Book Of Ruth

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The Book of Ruth is one of the books of the Ketuvim of the Tanakh/Hebrew Bible and of the Writings of the Old Testament.

Contents

Author

Many of the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible books do not identify the author and the Book of Ruth is no different; however there is a tradition that alludes to a possibility. The Talmud refers to Samuel as the author but scholars do not accept this tradition. Samuel died before David and the way in which the author writes the genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22 supposes that the lineage is well known. Even the reference in Ruth 1:1 to the “days when the judges ruled…” indicates that the era had ended and that the audience was somewhat removed from the time. Furthermore, Ruth 4:7 states that the legal custom of taking off a shoe to seal the agreement is no longer in use. Only a generation exists between Samuel and Boaz; therefore, it is unlikely that the time span would require this explanation.

Interestingly, some scholars suggest that the author is a woman. Two observations point in the direction of a woman author. First, the story centers on the life journey of two women in desperate straits in a male dominated society and it appears to be from the viewpoint of a woman. Second, Naomi and Ruth’s ingenuity and assertiveness propels the story line. Regardless of these observations the possibility of a female author is only conjecture.

It was originally a part of the Book Of Judges, but it now forms one of the twenty-four separate books of the Hebrew Bible.

The history it contains refers to a period perhaps about one hundred and twenty-six years before the birth of David. It gives

(1) an account of Naomi's going to Moab with her husband, Elimelech, and of her subsequent return to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law;

(2) the marriage of Boaz and Ruth; and

(3) the birth of Obed, of whom David sprang.

The author of this book was probably Samuel, according to Jewish tradition.

“Brief as this book is, and simple as is its story, it is remarkably rich in examples of faith, patience, industry, and kindness, nor less so in indications of the care which God takes of those who put their trust in him.”


Date

The Book of Ruth, according to many scholars, was originally part of the Book Of Judges, but it was later separated from that book and made independent. The opening verses explicitly places the Book of Ruth in the time of the Judges and it concludes with the Davidic lineage. Therefore, one would suppose that the author wrote the story after the time of King David. Exactly how long after the reign of David is the question. One possibility is around 900 BC, shortly after David's reign. Scholars who choose this date link it to the importance of David’s linage recorded at the end of Ruth. In Ruth 4:12 the author states that Ruth and Boaz’ child is named Obed and that Obed “…became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” The final verses trace the family line.

On the other hand, the message of the book shows acceptance of the Israelites marrying converts to Judaism and this has been used to suggest that the book was written during the early days of the Persian period. Perhaps around 500 BC, which was during the postexilic period. Ezra 10:2ff) and Nehemiah 13:23ff record the problem that arose from the Israelites marrying foreign women. Instead of the wives converting to Judaism the Israelites began to follow their wives' false gods. As a result, God’s people fell out of relationship with YHWH. For this reason, Ezra condemned intermarriages and forced the Israelites to abandon their non-Jewish wives. According to this theory, the book was written in response to Ezra's reform and in defense of a marriage to a foreign wife when the wife converts to Judaism. Acceptance of marriages to foreigners who convert to Judaism is further enforced by making the connection to the Davidic line as David is commonly seen as Israel's greatest king. Scholars who prefer the 500 BC date do so in reference to this dilemma. They contend that Ruth demonstrates that a marriage to a foreigner may be acceptable to God when the foreigner follows God.

In addition, the later date of 500 BC is preferred when explaining the use of language in Ruth; however, scholars also realize that the linguistic style of the book could reflect the work of editors following the 900 BC date. Essentially, the dating of Ruth is ambiguous and scholars cannot date the book of Ruth with any degree of certainty.

Plot

The book of Ruth is about an ordinary family who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances. Elimelech moves his two sons and wife Naomi from Bethlehem, Judah to Moab during a time of famine. Their two sons marry Moabite women Orpah and Ruth (Ruth רוּת means "Compassion", Standard Hebrew Rut, Tiberian Hebrew Rûṯ). Over a period of ten years, the men of the family die leaving their three widows. Naomi resolves to return to her homeland and urges her two daughters-in-law to return to their Moabite families. Orpah listens to Naomi’s urgings but Ruth pledges her undying devotion to her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:16-17). Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem during the time of the barley harvest.

In order to provide food for the two women, Ruth receives permission to glean in the fields of Boaz, Naomi’s kinsman. Naomi sends Ruth to ask protection from Boaz, who is a close relative. Boaz is attracted to Ruth, but informed her that there was a closer kinsman who had the first right to redeem the estate of Elimelech. It would be necessary for the closer kinsman to renounce his right before Boaz could proceed in the matter. Accordingly, Boaz meets with the closer kinsman and tells the kinsman of his right to redeem the estate and to marry Ruth. The kinsman does not want to marry Ruth nor would he want to yield Elimelech's property back to a child born from the union. The closer Kinsman takes off his shoe and hands it to Boaz which was the ritual way of showing that he waived his right to Elimelech’s property.

