Ham on genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Christ

Posted by T on June 09, 2012

Continuing the review of Ken Ham’s screed. On p. 93, he says,

In the genealogy in Matthew 1, it is traditionally understood that the same Rahab is listed here as being in the line leading to Christ… Since this was clearly a union approved by God, it underlines the fact that the particular “people group” she came from was irrelevant — what mattered was that she trusted in the true God of the Israelites.

And again,

The same can be said of Ruth, who, as a Moabitess, also married an Israelite, and is also listed in the genealogy in Matthew 1 that leads to Christ.

Before getting into the argument as such, take note of a few things about Rahab. (1) There are many names that repeat in the OT. Her story does not make the tie-in to genealogy, unlike Ruth. Certainly the point of the story about the spies and Rahab has nothing to do with genealogy in its original context. Is it possible that it is a different woman named Rahab? (2) Is it possible that Rahab was a Semite? At any rate, it is surprising how easy communication between the Hebrew spies and her was, and how they found her so quickly. You can get in the habit of always saying, “what a miracle,” or you can reflect further. Her being put out of the camp as unclean initially could be explained by her background as a harlot.

As to Ruth, note that she was a Semite, a descendent of Moab, who was a descendent of Abraham’s nephew. Boaz marrying her would be more like a German marrying a French girl than marrying a Negress.

But that in passing. Let us focus on the form of Ham’s argument as such.

It is an example of enthymemic argument, that is, an argument in which the major premise is not stated. It will be helpful to try to figure out what Ham’s unstated premise is. What unstated premise allows Ham to say, “this was clearly a union approved by God”? It seems to be this:

P1: If someone is in the genealogy of Christ, then that person’s marriage must be approved of God.

It is a defective biblical theology that concludes from “is” to “ought” so quickly. A similar mistake is often made in reasoning from the lie that Rahab evidently told, to concluding that lying is morally justifiable. (Perhaps this is why Ham & Co. are a bit loose with the truth, especially when dealing with the H-word?) Why not also argue then, from the example of Joseph, that kidnapping your brother and selling him to foreign slave-traders is morally exemplary, since it led to the great redemptive act of God leading his people out of bondage? It is the form of reasoning that is faulty here: if there is one lesson that must be taken from the biblical narrative, it is that the sinful acts of men are taken up by God into a bigger story of redemption, and of the display of God’s glory.

No doubt Ham would answer something like, “the law of God forbids man-stealing, and that is how we know that selling your brother into slavery, is wrong, regardless of the salutary effects that happen to result from that deed.” True enough; but that at least serves as a reminder that the method of induction applied to historical example must be carried out with a great deal of care. It is a common mistake to assume that the biblical narrative always can be taken as presenting normative patterns of behavior, unless contradicted by a law of God.  But this is a shaky foundation; the biblical narrative evidently is not given with that purpose.

Deut. 23:3-6 forbids a Moabite to enter the temple until (at least) the tenth generation. If Ruth was a Moabitess, then were there a half-dozen generations in the kingly line that were law-breakers, including David? Surely, the king, who was to be the pious head of the nation, should not have been chosen from a line such that he could not but sin?

This may be an argument that Ruth was not a descendent of Moab: at any rate, the relation between law and narrative needs to be pondered more deeply. Or, there is another possibility. It seems as though the ancient world regarded the female as something of a generic template of humanity, the tribal identity being established by the male. (Even today, a woman might be heard saying, “I carried his child,” as if it is “his” not “ours” in a fundamental sense.) If this is a principle not merely accommodated, but ratified by Scripture, then we will have to incorporate it. I am not sure where such reasoning might lead. Perhaps the offspring of a Negress could be restored after 4 or 5 generations of purity, while that of a Negro would require ten generations.

I don’t know. All of this is not to reach conclusions, but simply to introduce Ham to a few of the complexities that he is blissfully unaware of. However, for the sake of argument, we can reveal the unsoundness of Ham’s reasoning even taking Ruth as a full-blooded Moabitess, and assuming that her descendants were therefore Moabites, whatever ancillary difficulties this might pose.

We do not say that Christ’s celibacy is a model for humanity: it was a unique feature of his redemptive place and role. It may be that within the basic framework of tribal integrity, this particular line had examples from the other major races as a proleptic indication that Messiah would be Messiah for all of humanity. The purpose of the genealogy was hardly to teach a principle of courtship that applies to the nations. That is simply not its intent.

