Old Testament Assign Two

Introduction

I have chosen for my character study assignment Ruth from the Book of Ruth. As I was reviewing the characters to choose from for this assignment the further research it did into secondary sources for the Book of Ruth and the character Ruth the clearer it became that this story has been a fascinating source of research for many Biblical scholars. In this paper, I will address the character of Ruth under the headings of Historical, Theological and Literary Concerns.

Historical Concerns

The opening verse of Ruth tells us that our narrative was set in the time when the Judges ruled and there was a famine in the land. Within the text itself there is no indication who the author is or when the book was written, we can assume that because the genealogy of David was mentioned in the final chapter that it must have been written after David became king.[1]

Within the first few verses of our story Ruth 1:1-22 Naomi the mother-in-law of Ruth travels from Bethlehem to Moab with her husband and two sons and soon after arriving her husband dies. Her two sons marry Moabite women Orpah and Ruth and after ten years both sons die leaving Orpah and Ruth childless. The three women are widows and childless leaving them in a very fragile situation for that time. On hearing that the famine had ended in Judah Naomi decides to return home and begins the journey home to Bethlehem with Orpah and Ruth.

Although we know that the story of Ruth is narrative there are questions about whether the story is history or not. The symbolism in the names of each of the characters in the narrative:

  • Ruth – friend or companion,
  • Naomi – pleasant, and 
  • Boaz – in him is strength

Adele Reinhartz suggests that this story is not a historical narrative but a story of a loyal love hesed.[2]Athalya Brenner in Naomi and Ruth also asserts that the story is folklore and a tale of loyalty and love, that is not to say the character Ruth did not exist.[3]

The only connection to the character Ruth outside of the Book of Ruth is in the opening chapter of Matthew in the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth.[4]

Theological Concerns

Levirate Marriage and Redemption

In Ruth 1:8-15 Naomi pleads with Orpah and Ruth to return to their mother’s home as she is unable to provide more sons for them to marry. In Ruth 3:1-5 Naomi alludes to levirate marriage to her kinsman Boaz ensuring their security.  Ruth does so as well on the threshing floor when she asks Boaz to cover her with his cape, and Boaz replies by saying he will redeem Ruth. In Ruth 4:1-12 Boaz (go’el) goes to the elders of the city and redeems[5](ga’al) Naomi’s property which includes Ruth.

Gleaning

Laws surrounding providing for widows, the poor and foreigners were given to us in Leviticus[6]and Deuteronomy[7]. Ruth used this law to provide for Naomi and herself. By gleaning in the fields of Boaz by divine providence (maybe) Ruth had put herself in view of Boaz this led to the subsequent meetings ultimately ending in the marriage of them both.[8]

Conversion

To be a part of the religion of Israel one must be born into it but sojourners could take the God of Israel as their own, Ruth was a well-known example of this.[9]In her speech to Naomi in chapter 1 Ruth proclaims that “your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”[10]

Literary Concerns

Characterisation of Ruth

The author of Ruth does not provide us with a physical description of Ruth in the text so we can only assume that the comments made by Boaz regarding her safety in the fields that she may been a woman the young men would find attractive.

The character of Ruth is portrayed in various ways within the text, as paired, flat, and a complex character through indirect action and representation and direct speech 1st, 2ndperson. In the following paragraphs, I will outline each of these occurrences.

Paired

In 1:4-13 Ruth is simply referred to as one of a pair of Moabite women who are Naomi’s daughter-in-law’s, there is no other information provided by the author, or by Naomi.

Flat

There are four places in the text where Ruth is depicted as a flat character representation. In 1:14 Ruth is identified as an individual character. When rather than turn back and go to her mother’s home she clings to her showing her deep devotion to Naomi.[11]In 1:22 the narrator simply refers to Ruth as the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi when she returns to Bethlehem. At the threshing floor in 3:8 the narrator refers to Ruth as simply the woman lying at the feet of Boaz. Finally, in 4:1-18 Ruth is put into the background and there is no longer any focus on her directly other than the references to her marriage to Boaz, the birth of Obed the heir for Naomi’s family. Also, the reference to her in the genealogy of Perez to King David.

Complex

Indirect Representation

In 2:3-4 Ruth shows her determination to help support the family by going out into the fields to glean, we can assume that by her actions she is divinely led to the field belonging to Boaz a kinsman of Naomi.

In 2:14-16 Boaz shows his interest and kindness toward Ruth by asking her to join him and reapers for a meal, and instructing his servants to allow Ruth to glean amongst the standing sheaves and to leave sheaths on the ground for her to glean. This indicates the respect he had for Ruth and her loyalty to his kinswoman.

The narrator in 2:17-18 goes on to tell how Ruth continued to glean in the fields late into the day and returning home in the evening to share what she had gleaned with Naomi.

