Book of Ruth

RUTH, BOOK OF. The author of this book is unknown. The historical setting is the period of the judges (Ruth.1.1), but there are certain indications that it was composed, or at least worked into its final form, at a much later time. For example, the opening words, “In the days when the judges ruled” looks back to that period; the “gloss” in Ruth.4.7 explains an ancient custom for later readers; and 4:22 mentions David. Thus the final editorial process could not have ended before the time of David. It is best to place its final shaping in, or immediately following, the reign of David.

The book records the circumstances that led to the marriage of Ruth, a Moabitess, to Boaz, an Israelite. A famine forced Naomi and her husband to move to Moab, where her sons married Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth. Naomi and her daughter-in-law became widows, and Ruth and Naomi settled in Bethlehem. In the course of providing food for herself and her mother-in-law, Ruth met Boaz, a prosperous farmer and a relative of Naomi. With Naomi’s encouragement, Ruth tenderly reminded Boaz of the levirate obligation (Ruth.3.1-Ruth.3.9), a Deuteronomic law that required a man to marry his brother’s widow if she was childless, the purpose being that the dead man have an heir (Deut.25.5-Deut.25.10). However, Boaz was not the nearest of kin. When the closest relative learned that there was a levirate obligation attached to the redemption of Naomi’s land, he rejected it (Ruth.4.1-Ruth.4.6), and Boaz was free to marry Ruth.

The Book of Ruth demonstrates the providence of God at work in the life of an individual, and it exalts family loyalty. It shows how a Gentile became part of the Davidic ancestry (Ruth.4.17-Ruth.4.21); thus Ruth is cited in the genealogy of Christ in Matt.1.5.

Bibliography: E. C. Rust, The Book of Judges, The Book of Ruth, The First and Second Books of Samuel (LBC), 1961; A. E. Cundall and Leon Morris, Judges and Ruth (TOTC), 1968.——TEM

RUTH, BOOK OF (ר֑וּת, meaning uncertain, possibly companion). In the Heb. Bible Ruth is in the third section, the Hagiographa (or Writings), one of the five Megilloth or scrolls, each of which was associated with one of Israel’s principal feasts. Ruth was read at the Feast of Weeks. In the LXX, Lat. and Eng. VSS, it follows the nodetitle.


The setting of the nodetitle, “the loveliest complete work on a small scale” (Goethe), is the period of the Judges, i.e. c. 1200-1020 b.c. In contrast to the international background of the Book of Judges, which traces the moral, religious, and political decline of Israel on a broad scale, Ruth throws light upon a domestic scene where the standards of loyalty and integrity were still high.


Jewish tradition maintained that Samuel wrote the books of Ruth, Judges, and Samuel. Since the death of Samuel is noted in 1 Samuel 25:1, he could not be the author of 1 and 2 Samuel (originally one book in Heb.). Similarly, since the inference of Ruth 4:17-22 is that David was king, which was not realized in Samuel’s lifetime, it is unlikely that Samuel was the author of Ruth, at least in its present form. The book itself contains no clue concerning its authorship.


Since an understanding of the purpose is determinative of the date, it must be considered first. There is no other short book in Scripture which has been supplied with so many widely-divergent motives. The chief of these are:

2. To show how a Moabitess was included in the ancestry of David. The tracing of Naomi’s line through Obed and Jesse to David (4:17) provides a climax to the story, and the connection with Israel’s greatest king may account in measure for its preservation. But this falls short of providing an adequate motive.

3. A plea for an extension of the practice of levirate marriage, thus averting the tragedy of a family line being extinguished. The purpose then would be one of humanity toward the childless widow.

4. The idyllic nature of the story and the seemingly metaphorical names of its characters, Naomi (“pleasant”), Ruth (“companion”), Mahlon (“sickness”), Chilion (“wasting”), Orpah (possibly “stiff-necked”) has led to it being described as a “Novelle” (Gunkel) or “an interesting tale of long ago” (R. H. Pfeiffer). Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction and the names are good Heb. names. The name “Elimelech” appears in the Amarna tablets of the 14th cent. b.c., but nowhere else in the OT. Forms compounded with “melech” (king) were uncommon in the postexilic period. The narrative itself purports to be historical (1:1), and there is no evidence of anachronisms.

5. Ruth was regarded as the perfect proselyte by the later rabbis. She made a clean break with her own people and was completely loyal to the nation and religion of her adopted family.

