1902 Encyclopedia > Ruth


BOOK OF RUTH. The story of Ruth, the Moabitess, great-grandmother of David, one of the Old Testament Hagiographa, is usually reckoned as trie second of the five I Megilloth or Festal Rolls. This position corresponds to the Jewish practice of reading the book at the Feast of Pentecost; Spanish MSS., however, place Ruth at the head of the Megilloth (see CANTICLES) ; and the Talmud, in a well-known passage of Baba Bathra, gives it the first place among all the Hagiographa. On the other hand the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the English version make Ruth follow Judges. It has sometimes been held that this was its original place in the Hebrew Bible also, or rather that Ruth was originally reckoned as an appen-dix to Judges, since it is only by doing this, and also by reckoning Lamentations to Jeremiah, that all the books of the Hebrew canon can be reduced to twenty-two, the number assigned by Josephus and other ancient authori-ties. But it has been shown in the article LAMENTATIONS (q.v.) that the argument for the superior antiquity of this way of reckoning breaks down on closer examination, and, while it was very natural that a later rearrangement should transfer Ruth from the Hagiographa to the histor-ical books, and place it between Judges and Samuel, no motive can be suggested for the opposite change. That the book of Ruth did not originally form part of the series of Prophetx priores (Judges-Kings) is further probable from the fact that it is quite untouched by the process of " prophetic " or " Deuteronomistic " editing, which gave that series its present shape at a time soon after the fall of the kingdom of Judah; the narrative has no affinity with the point of view which looks on the whole 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 Judges to Kings was edited, it could hardly have been excluded from the collection; the ancestry of David was of greater interest than that of Saul, which is given in 1 Sam. ix. 1, whereas the old history names no ancestor of David beyond his father Jesse. In truth the book of Ruth does not offer itself as a document written soon after the period to which it refers; it presents itself as dealing with times far back (Ruth i. 1), and takes obvious delight in depicting details of antique life and obsolete usages; it views the rude and 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. In the language, too, there is a good deal that makes for and nothing that makes against a date sub-sequent to the captivity, and 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 sq.) and does not occur till the period of the exile. An inferior limit for the date of the book cannot be assigned with precision. It has 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, and indeed "a disposi-tion to derive prominent Jewish families from proselytes prevailed to a much later date," and finds expression in the Talmud (see Wellhausen-Bleek, p. 205). The lan-guage of Ruth, however, though post-classical, does not seem to place it among the very latest Old Testament books, and the manner in which the story is told is as remote from the legal pragmatism of Chronicles as from the prophetic pragmatism of the editor of the older histories. The tone of simple piety and graciousness which runs through the narrative, unencumbered by the pedantry of Jewish legality, seems to indicate that the book was written before all the living impulses of Jewish literature were choked by the growing influence of the doctors of the law. In this respect it holds in Hebrew prose writing a position analogous to that of the older Cholcma in Hebrew poetry. But the triumph of the scribes in literature as well as in law was not accomplished till, long after the time of Ezra.

Wellhausen in Bleek, 4th edition, p. 204 sq., finds the clearest indication of the date of Ruth in the appended genealogy, Ruth iv. 18-22; compare his remarks in Prol. Oesch. Israels, p. 227 (Eng. tr., pp. 217 sq.). Salma (Salmon), father of Boaz, is a tribe foreign to old Judah, which was not " father " of Bethlehem till after the exile, and the names of Salma's ancestors are also open to criti-cism. But this genealogy is also found :a Chronicles, and is quite in the manner of other gen ilogies in the same book. That it was borrowed from Chronicles and added to Ruth by a later hand seems certain, for the author of Ruth clearly recognizes that Obed was legally the son of Mahlon, not of Boaz (iv. 5, 10), so that from his standpoint the appended genealogy is all wrong.

The design of the book of Ruth has been much dis-cussed and often in too narrow a spirit; for the author is an artist who takes manifest delight in the touching and graceful details of his picture, and is not simply guided by a design to impart historical information about David's ancestors, or enforce some particular lesson. Now the interest of the story, as a work of art, culminates in the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, not in the fact that their son was David's ancestor, which, if the book originally ended with iv. 17, is only mentioned in a cursory way at the close of the story. Had the author's main design been to illustrate the history of the house of David, as many critics think, or to make the point that the noblest stock in Israel was sprung from an alien mother (Wellhausen), this design would certainly have been brought into more prominence. The marriage acquires an additional interest when we know that Ruth was David's great-grandmother, but the main interest is independent of that, and lies in the happy issue of Ruth and Naomi from their troubles through the loyal performance of the kinsman's part by Boaz. Doubtless the writer meant his story to be an example to his own age, as well as an interesting sketch of the past; but this is effected simply by describing the exemplary conduct of Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, and even Boaz's harvesters. All these act as simple, kindly, God-fearing people ought to act in Israel.

There is one antique custom which the writer follows with peculiar interest and describes with archaeological detail as a thing which had evidently gone out of use in his own day. By old Hebrew law, as by the old law of Arabia, a wife who had been brought into her husband's house by contract and payment of a price to her father was not set free by the death of her husband to marry again at will. The right to her hand lay with the nearest heir of the dead. Originally we must suppose, among the Hebrews as among the Arabs, this law was all to the disadvantage of the widow, whose hand was simply part of the dead man's estate; but, while this remained so in Arabia to the time of Mohammed, among the Hebrews the law early took quite an opposite turn ; the widow of a man who died childless was held to have a right to have a son begotten on her by the next kinsman, and thi3 son was regarded as the son of the dead and succeeded to his inheritance so that his name might not be cut off from Israel. The duty of raising up a son to the dead lay upon his brother, and in Deut. xxv. 5 is restricted to the case when brothers live together. In old times, as appears from Gen. xxxviii., this was not so, and the law as put in the book of Ruth appears to be that the nearest kinsman of the dead in general had a right to "redeem for himself" the dead man's estate, but at the same time was bound to marry the widow. The son of this marriage was reckoned as the dead man's son and succeeded to his property, so that the " redeemer" had only a temporary usufruct in it. Naomi was too old to be married in this way, hut she had certain rights over her husband's estate which the next kinsman had to buy up before he could enter on the property. And this he was willing to do, but he was not willing also to marry Ruth and beget on her a son who would take the name and estate of the dead and leave him out of pocket. He therefore withdraws and Boaz comes in in his place. That this is the sense of the transaction is clear ; there is, however, a little obscurity in iv. 5, where one letter seems to have fallen out and we must read on niTflX DJb and translate "What day thou buyest the field from Naomi thou must also buy Ruth," &c. Comp. vv. 9, 10.

Among older commentaries special mention may be made of J. B. Carpzov, Collegium rabbinico-biblicum in libellum Ruth, Leipsic, 1703. In recent times Ruth has usually been taken up by commentators along with JUDGES (q.v.). (W. R. S.)


The religious pragmatism lacking in the original is in part supplied by the Targum (i. 5, 6).

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