Book of Ruth: Wikis


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The Book of Ruth (Hebrew: מגילת רות‎; Sephardic, Israeli Hebrew: [məgiˈlat rut]; Ashkenazi Hebrew: [məˈgɪləs rus]; "the Scroll of Ruth") is one of the books of the Hebrew Bible. It is a rather short book, in both Jewish and Christian scripture, consisting of only four chapters.



The full title in Hebrew is named after a young woman of Moab, the great-grandmother of David and an ancestress of Jesus:מגילת רות, Megillat Ruth, or "the scroll of Ruth", which places the book as one of the Five Megillot. Goswell argues that while Naomi is the central character of the book, Ruth is the main character, and so the book "can be considered aptly named."[1] The only other Biblical book bearing the name of a woman is Esther (except among the Catholics and Orthodox, who also include the Book of Judith in the canon).


During the time of the Judges when there was a famine, an Israelite family from Bethlehem—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 marries Ruth and Chilion marries Orpah.

The two sons of Naomi then die themselves. 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 says, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following you; For wherever you go, I will go; And 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 will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17 NKJV)

The two women return to Bethlehem. It is the time of the barley harvest, and in order to support her mother-in-law and herself, Ruth goes to the fields to glean. The field she goes to 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 her mother-in-law of Boaz's kindness, and she gleans in his field through the remainder of the harvest season.

Boaz is a close relative of Naomi's husband's family. He is therefore obliged by the Levirate law to marry Mahlon's widow, Ruth, in order to carry on his family line. Naomi sends Ruth to the threshing floor at night and tells her to "uncover the feet" of the sleeping Boaz. Ruth does so, Boaz awakes, and Ruth reminds him that he is "the one with the right to redeem." Boaz states he is willing to "redeem" Ruth via marriage, but informs Ruth that there is another male relative who has the first right of redemption.

The next morning, Boaz discusses the issue with the other male relative before the town elders. The other male relative is unwilling to jeopardize the inheritance of his own estate by marrying Ruth, and so relinquishes his right of redemption, thus allowing Boaz to marry Ruth.

Boaz and Ruth get married and have a son named Obed (who by Levirate customs is also considered a son or heir to Mahlon, and thus Naomi's grandson). In the genealogy which concludes the story, it is pointed out that Obed is the descendant of Perez the son of Judah, and the grandfather of David.



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

Many of the books of the Old Testament do not identify their authors, and the Book of Ruth is one of these. There is, however, a historical tradition that alludes to a possibility. The Talmud refers to Samuel as the author, but scholars do not accept this tradition. Samuel died before David became king, and the way in which the author writes the genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22 supposes that the lineage is well known. Even the reference in Ruth 1:1 to the "days when the judges ruled..." indicates that the era had ended and that the audience was somewhat removed from the time. Furthermore, Ruth 4:7 states that the legal custom of taking off a shoe to seal the agreement is no longer in use. Only a generation exists between Samuel and Boaz; therefore, it is unlikely that the time span would require this explanation.

Some scholars suggest that the author of the text is a woman.[2] Two observations point in the direction of a woman author. First, the story centers on the life journey of two women in desperate straits in a male-dominated society and appears to be from the viewpoint of a woman. Second, Naomi and Ruth’s ingenuity and assertiveness propels the story line. However, female authorship is conjecture, supported by only circumstantial evidence.


The Book of Ruth, according to many scholars, was originally part of the Book of Judges, but it was later separated from that book and made independent. The opening verses explicitly place the Book of Ruth in the time of the Judges and it concludes with the Davidic lineage. Therefore, it is likely that the author wrote the story after the time of King David, though it is unknown how long after. One possibility is around 900 BC, prior to David's reign. Scholars who choose this date link it to the importance of David’s lineage recorded at the end of Ruth. In Ruth 4:17 the author states that Ruth and Boaz’ child is named Obed and that Obed “…became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” The final verses trace the family line.