6. Perhaps one should not look for a single, all-embracing motive for the book. Surely its preservation is due to the fact that it enshrines so much of what is basic in human relationships and in true Israelite religion. It is a story of a loyal, disinterested relationship, which secured its just reward. The upright, considerate, and industrious Boaz was a model Israelite. It demonstrates an overruling Providence and the all-embracing love of God, illustrating the fact made explicit in Acts 10:34, 35. Its simplicity and domesticity—it is a story of ordinary people—make their appeal to the heart. It speaks a word of hope to the hopeless, the desolate and the bereaved.



The canonicity of Ruth has never been seriously questioned.

Literary value.

Universal assent would be given to the statement that Ruth is a veritable masterpiece of the storyteller’s art. The briefest of introductions sets a scene of hopeless desolation (Ruth 1:1-5). Naomi’s consideration for her daughters-in-law and Ruth’s absolute loyalty, even to the point of accepting a strange and possibly hostile environment, are made clear (1:6-22). An apparently fortuitous encounter with Boaz (2:1-19) leads Naomi to plan for Ruth’s future (2:20-3:5). The story unfolds with a rare delicacy, suspense being maintained until the last—for one breathtaking moment it seems that Boaz was destined not to be Ruth’s husband (4:4). All worked out happily and the line of Elimelech was not extinguished. A simple climax, without any embellishment, came when David was named as a descendant of this union (4:17). Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, the main characters, are skillfully portrayed and the scene throughout is a simple one, easily comprehended, with two main locations, viz. a roadside in Moab, and Bethlehem during the barley and wheat harvests. The fact that this short story is true makes for an even greater impact.


A disastrous expedition (1:1-5).

An approximate date for these events, working back from the genealogy of 4:17 (which may be selective), is 1100 b.c. A famine in Judah drove Elimelech and his family to Moab as “sojourners,” and as such they had no legal rights there. No direct judgment is given on their departure from their own land (which God had given them) or on the foreign marriages contracted by Mahlon and Chilion, but this may be implicit in the triple disaster which struck the family. Moreover, the lament of 1:21 suggests the loss of considerable material possessions brought from Bethlehem, possibly before the full effect of the famine was felt.

Return to Bethlehem-Judah (1:6-22).

A chance encounter (2:1-19).

The plan of Naomi (2:20-3:18).

The reference to the dead (v. 20) shows that a plan was already in process of formulation, although Naomi took time to work out the details. Meanwhile Ruth enjoyed security and relative prosperity among the harvesters of Boaz. There are seasonal variations in Pal., but in general, the barley harvest began in mid-April and the wheat harvest ended in the first weeks of June. The suggested course of action (3:1-5), springing from Naomi’s desire to provide for her daughter-in-law, constituted a direct appeal to Boaz to accept the obligation of the next of kin. It may be assumed that it was the customary course of action in such a situation. Sleeping by the gathered grain (3:7) would be a normal precaution against marauders. Events proceeded with reserve and no hint of any impropriety, and Boaz, who appears as an older man (cf. his address in 2:8, 9), and a bachelor, was obviously delighted at the prospect of marriage to such an attractive person as Ruth. But before the marriage could be realized there was a practical difficulty to overcome: there was a relative who had a prior claim. Two problems in the narrative were easily resolved: (1) Naomi herself had a greater claim than Ruth upon any near kinsman; this she voluntarily relinquished in favor of her daughter-in-law; (2) Naomi must have known that Boaz was not the next of kin, but in all probability he was the one she preferred and so she placed the responsibility for making the necessary arrangements upon him (3:18).

Events in the gate (4:1-12).


G. A. F. Knight, Ruth and Jonah (1950); H. H. Rowley, “The Marriage of Ruth,” The Servant of the Lord (1952), 161ff.; L. P. Smith, “The Book of Ruth,” IB II (1953); A. E. Cundall and L. Morris, Judges and Ruth (1967); J. G. Baldwin, “Ruth,” NBC (1970).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. Order in the Canon:

The place which the Book of Ru occupies in the order of the books of the English Bible is not that of the Hebrew Canon. There it is one of the five meghilloth or Rolls, which were ordered to be read in the synagogue on 5 special occasions or festivals during the year.

