I had the opportunity to lead an group of folks in a discussion of the Book of Ruth. It’s not very long, Just 85 verses. It has a well known passage:
“Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” Ruth 1:16-17 KJV
Ruth is one of those books that many of us think we know. I mean, how much is there really to know about this book?
More than you might think. And more that one blog post can cover. So, lets just think about this.
Did you know that the book of Ruth is located in one place in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and a different place in the Septuagint? It’s true.
In the Old Testament, Ruth is located between the books of Judges and 1 Samuel. This means Ruth is placed among the historical books of the Bible. In the Tanakh, (Hebrew Bible), Ruth is part of the Ketuvim (Writings) along with Song of Solomon, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther among other texts.
Do you think the location of the book of Ruth affects the way we read and think about it? If we consider Ruth as “simply” a historical book, how does that influence our reading of it?
If we read Ruth as history, do we keep the story at arm’s length? Do we read it as a report about “them” rather than containing insights about “us”?
What if we think about Ruth as “more” than historical? Can we or should we read it as something like a parable? If we do read Ruth as a sort of parable, what is it’s point? Who, in the story, are we to identify with?
Are we Naomi, the bitter expat? Forced to leave home because of a famine, she returns without husband or sons. When she returns, how will her former community receive her?
Are we Ruth, the foreigner? Widowed, childless and from a country that has been enemies with Israel, Ruth gives up nationality, family ties and her religion to stay with Ruth.
Are we Boaz the well established head of the family? Comfortable, respected and secure. What is his responsibility to a poor widowed woman? What is his responsibility to a poor widowed foreign woman?
The book of Ruth was most likely written around the time of the return from Exile. Some Israelites were returning from their time away in a foreign country. Some Israelites brought their foreign born wives and children with them. Some Israelites had not been deported to Babylon and had stayed on the land.
What happens when these groups of people encounter each other?
Or we might wonder, what should happen when these groups of people encounter each other?
History or parable?
Parable presented as history?
History presented as parable?
Can we decide which it is? But perhaps more importantly, should we decide which it is? Can Ruth be both history and parable?
What do you think?