RUTH (ר֑וּת; LXX ̔Ρουθ; meaning unknown; a contraction of r’ūt, “fellow-woman,” commonly supposed, is rejected by Noth [Israel. Personennamen, p. 10, citing Noldeke]; no Heb. stem can be convincingly identified). A Moabitess, great grandmother of King David.
Ruth married into a Heb. family which had emigrated from Bethlehem to Moab to escape famine. Elimelech, the father, had died since the move; his sons Mahlon (Ruth’s husband) and Chilion died, childless, within ten years. His widow, Naomi, decided to go home; on the road she advised her daughters-in-law to return to their own families, but Ruth would not be persuaded, and declared her determination to stay by her mother-in-law and trust in the Lord. They reached Bethlehem at harvest time; Ruth went gleaning, as the poor had a right to do. She was led to a field belonging to Boaz, a relative of Elimelech, who made her welcome, having heard of her loyalty to Naomi. After the harvest, Naomi instructed Ruth to approach Boaz to ask formally for his protection, i.e. for him to marry her, on the ground of his relationship to her late husband. Boaz, himself no longer young, was glad to do this. He had first to negotiate with a closer relative; but this man, unwilling to take responsibility for Ruth, relinquished his rights in Elimelech’s property. Boaz married Ruth, and their son Obed was grandfather to David.
The is one of the five scrolls in the Heb. Scriptures and in Jewish commentaries; the LXX, followed by Vulg. and Eng. VSS., placed it in its historical context after the . There is no certain indication when it was written. Internal evidence (e.g. 4:7) suggests a date long after the events took place. The style is classical, of no special period; spellings characteristic of early poetry are more readily explained as survivals from oral tradition than as deliberate archaisms. Aramaic touches, which may be present, are no guide to date (G. R. Driver, Supplement Vet Test 1 , 26-39). The book shows a strong literary unity; Bertman finds a pattern integrating the genealogy, which many have taken as an appendix.
The legal positions and actions of the parties differ markedly from any covered by Pentateuchal legislation. As none of Naomi’s kinsmen had been living with the deceased, the Deuteronomic law of levirate marriage did not apply (
M. Burrows, BASOR 77 (1940), 2-15; JBL 59 (1940), 23-33; J. Slotki, The Five Megilloth (1946); H. H. Rowley, HTR 40 (1947), 77-99; T. Vriezen, Oudtestament Studien 5 (1948), 80-88; E. Robertson, BJRL 32 (1950), 207-228; N. H. Snaith, OT and Modern Study (1952), 201-207; J. Myers, Linguistic and Literary Form of Ruth (1955); S. Glanzman, CBQ 21 (1959), 201-207; W. Rudolph, Das Buch Ruth (1962); S. Bertman, JBL 84 (1965), 165-168; J.-L. Vesco, RB 74 (1967), 235-247; L. Morris, Tyndale OT comms.; Judges, Ruth (1968).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The name Ru is found in the
The history lies in the period of the Judges (
At Bethlehem Ru employed herself in gleaning in the field during the harvest and was noticed by Boaz, the owner of the field, a near kinsman of her father-in-law Elimelech. Boaz gave her permission to glean as long as the harvest continued; and told her that he had heard of her filial conduct toward her mother-in-law. Moreover, he directed the reapers to make intentional provision for her by dropping in her way grain from their bundles (
Boaz then adopted the customary and legal measures to obtain a decision. He summoned the near kinsman before ten elders at the gate of the city, related to him the circumstances of Naomi’s return, with her desire that Ru should be married and settled with her father-in-law’s land as her marriage-portion, and called upon him to declare his intentions. The near kinsman, whose name and degree of relationship are not stated, declared his inability to undertake the charge, which he renounced in legal form in favor of Boaz according to ancient custom in Israel (
2. Interest and Importance of the Narrative:
Thus, the life and history of Ru are important in the eyes of the narrator because she forms a link in the ancestry of the greatest king of Israel. From a more modern point of view the narrative is a simple idyllic history, showing how the faithful loving service of Ru to her mother-in-law met with its due reward in the restored happiness of a peaceful and prosperous home-life for herself. Incidentally are illustrated also ancient marriage customs of Israel, which in the time of the writer had long since become obsolete. The narrative is brief and told without affectation of style, and on that account will never lose its interest. It has preserved moreover the memory of an incident, the national significance of which may have passed away, but to which value will always be attached for its simplicity and natural grace.
For the literature, see RUTH, THE BOOK OF.