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Book of Ruth

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The Book of Ruth (Hebrew: מְגִלַּת רוּת, Megillath Ruth, "the Scroll of Ruth", one of the Five Megillot) is included in the third division, or the Writings (Ketuvim), of the Hebrew Bible. In most Christian canons it is treated as one of the historical books and placed between Judges and 1 Samuel.[1]

The book, written in Hebrew during the Persian period (c. 550-330 BCE),[2] tells of the Moabite woman Ruth, who accepts Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, as her God and accepts the Israelite people as her own. It differs in legal matters from the Pentateuch and shows the difficulty of confirming widespread Torah-observance in the Persian period.[3]

The book is held in esteem by Jewish converts, as is evidenced by the considerable presence of Boaz in rabbinic literature. It also functions liturgically, as it is read during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks").[4]


The book is structured into four chapters.[5]

Act 1: Prologue and Problem: Death and Emptiness (1:1–22)

  • Scene 1: Setting the scene (1:1–5)
  • Scene 2: Naomi returns home (1:6–18)
  • Scene 3: Arrival of Naomi and Ruth in Bethlehem (1:19–22)

Act 2: Ruth Meets Boaz, Naomi's Relative, on the Harvest Field (2:1–23)

  • Scene 1: Ruth in the field of Boaz (2:1–17)
  • Scene 2: Ruth reports to Naomi (2:18–23)

Act 3: Naomi Sends Ruth to Boaz on the Threshing Floor (3:1–18)

  • Scene 1: Naomi Reveals Her Plan (3:1–5)
  • Scene 2: Ruth at the threshing-floor of Boaz (3:6–15)
  • Scene 3: Ruth reports to Naomi (3:16–18)

Act 4: Resolution and Epilogue: Life and Fullness (4:1–22)

  • Scene 1: Boaz with the men at the gate (4:1–12)
  • Scene 2: A son is born to Ruth (4:13–17)

Genealogical appendix (4:18–22)


Hebrew text of Ruth

During the time of the judges, an Israelite family from Bethlehem (who are Ephrathites) — Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their sons Mahlon and Chilion —emigrate to the nearby country of Moab. Elimelech dies, and the sons marry two Moabite women: Mahlon weds Ruth and Chilion, Orpah.

After about ten years, the two sons of Naomi also die in Moab (1:4). Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. She tells her daughters-in-law to return to their own mothers and remarry. Orpah reluctantly leaves. However, Ruth demurs: "Do not urge me to leave you, to turn back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the Lord do to me if anything but death parts me from you." (Ruth 1:16–17 NJPS).

Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest and, in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to glean. As it happens, the field belongs to a man named Boaz, who is kind to her because he has heard of her loyalty to her mother-in-law. Ruth tells Naomi of Boaz's kindness, and Ruth continues to glean in his field through the remainder of barley and wheat harvests.

Boaz, being a close relative of Naomi's husband's family, is therefore obliged by the levirate law to marry Ruth, Mahlon's widow, to carry on his family's inheritance. Naomi sends Ruth to the threshing floor at night where Boaz sleeps, directing Ruth to "uncover his feet and lie down" and await his instructions" (3:4). Ruth complies. On awakening, Boaz asks her who she is, and she replies: "I am your handmaid Ruth. Spread your robe over your handmaid, for you are a redeeming kinsman" (3:9 NJPS).

Acknowledging he is a close relative, Boaz blesses her and agrees to do all that is required. He notes that "all the elders of my town know what a fine woman you are" (3:11 NJPS). However, Boaz advises her that she has a male relative closer than he. Ruth remains in submission at his feet until she returns to the city in the morning.

Early that morning, Boaz goes to the city gate to meet with the other male relative before the town elders. The relative is not named. Boaz addresses him as ploni almoni "so and so". The relative, unwilling to jeopardize the inheritance of his own estate by marrying Ruth, relinquishes his right of redemption, thus freeing Boaz to marry Ruth. They transfer the property, redeeming it, and ratify the redemption by the nearer kinsman taking off his shoe and handing it over to Boaz. Ruth 4:7 notes for later generations that:

Now this was formerly done in Israel in cases of redemption or exchange: to validate any transaction, one man would take off his sandal and hand it to the other. Such was the practice in Israel. (NJPS)

Boaz and Ruth are then married and have a son. The women of the city celebrate Naomi's joy in finding a redeemer to preserve her family name. Naomi takes the child and places it on her bosom.

The child is named Obed, whom the reader discovers is "the father of Jesse, the father of David" (Ruth 4:13–17); that is, he the grandfather of King David.

The book concludes with an appendix tracing the Davidic genealogy all the way back from Perez, "whom Tamar bore to Judah", through to Obed, down to David.


