The Bible in and as History: Ruth

Well that was a bit different.

This week I attend to the shortest book I’ve read thus far, and to a bit of a jump in the biblical text in the Book of Ruth.  Now and important note as I looked into information about this book is that in the Jewish Tradition it comes much later, with the other ‘Hagiographies’ and is traditionally between Songs and Lamentations.  It’s an interesting shift and I’ll have to see how it plays out when I get back to those particular books and see what I think reasons might be for the shift.  Time-wise it certainly seems placed within the historical narrative, though unlike previous books it’s a very narrow parable.  A single story that has moral lessons obviously but comes across as a more personal story than those that have come before.  Granted there is a genealogy connecting Ruth to King David at the end(a figure we haven’t actually encountered yet obviously), but over-all this felt much more like a short story than part of a historical narrative.

In short, a Woman named Naomi goes into the land of the Moabites, along with her husband and two sons.  The sons get married, and long-story short the men all die.  After a while of living with the Moabites, Naomi decides to go back to the land of her people, and tells her two daughters in law to return to the houses of their mothers and get remarried.  One reluctantly leaves, the other, the titular Ruth, begs to stay with her mother in law and travels with her to the land of the Israelites.

Ruth ends up gleaming(that is gathering grain and such from a field already reaped) on a piece of land owned by a relative of her Father-in-Law, one Boaz.  Hearing about her devotion to her mother in law, he supports her efforts.  In biblical law of course if a woman’s husband dies nearby relatives are suppose to marry her.  Long story short, Naomi hatches a plan and because of Ruth’s virtue, Boaz marries her.

As I said, this has a much tighter focus than any book has so far.  Even when people have been personally ‘brought up’ before, they are usually in relation to historical events or grand mystical narratives(like Moses or most of Genesis).   Ruth is a simple moral parable, a story about a woman who is faithful to her mother-in-law, and thus to her husband and more importantly, her husbands family and people.  The simple observation is that it’s a story about how ‘outsiders’ may become good Jews.  That Ruth’s moral commitment to her adoptive family is demonstrative of her virtue.  It’s an interesting contrast with some of the more subtle earlier messages we’ve been getting on this subject, such as the scheaming of Delilah, or elements of the various on-going conquests.

Because it’s so short I have little to say about it really.  Though it is important historically as the afore-mentioned parallel.  From what I understand, within Jewish circles the story and book have great importance with regards Jews by conversion, and this has obviously become a more prominent element in more modern times.  As the Diaspora meant that Jews existed surrounded by communities of Gentiles, inter-marriage was an obvious occurrence, and problem in so far as the fear of assimilation had to play on the mind of community leaders, even as it does in some circles today(observe the interesting furor when the present Isreali Prime Ministers son was supposedly dating a non-jew).  Ruth has impact in so far as it presents a narrative that suggests the outsider can become part of the community.

Anyways, with Ruth done it’s back to lengthier reading and to the first of the Hebrew Bible books that Christians routinely break up; Samuel 1!


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