Ruth, Book of
RUTH, BOOK OF
RUTH, BOOK OF (Heb. מְגִלַּת רוּת), one of the five scrolls incorporated in the Ketuvim (Hagiographa) section of the traditional Hebrew Bible. In the Septuagint, followed by Christian Bibles, Ruth is found immediately after Judges.
In the days of the Judges, Elimelech, of Beth-Lehem in Judah, immigrated with his wife Naomi and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion to Moab on account of famine. He died there and so did his two sons, who had married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Left without either husband or sons, and having no grandchildren, Naomi decided to return to Beth-Lehem. The two daughters-in-law wanted to move to Judah with her, but she bade them stay in their homeland. Orpah obeyed but Ruth vowed that she would share the fortunes of her mother-in-law. Arriving in Beth-Lehem at the beginning of the grain harvest, Ruth took advantage of the privilege of gleaning which custom accorded the poor. The field she came to glean in belonged to a prosperous farmer by the name of Boaz. When Naomi learned that Boaz had shown Ruth special kindness out of appreciation for her devotion to her mother-in-law, she was doubly delighted because Boaz was a kinsman of Elimelech, and hence of Ruth's dead husband Mahlon, and the old woman could see a prospect of a levirate marriage for Ruth. The levirate marriage with Ruth involved the redemption of the land of the dead husband, which Naomi had sold. Boaz consented to marry Ruth and to redeem the land. Thus he fulfilled the ancient patriarchal duty of "establishing the name of the dead upon his inheritance" (Ruth 4:5; cf. Deut. 25:6). Through this marriage Boaz became the ancestor of King David.
Aim of the Book
The book concludes with the genealogy of David (4:17–22), which was highly significant to the author. One aim of his was to present in an idyllic way the origin of the great king David. A similar, though less idyllic, account is found in the story about Judah and Tamar (Gen. 38), the parents of Perez, an even earlier ancestor within the Davidic genealogy. The circumstances of the birth of Perez in that story are similar to those of the birth of Obed, the grandfather of David, in the story of Ruth. Perez was born by a levirate marriage and so was Obed; in both cases it was not the proper levir – Latin for "brother-in-law," or the nearest relative (Ruth 3:12) – who performed his duty of levirate marriage (cf. Deut. 25:1–10), but another kinsman. Both stories concern a woman of foreign stock (Tamar – Canaanite; Ruth – Moabite) and in both of them the woman waiting for levirate espousal resorts to a stratagem in order to obtain it. Tamar sits on the crossroads disguised as a prostitute in order to allure Judah (Gen. 38:14), while Ruth, at night, lies down at the feet of Boaz who is sleeping on the threshing floor (3:1ff.). The author of the story of Ruth bears this analogy in mind and finds an opportunity to recall the older story by having the people and the elders of the town bless Boaz: "Let your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah" (4:12). The provenance of the house of Perez and of the House of David is thus recounted in a similar way.
Furthermore, from the literary point of view the stories of Judah and Boaz contain the motif that also underlies the stories of the Patriarchs: the obstacles put in the way of the emergence of an important family in the history of the nation. The stories of the Patriarchs especially reflect the difficulties that lay in the way of the continuation of the line of the chosen people. The stories about the births of Isaac and Jacob exemplify how much was at stake when the national heroes were about to be born. One cannot avoid mentioning in this context the similarity in circumstance between the birth of Jacob and Esau on one hand and Perez and Zerah on the other. In both instances the favored son, Jacob in one case and Perez in the other, was actually not the first born, but attained his primogeniture through force or cunning. The rejected sons, Esau and Zerah, are both affiliated with Edom (for Zerah cf. Gen. 36:17; i Chron. 1:37), the harsh enemy of David (i Kings 11:15–16). Both stories have certain identical stylistic formulations (cf. Gen. 25:24 with 38:27).
The connection between the Davidic and the patriarchal genealogies becomes more salient when the two following facts are taken into account: (1) The superscription of the genealogical line toledot (תולדות), outside of the Pentateuch (the Priestly strand), is found only in Ruth 4:18. (2) Malamat (jaos, 88 (1968), 163ff.) has shown that royal genealogies in the Ancient Near East were constructed according to the following lines: (a) the genealogical stock, whose formulation is mostly artificial, referring to some common ancestors of various ethnic groups, which is parallel to the genealogical list in Genesis 11:10–26; (b) the determinative line which delineates the specific descent of the dynasty or the people, as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Israel; (c) the actual pedigree of the king involved (as Ruth 4:18–22). The first and third listings usually comprise ten generations, whereas the second is a short list usually of two or three generations. The linkage of the third to the second list in this case has been shown above, and in the light of the fact that the Pentateuchal sources were certainly not crystallized before David, it stands to reason that, as in Mesopotamia, so also in Israel the genealogy of the first type is also to be considered an organic part of the royal genealogy ending with David. Thus there is no justification for the view that the genealogy does not form an integral part of the book and that it is an addition to the book.
