The meaning of Ruth, The Book Of in the Bible
(From International Standard Bible Encyclopedia)
1. Order in the Canon:
The place which the Book of Ruth occupies in the order of the books of the English Bible is not that of the Hebrew Canon. There it is one of the five meghilloth or Rolls, which were ordered to be read in the synagogue on 5 special occasions or festivals during the year.
In printed editions of the Old Testament the megilloth are usually arranged in the order: Cant, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiates, Esther. Ruth occupied the second position because the book was appointed to be read at the Feast of Weeks which was the second of the 5 special days. In Hebrew manuscripts, however, the order varies considerably. In Spanish manuscripts generally, and in one at least of the German school cited by Dr. Ginsburg (Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, London, 1897, 4), Ruth precedes Cant; and in the former Ecclesiastes is placed before Lamentations. The meghilloth constitute the second portion of the kethubhim or Haigographa, the third great division of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Talmud, however, dissociates Ruth altogether from the remaining meghilloth, and places it first among the Hagiographa, before the Book of Psalms. By the Greek translators the book was removed from the position which it held in the Hebrew Canon, and because it described events contemporaneous with the Judges, was attached as a kind of appendix to the latter work. This sequence was adopted in the Vulgate, and so has passed into all modern Bibles.
2. Authorship and Purpose:
The book is written without name of author, and there is no direct indication of its date. Its aim is to record an event of interest and importance in the family history of David, and incidentally to illustrate ancient custom and marriage law. There is no ground for supposing, as has been suggested, that the writer had a polemical purpose in view, and desired to show that the strict and stern action taken by Ezra and Nehemiah after the return in forbidding mixed marriages was not justifled by precedent. The narrative is simple and direct, and the preservation of the tradition which it records of the descent of Israel's royal house from a Moabite ancestress was probably due in the first instance to oral communication for some considerable time before it was committed to writing. The Book of 1Sa. also indicates a close relation between David and Moab, when during the period of his outlawry the future king confided his father and mother to the care of the king of Moab (I Samuel 22:3 f.), and so far supports the truth of the tradition which is embodied in the Book of Ruth.
3. Date of Composition:
With regard to the date at which the narrative was committed to writing, it is evident from the position of the Book of Ruth in the Hebrew Canon that the date of its composition is subsequent to the close of the great period of the "earlier prophets." Otherwise it would have found a natural place, as was assigned to it in the Greek Bible, together with the Book of Judges and other historical writings, in the second division of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the opening words of the book also, "It came to pass in the days when the judges judged" (Ruth 1:1), the writer appears to look back to the period of the Judges as to a comparatively distant epoch. The character of the diction is pure and chaste; but has been supposed in certain details, as in the presence of so-called Aramaisms, to betray a late origin. The reference to the observance of marriage customs and their sanctions "in former time in Israel" (Ruth 4:7) does not necessarily imply that the composition of Ruth was later than that of Deuteronomy, in which the laws arid rights of the succession are enjoined, or that the writer of the former work was acquainted with the latter in its existing form. Slight differences of detail in the procedure would seem to suggest the contrary. On the other hand, the motive of the book in the exhibition of the ancestry of David's house would have lost its significance and raison d'etre with the death or disappearance of the last ruler of David's line in the early period of the return from Babylon (compare Zechariah 4:9). The most probable date therefore for the composition of the book would be in the later days of the exile, or immediately after the return. There is no clue to the authorship. The last four verses, giving the genealogy from Perez to David (compare I Chronicles 2:4-15; Matthew 1:3-6; Luke 3:31-33), are generally recognized as a later addition.
4. Ethical Teaching:
The ethical value of the Book of Ruth is considerable, as setting forth an example of stedfast filial piety. The action of Ruth in refusing to desert her mother-in-law and persevering in accompanying her to her own land meets with its due reward in the prosperity and happiness which become hers, and in the honor which she receives as ancestress of the royal house of David. The writer desires to show in the person and example of Ruth that a sincere and generous regard for the claims of duty and affection leads to prosperity and honor; and at the same time that the principles and recompense of righteous dealing are not dependent upon race, but are as valid for a Moabitess as for a Jew. There is no distinctive doctrine taught in the book. It is primarily historical, recording a decisive incident in the origin of David's house; and in the second place ethical, indicating and enforcing in a well-known example the advantage and importance of right dealing and the observance of the dictates of filial duty. For detailed contents see preceding article.
English commentaries upon the Book of Ruth are naturally not numerous. Compare G. W. Thatcher, "Judges and Ruth," in (New) Century Bible; R.A. Watson, in Expositor's Bible; the most recent critical commentary. is by L. B. Wolfenson in AJSL, XXVII (July, 1911), 285 ff., who defends the early date of the book. See also the relevant articles in Jew Encyclopedia, HDB, EB, and Driver, LOT, 6, 454 ff.
A. S. Geden
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