Book of Ruth
|Light iron-age reading
|Gabbin' with God
The Book of Ruth is short. Really, really short. It only has four chapters, which means that it fits on two pages in a full-sized Bible. It reads like a short story, and therefore carries a lot less of the "preachy" stuff common to many parts of the Bible.
Ruth tells the story of (surprise!) a lady named Ruth. Ruth gets married to Boaz, who begat Obed, who begat Jesse, who begat David, who was the ancestor of Joseph, who "begat" (gasp) No! he didn't Jesus!
Ruth was written during the time of the Book of Judges, likely just after David becomes king. Ruth is one of only a few times in the Bible that a woman is the central character. More importantly, the women in the Book of Ruth kick ass. Not as much as Rebecca, perhaps, but they are strong women nevertheless.
Ruth is the story of companionship and duty through both marriage and friendships. Naomi is the Mother-in-law of Ruth and Orpah. When her sons die, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to go home. Ruth refuses, claiming her love and duty shall keep her by Naomi's side forever and the two leave together to return to Naomi's homeland.
The Book of Ruth reads like a charming short "novella" something along the lines of the Book of Jonah but perhaps more seductive. Those two books even share the plot device of non-Jews demonstrating faithfulness. Ruth remains with Naomi, Ruth and Naomi are desperately poor, Ruth gleans from the fields of a rich man called Boaz who finds her attractive. Later on the advice of Naomi Ruth waits till Boaz has eaten and drunk, perhaps he drank water but whatever he drank made him merry, then she
immodestly uncovers his genitals and invites Boaz to have sexual intercourse with her (feet can be a metaphor for genitals in the Bible)  modestly uncovers his feet and asks him to spread his garment over her, a sign that she wishes to marry him.  Well a woman Boaz finds attractive turns up in his bedroom, plays with his feet and later nestles under his cloak with him. Can anybody who understands human sexuality guess? How likely is it that Boaz resisted temptation? If Ruth modestly wants Boaz to marry her without seducing him first why in the name of all that’s unholy does she hide in his bedroom? [note 1] Er... later Boaz purchases Ruth to be his wife, Ruth doesn’t mind being bought and provides an heir for Naomi so they are all happy. The Ninevites repent of their abominations.
Authorship and history of Ruth
Jews may have considered the book of Ruth to be historical. However, it is part of the Ketuvim, "the writings", which is the third part of the Tanakah. Isaac Asimov gives the authorship of the Book of Ruth a late date, placing it after the return from exile as a matter of fact.
One piece of evidence for a late date is that the author, when describing the beginning of Naomi's journey, says, "Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was" and does not specify an exact town in Moab. A novelist would have just thrown a dart at a map of Moab and used the name that came up. A contemporary of Naomi would have known the name of the town. But a historian of a period much later would have not used a name of her town if he did not know it.
But the key piece of evidence used by Asimov is encoded in the message of the book itself. Ruth was a Moabitess who became Jewish by conversion. The Moabites were sometimes the enemies of the Jews, and they were definitely treated as second-class citizens who should not enter into the congregation for ten generations.
The Law of Moses permitted them to glean from the fields after the harvest, which is what Ruth did to support her mother-in-law Naomi. During the course of the story Boaz becomes impressed by the faithfulness of Ruth, falls in love with her, and actually marries her. This goes absolutely counter to the prevailing ethos in the aftermath of the exile, when the Jewish leaders were trying to encourage "pure" marriages to prevent the demographic annihilation of their people. The author of Ruth, then, was a "liberal" who wrote a beautiful and compelling editorial piece speaking out against racism and ethnic supremacy. He (or she) ends the "article" by highlighting that Ruth was genetically (if not legally) the great-grandmother of King David...and thus also the ancestor legally (if not genetically) of Jesus the Christ.
One of the most common quotes used during marriage ceremonies is said by Ruth to Naomi:
- "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."
Use as Megillot Scroll
The 5 Megillot, sometimes translated in English as "Festival Scrolls", are works from the Ketuvim (Writings) which correspond to 5 different times of the year when they are read. Ruth is read on the morning of Shavous, commemorating the gift of the Ten Commandments to Moses.
In the last 20–30 years, Christian Gay Rights groups have turned to Ruth as a biblical example of what was, if not actual homosexuality, then at least same-sex love. They argue that since nothing obligated Ruth to go with Naomi, and in fact she was going against her elder's wishes, the only thing keeping her there was her love for Naomi. While little in the Book of Ruth would actually support that the women were gay, the book opens a dialogue for what gay relationships mean at their core: That it is about love of another and not about the sexual acts.
- There is of course disagreement as to whether the description of Ruth "uncovering the feet" of Boaz, being "covered by the corners" (or "wings") of his garment, and staying with him through the night implies a sexual act. Some fundamentalists in particular are adamant that Ruth literally slept at the foot of the bed—probably because to do otherwise would hardly be acceptable for an ancestress of Jesus. Of course, Tamar already ruined his ancestral record by "playing the whore" by the roadside many generations previously.