Boaz follows through on a plan to grant security redemption to the two women. Boaz marries Ruth and their child is “born to Naomi” (Ruth 4:17) which indicates that Elimelech’s line is continued and Naomi is blessed by Obed’s birth. The genealogy that concludes the book of Ruth, climaxes with the wonderful disclosure that Ruth of Moab is the great-grandmother of King David.

Is there more to the Story?

Scholars essentially agreed that Ruth is a narrative story and they use terms like 'novella' to describe it. The plot of a novella is more central than historical data; however, that is not to say this style of writing ignores historical facts or for that matter theological precepts. This style of writing reflects the craftmanship of the writer.

The mood of the story is fashioned from the start through the meanings hidden in the names of the participants. Elimelech means ‘my God is king’ foreshadowing the continuance of his line to David the king who is God’s anointed one on earth. Naomi means ‘my gracious/pleasant one’ who later asks to be called Mara, ‘bitter one.’ Naomi’s name change elicits the emotions that she is experiencing and the direction of the story. Even the names of the two sons, Mahlon meaning ‘sick’ and Chilion meaning ‘weakening/pining,’ alerts the reader to their physical conditions. The two daughters-in-law names, Orpah (meaning nape or back of the neck) turns her back on Naomi and returns to her people; Ruth (meaning friend) pledges her loyalty to Naomi. Boaz’ (‘strength is (in) him’ or ‘he comes in strength’) becomes the kinsman redeemer and Obed’s name appropriately means ‘servant.’ Obed is the ancestor of King David and Israel’s kings are servants of YHWH. The use of names in the Book of Ruth deepens the story’s flavor and assists the reader in appreciating the text’s meaning.

Themes

Two major theological themes are redemption (the verb redeem means to ‘buy back’ or ‘redeem’ but fundamentally its meaning is ‘to protect’) and hesed (loving kindness). Redemption was both a rich social and religious concept in Israel’s daily life. Socially the Israelites were aware of their responsibility to one another to protect the weak and unprotected. Redemption secures the life of the people as a community, not just as individuals.

Boaz and Ruth’s marriage is a “levirate marriage.” Redemption is a feature of “levirate marriage” and it is a duty taught in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. This custom required a close relative to marry the widow of the deceased (the kinsman) in order to continue his family line. Interestingly, Ruth is not Elimelech’s widow and Boaz is not his brother. Therefore, the authors LaSor/Hubbard/ Bush, refer to Boaz’ duty as “levirate-like” or as a “kinsman-marriage.”

Moreover, the Israelites understanding of redemption included both that of people and of land. In Israel land had to stay in the family. The family could mortgage the land to ward off poverty; and, the law of Leviticus 25:25ff required a kinsman to purchase it back into the family. The kinsman, whom Boaz meets at the city gate, first says he will purchase the land but upon hearing he must also take Ruth as his wife he withdraws his offer. His decision was primarily a financial decision as a child born to Ruth through the union would inherit Elimelech’s land, and he would not be reimbursed for the money he paid Naomi. Boaz becomes Ruth and Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer.

The Israelites understanding of redemption is weaved into their understanding of YHWH. God stands by the oppressed and needy. He extends his love and mercy offering a new freedom and hope. God has a deep concern for the welfare of his people, materially, emotionally and spiritually. The redemption theme extends beyond this biblical book through the genealogy. First, in Ruth 4:13 the reader learns that God made her conceive. Second, through the genealogy the reader learns that the son born to Naomi is more than just a gift from God to continue her lineage. We also see the history of God’s rule through the David line – connecting the book’s theme in to the Bible’s main theme of redemptive history. Along with the redemption theme – hesed – rises to the top as another important concept.

Hesed sometimes translated as loving kindness also implies loyalty. The theme of hesed is weaved throughout Ruth beginning at 1:8 with Naomi blessing her two daughters-in-law as she urges them to return to their Moabite families. She says, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” Both Ruth and Boaz demonstrate hesed to their family members throughout the story. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure. Rather, they are acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that hesed can require a person to go beyond the requirements of the law and choose the unexpected. However, the importance of the law is evident within the book of Ruth and the story reflects a need to stay within its boundaries. Boaz in going beyond measure in acquiring the property (demonstrating hesed) redeeming not only the land but both Naomi and Ruth as well. The two widows now have a secure and protected future.

Perhaps then the overall theme in Ruth, regardless of the dating, is about the real enactor, God. We learn of God’s actions, not a series of commendable human qualities. God is concerned for the ordinary family, faithful in the good times and the bad; He is also the Gentiles’ God; He accomplishes more than we could ever hope or imagine demonstrated through the hesed acts of ordinary people; and for the Christian -- on this side of Calvary, ultimately God is the ‘kinsman-redeemer’ through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jewish and Christian Perspectives

In many ways, most of what Christians and Jews would draw from the text would be the same. The book of Ruth has a unique significance to Jews. In particular, Ruth is celebrated as a convert to Judaism who understood Jewish principles and took them to heart. This book is also dear to the hearts of Jews who are Jews-by-choice.

