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Was Rahab the Mother of Boaz?

In the closing section of the book of Ruth (4:13-22), we find the story of the marriage of Boaz and Ruth and the birth of their son Obed.  A genealogy follows which links the couple and child back to their ancestor Perez, the son of Judah, who was the son of Jacob (aka Israel).  A cursory reading of this genealogical list in the English translations would lead us to believe that Rahab the innkeeper (and probable prostitute) was the mother of Boaz, the great-grandfather of King David.

This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David (Ruth 4:18-22).

Rahab was certainly an ancestor of Boaz and David, but a closer investigation indicates that she might not necessarily be the mother of Boaz.  In this article, we examine the lineage from Salmon and his wife Rahab to King David.

Written July 2010, expanded May 2013.

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The Historical Timeline Dilemma

In our genealogical list, it is stated that “Salmon [husband of Rahab] was the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David”.  We know that Salmon was the husband of the prostitute Rahab (Jsh 2, 6:17) from a similar genealogy in Matthew which states “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab…” (Mt 1:5-6).  Thus, this list appears to indicate that Salmon and Rahab were the parents of Boaz, the kinsman redeemer and husband of Ruth.  We often see this noted in many commentaries, so let’s take a closer look.

We first note the importance of this list.  It is stated in the Scriptures that Jesus the Messiah (or Christ, the Anointed One) would be a descendant of King David and would be from the tribe of Judah (2Sam 7, Mic 5:2).  After the incarnation, the Scriptures also confirm the prophecies (Mt 1, Lk 3, Heb 7:14).  Thus, anyone in the direct lineage between Judah and David would also be an ancestor of the Messiah.

Turning to our major players, we encounter Rahab just as the Israelites are planning the conquest of the Promised Land of Canaan.  Rahab was a Canaanite living in the walled city of Jericho, the first target of the conquest.  When Joshua (Israel’s leader) sent spies into the city, Rahab hid them in her house and kept them safe (Jsh 2).  In exchange, the Israelites spared her and her family when they conquered and destroyed Jericho (Jsh 6:24-25).  Rahab lived among the Israelites after the fall of Jericho (~1405 BC), so we can reasonable guess that she married Salmon shortly thereafter.

We then meet Ruth and Boaz in the book of Ruth.  Like Rahab, Ruth came from a land (Moab) that was also an enemy to Israel.  The book opens with a drought and famine in Bethlehem, forcing the Israelite Elimelech to move to Moab along with his wife Naomi and their two sons, where the sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  Naomi’s husband and both sons died in Moab, so she decided to return home with her daughter-in-laws when the famine ended.  During the trip, Orpah decided to return to Moab, but Ruth pledged her loyalty to Naomi and the God of Israel (Ru 1:16-17).

Upon arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning, Ruth went to the fields to gather food for Naomi and herself.  By God’s providence, she began in the field owned by Boaz, a relative of Elimelich and thus, qualified to act as a kinsman redeemer for Ruth and Naomi.  A kinsman redeemer is one who acts in behalf of a relative in danger or need (purchasing freedom from slavery, buying back property, marrying to preserve property and continue the family line etc).  Jesus Christ is our ultimate kinsman redeemer, purchasing our freedom from sin and eternal death with His own life at the cross (see the article “Kinsman Redeemer - How Boaz Foreshadows Jesus the Messiah”).  Next, through a series of divinely-appointed incidents, Boaz marries Ruth, produces an heir (Obed) for Naomi’s family, and continues the line that would eventually bear King David circa 1040 BC.

Yet, these dates create a great difficulty for our genealogical list.  We can plausibly estimate that the child of Rahab and Salmon (Boaz?) was likely born by ~1380 BC, if not before.  Thus, the three generations from the birth of Boaz to the birth of David would have spanned ~340-360 years.  This would require each father to be 110-115 years of age, on average, at the time of the next generation’s birth.  Note also that the longer age spans in the Bible ended centuries before (David died at about age 70).  Therefore, historical information suggests that there are “skipped generations” or “gaps” in our genealogical list.

More importantly, we can find internal evidence by comparing our list of four generations in Ruth 4 (Salmon to David) with the genealogy of the Levite priests over the same time span in 1Chronicles 6:4-8.  This section of Scripture lists nine generations from Eleazar, the priest during Rahab’s time to Zadoc, the priest during David’s reign.  Additionally, there is evidence that even the list of priests may contain gaps.  Later in this same chapter (1Chr 6:33-37), we find a genealogy of the tabernacle musicians which lists 18 generations from Korah in the time of Moses (a generation before Joshua and Rahab; Ex 6:16-27) to Heman in the time of David (1Chr 15:16-27).