In 3:6-7 Ruth does as Naomi tells her to do and goes to the threshing floor after Boaz had laid down to sleep. She uncovers his feet[12]and lays down at his feet indicating her readiness to do as Naomi has asked to ensure their future security.

In 3:14-18 The narrator tells us that Ruth returns home after the night on the threshing floor and tells Naomi what had happened that evening, and shows her the six measures of barley (dowry? Yes/no).[13]

Direct Definition 1stand 2ndperson

Much of the characterisation represented in Ruth is by direct speech by Ruth herself 1stperson or by others mostly Naomi and Boaz which I refer to as 2ndperson direct definition.

1stPerson

We hear from Ruth in 1:15-17 after three attempts from Naomi to convince her to turn back and go to her mother’s house, Ruth declares her love and her loyalty (hesed) for Naomi. 

In 2:2 Ruth takes control of their situation and asks for permission to go into the fields to glean during the barley harvest. Ruth’s action by asking permission shows her respect for Naomi.

In 2:10 Ruth also shows her respect for others this time Boaz by prostrating herself and asking Boaz why he has been so kind and protective toward her, and in 2:13 when she says she is hopeful that she will continue to find favour in his sight.

In 3:9 Ruth shows her commitment toward Boaz and Naomi by responding to Boaz’s question, “Who are you?”[14]and asking him to spread his cloak over her alluding to marriage, which I referred to in Theological Concerns.

2ndPerson

In 2:8-9 Boaz notices Ruth in the fields and asks the servant in charge of the harvest who she is. The servant describes Ruth as the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi, and her commitment to hard work by g in the fields from early morning without rest. In 2:11-12 Boaz speaks to Ruth about her love and loyalty by not returning to her mother’s house and staying true to his kinswoman.

In 3:10-13 Boaz tells Ruth that she is blest because she has been loyal to Naomi by not going after a young man. The implication being that Ruth is concerned not just about herself but for the redemption of Naomi’s family name and inheritance.

Conclusion

The author of Ruth has portrayed the character Ruth directly more than indirectly in the text and has shown that she was prepared to put her mother-in-law before herself. She showed her love and loyalty throughout the text and was prepared to work hard to ensure the family’s survival. I have addressed the characterisation of Ruth under the headings of Historical, Theological and Literary Concerns.

Bibliography

Beeching, M. , and D. R. W. Wood, ed. “New Bible Dictionary: “Ruth – Author and Date”. 3d, Accordance Electronic Ed., Version 2.3. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

Accord://Read/Ivp-Nb_Dictionary#14617.”  (1996).

Brenner, Athalya. “A Feminist Companion to Ruth / Edited by Athalya Brenner.”.  (1993): 220.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. “Conversion.” In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Accordance electronic ed., accord://read/Anchor#23085F, edited by David Noel Freedman, ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Patch, James A. “Gleaning.” In International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Accordance electronic ed., version 2.3., edited by James Orr Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1915.

Reinhartz, Adele. “Ruth 1:1–22: From Moab to Bethlehem.” In The Jewish Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. accord://read/JSB#10277, edited by Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane, eds.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

———. “Ruth 3:1-6: Naomi’s Plan.” In The Jewish Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. accord://read/JSB#10277, edited by Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane, eds.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.


[1]Beeching, M. , and D. R. W. Wood, ed. “New Bible Dictionary: “Ruth – Author and Date”.            3d, Accordance Electronic Ed., Version 2.3. Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press.

           Accord://Read/Ivp-Nb_Dictionary#14617.”  (1996).

[2]Reinhartz, Adele. “Ruth 1:1–22: From Moab to Bethlehem.” In The Jewish Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. accord://read/JSB#10277, edited by Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane, eds.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. (v. 3-5)

[3]Brenner, Athalya. “A Feminist Companion to Ruth / Edited by Athalya Brenner.”.  (1993): pp. 77

[4]Matthew 1:5 (NRSV)

[5]Lev. 25:23-28 (NRSV)

[6]Lev. 19:9 (NRSV)

[7]Deut. 24:19-21 (NRSV)

[8]Patch, James A. “Gleaning.” In International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Accordance electronic ed., version 2.3., edited by James Orr Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1915.

[9]Gaventa, Beverly Roberts. “Conversion.” In The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, Accordance electronic ed., accord://read/Anchor#23085F, edited by David Noel Freedman, ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

[10]Ruth 1:16b (NRSV)

[11]Reinhartz, Adele. “Ruth 1:1–22: From Moab to Bethlehem.” (v. 14)

[12]Adele Reinhartz, “Ruth 3:1-6: Naomi’s Plan,” ed. Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, and Michael A. Fishbane, eds., electronic ed., The Jewish Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. accord://read/JSB#10277(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).(v. 4)

[13]“saying, “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, ‘Do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’””

(Ruth 3:17 (NRSV)

[14]“He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.””

Ruth 3:9 (NRSV)

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