The Davidic genealogy is especially significant because it bolsters the book's subtle but forceful protest against the Ezra-Nehemiah attitude toward foreign women (Ezra 9–10; Neh. 13:23–29); had Boaz not married the Moabite woman Ruth, the line of Perez would have ended and David would never have been born.
As is true in some of the stories of Genesis and the succession narratives of David, so also in the Book of Ruth the events occur in the human realm. Miracles and angelic figures are absent, and God works behind the scenes. The occurrences, which look like a chain of natural happenings evolving one from the other, reveal themselves in the end as the outcome of God's plan. So, for example, in the story of Joseph the events are moved and motivated by purely human impulses. However, the narrator reveals in two brief sentences (Gen. 45:7; 50:20) that all these complex events are none other than the realization of God's plan. There is no chance happening in this world; whatever happens is caused by God (cf. ii Sam. 16:10–11). The events in David's court also seem to be caused by purely human motivation: Conflicts in connection with the struggle for the crown. However, for the author these stories come to demonstrate the way of the realization of God's plan to establish David's throne through the enthronement of Solomon.
The Book of Ruth, which also recounts a natural story in which everything moves by human agents and, as it were, without divine interference, actually serves as a testimony to the wondrous ways in which God leads human destiny. Ruth "happens" to choose, as if at random, the field of Boaz (2:3) but that choice turns out to be the decisive act for the birth of David, the illustrious king of Israel. Naomi indeed attributes her success in this coincidence to God, "who did not withhold His kindness from the living and the dead" (2:20). This is reminiscent of Abraham's servant who asks God "to make it happen today" (Gen. 24:12), i.e., to enable a proper choice, and indeed after it becomes clear to him that his wish has been realized, he proclaims: "Blessed be the Lord who has not withheld His steadfast kindness from my master. For I have been guided on my way by the Lord" (24:27). The phrase "[God] who did not withhold His kindness" is found in the Bible only in these two instances, which is not without significance.
Date of Composition
The Book of Ruth was written not before the period of the Monarchy, which is clear from the genealogy at the end of the book, terminating with David. The opening verse of the book, "In the days when the judges ruled," also attests to the fact that the book was written at a time when the period of the Judges belonged to the historical past. From one statement in the book one may even get the impression that at least a few generations have passed since the occurrence of the events: "This was formerly done in Israel in cases of redemption and exchange: to validate any transaction one man would take off his sandal and hand it to the other" (4:7). Temporal distance made it necessary for the author to explain this forgotten practice to the audience.
The atmosphere of the Book of Ruth, set in the period of the judges, is idyllic. The good characters, Orpah and the anonymous kinsman, are contrasted with the superlative characters, Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi. Judges, although set in the same period, is full of violence, murder, pillage, and rape. Nevertheless, Judges and Ruth have in common their depiction of women who manage to get what they want within the limitations of an ancient society dominated by men. Given the dominance of female characters in Ruth and the presence (at least attempted) of a female point of view, and the fact that there were literate women in the ancient world, a female author for Ruth is not an impossibility.
The late author of Ruth was familiar with many of the earlier writings that make up the Hebrew Bible, and used them in the construction of his own book. Sometimes the references are direct, at other times allusive. The love of Naomi and Ruth is reminiscent of the love of David and Jonathan. As Jonathan pledges love and loyalty to David (i Sam. 18:1–3; 20:12–13, 17) so does Ruth to Naomi (1:16–17), and in both cases a common formula of imprecation is used: "Thus and more may the Lord do to me" (1:17; cf. i Sam. 20:13), which is found only in the Books of Samuel and in the North-Israelite narratives of the Books of Kings. The contents of the imprecation, "if (even) death part me from you" (Ruth and Naomi will be buried in the same place), are reminiscent of the words of David in his elegy over Saul and Jonathan that they were not parted in life or death (ii Sam. 1:23).
