Did Boaz already have another wife when he married Ruth?

Q. I see that you are posting about Ruth on your blog.  I have two questions for your, a little more in depth.  Here goes:

1) Having translated the book of Ruth, I’m curious about the poetic lines that Ruth recites to Naomi when she makes her pledge in chapter 2.  I’m wondering if you know where these words come from in Hebrew culture?  Given the marriage themes in the book, I have wondered if they might have been part of the ancient Israelite marital vows or something similar.  The poetry absolutely stands out there.  Any insight on this?

2) I have also heard the theory that Boaz was already married when this story happened, and that he probably took Ruth as a second wife (or perhaps more).  I think this view is based on the fact that Boaz seems to be a wealthy and presumably middle-aged man.  What are your thoughts about this?

That’s all.  I am enjoying your blog!

Thanks for your kind words and for following up on my recent posts with these questions.  Let me begin with the one about Boaz.

While it’s possible that Boaz did have another wife (in this culture, this wouldn’t have kept him from marrying Ruth), it doesn’t say anywhere in the book that he did, so we shouldn’t assume this.  What we do know about Boaz, as we’re told when we first meet him, is that he’s a “man of standing,” prosperous and influential.  As I explain in my Joshua-Judges-Ruth study guide:

“To get enough money to live on, Naomi is selling the portion of the fields around Bethlehem that belonged to her late husband Elimelek. The hope is that, as the law intends, a goel (family guardian) will ‘redeem’ this property, buying it from Naomi, but also on her behalf, so that she has both the money from the sale and the field’s produce year by year. The other family guardian is initially willing to make this sacrifice. But when he learns he must also marry Ruth and give her children in her late husband’s name, he backs out, explaining, ‘I might endanger my own estate.’ (He can’t afford to part with the money for the property and then divide his remaining worth among his current children and those Ruth will have in the future.) But Boaz is a ‘man of standing’ who’s in an adequate position to help out financially in this way.”

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, "Ruth in Boaz's Field," 1828
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, “Ruth in Boaz’s Field,” 1828

This explains why Boaz is the right husband for Ruth.  If he did have another wife, which is possible (although again, not mentioned in the book, so we should not assume it), this would raise the further question of polygamy.  We need to appreciate that in this culture, women were dependent on male relatives for provision and protection. So the commandment in the law of Moses for a close relative to marry a widow, even if he was already married himself, was a compassionate provision for her needs and those of her current and future children and dependents.  (Naomi, an older widow herself, is one of Ruth’s dependents, and so Ruth’s proposal to Boaz, as I noted in this post, is also an act of compassion to her.) 

I’ll answer your question about Ruth’s poetic promise to Naomi in my next post.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

24 thoughts on “Did Boaz already have another wife when he married Ruth?”

  1. Wasn’t it true that “men of standing” generally had many wives and that was part of the reason for that position in the first place? I say this because not too long after Ruth, David and Samuel both had many wives due to their standings as king. Unless that was something specifically for Kings.

    1. Thank you for your question. Actually, the phrase “man of standing” (‘ish gibbor, in Boaz’s case intensified with the synonym chayil), didn’t so much indicate a formal position as someone who was outstanding in some way, most often in battle as a warrior, but in this case as an exemplary and influential community member. We could surmise that he wouldn’t have achieved this role without being an exemplary husband and father, and that he therefore already had at least one wife when he married Ruth, but as I say in my post, the Bible doesn’t say this explicitly and so we can’t be certain about it. David probably took several wives in order to assure at least one surviving heir. In the case of Solomon, who had hundreds of wives in a harem, it seems rather to have been an assertion of power and status, directly violating God’s instructions for kings in the law.

    1. In my post I suggest that this was possible, but that since the Bible doesn’t say anything either way, we don’t know for sure. If Boaz did have another wife, he was wealthy enough to make sure that Ruth and her children got their full share of the family inheritance. This qualifies Boaz as just the kind of goel or “family guardian” who’s needed in this case. As I also explain in my post, in this culture men could marry more than one wife, but the law of Moses required them to treat all of their wives fairly and equally.

