tanakhThe book of Ruth doesn’t really fit in with the other books we’ve read so far, so I was curious about why it got stuck into the bible where it is, between Judges and Samuel.

I found that in the Jewish bible, the books are organized into 3 sections: the Torah (first 5 books up to Deuteronomy, which form the basis of the religion); Prophets (all the other guys, like Joshua, Samuel, Ezekiel, etc); and Writings (stories, songs, poetry and such). Ruth fits into the Writings section, which includes books like Ecclesiastes, Psalms, and Proverbs. Makes sense, but results in the books being out of order according to when the (supposed) events in them (supposedly) occurred.

The Christian bible attempts to put the various books into chronological order. The book of Ruth apparently takes place around the time of Judges Chapter 3, in between Othneil and Ehud, in 1294 BCE. But rather than insert it there and interrupt the stories of the judges, it got put at the end of the book. Now we know. Anyway, I’m glad of a break from the constant violence!

Chapter 1

In Ruth we get an actual family story! Finally! Chapter 1 contains the famous line “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” (v 16). Funny, I always thought that passage was about marriage, but no, it was spoken by Ruth to Naomi. Think about the ‘your God will be my God’ part of the quote. It relates to why many people identify with or choose religion. Ruth converts to Judaism not because of the truth of its claims or anything else about it; but because she wants to be part of Naomi’s family and clan. Also, interesting contradiction here – Deuteronomy (23:3) says that no Moabite shall “enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation.” Yet Ruth was David’s great grandmother (and therefore supposedly an ancestor of Jesus), and she was also a Moabite.Kingdoms_around_Israel400

Chapter 2

It’s almost too good to be true – everyone is so kind and generous. Sure enough, according to Wikipedia, Ruth is “a political parable ….The fictional nature of the story is established from the start through the names of the participants: the husband and father is Elimelech, meaning “My God is King”, and his wife is Naomi, “Pleasing”, but after the deaths of her sons Mahlon, “Sickness”, and Chilion, “Wasting”, she asks to be called Mara, “Bitter”. OK, so maybe it’s not literally true. But wait – if it’s a parable, then what happens to the claim that Ruth was the great grandmother of David? And isn’t Jesus supposed to be of David’s lineage? If so, then the whole deck of cards collapses…. Or am I missing something?

Chapter 3

This chapter illustrates the Levirate marriage laws. Remember, if a woman is widowed, her husband’s next of kin is obligated to marry her to continue the line. If the husband has more than one male relative, there is a ‘pecking order’ as to who gets the woman (or is forced to take her, depending on one’s point of view. The woman gets no say in the matter). (See Deuteronomy 25:5-6 and Genesis 38:8.) So Boaz cannot marry Ruth unless the guy with more ‘seniority’ forfeits his claim to her. What a load of hokum! If the guy had wanted her, where has he been all this time? And don’t ya just love the lines about Ruth ‘uncovering his feet’ and ‘spreading her skirt’? There’s some controversy about exactly what occurred that night on the threshing room floor.

Chapter 4

Boaz settles ownership of Ruth as part of a land deal (really!) with the nameless guy who has more family seniority. The other guy forfeits his claim, and takes off his sandal to seal the deal (remember that? Deuteronomy 25:9-10). Sort of like a handshake, I guess. Anyway, Ruth and Boaz got married and lived happily ever after.

Well that was a nice break. Now back to the bloodshed.