On the other hand, the message of the book shows acceptance of the Israelites marrying converts to Judaism, and this has been used to suggest that the book was written during the postexilic period, perhaps around 500 BC. Ezra (10:2ff) and Nehemiah (13:23ff) record the problem that arose from the Israelites marrying foreign women. Instead of the wives converting to Judaism the Israelites began to follow their wives' gods. As a result, God’s people fell out of relationship with YHWH. For this reason, Ezra condemned intermarriages and forced the Israelites to abandon their non-Jewish wives. According to this theory, the book was written in response to Ezra's reform and in defense of a marriage to a foreign wife when the wife converts to Judaism. Acceptance of marriages to foreigners who convert to Judaism is further enforced by making the connection to the Davidic line since David is commonly seen as Israel's greatest king. Scholars who prefer the 500 B.C. date do so in reference to this dilemma, and such writers contend that the Book of Ruth demonstrates the belief that a marriage to a foreigner is acceptable to God when the foreigner follows God.

Another possibility of who wrote the book of Ruth was Nathan the prophet. It is a theory that the book was written around the time where David became king, and he confided about his troubling Moabite heritage to the prophet.[citation needed]

In addition, while some prefer the later date of 500 B.C to explain the use of language in Ruth, other scholars suggest the linguistic style of the book reflects the work of editors following the 900 B.C. date. They argue that the language of Ruth is akin to an archaic style of Hebrew (J.M. Myers, The Linguistic and Literary Form of the Book of Ruth and Ronald M. Hals, The Theology of the Book of Ruth), and that the Aramaic infiltrations in the book of Ruth were inserted later (circa 500 B.C.).


Scholars agree that Ruth is a narrative story, and they often use terms like 'novella' to describe it.[3] The plot of a novella is more central than historical data; however, that is not to say this style of writing ignores historical facts or for that matter theological precepts. This style of writing reflects the craftsmanship of the writer.

The mood of the story is fashioned from the start through the meanings hidden in the names of the participants. Elimelech, which means "my God is King,"[4] foreshadows the continuance of his line to King David, who is God’s anointed on earth. Naomi, which means "my gracious one" or "my delight,"[5] later asks to be called Mara, "the bitter one."[6] Naomi’s name change elicits the emotions that she is experiencing and the direction of the story. Even the names of the two sons, Mahlon ("sick")[7] and Chilion ("weakening" or "pining")[8] alerts the reader to their physical conditions. Orpah (meaning "mane" or "gazelle", from the root for "nape" or "back of the neck")[9] turns her back on Naomi and returns to her people; Ruth (meaning "friend")[10] pledges her loyalty to Naomi. Boaz ("fleetness"[11] or "strength is (in) him"[citation needed] or "he comes in strength") becomes the kinsman redeemer and Obed’s name appropriately means "servant."[12] Obed is the ancestor of King David, and Israel’s kings are servants of Yahweh. The use of names in the Book of Ruth deepens the story’s narrative strength and assists the reader in appreciating the text’s meaning.

The marriage of Boaz and Ruth was of a type known as a Levirate marriage. Redemption[13][14] is a feature of Levirate marriage, and it is a duty taught in Deuteronomy (25:5-10). This custom required a close relative to marry the widow of the deceased (the kinsman) in order to continue his family line. Interestingly, Ruth is not Elimelech’s widow and Boaz is not his brother. Therefore, some scholars refer to Boaz’ duty as “Levirate-like” or as a "kinsman-marriage."[15]

Moreover, the Israelites understanding of redemption included both that of people and of land. In Israel land had to stay in the family. The family could mortgage the land to ward off poverty; and the law of Leviticus 25:25ff required a kinsman to purchase it back into the family. The kinsman, who Boaz meets at the city gate, first says he will purchase the land, but upon hearing he must also take Ruth as his wife he withdraws his offer. His decision was primarily a financial decision since a child born to Ruth through the union would inherit Elimelech’s land, and he would not be reimbursed for the money he paid Naomi. Boaz becomes Ruth and Naomi’s "kinsman-redeemer." [16]

The Israelites' understanding of redemption is woven into their understanding of Yahweh. God stands by the oppressed and needy. He extends his love and mercy offering a new freedom and hope. God has a deep concern for the welfare of his people, materially, emotionally and spiritually. The redemption theme extends beyond this biblical book through the genealogy. First, in Ruth 4:13 God made her conceive. Second, through the genealogy it is shown that the son born to Naomi is more than just a gift from God to continue her lineage. The history of God’s rule through the David line connects the book’s theme in to the Bible’s main theme of redemptive history.