The book provides an archaic flavor by using expressions of gracious manners characteristic of the patriarchal narratives and the Books of Samuel. The meeting of Boaz and Ruth concludes with the prostration of Ruth (2:10) and words of praise and appreciation by Boaz (2:11–12), which is similar to the encounter of David with Abigail in i Samuel 25:23ff. Abigail "prostrates with her face to the ground," like Ruth, and David, like Boaz, praises Abigail for her courage and good qualities. At the second meeting with Ruth, Boaz exclaims: "Be blessed to the Lord" (3:10), a formula also found at the meeting of David and Abigail (i Sam. 25:32–33) and in the narratives of the Book of Genesis (24:31; 14:19), and elsewhere in the Books of Samuel (i Sam. 15:23; ii Sam. 2:5). The manner in which thankfulness is expressed in the Book of Ruth is also very instructive. Reacting to the praise of Boaz, Ruth says: "I am grateful to you [אמצא חן בעיניך] my lord, for comforting me and speaking kindly to your maidservant" (2:13). The usage of אמצא חן בעיניך for expressing gratitude is common in the books of Genesis and Samuel (Gen. 33:9; 47:25; i Sam. 1:18; ii Sam. 16:4). Bidding farewell in Ruth is expressed by "kissing" (and also "weeping," 1:9, 14) which is similar to farewell expressions found in Genesis (31:28; 32:1; 50:1), Samuel (ii Sam. 19:40), and the North-Israelite narratives of Kings (i Kings 19:20).
Other clichés in the Book of Ruth that draw on earlier Israelite literature worthy of mention are: 1:1: "he and his wife" (cf. Gen. 13:1); 1:2: "The man's name… his wife's name" (cf. i Sam. 25:3); 1:4: "The name of the one… and the name of the other" (cf. Gen. 4:19; i Sam. 1:2); 1:9, 14: "to lift up the voice and weep" (i.e., to weep aloud; cf. Gen. 21:16; 27:38; 29:11; cf. 45:2; i Sam. 24:17; 30:4; ii Sam. 3:32; 13:36; Job 2:12 – on the patriarchal atmosphere of Job cf. Sarna, in jbl, 76 (1957), 13–25); 1:16–17 (cf. Judges 17:8–9); 1:19: "The whole city buzzed with excitement" (cf. i Kings 1:41); 2:5: "Whose" (למי; cf. Gen. 32:18; i Sam. 30:13); 2:8: "here" (כה; cf. Gen. 22:5; 31:37; Ex. 2:12; Num. 11:31; 23:15; ii Sam. 18:30); 2:12: "reward" (משכרתך; cf. Gen. 29:15; 31:7, 41); 2:14: "come here" (גשי הלם; cf. i Sam. 14:38); 2:20: "who did not withhold his kindness" (cf. Gen. 24:7); 2:21: "until they finish" (עד אם כלו; cf. Gen. 24:19); 3:7: "eat and drink and be in cheerful mood" (cf. Judg. 19:6 ; i Kings 21:7); 3:7: "come in stealthily" (cf. Judg. 4:21); 3:8:" [it was] in the middle of the night" (cf. Ex. 12:29); 3:16: "How is it with you?" (מי את; cf. Judg. 18:8; and see S. Loewenstamm, in: Leshonenu, 23 (1959), 74); 4:1:"so and so" (פלוני אלמוני; cf. i Sam. 21:3; ii Kings 6:8 as against Dan. 8:13); 4:4: "tell" (גלה אזן; cf. i Sam. 9:15; 20:2, 12, 13; 22:8, 17; ii Sam 2:27); 4:7: "formerly done in Israel" (לפנים בישראל; cf. i Sam. 9:9); 4:9: "You are witnesses today" (cf. Josh. 24:22); 4:15: "better to you than seven sons" (cf. i Sam. 1:8). All these phrases and expressions are found in settings no later than the ninth or early eighth century b.c.e. But setting must be distinguished from time of composition. There are numerous Aramaisms and late linguistic traits in Ruth, such as: לקים דבר (4:7) instead of להקים דבר ("to confirm a promise/pact/deal"; cf. Num. 23:19; Deut. 9:5; i Sam. 3:12; ʿgn, (Ruth 1:13) not known elsewhere in the Bible, but well-known in rabbinic agunah, "bound woman"; qnh lʾšh, "take as wife," is very close to Mishnaic Hebrew usage. Most important though for purposes of dating is the fact that the author knows most of the Bible, including late sources such as Leviticus and Job, and makes use of it for his own purposes. (For examples of borrowings see Zakovitch, 24–32.) During the Persian period of Jewish history (539–331) when Ruth was written, the question of personal status had become acute. Late books of the Bible that stem from this period reflect differing attitudes about the possibility of a non-Jew becoming a Jew. In contrast to Ezra-Nehemiah, according to which there are no means for those not born to the "holy seed" (Ezra 9:3, legal midrash on Isa. 6:13) to become Jews, the author of Ruth makes it possible for a foreigner to find protection under the wings of yhwh (Ruth 2:12). Ruth's author effectively