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 Book of Ruth 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 Book of Judges. 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 [1951], 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 (Deut 25:5ff.), neither did Naomi ignore it (1:11, 13). There is no evidence that the story represents earlier law, but the best parallel is in Genesis 38. Ruth’s appeal is ultimately based on custom, not strict obligation. The use of the shoe in contract has no resemblance to its use in Deuteronomy 25.


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 Old Testament only in the book which is so entitled. It is a contraction for re’uth perhaps signifying "comrade," "companion" (feminine; compare Ex 11:2, "every woman of her neighbor"). OHL, 946, explains the word as an abstract noun = "friendship." The Book of Ru details the history of the one decisive episode owing to which Ru became an ancestress of David and of the royal house of Judah. From this point of view its peculiar interest lies in the close friendship or alliance between Israel and Moab, which rendered such a connection possible. Not improbably also there is an allusion to this in the name itself.

1. History:

The history lies in the period of the Judges (Ru 1:1), at the close of a great famine in the land of Israel. Elimelech, a native of Bethlehem, had, with his wife Naomi and two sons, taken refuge in Moab from the famine. There, after an interval of time which is not more precisely defined, he died (Ru 1:3), and his two sons, having married women of Moab, in the course of a further ten years also died, and left Orpah and Ru widows (Ru 1:5). Naomi then decided to return to Palestine, and her two daughters-in-law accompanied her on her way (Ru 1:7). Orpah, however, turned back and only Ru remained with Naomi, journeying with her to Bethlehem, where they arrived "in the beginning of barley harvest" (Ru 1:22). The piety and fidelity of Ru are thus early exhibited in the course of the narrative, in that she refused to abandon her mother-in-law, although thrice exhorted to do so by Naomi herself, on account of her own great age and the better prospects for Ru in her own country. Orpah yielded to persuasion, and returned to Moab; but Ru remained with Naomi.

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 (Ru 2:15 f). She was thus able to return to Naomi in the evening with a whole ephah of barley (Ru 2:17). In answer to questioning she explained that her success in gleaning was due to the good-will of Boaz, and the orders that he had given. She remained accordingly and gleaned with his maidens throughout the barley and wheat harvest, making her home with her mother-in-law (Ru 2:23). Naomi was anxious for the remarriage of Ruth, both for her sake and to secure compliance with the usage and law of Israel; and sent her to Boaz to recall to him his duty as near kinsman of her late husband Elimelech (Ru 3:1 f). Boaz acknowledged the claim and promised to take Ru in marriage, failing fulfillment of the legal duty of another whose relationship was nearer than that of Boaz himself (Ru 3:8-13). Naomi was confident that Boaz would fulfill his promise, and advised Ru to wait in patience.

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 (Ru 4:6 ). Boaz accepted the charge thus transferred to him, the elders and bystanders bearing witness and pronouncing a formal blessing upon the union of Boaz and Ru (4:9-12). Upon the birth of a son in due course the women of the city congratulated Naomi, in that the continuance of her family and house was now assured, and the latter became the child’s nurse. The name of Obed was given to the boy; and Obed through his son Jesse became the grandfather of David (compare Mt 1:5,6; Lu 3:31,32).

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.