Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

“Spread your skirt over your maidservant, for you are next of kin,” Ruth implores Boaz in this medieval manuscript illumination, in effect asking him to marry her. Her direct request for a relationship is only ten words in Hebrew, but with it she reminds Boaz of his legal obligation to her as “next of kin” and achieves the upper hand in this pivotal encounter. According to the laws of ancient Israel, the closest male kinsman of a widow was required to marry, or “redeem,” her, and to have a child, if possible, who would bear the name of the deceased and keep his land within the family; these were called levirate obligations. Boaz, apparently flustered by the situation and realizing that he could lose face in the community, replies to her at length, with 66 words in Hebrew, promising to take the matter up with a closer kinsman. He makes only two commands, “Remain this night…Lie down until morning,” and does not gain dominance in the conversation.