The documentation theory seems to be a line of demarcation between rational and irrational Christianity. Let’s have a look.
Naomi Said Farewell
Three widows went to Bethlehem, Naomi with Ruth and Orpah, the Moabite daughters in law of Naomi. Before they arrived at the border with Judah, somewhere on a place of rest, Naomi wanted her daughters in law to return to Moab. She loved them and wanted them to marry again in their country and become happy mothers. And this is what she said:
“Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find a home, each of you in the house of her husband!” (Ruth 1:8-9 etc. RSV)
How is it possible that we possess this short part of a conversation? The answer is that Naomi wrote down this short message on the wax tablets of Orpah and Ruth with her sign or seal to give them a legal right to leave her and to absolve them from the obligation to take care for her as their mother in law. Everywhere they went in Moab they could show that it was the will of Naomi to set them free for a new marriage.
The first reaction of Orpah and Ruth was “No, we will return with you to your people.” And even Ruth wrote that on her wax tablet to show her determination to not leave Naomi.
Naomi Insisted Them to Return
Naomi seeing that Ruth had written on her wax tablet in turn what was said by Orpah and Ruth, stretched out her hand to receive the tablet and continued writing when she said:
“Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown?…”
With these words on the tablet of Ruth, Naomi tried to undo the written refusal of Ruth. When Orpah saw the determination of Naomi, that she really wanted them to go, she decided to accept the will of Naomi. She kissed her and returned with the legal dispensation to remarry on her tablet.
After Orpah’s Departure
Naomi who saw that Ruth was still with her, continued to speak and write:
“See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
This was too much for Ruth. There was one thing she never wanted anymore, the gods of Moab. She took the tablet and now it was her turn to show her determination:
“Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; 17 where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.” 18 And when Na′omi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
Naomi’s Return in Bethlehem
Naomi and Ruth went on and entered into Bethlehem. The whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Na′omi?” However, she did not want anymore the name Naomi, she said:
“Do not call me Na′omi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Na′omi, when the Lord has afflicted me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Apparently she had to give an explanation and a justification in writing to change her name in the registers of the town, or maybe in a woman’s house, to underline in public that her new name was serious.
From Wax Tablet to Papyrus
Shortly after these events Ruth had to clean her wax tablet to make it ready for new application. At first, she had to copy on papyrus the texts of the tablet. This custom–without a culture of photography–was certainly an important vehicle to remember the spoken word of family events. We have to reckon with a constant stream of papyrus from Egypt into Israel. However the climate of Israel with regular rains, did not allow us to receive old examples of papyrus, hidden in the soil, that have withstand the centuries.
In theology it is not the custom to speak about things as writing discussions. There is always a way-out to escape the truth: great words that ask no courage. It is not difficult to speak about God and the prophetic words of Ruth and so on, great and wonderful words. However, it is too bad that we are never told how these words came on our table. Why are Christians always deprived of a basic reality by their theologians with all sorts of pious words? Isn’t it time to take back what has been taken from them?
It all begins with the words of Jesus in the four Gospels, and also the words of the Old Testament, of patriarchs and prophets, cannot stay behind. “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law.” (Romans 3:21) The righteousness of God is a full righteousness. As it is for the Gospels, so it was for the Law: conservation of the spoken word in writing.
The documentation theory, therefore, seems to be a line of demarcation between rational and irrational Christianity. And that demarcation is a serious matter in so much Christian experiences. Documentation brings peace instead of pressure, truth instead of doubt, independence instead of dependence on people; in short personal willingness to live the Christian life as it is.