Hesed, sometimes translated as "loving kindness," also implies loyalty. The theme of hesed is woven throughout Ruth, beginning at 1:8 with Naomi blessing her two daughters-in-law as she urges them to return to their Moabite families. She says, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” Both Ruth and Boaz demonstrate hesed to their family members throughout the story. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure. Rather, they are acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that a person can be required to go beyond the minimum expectations of the law and choose the unexpected. However, the importance of the law is evident within the Book of Ruth, and the story reflects a need to stay within legal boundaries. Boaz, in going beyond measure in acquiring the property (demonstrating hesed), redeems not only the land but both Naomi and Ruth as well. The two widows now have a secure and protected future.

Jewish and Christian perspectives

In many ways, most of what Christians and Jews would draw from the text would be the same. The Book of Ruth has a unique significance to Jews. In particular, the figure of Ruth is celebrated as a convert to Judaism who understood Jewish principles and took them to heart. This book is also held in esteem by Jews who fall under the category of Jews-by-choice, as evident in the considerable presence of Boaz in rabbinic literature.

For Christians the book has additional significance. The connection between Ruth and David is very important because Jesus of Nazareth was born of Mary, betrothed to Joseph of the lineage of David (see Chapter 3 in Luke and Chapter 1 in Matthew, respectively). Thus in Christian Biblical lineage, Ruth is a fore-mother of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). The line can be traced as:

Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld: Ruth in Boaz's Field, 1828
Boaz, father of Obed
Obed, father of Jesse
Jesse, father of David
David, ancestor of Joseph

Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus

The genealogy of Jesus that we find at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew is a male lineage. Only four women from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) are included in this long lineage, one of whom is Ruth. Many Christians interpret Boaz and Ruth as typical of Jesus and the Church.[17]

Ruth's famous words, "For wherever you go, I will go ...," are used in Catholic and some Protestant marriage services, underscoring the similarity of marriage and religious conversion. Ruth is also commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod on July 16.

Family tree of those mentioned




  • Atkinson, David J. Message of Ruth (Bible Speaks Today). Repr. ed. IVP., 1985.
  • Baylis, Charles P. "Naomi in the book of Ruth in Light of the Mosaic Covenant". Bibliotheca Sacra 161, no. 644 (October-December 2004): 413-431.
  • Bos, Johanna. Ruth, Esther, Jonah. Paperback ed. Westminster John Knox Pr., 1986.
  • Brenner, Athalya, ed. Ruth and Esther: A Feminist Companion to the Bible. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999.
  • Buttrick, George Arthur and board, eds. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 4. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1962.
  • Carmody, Denise Lardner and John Tully Carmody. Corn & Ivy: Spiritual Reading in Ruth and Jonah. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1995.
  • Coogan, et al., eds. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3d. ed. NRSV. Oxford: University Press, 2001.
  • Hubbard, Robert L., Jr. The Book of Ruth. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988.
  • Korpel, Marjo C.A. The Structure of the Book of Ruth. The Netherlands: Royal Van Gorcum, 2001.
  • Larkin, Katrina J.A. Ruth and Esther. England: Sheffield Academic Press Ltd., 1996.
  • LaSor, William Sanford et al. Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament, 2d. ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996.
  • Nielsen, Kirsten. Ruth: A Commentary. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997.
  • Olson, Harriett Jane, ed. director. The New Interpreter’s Bible: Volume II, 2nd ed. Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1998. 891-896.
  • Roop, Eugene F. Believers Church Bible Commentary. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2002.
  • Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. Ruth. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1999.

External links

Jewish translations and study guides
Christian translations and study guides
Other links
Preceded by
Song of Songs
Hebrew Bible Followed by
Preceded by
Christian Old Testament Followed by
1–2 Samuel

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BOOK OF RUTH, in the Old Testament. The story of Ruth (the Moabitess, great-grandmother of David) is one of the Old Testament Hagiographa and is usually reckoned as the second of the five Megilloth (Festal Rolls). This position corresponds to the Jewish practice of reading the book at the feast of Pentecost; Spanish MSS., however, place it at the head of the Megilloth; and the Talmud (Baba Bathra, 14b) gives it the first place among all the Hagiographa. On the other hand, it follows Judges in the Septuagint, the Vulgate and the English version. But although it was very natural that a later rearrangement should transfer Ruth from the Hagiographa to the historical books, and place it between Judges and Samuel, no motive can be suggested for the opposite change, and the presumption is that it found a place in the last part of the Jewish canon after the second (with the historical books) had been definitely closed. See Bible: Old Testament, section I. "Canon"; Canticles; Lamentations.

