The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Ruth, Book of
RUTH, Book of. The Book of Ruth is one of “the five Megilloth” (Rolls) which constitute a portion of the third division in the Hebrew Canon, “the Writings.” The book is a story of the time of the Judges, with the Moabitess Ruth as the heroine, narrated with simplicity and charm. It was evidently written much later than the time of which it treats. That time belongs to the past, i, 1, as also that of King David, iv, 17. The custom described in iv, 7 is so fully obsolete as to need explanation. The language is for the most part good Hebrew, but words found here and there indicate lateness; this is not confined to iv, 18-22, probably a later addition. Its place in “the Writings” rather than in “the Prophets” also indicates late composition. These considerations make it probable that the time of writing was after the exile. The purpose of the book, as will be noted, doubtless limits the time more definitely.
Two features are specially prominent in the treatment of the book: the descent of David from a Moabitess, and the inculcation of the duty of the nearest of kin to marry the widow of a man who died without a male child. The purpose doubtless included both elements. The second has no specific indication of time. The custom here described is broader than that of Deuteronomy xxv, 5-10, where the duty is limited to a brother of the deceased. The first feature, however, affords a more definite suggestion of time. Deuteronomy xxiii, 3 forbids unto the tenth generation the entrance of the descendant of a Moabitess into the assembly of Yahweh. The activities of Ezra and Nehemiah were directed especially against marriage with foreign wives, Ezra ix-x, Nehemiah xiii, 23-29. It must be remembered that the book makes frequent mention of the fact that Ruth is a Moabitess, and in ii, 10 she calls herself a foreigner. The attitude of the book is thus in direct opposition to the regulations which found their fullest expression in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the middle of the 5th century. The most probable time for the book, therefore, is not long after the period of Ezra and Nehemiah, the book, at least partly, being designed as a protest against the attitude which they represented. This book is, therefore, one of the evidences that along with the narrowness of the dominant postexilic view there persisted a broader conception of Judaism, which, in some of its other phases, appears also in the books of Jonah and Proverbs, and elsewhere.
The treatment of the author has an idealizing element. His presentation of the peaceful village life of the time of the Judges is in marked contrast with the turbulence of the period as reflected in the Book of Judges. The probability of a historical basis for the story, however, is indicated by the connection of David with Moab suggested in 1 Samuel xxii, 3-4. The tradition on which the book is based was doubtless preserved in the family of David.
Of suggested later additions the only one that seems probable is iv, 18-22. The decisive reason here is not the abundance of marks of lateness in the language of these verses, but rather the fact that here Obed is treated as the son of Boaz; in the book itself (iv, 5, 10), he is regarded as legally the son of Mahlon, according to the ancient custom. The addition of these verses was evidently prompted by a genealogical interest.
Bibliography.—Creelman, H., ‘An Introduction to the Old Testament’ (pp. 249-251, New York 1917); Driver, S. R., ‘An Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament’ (pp. 453-456, revised ed., New York 1916); Gray, G. B., ‘A Critical Introduction to the Old Testament’ (pp. 108-110, New York 1913); McFadyen, J. E., ‘An Introduction to the Old Testament’ (pp. 290-293, New York 1906); Nowack, W., ‘Richter-Ruth’ (‘Handkommentar zum alten Testament,’ Göttingen 1900); Thatcher, G. W., ‘Judges and Ruth’ (‘Century Bible,’ Edinburgh n. d.); Watson, R. A., ‘Judges and Ruth’ (‘Expositor's Bible,’ New York 1890).