Book of Ruth - Encyclopedia

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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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