It is widely held by Biblical scholars that names were purposely excluded from both the Matthew and Luke Messianic genealogies.   By comparing Mt 1:7-11 with 1Chr 3:10-16, we find the names of Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah (1Chr 3:11-12) are left out between the names of Jehoram and Uzziah (aka Azariah) in Mt 1:8.  This was probably done in order to achieve a certain pattern of a specific number of generations (3 sets of 14).  In addition, Luke’s genealogy (Lk 3) lists 42 generations from David to Jesus (vs 27 or 28 in Matthew depending on how a generation is counted).  Even though these are traced from different sons of David (Solomon vs Nathan) the difference in the number of generations further suggests additional gaps in Matthew's list.  We also find support for gaps within Luke’s genealogy of Jesus.  Some Greek transcripts add the name of “Admin” between Ram (aka Arni) and Amminadab (see Luke 3:33 vs Ru 4:19).  This name is included in several English Bible translations such as the ESV, NASB, NLT, NRSV and the NET, but omitted from the NIV, HCSV, and KJV.

So, how many generations were omitted from the list in Ruth between Salmon and David?  During this epoch, the average span between generations is typically estimated to vary between 25-40 years.  Applying these times to our time span, and considering the comparative lists of 1Chronicles 6, we can approximate the number of generations from 9 to 16.  Thus, we can estimate that five to twelve generations were possibly excluded from the Ruth genealogy.

Some have erroneously proposed that there must be at least eleven generations between the Moabite Ruth and David due to the prohibition in Dt 23:3 against Moabites entering the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation.  This position is based upon a faulty understanding of Ruth’s status and a flawed interpretation of the verse’s meaning.  We address this issue in detail in our “Was the Intermarriage of an Israelite (Boaz) and a Moabite (Ruth) Forbidden by the Covenant Law?” article.

This of course, begs the question of “have we found an error in the Bible”.  In fact, this charge of a historical error is also frequently made with regard to other genealogical lists in Scripture, so let’s pause to deal with this very important question before continuing with our subject in Ruth.

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Bible Inerrancy Issues

We originally included our discussion of “whether or not missing generations in genealogical lists constitutes an error in Holy Scripture” as a chapter in this article.  In order to deal with this critical issue in a more detailed manner, we’ve split this chapter off into the separate article “Interpretation Challenges of Biblical Genealogies” where we discuss the apologetic issues, means for determining direct father-son relationships, and more.  For our purposes relating to our list in Ruth, a brief summary will suffice.

Regarding the Biblical Inerrancy issue, it is relatively easy to demonstrate that missing generations in a genealogical list does not represent a Scriptural error.  Remember that the doctrine of Inerrancy is tied to the author’s intent (see our “Overview of Bible Apologetics” and “Meaning of Biblical Inerrancy” articles for more info).  With a basic understanding of the original languages (the same Hebrew or Greek words for “father” or “son” also are used for “ancestor” or “descendant”), and of the various purposes and functions of genealogies in Hebrew culture, we see that the author often included only the names that fit his specific purpose for a particular list.  It is actually quite common for an author to deliberately omit names from a list (known as “telescoping”) in order to achieve a certain objective.  In the case of our list, the author aims to relate Boaz and Ruth to a prominent ancestor (Perez, the son of the patriarch of the tribe of Judah) and to a very important descendant (King David) and ultimately, to the coming Messiah.

So, the critics’ charge that genealogical gaps invalidate the historicity of the Bible is based on faulty interpretation of the Scriptures and/or a misunderstanding of the doctrine of inerrancy.  An incorrect understanding or analysis on our part does not constitute an error in Scripture.

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Location of the Gaps

Returning to our genealogy in Ruth, we now attempt to place each generation within history and determine the probable location of any gaps.  We’ve already noted the estimated dates pertaining to Salmon/Rahab and David, so we begin with a brief explanation on how we arrived at these dates.

During these times, the Israelites did not tie the reigns of their kings or other Biblical events to any calendar dates.  Fortunately, abundant records containing names and events dated to established calendar systems are available from Egyptian, Assyrian and Babylonian records that harmonize remarkably with the Bible accounts.  Thus, from the time of David’s grandson Rehoboam (whose reign began 931 or 930 BC upon the death of David’s son Solomon), we can accurately date most Bible events within a few months by synchronizing the events with extra-biblical events from the historical records (but see “Challenges to Dating the Reigns of Kings”).