The book does not name its author.[6] It is traditionally ascribed to the prophet Samuel (11th century BCE), but Ruth's identity as a non-Israelite and the stress on the need for an inclusive attitude towards foreigners suggests an origin in the fifth century BCE, when intermarriage had become controversial (as seen in Ezra 9:1 and Nehemiah 13:1).[7]

A substantial number of scholars therefore date it to the Persian period (550-330 BCE).[2] The genealogy that concludes the book is believed to be a post-exilic Priestly addition, as it adds nothing to the plot; nevertheless, it is carefully crafted and integrates the book into the history of Israel running from Genesis to Kings.[8]

Themes and background[edit]

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld: Ruth in Boaz's Field, 1828

Levirate marriage and the "redeemers"[edit]

The Book of Ruth illustrates the difficulty of trying to use laws given in books such as Deuteronomy as evidence of actual practice.[2] Naomi plans to provide security for herself and Ruth by arranging a levirate marriage with Boaz. She instructs Ruth to uncover Boaz's feet after he had gone to sleep and to lie down. When Boaz wakes up, surprised to see a woman at his feet, Ruth explains that she wants him to redeem (marry) her. The usual interpretation is to see sexual allusions in this part of the story, with 'feet' as a euphemism for genitals.[9][10][11][Note 1]

Since there is no heir to inherit Elimelech's land, custom required a close relative (usually the dead man's brother) to marry the widow of the deceased in order to continue his family line (Deuteronomy 25:5–10). This relative was called the goel, the "kinsman-redeemer". As Boaz was not Elimelech's brother, nor Ruth his widow, scholars refer to the arrangement here as "Levirate-like".[12] A complication arises in the story when it is revealed that another man is a closer relative to Elimelech than Boaz and therefore has first claim on Ruth.[12]

This conflict is resolved through the custom that required land to stay in the family: a family could mortgage land to ward off poverty, but the law required a kinsman to purchase it back into the family (Leviticus 25:25ff). When Boaz meets the near kinsman at the city gate, the place where contracts were settled, the kinsman initially agrees to purchase Elimelech's (now Naomi's) land; but upon hearing he must also take Ruth as his wife, he withdraws his offer. Boaz thus becomes "kinsman-redeemer" to Naomi and Ruth.[12]

Mixed marriage[edit]

The book can be read as a political parable relating to issues around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (the 4th century BCE):[5] unlike the story of Ezra–Nehemiah, where marriages between Jewish men and non-Jewish women were broken up, Ruth teaches that foreigners who convert to Judaism can become good Jews, foreign wives can become exemplary followers of Jewish law, and there is no reason to exclude them or their offspring from the community.[13] Some believe the names of the participants suggest a fictional nature of the story: the husband and father was Elimelech, meaning "My God is King", and his wife was Naomi, "Pleasing", but after the deaths of her sons Mahlon, "Sickness", and Chilion, "Wasting", she asked to be called Mara, "Bitter".[5]

The reference to Moab raises questions, since in the rest of the biblical literature it is associated with hostility to Israel, sexual perversity, and idolatry, and Deuteronomy 23:3–6 excluded an Ammonite or a Moabite from "the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation".[5] Despite this, Ruth the Moabite married a Judahite and even after his death still regarded herself a member of his family; she then married another Judahite and bore him a son who became an ancestor of David.[13] Concerning this, the Mishnah says that only male Moabites are banned from the congregation.[14]

Contemporary interpretations[edit]

Scholars have increasingly explored Ruth in ways which allow it to address contemporary issues. Feminists, for example, have recast the story as one of the dignity of labour and female self-sufficiency,[citation needed] and as a model for lesbian relations,[15] while others have seen in it a celebration of the relationship between strong and resourceful women.[16] Others have seen it as a book that champions outcast and oppressed peoples.[17]

Genealogy: the ancestry of David from Ruth[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ For "feet" as a euphemism for genitals see, for example, Amy-Jill Levine, "Ruth," in Newsom and Ringe (eds.), The Women's Bible Commentary, pp. 78-84. The usual interpretation, as given here, is that Ruth is told to uncover Boaz's genitals, but see Kirsten Nielsen, "Other Writings," in McKenzie and Graham (eds.), The Hebrew Bible Today, pp.175-176, where it is argued that Ruth is to uncover herself.


  1. ^ Coogan 2008, p. 8.
  2. ^ a b c Grabbe 2004, p. 105.
  3. ^ Grabbe, Lester L. (2004). The History of the Jews and Judaism in the Second Temple Period, Volume 1: Yehud, the Persian Province of Judah. Continuum. p. 105. ISBN 9780567089984.”The book of Ruth also illustrates the complexity of trying to use legal sections of the Old Testament (such as the 'Covenant Code' [Exod. 20-24] and Deuteronomy) as evidence of actual practice, since the book of Ruth differs on several issues from the Pentateuch. For example, the ceremony relating to inheritance where a widow is concerned has some interesting differences from Deut. 25.5-10 ($8.3).”
  4. ^ Atteridge 2006, p. 383.
  5. ^ a b c d West 2003, p. 209.
  6. ^ Hubbard 1988, p. 23.
  7. ^ Leith 2007, p. 391.
  8. ^ West 2003, p. 211.
  9. ^ West 2003, p. 210.
  10. ^ Coogan 2010, p. 13.
  11. ^ Wright Knust 2011, p. 32.
  12. ^ a b c Allen 1996, p. 521-522.
  13. ^ a b Grabbe 2004, p. 312.
  14. ^ Mihăilă 2011, p. 32-33.
  15. ^ Reading Ruth : contemporary women reclaim a sacred story. Judith A. Kates, Gail Twersky Reimer (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Books. 1994. ISBN 0-345-38033-9. OCLC 30070674.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ A. A., English. "The Old Testament Story of Ruth: a Biblical Heroine for Everyone". Learn Religions. Archived from the original on June 12, 2021. Retrieved June 12, 2021.
  17. ^ Irwin 2008, p. 699.


External links[edit]

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