That the book of Ruth did not originally form part of the series of "Former Prophets" (Joshua - Kings) is further probable from the fact that it is quite untouched by the process of "prophetic" or "Deuteronomistic" editing, which helped to give that series its present shape after the fall of the kingdom of Judah. The narrative has no affinity with the point of view which looks on the history of Israel as a series of examples of divine justice and mercy in the successive rebellions and repentances of the people of God.' But if the book had been known at the time when the history from Joshua to Kings was edited ' it could hardly have been excluded from the collection; the ancestry of David (iv. 17, 18-22) was of greater interest than that of Saul, which is given in I Sam. ix. 1, whereas the old history names no ancestor of David beyond his father Jesse.

In truth the book of Ruth presents itself as dealing with times far back (R_uth i. I), and takes delight in depicting. details of antique life and obsolete usages (iv. 7); it views the stormy period before the institution of the kingship through the softening atmosphere of time, which imparts to the scene a gentle sweetness very different from the harsher colours of the old narratives of the book of Judges. It has indeed been argued that, as the author seems to take no offence at the marriage of Israelites with Moabite women, he must have lived before the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra ix.; Neh. xiii.); but the same argument would prove that the book of Esther was written before Ezra. The very designation of a period of Hebrew history as "the days of the judges" is based on the Deuteronomistic additions to the book of Judges (ii. 16 sqq.) and does not occur till the period of the exile. It is true that the language has some features which appear to link it with the narratives in Samuel and Kings, but it might fairly be assumed either that the book is the work of a late author well acquainted with the earlier literature, or that an old narrative had undergone some rewriting at a later age. No definite conclusion can be drawn from the fact that the language stands in marked contrast to that of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, &c., since writings presumably more or less contemporary did not necessarily share the same characteristics (observe, for example, the prose parts of Job).

Like the stories appended to Judges (by a post-Deuteronomic hand) the book of Ruth connects itself with Bethlehem, the. traditional birthplace of David. Some connexion between Bethlehem and Moab has been found in the (now corrupt) text of I Chron. iv. 22 (where the Targum and late rabbinical exegesis discover references to the story of Ruth), and is more explicitly suggested by the isolated I Sam. xxii. 3 seq. which evidently knew of some relationship between Moab and the illustrious descendant of Boaz and Ruth. Next, the writer claims the sympathy of his readers 1 The religious pragmatism lacking in the original is in part supplied by the Targum (i. 5, 6).

for Ruth, upon whose Moabite origin he frequently insists, and this feature is noteworthy in view of the aversion with which intermarriage was regarded at a certain period (Deut. xxiii. 3; Neh. xiii.; Ezra ix. seq.). The independent evidence for the present post-exilic form of the book has consequently led many scholars to the conclusion that it was directed against the drastic steps associated with the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah, which, as is known, were not everywhere acceptable. Thus, not only do we have a beautiful portrait of a woman of Moabite origin, but she becomes the ancestress of David himself, and in the days of these measures the charming and simple story would inevitably suggest the question whether the exclusiveness of Judaism could not be carried too far. There is no reason, however, to believe that this was the original object of the story. It contains other features of considerable interest to which more importance seems to be attached, and the writer is evidently an artist who takes manifest delight in the touching and graceful details of his picture, and is not simply guided by a desire to impart historical information or to enforce some particular lesson.

One does not look for absolute consistency in oriental narratives, and even this little book contains several internal intricacies which demand investigation. The genealogy from Perez to David in iv. 18-22 is of little value since Salma (Salmon), father of Boaz, is a Calebite clan name, not associated with its earlier seat S. of Hebron as in Judges i., I Sam. xxv., &c., but as "father" of Bethlehem, representing exilic or later conditions (i Chron. ii. 51; see Caleb). Apart from other signs of a late date in this list of the ancestors and descendants of Boaz, iv. 12 certainly implies that the genealogical lines of Perez and Boaz were not identical, and thus verses 18-22 in the opinion of most scholars are a later addition.

