Chapter

Ruth

Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics

Ruth

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In contrast with the mayhem of Judges, from the same period comes the brief idyll of Ruth. In the Hebrew Bible this short story belongs with five scrolls, the megilloth: Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Esther, which are placed between the books of Proverbs and Daniel. Jewish liturgical tradition used it as a festival scroll for the Feast of Weeks (the wheat harvest celebration). The Authorized Version follows the Greek canon, so the story of Ruth is placed in the context of stories set in the time of the judges. Towards the end of Judges statements begin to appear to the effect that ‘in those days there was no king in Israel’ (Judg. 18: 1; 19: 1; 21: 25). This anticipates the next stage of the primary narrative, and the Book of Ruth, which ends with the genealogy of David, the future king, fits with the flow of stories moving towards the establishment of kingship in Israel. Ruth plays her part in the creation of a king who will bring order into the disordered world of the judges. The story of Ruth is relatively simple: during a time of famine Elimelech, a Judean man, moved with his wife Naomi and their family to Moabite territory. The name Elimelech means ‘my god is king’,32 signalling that kingship is a factor in the story of Ruth. Elimelech may die at the beginning of the story (1: 3), but the last name in the Book of Ruth is David. After Elimelech's death his two sons marry Moabite women. The sons also die and Naomi, an Israelite, is left with her two Moabite daughters-in-law. Hearing that the famine in Judah was over, and wanting to return home, she advises her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers' families. One daughter (Orpah) returns to her home, but the other daughter, Ruth, clings to Naomi and utters the famous words: ‘whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me’ (1: 16–17). The rest of the short story is about how Naomi and Ruth stalked Boaz, a powerful kinsman of Naomi's husband, their adventures among the gleaners and reapers in the cornfields of Bethlehem, and how, after some difficulties, Ruth married Boaz and gave birth to her son Obed, the grandfather of David. So Ruth, the great-grandmother of David, brought life and love into the bereaved life of Naomi. As the women say to Naomi: ‘he [the child] shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him’ (4: 15; my emphases). A daughter-in-law who loves her mother-in-law may well be better than seven sons, who will eventually love women other than their mother—after all, Naomi's sons had loved other women and then had died, leaving Naomi without any men in her life. Note also that, once again, the all-important family thread running from Abraham through to David and, eventually in the Christian Bible, to Jesus, deviates to include an outsider.

Chapter.  697 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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