genesis 24:67).

2. The notion that this speaks of his private parts is unlikely for this reason: both Ruth and Boaz are described by the narrator as people of incredible integrity, and both are presented as people who do what is proper and moral. That said, it is possible that the narrator (who does use playful language) uses that expression which could have two different meanings in order to hook his audience, but then imply, "Got your attention, but that's not what I mean!"

3. There are a number of places where the Old Testament does use euphemisms (including words like "hand" or "feet") to mean something more graphic. The problem is that, as noted above, when these expressions are meant literally they are likely to use the same wording.

4. What happened, whatever it was, happened in PUBLIC (3:3) and in the open air (threshing floors by their nature could not be covered, since the wind was used to thresh/separate husk from kernel). 

5. There were all kinds of folks around at the time the event occurred who could have awakened and discovered them making love (3:4 records Naomi's directions to Ruth that include "Take note of where he lies down," so that she didn't lie down beside the wrong person due to the dark; also, Boaz was a man of means whose servants would have been doing the actual hands-on work of winnowing/threshing and sleeping near the harvested grain to guard it--this is alluded to in 3:14), which would have gotten them both stoned (Boaz was already married=adultery>execution by stoning). 

6. Another mitigating factor is that Naomi TOLD her to do this (3:4).  Ruth's actions were not the result of her giving in to temptation in the "heat of the moment." 

7. Another consideration is that whatever Ruth did to him, Boaz didn't wake up until about 4 hours later (in the middle of the night, 3:8), and no male could sleep through that kind of attention.

8. A final consideration is that 3:14 says she continued in this state "until morning."  Therefore, this is either a literal "lying at his feet" or the two of them had the longest sexual tryst ever recorded in the annals of human history and should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. 

Thus the bottom line, in our view, is that the notion that Ruth uncovered Boaz's private parts is incongruous with the presentation of them as people of Biblical integrity.

William P. Griffin, Ph.D.
Wave Nunnally, Ph.D.