Further, the story involves points of old family usage which are no longer clear. The well-known custom which gives the nearest heir of the dead a right to inherit the widow is naturally distinct from the levirate, where it is the brother's duty to marry his widowed sister-in-law if childless, and where the eldest son succeeds to the name and inheritance of the deceased. In Hebrew usage the refusal to perform the levirate brought ignominy (see Deut. xxv. 5-10), and Gen. xxxviii. relates how Tamar, when Shelah was not given to her, obtained a child through her father-in-law Judah (see esp. vers. 14, 26). 2 In addition to these customs to prevent the alienation of the estate and to perpetuate the family name, the post-exilic story in Num. xxvii. I-11, xxxvi. gives daughters the right of inheritance provided they do not marry outside the tribe. Although the levirate still continued (Matt. xxii. 24 sqq.), the late laws in Lev. xviii. 16, xx. 21, as also this story, may be aimed against it. Finally, the goel ("next kinsman," lit. "avenger"; see Driver, Ency. Bib. col. 1745 sqq.) has the first right of purchase to an estate (Jer. xxxii. 6-15), and indeed must redeem the property which his needy relative might be compelled to sell (Lev. xxv., see ver. 25). Now it appears that Boaz combines the essential duty of the goel in purchasing the estate over which Naomi holds rights, and at the same time marries, not Naomi, who is now old, but her daughter-in-law Ruth, in order to perpetuate her husband's family. Naomi, who had realized the impossibility of the levirate in her case (i. i i seq.), returned home a disconsolate and childless widow (i. 20 seq.), but the filial Ruth fell in with her plans and put herself entirely into the hands of the kinsman Boaz (iii.). In the happy finale, Naomi is the recipient of congratulations upon the birth of a son to the faithful Ruth (iv. 17a, "there is a son born to Naomi"); the name of the dead is thus "raised up" (iv. 5, io), and the child Obed is clearly recognized 2 See further, W. R. Smith, Kinship and Marriage in Early Arabia, 2nd ed. p. 205; Wellhausen, GOtting. Gelehrte Anzeig. (2893), pp. 455 seq. Ruth iv. 7 refers to the custom of drawing off the shoe as a sign of renunciation (cf. Deut. loc. cit., and G. A. Smith, Ency. Bib. col. 5196 head), and ver. 12 to the story of Tamar and Judah. Compare, for the retention of simple methods of transacting business, the striking of hands (Prov. vi. I, xxii. 26).

as of the line of Elimelech and Mahlon (Naomi's husband and son). In point of fact, a nearer kinsman than Boaz had agreed to purchase the estate (as goel), which Naomi evidently had not yet sold (see commentaries on iv. 3); but he was unwilling to marry Ruth (reading in ver. 5, "and also Ruth thou must buy"; cf. ver. 10), recognizing that if a son were born the estate would revert to the line of Elimelech, thus leaving him at a disadvantage. He was evidently unprepared for what seems a novel condition (contrast Boaz in iii. 12 seq.), although, from the felicitations in iv. 11-13, the issue of the marriage is actually reckoned to the husband (Boaz). It is improbable that these conflicting features in v. 11-13 and ver. 17a, and all that they involve, co-existed, and it is possible that the former (with the implied reference to the coming David) is not part of the original. However, as in the equally complicated story in Gen. xxxviii., it is difficult to trace the extent or growth of the various motives, e.g. the primary interest in Naomi, the romantic marriage of Ruth, the selling of the land (which comes only in ch. iv.), &c.

Literature.-See S. R. Driver, Literature of Old Testament, who, with C. F. Kent (Beginnings of Heb. Hist. p. 310 seq.), favours a preexilic origin. An exilic date has found the support of Ewald and KOnig, but that it is now of the post-exilic age is the opinion of most writers. See further W. R. Smith's art. "Ruth" in'Ency. Brit. 9th ed. (several portions of which have been retained by the present writer), revised and supplemented by T. K. Cheyne in Ency. Bib.; A. Bertholet, Kurzer Handkommentar (1898); W. Nowack, Handkommentar (1902); and (with special reference to traces of earlier mythological motives) H.Winckler, Altorient. Forschungen (iii. 66 sqq.). For the customs discussed above, see I. Benzinger, Ency. Bib. col. 2949 seq.; J. A. Bewer, Theol. Stud. u. Krit. (1903), pp. 328 seq., 502 sqq. (with G. A. Barton's art. "Ruth" in Jew. Encyc.); and T. W. Juynboll, Theolog. Tijdschr. (1906), pp. 158 sqq.

(W. R. S.; S. A. C.)

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