Thursday, June 16, 2011

Tribute to the Unknown God

If you are familiar with weddings, then you are probably familiar with the book of Ruth from the bible, though you may not realize it.  Often at weddings you hear this quote (or something similar):

"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."  Ruth 1:16-17

Two things get my attention from this quote.  First, although it is used at weddings, this is not a quote from a wife to a husband or vice versa.  Instead, this is Ruth talking to her mother-in-law after her husband died.  The other comes from the your God my God part.  See, Naomi, the mother-in-law, told Ruth that she was released from her duty (widows were supposed to stay with their husband's family) and that she could go back to her gods.  Well, who were Ruth's gods?

Ruth was a Moabite.  Traditionally they were not friends with the Israelites (who was?) and often the two groups of people fought.  Ruth's first husband, Naomi's son, moved to Moab because of a famine.  When Ruth married him, she gave up worship of Chemosh to worship her husband's god, Yahweh. 

We don't know a lot about Chemosh.  He was the top dog of the Moab gods.  He was a war god as well.  It does seem that human sacrifices were common in his worship.  The most we know about him comes from the Mesha Stele, a stone tablet that was craved about 830 B.C. that boasts of Chemosh leading the way to destroy entire Israelite towns.

Unfortunately for the Moabites, Chemosh didn't help them much after that.  They fell to the Israelites and paid a fortune in tribute until finally pretty much disappearing.  Ruth, however, is one of the most famous Moabite.  When she decided to leave Chemosh and stick with Yahweh, she moved to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law.  Now if you're silently singing, "Little Town of Bethlehem" in your mind, you're on the right track.  See, once she moves to that little town, she marries a relative of her former husband (no, not incest, it was tradition) and gives birth to a boy named Obed.  If Obed doesn't sound familiar, try Obed's son - Jesse.  If Jesse doesn't sound familiar, try his son - David.  That's right.  The killed-a-giant-with-a-rock-and-became-super-king David.  It is because David was born in Bethlehem that Jesus was later born in Bethlehem.  

So pretty interesting that the whole line of Israel and all of Christianity relied on a former worshiper of a human sacrificing war god switching sides.  Don't you know Chemosh is probably a bit embarrassed by it all.