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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Ruth as Story

The book of Ruth is a short story, similar to the Joseph story in Gn 37–50 . It is an artistically told tale with a simple plot. While the story of Joseph is set with the court of Pharaoh and deals with important personages and events, Ruth's characters are ordinary people; its events, mundane. Its closeness to life enables us to identify with its characters, to sympathize with their situation, and to rejoice when their problems are solved. The plot of the book is controlled by the problems that Ruth and Naomi have as they adjust to their new status as widows. These problems are resolved through the interaction of the book's main characters: Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, relieving the tension created by the uncertain future that the two women faced. The principal characters are exemplary persons whose goodness is rewarded in the end, reinforcing the belief that human events are in some sense under the control of a power which insures that good triumphs. As story, its purpose is to entertain and delight, and this it does, but at the same time it also instructs. Though God never directly speaks or acts in the story, nevertheless it is clear that the story has something to teach us of the way that God is present in life.

An important element in the story is Ruth's Moabite ancestry. It is especially significant since the book presents her as the great‐grandmother of David. Though Deuteronomy 22, 4 forbids a Moabite from becoming part of the Israelite community, Ruth not only does so but is a forebear of the great King David. Perhaps the author of the book made a connection between David and the Moabites because the story of David's rise to kingship has him place his parents in the safekeeping of the king of Moab, while David is trying to elude capture by Saul (1 Sm 22, 3 ). There is, of course, no possibility of verifying the details of Ruth's story.

Dating the Book of Ruth

It is difficult to date the book of Ruth with any certainty, for though it has been argued that it is postexilic in origin, more and more frequently arguments for a preexilic date are being advanced. Those who postulate a postexilic date see the book of Ruth as a polemical work challenging the policies of Ezra. In his reform of the postexilic community, Ezra implemented a policy forbidding intermarriage with foreign women. The book of Ruth questions such a policy by showing that Ruth, although a foreign woman, is pious and faithful. Moreover, the kinship between Ruth and David indicates that David, the greatest of Israel's kings, was himself of mixed blood. Such a challenge to Ezra's policies would emerge close to the time of Ezra's activity, ca. 450 BC. The evidence for a preexilic date comes from an analysis of style and theology. There is nothing in the style of the book that would force one to assume a late date. Its theology is similar to that of the Joseph story (Gn 37–50 ) and the court history of David (2 Sm 9–20; 1 Kgs 1–2 ), both thought to be preexilic in origin. We cannot resolve here the complex issues surrounding the date of the book of Ruth, but the diversity of opinion cautions us against easy answers. Recent linguistic analysis of the Hebrew of Ruth suggests that a date in the early postexilic period is likely (late sixth century BC).

Ruth's Place in the Canon

While there is universal agreement about Ruth's canonical status, there is some disagreement about the book's place within the canon. Christian Bibles, including the New American Bible, place the book of Ruth after Judges and before 1 Samuel, following the order of books in the Septuagint, which was the version of the Old Testament read in the early church. No doubt the Septuagint placed Ruth after Judges because the story is set “in the time of the judges” (Ru 1, 1 ). It is important to note that despite its placement, the book of Ruth is not a part of the Deuteronomistic History—the story of Israel from conquest to exile found in the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings. It does not reflect the thought or style of the Deuteronomistic History; it does not have Deuteronomistic theological overtones. In Jewish Bibles, the book of Ruth is placed in the third division of the Jewish Canon—the Writings, a collection of miscellaneous works. Jewish liturgical practice includes Ruth among the five Megilloth, i.e., the scrolls that are read on major Jewish festivals. The book of Ruth is read on the Feast of Shavuot (Weeks), which Christians know as Pentecost.

Theology in the Book of Ruth

In an age when the Torah was on the way to becoming the central religious symbol of early Judaism, the book of Ruth presents three characters, Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi, whose actions go beyond what is required of them. Ruth makes a commitment to her mother‐in‐law, Naomi, that ignores the claims of religious traditions and national origins. Naomi shows her loving concern for Ruth by devising a scheme to induce Boaz to marry Ruth, even though that scheme could have backfired on her. Boaz ignores his self‐interest to marry Ruth and thus redeem the property of Naomi's husband. The story shows how people who think of others' needs before their own find their truest happiness. God approves the conduct of these people by giving a son to Ruth and Boaz—a son who removes the emptiness and uncertainty that faced the widow Naomi. The author of Ruth is certainly saying to the book's readers: “Go you and do likewise.”

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