Q: Our pastor recently said Moabite woman were sexually impure and wayward women. As I study and develop a more egalitarian view of scripture I find this label for the woman and not the men to be disturbing. Any thoughts or input on the Moabite men's role?
A: Great question! The Hebrew Bible doesn’t have a whole lot to say about individual Moabite men, and those texts that do talk about Moabite men (like Num 22-24) don’t talk about them in relationship to Moabite women.
This is probably because the Moabites, who were Israel’s close neighbors, were primarily of concern to the Israelites when it came to war or Moab’s political alliances with Israel’s enemies or to intermarriage. So what Moabite men and women did amongst themselves wasn’t really important to the biblical authors. It only mattered when they interacted with the Israelites in some way.
The alleged sexual promiscuity of the Moabite women was primarily a concern to biblical authors who believed that these women would lead Israelite men into worshiping Moabite gods (see Num 25:1-5 and 1Kgs 11:1-8). The idea that the foreign woman is a dangerous temptress is a very common theme in the Bible; it is probably a literary device rather than a reflection of historical reality—that is, these are ancient “yo’ mama” slanders, not historical facts. The role of Moabite men in influencing Moabite women’s behavior doesn’t really come into the picture, because the stories aren’t about actual relationships and actual people.
It’s also worth noting that there are some exemplary Moabite women in the Bible, including Ruth, one of King David’s ancestors (and therefore one of Jesus’s, too). In fact, the book of Ruth depicts Moabite women in a completely positive light and has nothing to say about Moabite men.
Sarah Shectman is a scholar and editor living in San Francisco, California. She is the author of Women in the Pentateuch: A Feminist and Source-Critical Analysis (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2009). Her current research focuses on gender in the priestly material of the Pentateuch. She is the cofounder of SBAllies (sballies.org).
A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.
Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.
Of or related to the written word, especially that which is considered literature; literary criticism is a interpretative method that has been adapted to biblical analysis.
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