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The Book of Ruth (Hebrew: מגילת רות, Ashkenazi pronunciation: [məˈɡɪləs rus], Megilath Ruth, "the Scroll of Ruth", one of the Five Megillot) is a book of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible it is included in the third division, or the Writings (Ketuvim); in the Christian canon it is treated as a history book and placed between Judges and 1 Samuel. It is named after its central figure, Ruth a resident of the land of Moab, the great-grandmother of David, and, according to the Gospel of Matthew, an ancestress of Jesus.
The book tells of Ruth's accepting the God of the Israelites as her God and the Israelite people as her own. In Ruth 1:16 and 17 Ruth tells Naomi, her Israelite mother in law, "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me." The book is held in esteem by Jews who fall under the category of Jews-by-choice, as is evidenced by the considerable presence of Boaz in rabbinic literature. As well, the "Book of Ruth" functions liturgically, being read during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot ("Weeks").
The book is traditionally ascribed to the prophet Samuel, but does not name its author. A date during the monarchy is suggested by the book's interest in the ancestry of David, but Ruth's identity as a non-Israelite and the stress on the need for an inclusive attitude towards foreigners suggests an origin in the fifth century BCE, when intermarriage had become controversial (as seen in Ezra 9:1 and Nehemiah 13:1).
The book is structured in four chapters:
Act 1: Prologue and Problem: Death and Emptiness (1:1–22)
Act 2: Ruth Meets Boaz, Naomi's Relative, on the Harvest Field (2:1–23)
Act 3: Naomi Sends Ruth to Boaz on the Threshing Floor (3:1–18)
Act 4: Resolution and Epilogue: Life and Fullness (4:1–22)
Genealogical appendix (4:18–22)
The book is traditionally ascribed to the prophet Samuel, but this "cannot be correct", and a substantial number of scholars date it to the Persian period (6th–4th centuries BC). The final genealogy linking Ruth to David is believed to be a post-exilic Priestly addition, as it adds nothing to the plot; nevertheless, it is carefully crafted and integrates the book into the history of Israel that runs from Genesis to Kings.
The book can be read as a political parable relating to issues around the time of Ezra and Nehemiah (the 4th century BCE). The fictional nature of the story is established from the start through the names of the participants: the husband and father is Elimelech, meaning "My God is King", and his wife is Naomi, "Pleasing", but after the deaths of her sons Mahlon, "Sickness", and Chilion, "Wasting", she asks to be called Mara, "Bitter". The reference to Moab raises questions, since in the rest of the biblical literature it is associated with hostility to Israel, sexual perversity, and idolatry, and Deuteronomy 23:3–6 excluded an Ammonite or a Moabite from "the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation". Despite this, Ruth the Moabitess married a Judahite and even after his death still regarded herself a member of his family; she then married another Judahite and bare him a son who became an ancestor of David. Contrary to the message of Ezra-Nehemiah, where marriages between Jewish men and non-Jewish women were broken up, Ruth teaches that foreigners who convert to Judaism can become good Jews, foreign wives can become exemplary followers of Jewish law, and there is no reason to exclude them or their offspring from the community.
Hesed, "loving kindness", and implying loyalty, is woven throughout Ruth, beginning at 1:8 with Naomi blessing her two daughters-in-law as she urges them to return to their Moabite families. She says, "May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me." Both Ruth and Boaz demonstrate hesed to their family members throughout the story. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of measure for measure. Rather, they are acts of hesed that go beyond measure and demonstrate that a person can go beyond the minimum expectations of the law and choose the unexpected. However, the importance of the law is evident within the Book of Ruth, and the story reflects a need to stay within legal boundaries. Boaz, in going beyond measure in acquiring the property (demonstrating hesed), redeems not only the land but both Naomi and Ruth as well. The two widows now have a secure and protected future.
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Book of Ruth
Song of Songs
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