We can then date previous Bible events based upon internal data from Scripture.  We establish David’s birth from 2Samuel 5:4 (David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years) and 1Kings 11:42-43 (Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years.  Then he rested with his ancestors and was buried in the city of David his father.  And Rehoboam his son succeeded him).  Thus, we begin from Solomon’s death ~930 BC and add 40+40+30 years to set David’s birth at ~1040BC.

From these same verses, we also know that Solomon’s reign began ~970 BC which helps us to estimate the marriage date of Salmon and Rahab.  We begin with 1Kings 6:1 where we read, “In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord.”  So, we add 480 years to Solomon’s fourth year (~966 BC) to obtain ~1446 BC as the year of the Exodus.  (Some have proposed a later date for the Exodus based upon their interpretation of limited archeological findings, but we believe the literal Bible interpretation is much more tenable (see the article “Dating the Exodus” – in progress and will post the link here when loaded.)  After 40 years in the wilderness (Nu 14:26-35, Jsh 5:6), the Israelites would enter the Promised Land of Canaan (~1406 BC) and begin the conquest with Rahab’s aid to the spies at Jericho.  We’re not given Rahab’s age, so we’ve guesstimated their marriage and birth of their child that continued the lineage at ~1400 BC.

We accordingly begin with the following list:

Salmon / Rahab (married ~1400 BC)
Boaz / Ruth
David (born ~1040 BC)

We now attempt to determine any direct parent-child relationships based upon the methods discussed in the “Determining Direct Parent-Child Relationships” chapter of the  “Biblical Genealogies” article.  In most cases with genealogies, we must look outside the list for confirmation (an exception is when a child is “named”, such as Adam naming Seth and Lamech naming Noah in the Genesis 5 genealogy).  We first easily establish Obed as the child of Boaz and Rahab on multiple grounds - Ruth conceived (Heb herayon from harah), interaction with Naomi (held him in her lap), Obed was named, and the testimony of the women (Ru 4:13-17).  Similarly, we confirm Jesse as the immediate father of David by noting their physical presence at a common historical Bible event, namely Samuel’s anointing of David (1Sam 16:1-13) in which we witness present-tense interaction between Jesse, David and his brothers.

At this point, we’ve narrowed the location of possible to between Rahab and Boaz, between Obed and Jesse, or both; so the location of the missing generations really depends upon the dating of the events in the Book of Ruth.  Regarding internal evidence, we know Ruth was set in the time of the Judges (Ru 1:1), which lasted from the death of Joshua (~1375 BC) to the anointing of Saul as Israel’s first king (~1050 BC).  This obviously doesn’t provide any new data that we haven’t already determined.  The popular consensus among scholars and historians however, place the events near the end of the era of the Judges.  In our “Timeline of the Book of Ruth”, we estimate the ten years in Moab (Ru 1:4) at ~1030-1020 BC (Obed would have been born shortly thereafter).  Based on David’s birth (~1040 BC), we can suggest a rough birth date for Jesse of ~1080 BC. Therefore, we can reasonably assume that Obed was the natural father of Jesse.

This is consistent with the account of Obed’s birth in chapter 4.  Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him.  The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.’  And they named him Obed.  He was the father [Hebrew ab] of Jesse, the father of David (Ru 4:16-17).  As noted in the “Biblical Genealogies” article, the Hebrew word “ab” can mean father, forefather, grandfather, ancestor etc.  Since the purpose of this verse is to tie Obed to David, it would seem rather odd to include Jesse in such a short list unless he was in actuality, the natural son of Obed.

We now propose the following chronological list for the Ruth 4 genealogy from Salmon to David with estimated dating:

Salmon / Rahab (married ~1400 BC)
“probable missing generations”
Boaz / Ruth (married ~1120 BC)
Obed (born ~1120 BC)
Jesse (born ~1080BC)
David (born ~1040 BC)

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We conclude from our findings that, although Rahab was definitely an ancestor of Boaz, it is unlikely that she was his natural mother.  This does not constitute a Biblical error, nor diminish the historicity of the Scripture in any way when we properly consider the original language, genre, and the author's purpose.

The overriding purpose of the genealogical list in Ruth 4 is to establish Ruth, Boaz and their child within the lineage of the coming Messiah.  This is accomplished by demonstrating that they are from the tribe of Judah and ancestors of King David according to God's sovereign plan for the redemption of mankind.

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