repeals the exclusion of Moabites (Deut 23:4) enforced in Nehemiah 13:23–27, which appeals to the precedent of how Solomon strayed by taking foreign wives. Instead, the Book of Ruth points to the precedent of the ancient worthies who built up the house of Israel by ignoring the letter of the law when the growth of the house of Israel was at stake. Thus, Jacob's marriage to the two sisters Rachel and Leah (Ruth 4:11) violated Leviticus 18:18, and Tamar's union with Judah (Ruth 4:12) violated Leviticus 18:15. As such, one need not worry about the restriction of Deuteronomy 23:4. The qualities of a foreigner are more important than her origins. Ruth, whose foreign origin is repeatedly emphasized (1:22; 2:2, 6, 8, 21; 4:5, 10), is an eshet ḥayil (Ruth 3:11) "virtuous woman," worthy of Boaz the gibbor ḥayil "virtuous hero" (Ruth 2:1). Incidentally, the author of Ruth may have been influenced by the fact that the eshet ḥayil of Proverbs 31 has a husband "known in the gates when he sits among the elders" (Prov. 31:23; cf. Ruth 4:1–13).
The Place of the Book in the Canon
Talmudic tradition ascribes the book to the Hagiographa (bb 14b), but this is based on the opinion that the Canon contains 24 books. A variant tradition (Jos., Apion, 1:39) speaks only of 22 books in the Bible. According to this system, Ruth is attached to the Book of Judges and Lamentations to Jeremiah, an arrangement adopted by the Septuagint. According to the order of the Five *Scrolls in modern Hebrew Bibles, Ruth is the second scroll after Song of Songs, because the latter is to be recited on Passover whereas Ruth is to be read on Shavuot. The order in the talmudic source quoted above is different: Ruth opens the Hagiographa preceding the Psalms. Here the sequence is a historical one. Ruth relates to the period of the Judges while Psalms is attributed to David, who is later.
The Book of Ruth was one of the first biblical books to be examined through the lenses of "the Bible as literature" approach (Rauber).
[Moshe Weinfeld /
S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]
In the Aggadah
Ruth was a daughter of the king of Moab (Ruth R. 2:9). After the death of Mahlon, Naomi attempted to dissuade her from returning to Ereẓ Israel lest she be treated contemptuously as a foreigner (Midrash Zuta to Ruth 1:8). Ruth is regarded as the prototype of the righteous convert. Naomi could not discourage her from taking this step although she told her of the stringencies of Jewish law and that its transgression would entail corporal and capital punishments from which she was hitherto exempt (Ruth R. 2:24). When Naomi told her that Jewish daughters do not frequent theaters and circuses, she replied, "Whither thou goest, I will go"; when informed that Jewish daughters only dwell in houses sanctified by mezuzot, she responded: "where thou lodgest, I will lodge"; "thy people will be my people" implied "I will destroy all idolatry within me"; and "thy God shall be my God" to repay me the reward of my deeds (Ruth 1:16; Ruth R. 2:22, 23). They arrived on the day that the wife of *Boaz was buried (bb 91a). Ruth's piety impressed Boaz when he noticed that she did not glean the fields if the reapers let more than two ears fall since the gleanings assigned to the poor by the law refer only to two ears inadvertently dropped at one time. He also admired her grace, decorum, and modest demeanor (Ruth R. 4:6; Midrash Zuta to Ruth 2:3). After Naomi made her a party to her plan to force Boaz into a decisive step, Ruth strictly adhered to her directions except that she did not wash, anoint, and finely clothe herself until after she reached her destination, since she feared to attract the attention of the lustful (Shab. 113b). The next day she was taken in marriage by Boaz, who was 80 years of age. Ruth herself was barren and 40 years old at the time, and it was against all expectations that this union should be blessed with issue (Ruth R. 7:14). Possibly because she retained her original name even after her conversion, it is interpreted as meaning that she was the ancestress of *David, "who saturated ("רוה") the Holy One, blessed be He, with songs and hymns" (Ber. 7b). Another explanation is that she considered well (ra'atah) the words of her mother-in-law (Ruth R. 2:9).
