Book Summaries

An epic idyll narrating events that occurred during the period of the judges. In the Hebrew canon Ruth appears in the Megilloth, or Five Scrolls, along with Song, Ec, Lam, and Est. The Megilloth belonged to the 3rd division of the canon, the Hagiographa, or Holy Writings. The opening words of the book--"in the days when the judges ruled" (Ruth 1:1)--imply that it was written sometime after the close of that period of Hebrew history. Critical scholars, both Jewish and Christian, have assigned it to postexilic times, chiefly in view of the fact that it appears in the 3rd division of the Hebrew canon--thus implying late composition, it is claimed--and that it contains a number of postexilic Aramaic expressions. These arguments, however, are far from conclusive. It should be remembered that the Hebrew canon in its present form is itself of comparatively late origin, and that therefore the position assigned Ruth in the canon as we now have it is not a conclusive indication of the time of its composition. The presence of certain of the Aramaic words at issue in uncontested, pre-exilic documents proves invalid the contention that these words prove a postexilic date for the book of Ruth. The twin expressions, "in the days when the judges ruled" (ch 1:1) and "in former time" (ch 4:7), cannot be pressed as indicating postexilic origin, since they do no more than denote some point of origin after the close of the period of the judges without specifying how long after. In view of the fact that the genealogy that concludes the book (vs. 18 ­22) closes with David, it would be reasonable to assume that the book was written about the time his reign began. If certain Aramaic expressions actually prove to belong exclusively to a later time, this may indicate only that the book did not attain final literary form until later. The chronological statements of chs 1:1 and 4:7 may also have been added later to assist later readers in understanding some of the obsolete customs mentioned in the book. The picture of customs, society, and government reflected in the book of Ruth corresponds accurately with what is known from other sources about the period of the time of the judges.

Though rooted in history, the narrative of Ruth is essentially idyllic in quality. Its primary appeal is emotional and inspirational. This is the basis for its inclusion in the sacred canon. As a story of human affection at its best, the story of Ruth is unsurpassed in literature. Her devotion to her mother-in-law was even more impressive in view of the fact that she was a Moabitess, and that her decision to remain with Naomi and to return to Bethlehem meant forsaking her own home, her own people, her own customs, and her former religion for ones that were new and, doubtless in large measure, strange to her. See Ruth. In recording the conversion of a Gentile to the Hebrew faith and showing how one not of the stock of Israel became an ancestress of David, Israel's greatest king, the book may also be considered an appeal to the missionary vision of Israel as an encouragement to foster other such conversions. As a narrative of how Naomi and Ruth overcame tragedy in their home, the story also affords encouragement to those who in this modern age pass through similar experiences.

The narrative opens with an explanation of circumstances that brought Naomi and her family to the land of Moab, a brief account of her experiences there, of Ruth's choice to return with her to Bethlehem (Ruth 1). Back in Bethlehem, the narrator explains how Ruth became acquainted with Boaz (ch 2), thus setting the stage for the marriage proposal (ch 3) and the marriage itself (ch 4:1 ­17). The closing verses of the book (vs. 18 ­22) show Ruth's relationship to the royal ancestors of David.

Horn, Siegfried H., Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association) 1979.