Knowing the outcome of the story — that salvation is not confined to the Hebrews — one might have expected that the genealogy of the Savior of all mankind would have all the major racial branches in his lineage. And if it proved that he did — say, if his ancestors were divided equally amongst Japhethites, Hamites, and Semites — this would not imply a universal norm that the existing nations must be open to mongrelization lest they violate the divine example. For, the purpose of the mixing in Messiah’s line would evidently be tied to the uniqueness of his office.

If a racial principle is at issue in the genealogy at all, what is notable in the first place is the substantial racial and tribal consistency that is exemplified. The few exceptions prove the rule. But to the extent that one should try to draw racial inferences at all, note how difficult it is to apply induction. For example, why does Ham not conclude instead, “marriages that took females in from other races are approved, but not marriages that took males in.” The foreign males that came in to Israel are few and far between. Uriah comes to mind — and they never forgot that he was “the Hittite.” That hypothesis would be as fully supported as Ham’s hypothesis, yet he evidently would not approve of that one. He would then have to argue, “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” or some such. But that is hardly a biblical principle.

Note too that there are more than ten generations listed from Rahab or Ruth to Christ.  Perhaps we should conclude from the same data the Ham uses, “though Christ’s lineage was tainted by injections of alien blood once or twice, we see that the washing principle of ten generations transpired before the line reached him.” Even the South only required four or five generations to restore whiteness.

But back to Ham’s silent P1: “If someone is in the genealogy of Christ, then that person’s marriage must be approved of God.”

However, the genealogy includes the union of Tamar and Judah. This was not a legitimate marriage. This was, instead, a carnal union brought about by Tamar tricking her father-in-law because of his welshing on his promise to provide his youngest son as husband for Tamar after the death of her first two husbands, which were his sons. The Levirate law (Deut 25:5-6), which was obviously practiced long before Moses’ publication of it, provided for the brother of a deceased man, under certain circumstances, to take the widow, either as wife, or at least, to sire an offspring for his deceased brother. It did not provide for the father to do so. In the Book of Common Prayer’s Table of lawful kindred and affinity, which may be studied with a bit of web-surfing, the wife of a brother is not forbidden for marriage, but the wife of a son is forbidden. In short, Judah and Tamar, if it was even intended as a marriage at all, was not a lawful marriage.

So much for P1!

It would be interesting to reflect in a biblical-theological way on the significance of the genealogies. This is not the place, and I am not the man. The genealogy in Matt 1 is given as leading to Joseph. It pertains to Jesus by way of adoption, or perhaps to show the succession of Davidic kingship by patriarchal head (not blood, obviously). Perhaps one might insist that each generation only from David must be a legitimate marriage to prove royal succession. Unfortunately for Ham’s thesis, this contrivance (which has some plausibility) brackets both Rahab and Ruth from that aspect of the succession, thus vacating his thesis. Or perhaps it is to set Jesus in the context of a three-fold succession by male head from Adam (all humanity), from Abraham (covenant people) and David (royal endowment). This would follow, regardless of the regularity of the “marriage” at any given link, which as I have shown, is at least at one link in the chain not a lawful marriage.

Even if by some subtle reasoning that has escaped me, it could be shown that the marriages were all lawful and blessed, would it follow that each one can provide a template for a father to use in deciding whether to approve the marriage of his son or daughter? Could we take the instance of Rahab (if it was indeed the harlot) to say that fathers should not raise the past profession of a woman as an objection to their son marrying harlots, provided they convert? The mind balks at how far Ham would take his method of generating inferences.

Note also that even if it could be shown that there were inter-tribal marriages, and that those marriages once executed were lawful — that is, that dissolution would require divorce, not annulment — it would not follow that pursuing such marriages, and fathers blessing such marriages, did not involve the parties in sin which should have been eschewed. We could say so much in Ruth’s case, from the story itself. But there is not enough information in Rahab’s case. Just as, though one lawful outcome of rape under certain circumstances is marriage between the perp and the girl (Deut. 22:28-29), it would hardly follow that rape or seduction was proper, or something that could be “pursued” with a clear conscience.

In conclusion, we can certainly not look at the genealogy of Matt 1 as proving that pursuing and permitting inter-racial marriage is lawful, let alone ordinarily acceptable. Much more spade work would need to be done to show this, and it is doubtful that it could be done.

This discussion is typical of what is required in critiquing Ham’s book. Again and again, he drops little bombs in passing, like casual, effortless proofs, that require an entire essay to unpack and explode. The job of a man whose thought is in slavish conformity even to the unwritten dictates of the current regime has an easy life indeed: he has merely to proclaim, and few will arise to challenge.

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