  2. Thank you for the great spiritual insight. When talking about Ruth laying at Boaz feet and him covering her with his robe. Per my research, some say they made love. Due to the laws, the were technical already married before the public wedding celebration. What are your thoughts and fact findings. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Actually, Ruth and Boaz were not married at this point. Boaz explains to her that he can’t say whether or not he can marry her until he finds out from the closer relative, who has to be given the opportunity first, whether that man is willing and able to marry Ruth. The two of them are not married until after the scene at the city gate where this closer relative relinquishes his opportunity to marry Ruth (removing his sandal according to the custom of the time), clearing the way for Boaz to become Ruth’s husband. The book of Ruth identifies Boaz of a man of godly character and so he would not have taken advantage of her. He would not have made love with her until they were officially and publicly married, with no obstacles in the way.

  3. I wanted to know the name of Boaz wife’s name. According to the book of Ruth chapter 4v11 and 12 it shows that Boaz was having another wife before married to Ruth.

    1. Ruth 4:11 was not a statement of Boaz having wives named Rachel and Leah, but rather a common blessing given to people getting married.

  4. I’m doing a teaching on Ruth and your blog has been quite helpful! One question though – did Naomi in fact own any land her husband had owned? Were women allowed to own land, or did it automatically revert to the next male relative?

    1. I’m glad these posts have been helpful to you. To answer your specific question, I don’t believe there would have been a question of who would inherit Elimelek’s land until after his wife Naomi had died herself. A widow in ancient Israel continued to hold full property rights to her late husband’s land for the rest of her life. (But without a male protector, she would have been vulnerable, hence the saying in Proverbs about how the Lord “sets the widow’s boundary stones in place,” i.e. protects her property.) But in cases that did have to do with inheritance, women in ancient Israel inherited land from the older generation if there were no surviving male heirs. This situation first arose in the wilderness with the five daughters of a man named Zelophehad, who died leaving no male heirs. These five sisters went to Moses and asked, “Why should our father’s name disappear from his clan because he had no son? Give us property among our father’s relatives.” The account continues: “So Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord said to him, ‘What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.'” I hope this is helpful.

    1. I believe you’re suggesting that it’s likely Boaz would have already been married in this culture, since he was so much older than Ruth. If we argue that he didn’t already have a wife, we need to explain why he wouldn’t be married by his age. This is an argument in favor of the idea that he did have a previous wife.

    1. The Bible doesn’t tell us whether they did. But my guess is that they would at least have tried to have more children, because Obed became, in effect, Naomi’s son and kinsman-redeemer. The language in the book of Ruth almost suggests that Naomi adopted Obed: “Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son!’ And they named him Obed” [meaning “one who serves”]. So more children would have been desirable to care for Ruth, as well, as she got older.

  5. Thanks for clearing over Boaz and Ruth. I should stick to what the Bible says not to what other people may say. Be blessed.

  6. Did Boaz die immediately Ruth took in of Obed or after Ruth put to bed As the bible made us to know that he died after the marriage?

    1. The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically how old Ruth and Boaz were, but in Old Testament times, women married right around the time they became able to have children, so around 14. The book of Ruth does tell us that Naomi and her two sons lived in Moab for ten years after they both married Moabite women, so Ruth would have been in her mid-20s when she returned to Israel with Naomi. Men in Old Testament times were typically older than their wives because they needed to become self-supporting small farmers before they got married, in order to provide for their families. But there seems to have been a greater-than-average difference in ages between Boaz and Ruth because he says to her, “You have not run after the younger men.” He calls this an even greater kindness to Naomi than coming back from Moab with her. The suggestion is that rather than trying to find a husband around her own age, Ruth is marrying Boaz, even though he’s older, because he can provide for her and Naomi. So we might speculate that Boaz was at least in his 40s and possibly his 50s, though as I said the Bible doesn’t say for sure. (Parenthetically, I would speculate further that because Ruth and Boaz’s marriage was based on self-denying sacrifice and compassion, they may well have grown into a deep, strong love for one another, despite the difference in their ages.)

  7. I read in Rabbinic Jewish Traditon, Boaz was 80 and Ruth was 40. But it never mentioned if Boaz was married. I assumed he was. Because back then being having a family, a wives and children were very important as well as present culture of Israel. It never mentioned because it was not important any more.

    1. I have not seen that particular tradition myself, but you’ll see from my previous comment that I believe Ruth was in her mid-20s, and in an earlier comment I also suggest that Boaz was previously married. The numbers 80 and 40 in rabbinic tradition may have some symbolic significance.

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