The book of Ruth is an Old Testament fascinating story of a gentle woman who marries into a Jewish family and voluntarily accepts to live the way of the Israelites. The main character, Ruth, is one of the female ancestors of David and Christ Jesus. Some of the unique attributes of the book is that it’s the shortest book in the bible with only four chapters. Ruth, the central character is a Moabite woman, her mother in law’s name is Jewish widow called Naomi. The Ruth story is an intricate chronology of family misfortune, loyalty, love and commitment.
One of the greatest controversies behind the book of Ruth is that its author is not known. Nonetheless, post-modern biblical scholars have argued with some certainty that the book was written by Prophet Samuel. The timing of the books is often said to be just before David’s kingship at the end of Saul’s reign. The book of Ruth is often said to have been written between 1010 BC which was around the time King David was the king of Israel. Perhaps the evidence that can be used to make this claim is the use of the phrase “former time” alluding to a revisionist reading of past historical times. The audience of the story is arguably the people of Israel as well as the gentiles who would later become embroiled into the culture and religion of the Jewish people.
One of the uniqueness of the book of Ruth accrues from its placing. The book is considered an interruption of the historical books such as Joshua, Judges, 1st and 2end Samuel, The Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. These books tell the stories of the law and the establishment of the Israeli society in a New Canaan. They are all accounts of God’s intimate relationship with the Israeli. Modern scholars of the bible argue that the book of Ruth is actually an “a theological and didactic historiography”. Perhaps one reason for this assumption accrues from the fact that the book reconstructs history for purposes of religious instruction as well as inspiration (Harrelson, 1964).
Historical and Cultural Context of the Book of Ruth
Some scholars have argued that the book of Ruth is owes its background to the Jewish oral tradition. The story goes, a God fearing family is driven out of Judah because of famine to a farm land called Moab. The family has two sons, one called Mahlon which literally means sickness and the other one is called Chillion that refers to the idea of wasting in the Hebrew language. One argument that the books stems from oral tradition is the fact that the names of the two sons has symbolic gestures for the sufferings of the sons.
Naomi’s character is also not foreign for many women in the Jewish context. One must understand that the Jewish culture has a lot of concern for the helpless in the society. Naomi, the central character in the story is a widow and draws considerable sympathy from the society since she had no male support system in a highly male dominated society. Ruth being a young widow falls in the same predicament. Naomi advises Ruth to seek solace from some of the more established male relatives. Although this is a difficult task, Ruth accomplishes this task fine and is today recognized as one of the most influential women in the bible (Henry, 2013).
Charlton( 1999) et all, argues that Literary critics have argued that the problem with the narration portrayed here is the absence of the facts. This is because there is the problem of knowledge. Recording all that happened is impossible. Furthermore, many events which occurred are insignificant. Some say that the authors’ purposes are predominantly theological and their selection and presentation of events is dominated by religious viewpoints. It is very hard to assume that the words were quoted exactly, especially in respect to the fact that the Hebrew society was predominantly oral. Differences in length are also another source of strong contrast. The story in Ruth is remarkably short yet it is found next to texts which move at a relaxed pace. The most interesting thing is the critical importance of this story which seems to be ignored considering the length and the emphasis given.
Themes of the Book
Perhaps one of the strongest themes in the book is the idea of faithfulness. The theme of faithfulness is twofold in the books. First, the idea is illustrated by Naomi’s faithfulness to Boaz and Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi. The faithfulness and loyalty of Naomi is demonstrated by the verse in Ruth 1:17 where Ruth says: “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me."
Perhaps the umbrella of faithfulness is the overwhelming reliance and faithfulness to God. While faithfulness is the supreme theme in the book, it leads to other traits such as kindness. Kindness is the expression of the quality of love. In the book, all the characters demonstrated some form of love towards others.
God’s faithfulness is also related to honor. Moral uprightness, chastity and respect are qualities that are demonstrated in the book. Ruth was an expression of such qualities. Because of this, Boaz treated her with respect while carrying out his duties as a man of the family. Here, we see a great deal of demonstration of God’s love. Besides the qualities, the book also delves deep into the characteristics of the Jewish society. One example of such is the idea of safety in the community. Safe-keeping is provided by community members. Boaz takes care of Naomi and Ruth. Naomi also finds it her responsibility to take care of those Ruth.
The story of Ruth is one of the most famous women stories in the bible. Ruth is the great-grandmother of David whose ancestry Jesus comes from. The story of Ruth makes a very significant argument behind assimilation of the gentiles. The argument of including those that are foreign to the Israelites that Paul later makes in the New Testament. Ruth’ story is thus a story of universalism. It is also important to understand the story of Ruth and Naomi as a story of marriage and the relationship between mother in laws and their daughter in laws. Contemporarily, a lot of squabbles arise in such relationships because of the endless bickering over attention for the common factor which is the son. The story of Ruth teaches that harmony is possible. The union between two families should not be limited to the fact that marriage forces it to happen; rather the story is bigger than that. It is a union of God. If people begin to see that, then most marriages would be more peaceful and engaging instead of conflicting.
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Albert, Robert, Kermode, Frank. The literary guide to the Bible: The Belknap Press,
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1987.
The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible, Unknown author: Hagar, edited by George,
Arthur Buttrick, New York: Abingdon Press, 1962.
Chilton, Bruce, Clark Kee Howard. The Cambridge companion to the Bible,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
The Jewish Study Bible, edited by Berlin, Adele, Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish
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Rowley, H.H, Peake’s Commentary on the Bible, New York: Thomas Nelson,
Henry, Mathew, Commentary on The whole Bible Volume 1, Genesis to Deuteronomy,Christian Classics Ethereal Libraries, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/henry/mhc.i.html.
Accessed on 11/2/2013