For Christians the book has additional significance. The connection between Ruth and David is very important because Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, whose husband Joseph was of the lineage of David, thus making Ruth a fore-mother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). The line can be traced as:

Boaz father of Obed

Obed father of Jesse

Jesse father of David

David (eventual) father of Joseph

Joseph "father" of Jesus

Ruth's famous words, "For wherever you go, I will go ...," are used in some Protestant marriage services, underscoring the similarity of marriage and religious conversion in their covenantal nature.


1. Order in the Canon:

The place which the Book of Ruth occupies in the order of the books of the English Bible is not that of the Hebrew Canon. There it is one of the five meghillōth or Rolls, which were ordered to be read in the synagogue on 5 special occasions or festivals during the year.

In printed editions of the Old Testament the megillōth are usually arranged in the order: Cant, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiates, Esther. Ruth occupied the second position because the book was appointed to be read at the Feast of Weeks which was the second of the 5 special days. In Hebrew manuscripts, however, the order varies considerably. In Spanish manuscripts generally, and in one at least of the German school cited by Dr. Ginsburg (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, London, 1897, 4), Ruth precedes Cant; and in the former Ecclesiastes is placed before Lamentations. The meghillōth constitute the second portion of the kethūbhīm or Haigographa, the third great division of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Talmud, however, dissociates Ruth altogether from the remaining meghillōth, and places it first among the Hagiographa, before the Book of Psalms. By the Greek translators the book was removed from the position which it held in the Hebrew Canon, and because it described events contemporaneous with the Judges, was attached as a kind of appendix to the latter work. This sequence was adopted in the Vulgate, and so has passed into all modern Bibles.


2. Authorship and Purpose:

The book is written without name of author, and there is no direct indication of its date. Its aim is to record an event of interest and importance in the family history of David, and incidentally to illustrate ancient custom and marriage law. There is no ground for supposing, as has been suggested, that the writer had a polemical purpose in view, and desired to show that the strict and stern action taken by Ezra and Nehemiah after the return in forbidding mixed marriages was not justifled by precedent. The narrative is simple and direct, and the preservation of the tradition which it records of the descent of Israel's royal house from a Moabite ancestress was probably due in the first instance to oral communication for some considerable time before it was committed to writing. The Book of 1 Sam also indicates a close relation between David and Moab, when during the period of his outlawry the future king confided his father and mother to the care of the king of Moab (1 Samuel 22:3 f), and so far supports the truth of the tradition which is embodied in the Book of Ruth.


3. Date of Composition:

With regard to the date at which the narrative was committed to writing, it is evident from the position of the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Canon that the date of its composition is subsequent to the close of the great period of the “earlier prophets.” Otherwise it would have found a natural place, as was assigned to it in the Greek Bible, together with the Book of Judges and other historical writings, in the second division of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the opening words of the book also, “It came to pass in the days when the judges judged” (Ruth 1:1), the writer appears to look back to the period of the Judges as to a comparatively distant epoch. The character of the diction is pure and chaste; but has been supposed in certain details, as in the presence of so-called Aramaisms, to betray a late origin. The reference to the observance of marriage customs and their sanctions “in former time in Israel” (Ruth 4:7) does not necessarily imply that the composition of Ruth was later than that of Deuteronomy, in which the laws arid rights of the succession are enjoined, or that the writer of the former work was acquainted with the latter in its existing form. Slight differences of detail in the procedure would seem to suggest the contrary. On the other hand, the motive of the book in the exhibition of the ancestry of David's house would have lost its significance and raison d'être with the death or disappearance of the last ruler of David's line in the early period of the return from Babylon (compare Zechariah 4:9). The most probable date therefore for the composition of the book would be in the later days of the exile, or immediately after the return. There is no clue to the authorship. The last four verses, giving the genealogy from Perez to David (compare 1 Chronicles 2:4-15; Matthew 1:3-6; Luke 3:31-33), are generally recognized as a later addition.


4. Ethical Teaching:

The ethical value of the Book of Ruth is considerable, as setting forth an example of stedfast filial piety. The action of Ruth in refusing to desert her mother-in-law and persevering in accompanying her to her own land meets with its due reward in the prosperity and happiness which become hers, and in the honor which she receives as ancestress of the royal house of David. The writer desires to show in the person and example of Ruth that a sincere and generous regard for the claims of duty and affection leads to prosperity and honor; and at the same time that the principles and recompense of righteous dealing are not dependent upon race, but are as valid for a Moabitess as for a Jew. There is no distinctive doctrine taught in the book. It is primarily historical, recording a decisive incident in the origin of David's house; and in the second place ethical, indicating and enforcing in a well-known example the advantage and importance of right dealing and the observance of the dictates of filial duty. For detailed contents see preceding article.


Literature

English commentaries upon the Book of Ruth are naturally not numerous. Compare G. W. Thatcher, “Judges and Ruth,” in (New) Century Bible; R.A. Watson, in Expositor's Bible; the most recent critical commentary. is by L. B. Wolfenson in AJSL, XXVII (July, 1911), 285 ff, who defends the early date of the book. See also the relevant articles in Jewish Encyclopedia, HDB, EB, and Driver, LOT, 6, 454 ff.

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