In the Arts
Despite the grandeur of Ruth's story and the romantic appeal of her religious identification and the dynastic link with King David, she has inspired surprisingly few important works in the arts. The subject was muted in literature of the Middle Ages, first appearing significantly in the 17th century with three works in Spanish: João Pinto *Delgado's poem Ruth (1627), Tirso de Molina's drama, La mejor espigadera (1634), and an auto sacramentale by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. The new literary movements of the 19th century directed fresh attention to the potentialities of the subject. Karl Streckfuss wrote the German epic Ruth (1805) and there were a number of dramas, including two in French, both entitled La Moabite, by Henri Bornier (1880) and the patriotic writer Paul Déroulede (1881). One of the most memorable evocations of the theme occurs in the English poet John Keat's "Ode to a Nightingale" (1819) with the lines: "Perhaps the self-same song that found a path/Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,/She stood in tears amid the alien corn…" Perhaps the outstanding 19th-century treatment was, however, "Booz endormi," one of the "petites épopées" included in Victor Hugo's La Légende des siècles (1859), which is generally regarded as among Hugo's finest poems. The theme was not neglected by Jewish writers of the period: In Germany Isaac Jojade Cohn published a three-act Hebrew play, Bo'az ve-Rut (1834); Emanuel Baumgarten wrote the poem, Rut, MeliẒah… (1885); and Solomon Rosenzweig was the author of another Hebrew play, Rut Torat Ḥesed (1893).
Twentieth-century works about Ruth have covered a wider range of languages, beginning with Siegmund Werner's Ruth, und andere Gedichte (1903). Many appeared between the world wars, such as Pilar Millán Astray's three-act Spanish play Ruth la Israelita (1923); and Emanuil Pop Dimitrov's Bulgarian Rut; and Boass un Rute (1926), a Lettish play by Aspazija (Elza Rozenberga). The subject also attracted the attention of Yiddish writers: Victor Spritzer's Rut; Dramatishe Poeme appeared at Buenos Aires in 1933, and Saul Saphire wrote Rut; Biblisher Roman fun der Tsayt fun di Shoftim (1936). Modern interest in and reinterpretation of the Ruth theme acquired new significance both during and after the Nazi era. Poems were written by Else *Lasker-Schueler ("Boas") and Yvan *Goll ("Noémi"); and the works which appeared after World War ii included a novel, Ruth, by the U.S. author Irving *Fineman (1949) and Frank G. Slaughter's The Song of Ruth. A Love Story from the Old Testament (1954).
In art, Ruth appears in medieval manuscripts from the 12th century onward, including the 12th-century Admont Bible (State Library, Vienna), a late 13th-century Franco-German *maḥzor (British Museum, additional 22413), in which a harvesting scene depicting Ruth and the gleaners illustrates the prayers for Shavuot; and the 14th-century Queen Mary Psalter (British Museum) and Bible of Jean de Papeleu (Arsenal Library, Paris). The subjects treated are Ruth gleaning and, more rarely, Boaz taking Ruth to wife. In the 17th century, the magnificent painting of Summer by Nicolas Poussin in the Louvre, one of four illustrating the seasons, also shows Ruth among the gleaners. This study of the abundance of nature is full of memories of the classical world. The English poet and painter William *Blake executed a stark watercolor painting (Victoria and Albert Museum, London) of Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah in the land of Moab. The modern Israel artist Jakob *Steinhardt illustrated the Book of Ruth with woodcuts (1957).
H. Gunkel, Reden und Aufsätze (1913), 65–92; H.H. Rowley, in: htr, 40 (1947), 77–99; J.L. Myers, The Linguistic and Literary Form of the Book of Ruth (1955); S.R. Driver, An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament (1956), 453–6; O. Loretz, in: cbq, 22 (1960), 391–9; M. Weinfeld, in: Ture Yeshurun (1966), 10–15; H.L. Ginsberg, The Five Megilloth and the Book of Jonah (1969). in the aggadah: Ginzberg; Legends, index. add. bibliography: D. Rauber: in, jbl, 89 (1970), 27–37; B. Levine, in: H. Huffmon (ed.), The Quest for the Kingdom of God Studies … Mendenhall (1983), 95–106; J. Sasson, Ruth … (1979); P. Trible, in: abd, 5:843–47, incl. bibl.; Y. Zakovitch, Ruth (1990), incl. bibl.
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