The book of Ruth is usually appended to the Prophetic/historical Book of Joshua although it appears in the Hagiograph in the Hebrew bible. It tells the story of Naomi, a woman of Bethlehem who travels with her husband to Moab during a period of famine. Her husband and two married sons die and, returning to Bethlehem, she encourages her daughters-in-law to stay in their native Moab but one of them (Ruth) refuses. Ruth gleans on the land of Boaz who exercises his claim to marry her once a prior claim is renounced. She is thus one of only four women in the otherwise male line of David and then Jesus (Matthew 1:5-6).

The book is a novella in four chapters which demonstrates a high degree of symbolism; all the names have meanings significant to the story: Elimelech - my God is king (foreshadowing the lineage of David); Naomi - my gracious one; Mara - the bitter one; Mahlon - sick; Chilion - weakening  or pining; Orpah - nape of neck, or back turner; Ruth - friend; Boaz - strength; Obed - servant.

There are two themes:

Recently the book has been subjected to feminist criticism which has taken two forms: first, atheist or agnostics have seen it as an unacceptable portrayal of a woman forced to glean and then submit herself to be the wife of a rich kinsman; but since the movement for the ordination of women in the Church, the story has been seen as a model of unswerving service to God and the Law.

We might, therefore, ask the following questions:

  1. Is the book of Ruth anything more than an idyllic but anachronistic story?
  2. How would we explain its significance to a contemporary audience?
  3. How would we frame a contemporary story to reflect Ruth's deeper meaning?

KC iv/08

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