In printed editions of the Old Testament the megilloth are usually arranged in the order: Cant, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiates, Esther. Ru occupied the second position because the book was appointed to be read at the nodetitle which was the second of the 5 special days. In Hebrew manuscripts, however, the order varies considerably. In Spanish manuscripts generally, and in one at least of the German school cited by Dr. Ginsburg (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, London, 1897, 4), Ru precedes Cant; and in the former Ecclesiastes is placed before Lamentations. The meghilloth constitute the second portion of the kethubhim or Haigographa, the third great division of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Talmud, however, dissociates Ru altogether from the remaining meghilloth, and places it first among the Hagiographa, before the Book of Psalms. By the Greek translators the book was removed from the position which it held in the Hebrew Canon, and because it described events contemporaneous with the Judges, was attached as a kind of appendix to the latter work. This sequence was adopted in the Vulgate, and so has passed into all modern Bibles.

2. Authorship and Purpose:

The book is written without name of author, and there is no direct indication of its date. Its aim is to record an event of interest and importance in the family history of David, and incidentally to illustrate ancient custom and marriage law. There is no ground for supposing, as has been suggested, that the writer had a polemical purpose in view, and desired to show that the strict and stern action taken by Ezra and Nehemiah after the return in forbidding mixed marriages was not justifled by precedent. The narrative is simple and direct, and the preservation of the tradition which it records of the descent of Israel’s royal house from a Moabite ancestress was probably due in the first instance to oral communication for some considerable time before it was committed to writing. The Book of 1Sa also indicates a close relation between David and Moab, when during the period of his outlawry the future king confided his father and mother to the care of the king of Moab (1Sa 22:3 f), and so far supports the truth of the tradition which is embodied in the nodetitle.

3. Date of Composition:

With regard to the date at which the narrative was committed to writing, it is evident from the position of the Book of Ru in the Hebrew Canon that the date of its composition is subsequent to the close of the great period of the "earlier prophets." Otherwise it would have found a natural place, as was assigned to it in the Greek Bible, together with the nodetitle and other historical writings, in the second division of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the opening words of the book also, "It came to pass in the days when the judges judged" (Ru 1:1), the writer appears to look back to the period of the Judges as to a comparatively distant epoch. The character of the diction is pure and chaste; but has been supposed in certain details, as in the presence of so-called Aramaisms, to betray a late origin. The reference to the observance of marriage customs and their sanctions "in former time in Israel" (Ru 4:7) does not necessarily imply that the composition of Ru was later than that of Deuteronomy, in which the laws arid rights of the succession are enjoined, or that the writer of the former work was acquainted with the latter in its existing form. Slight differences of detail in the procedure would seem to suggest the contrary. On the other hand, the motive of the book in the exhibition of the ancestry of David’s house would have lost its significance and raison d’etre with the death or disappearance of the last ruler of David’s line in the early period of the return from Babylon (compare Zec 4:9). The most probable date therefore for the composition of the book would be in the later days of the exile, or immediately after the return. There is no clue to the authorship. The last four verses, giving the genealogy from Perez to David (compare 1Ch 2:4-15; Mt 1:3-6; Lu 3:31-33), are generally recognized as a later addition.

4. Ethical Teaching:

The ethical value of the Book of Ru is considerable, as setting forth an example of stedfast filial piety. The action of Ru in refusing to desert her mother-in-law and persevering in accompanying her to her own land meets with its due reward in the prosperity and happiness which become hers, and in the honor which she receives as ancestress of the royal house of David. The writer desires to show in the person and example of Ru that a sincere and generous regard for the claims of duty and affection leads to prosperity and honor; and at the same time that the principles and recompense of righteous dealing are not dependent upon race, but are as valid for a Moabitess as for a Jew. There is no distinctive doctrine taught in the book. It is primarily historical, recording a decisive incident in the origin of David’s house; and in the second place ethical, indicating and enforcing in a well-known example the advantage and importance of right dealing and the observance of the dictates of filial duty. For detailed contents see preceding article.

LITERATURE. English commentaries upon the Book of Ru are naturally not numerous. Compare G. W. Thatcher, "Judges and Ruth," in (New) Century Bible; R.A. Watson, in Expositor’s Bible; the most recent critical commentary. is by L. B. Wolfenson in AJSL, XXVII (July, 1911), 285 ff, who defends the early date of the book. See also the relevant articles in Jew Encyclopedia, HDB, EB, and Driver, LOT, 6, 454 ff.