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RUTH (Heb. Rūth, friend), Book of. One of the canonical books of the Old Testament, belonging to the third division of the Hebrew Canon (the Hagiographa). It relates events of the time of the Judges, and in the English Bible, as in the Septuagint and Vulgate, follows the Book of Judges. The Book of Ruth tells how Elimelech, with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, left their home in Judah because of a famine and settled in the land of Moab. There the sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Elimelech and his sons died and Naomi decided to return to her native land. She advised her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab and remarry. Orpah complied, but Ruth declared that nothing but death should separate her from Naomi. The two women came to Bethlehem and there Ruth gained favor with Boaz, a kinsman of Elimelech and one of the leading men of Bethlehem. She claimed his protection as a kinsman, at the instigation of Naomi. Boaz was willing to accept the responsibility, but in accordance with custom, a ‘nearer’ kinsman must be consulted. Summoning the elders of the city as witnesses, Boaz called upon this kinsman to redeem Elimelech's patrimony, which poverty compelled Naomi to sell, involving the duty to marry Ruth in order to “raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.” The kinsman resigned his rights in favor of Boaz, and accordingly the latter married Ruth, and their first-born son, Obed, became the grandfather of David.

Opinions as to the date and purpose of the Book of Ruth differ. It has been called a religious romance, a purely fictitious narrative told in order to point to a moral, and included in the canon mainly because of the reference at the end to the genealogy of David. The aim of the writer is thought to have been to protest against the tendency, represented in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, to condemn marriages between Hebrews and surrounding nations. If David, the ideal Jewish King, were descended from a Moabite woman, mixed marriages could hardly be the unqualified evil which the ‘legalists’ of Ezra's day represented them to be. The declaration of Ruth that Naomi's God shall be her God, and Naomi's people her people (i. 16), is understood by some as a bold protest against the exclusive conception of Yahweh as the God particularly of a single people, and is thought to reflect the theory of universal monotheism of the post-exilic prophets; while others find in it a reflection of that willingness to accept proselytes from other nations which characterizes the fully developed monotheistic faith. On either view the book is certainly post-exilic and may be considerably later than the time of Ezra.

According to another view, the book was written earlier than B.C. 500, and the purpose of the writer may have been to supply information concerning the ancestry of David, omitted in the books of Samuel, or to urge the duty of the next of kin to marry a childless widow. Consult the commentaries of Wright (London, 1864), Keil (with Judges, 2d ed., Leipzig, 1874), Berteau (with Judges, 2d ed., ib., 1883), Oettli (Die geschichtlichen Hagiographen, Munich, 1889), Wildeboer (Freiburg, 1898), and Nowack (Göttingen, 1900); also the Old Testament introductions of Reuss, Driver, König, Bleek-Wellhausen, and Cornill, and the works on the canon by Wildeboer (Groningen, 1889; Eng. trans., London, 1895), Buhl (Leipzig, 1891; Eng. trans., Edinburgh, 1892), and Ryle (London, 1892).