Ruth (biblical figure)

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Ruth on the fields of Boaz, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Ruth (/rθ/; Hebrew: רוּת, Modern Rut, Tiberian Rūθ), is the protagonist[1] of the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Bible.

Biblical narrative[edit]

Ruth was a Moabitess, who married into the Hebrew family of Elimelech and Naomi, whom she met when they left Bethlehem and relocated to Moab due to a famine. Elimelech and his two sons died leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law as widows. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, Ruth decided to go with her despite the fact that Orpah, Naomi's other daughter-in-law went back home. Ruth famously vowed to follow Naomi in the following passage:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me 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. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.(Ruth 1:16-17, ESV)

Ruth went to glean in the fields, where she met Boaz. At the instigation of Naomi she forced Boaz to declare his intentions regarding Ruth by slipping into the threshing floor at night, uncovering his feet, and lying at his feet (Ruth 3:8) in the Mosaic tradition of having the nearest relative be the kinsman redeemer (Leviticus 25:25-55). Boaz indicated his desire to marry her, and called Ruth a "woman of noble character". After overcoming the obstacle of having a relative with a stronger claim (per the Mosaic requirements in Deuteronomy 25:7-9), Boaz married Ruth, and they had a son, named Obed. The genealogy in the final chapter of the book explains how Ruth became the great-grandmother of David: Boaz begot Obed, Obed begot Jesse and Jesse begot David (Ruth 4:17). In the Christian narrative, she is thus also the ancestor of Joseph (husband of Mary and would-be legal father of Jesus), and is one of the five women mentioned in the genealogy of Matthew 1 (along with Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Mary).

David's life is conventionally dated to c. 1040–970 BC, so Ruth as his great-grandmother would have a year of birth of around 1100 BC.


Katherine D. Sakenfeld argues that Ruth is a model of loving-kindness (hesed): she acts in ways that promote the well-being of others.[2] In Ruth 1:8-18, she demonstrated hesed by not going back to Moab but accompanying her mother-in-law to a foreign land. She chose to glean, despite the danger she faced in the field (Ruth 2:15) and the lower social status of the job. Finally, Ruth agrees with Naomi’s plan to marry Boaz, even though she was free of family obligations, once again demonstrating her loyalty and obedience (Ruth 3:10).

Barry Webb argues that in the book, Ruth plays a key role in Naomi's rehabilitation.[3] Yitzhak Berger suggests that Naomi's plan was that Ruth seduce Boaz, just as Tamar and Lot's daughters all seduced "an older family member in order to become the mother of his offspring." At the crucial moment, however, "Ruth abandons the attempt at seduction and instead requests a permanent, legal union with Boaz."[4]

Jewish perspective[edit]

The figure of Ruth is celebrated as a convert to Judaism who understood Jewish principles and took them to heart.

Christian perspective[edit]

The connection between Ruth and David is very important because Jesus was born of Mary, betrothed to Joseph of the lineage of David. Thus in Christian lineage, Ruth is a foremother of Jesus.

Ruth is commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on July 16.

Other perspectives[edit]

Ruth is one of the Five Heroines of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Tomb of Ruth[edit]

Tomb of Jesse and Ruth in Hebron
Praying in the ancient burial site of the Tomb of Jesse and Ruth.

The Tomb of Ruth and Jesse is an old stone structure on a hilltop in Hebron which today serves as a synagogue. It receives numerous visitors every year, especially on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot when the Book of Ruth is read.[5] The 1537 book Yihus HaAvos V'Neviim (Lineage of the Patriarch and the Prophets) describes the tomb as "a handsome building up on the mount, where Jesse, the King David's father is buried." It includes a drawing of the site, and notes an "ancient Israelite burial ground" nearby and Crusader courtyard.[6] Haim Horwitz in his 1835 book on Israeli holy sites Love of Jerusalem [7] discusses the oral tradition that the tomb houses the grave of Ruth as well as that of Jesse, who is mentioned in earlier writings. Menachem Mendel of Kamenitz [8] wrote in 1839, "Also in the vineyard was a shelter with 2 graves: one of Jesse, father of David, and one of Ruth, the Moabite." [9] Rabbi Moshe Basola wrote in his travel journal [10] that the site houses an underground cave which connects to the Tomb of Machpela, an assertion postulated by many over the years. The site was refurbished in 2009.[11]

Popular Culture[edit]

Ruth is portrayed by Israeli actress Elana Eden in the 1960 film The Story of Ruth. She is portrayed by Sherry Morris in the 2009 video The Book of Ruth: Journey of Faith.[12] The 2015 movie For the Love of Ruth depicts a modern retelling of the Biblical story taking place in Atlanta, Georgia.[13]

The Story of Ruth original theatrical release poster.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gregory Goswell, "What's in a Name? Book Titles in the Latter Prophets and Writings," Pacifica 21 (2008), 8.
  2. ^ Katherine D. Sakenfeld, Ruth (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1999), 11-12.
  3. ^ Barry G. Webb, Five Festal Garments (Leicester: Apollos, 2000), 43.
  4. ^ Berger, Yitzhak (2009). "Ruth and Inner-Biblical Allusion: The Case of 1 Samuel 25". JBL 128 (2): 268.  Emphasis original.
  5. ^ "Converts pay homage to Ruth at her Hebron tomb". The Jerusalem Post | Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  6. ^ "Tomb of Ruth and Jesse - Grandmother and Father of King David". the Jewish Community of Hebron. Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  7. ^ " Sefer Detail: חבת ירושלים -- הורביץ, חיים בן דבריש". Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  8. ^ "The first Holy Land hotelier". The Jerusalem Post | Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  9. ^ ""Book of the Occurrences of the Times to Jeshurun in the Land of Israel" by David G. Cook and Sol P. Cohen". Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  10. ^ Basola, Moses ben Mordecai; Daṿid, Avraham (1999-12-31). In Zion and Jerusalem: the itinerary of Rabbi Moses Basola (1521-1523). C. G. Foundation Jerusalem Project Publications of the Martin (Szusz) Department of Land of Israel Studies of Bar-Ilan University. ISBN 9789652229267. 
  11. ^ Arutz Sheva TV (2009-06-01), Cleaning the Tomb, retrieved 2016-01-28 
  12. ^ Walker, Stephen Patrick (2009-12-15), The Book of Ruth: Journey of Faith, retrieved 2016-01-28 
  13. ^ Swanson, Christine (2000-01-01), For the Love of Ruth, retrieved 2016-01-28 

Genealogy: the descent of David from Ruth[edit]