Thursday, December 18, 2008

On Shoes, Thrown and Given

Ever since I heard this news, I have been wondering. Does the throwing of shoes in today's Iraqi culture bear any relation to the exchange of shoes in scripture? Remember the end of the book of Ruth?

No sooner had Boaz gone up to the gate and sat down there than the next-of-kin, of whom Boaz had spoken, came passing by. So Boaz said, “Come over, friend; sit down here.” And he went over and sat down. 2Then Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, “Sit down here”; so they sat down. 3He then said to the next-of-kin, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. 4So I thought I would tell you of it, and say: Buy it in the presence of those sitting here, and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you.” So he said, “I will redeem it.” 5Then Boaz said, “The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.” 6At this, the next-of-kin said, “I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” 7Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, “Acquire it for yourself,” he took off his sandal.

Now, the book of Ruth is, among other things, a love story. By this point we are rooting for faithful, hard-working Ruth and older, wealthy Boaz to get together. We don't want this next-of-kin guy messing things up. So, "Now this was the custom...: to confirm a transaction, the one took off a sandal and gave it to the other" may be a prettification. Could it be that the exchange of sandals, rather than "confirming a transaction" actually said something like, "You failed to live up to your obligations"? Or, "You fell down on your part of the bargain"? Or, "You dog!"

Remember: feet in scripture are a euphemism for genitals. Taking off the sandal was probably related to the custom of placing the hand "under the thigh" (near the family jewels) when swearing an oath. And the uncovering of the "feet" could be seen as shaming someone.

Any thoughts? Any other scripture passages that have to do with the exchange of shoes?

Or am I just avoiding my Christmas shopping?


Mary Beth said...

In Islamic culture it's actually a profound insult. Shoes and the bottom of the foot are considered quite dirty.

Pastor Peters said...

of course it's dirty! i think your connection here is super interesting mags... or i'm just as much of a procrastinator.

so you mean that the iraqi reporter may have figuratively thrown his genitals at bush (again his surname is funny here)?

Magdalene6127 said...

Mary Beth, definitely-- I get that. I'm just wondering if it's a strand of the same tradition that's reflected in scripture-- if giving the shoe/ taking it off was a sign of being humiliated?

Pastor Peters... I might not have made that leap, but... sure! And maybe it's not a leap. And maybe I should get working on my longest night meditations...