AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOKS OF THE OLD TESTAMENT. by W. O. E. Oesterley, D.D., Litt.D.,& T. H. Robinson, D.D., Litt.D. Hon. D.D. (Aberdeen), Hon. D.Th. (Halle Wittenberg). © W O E Oesterley & T H Robinson 1934. First published SPCK. 1934. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.


HOME | Place in the Canon and Contents | Structure and Date | Historical Background | The Hebrew Text


In the Hebrew Canon the book of Ruth occupies the second place among the " Five Rolls," a group of short books which follows the longer poetical books, Psalms, Proverbs, job, and thus belongs to the third section of the Bible. It tells a story of the days of the judges, which has a bearing on the ancestry of David. A certain man of Bethlehem was compelled by famine to take refuge in Moab, together with his wife and two sons. The sons married Moabite women, and both they and their father died, leaving the three widows. Hearing a good account of conditions in Bethlehem, the mother-in-law, Naomi, decided to return there, and one of the daughters-in-law, Ruth, insisted on going with her (ch.i). The two women reached Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest, and Ruth went to glean in the fields of a certain Boaz, a kinsman of the family into which Ruth had married, and was kindly treated (ch.ii). At the end of the harvest, on the advice of Naomi, Ruth sought out Boaz by night in his threshing-floor, and he agreed to see the family fortunes restored, acting in the capacity of " Go'el," or representative of the dead (ch.iii). This he did, purchased Naomi's land, and married Ruth, thus fulfilling the family duty, both in the matter of land and of posterity. Ruth bore Boaz a son, who was the grandfather of David.


The story is very simply and beautifully told, and there is no doubt but that it was written as a complete work in practically the form in which we now have it. Possibly the genealogical note at the end is a later addition, intended to bring home the fact that a Moabitess was reckoned in David's ancestry.

The tale is obviously told as one of the distant past. The old custom of taking off the shoe to confirm a bargain (iv.7) was still in use when Deuteronomy was written, and it is worth observing that the meaning of the act is no longer fully understood. (Cp. Deut.xxv.9, 10.)

In D it was a symbol of reproach; in Ruth it has become merely the ratification of a bargain. The refusal of the second kinsman to marry Ruth lest he should "mar his own inheritance", i.e. fail to continue his family line, is intelligible only in an age when monogamy was the rule, for otherwise he might have had another wife through whom he could have maintained his family. Incidentally it may be observed that the genealogies trace the descendants of Ruth, not as the posterity of her former husband, but as the children of Boaz. Finally, we may note that in the language of the book there are several indications of a comparatively late date-Aramaisms, one or two late forms, and some fairly obvious archaisms. There can be little doubt that the book was composed after the Exile.


The book itself gives us our only clues as to the conditions in which it was written. It stresses, apparently, the Moabite element in the ancestry of David. His Moabite connexions are suggested in i Sam. X.3f., where David, taking refuge himself in the cave of Adullam, commits his parents to the care of the king of Moab. Here the desire is, as it seems, to make the claims of Moab on Israel yet stronger. This suggests an age in which the Moabite was regarded with some hostility, and a broad-minded Israelite sought to mitigate this feeling by reminding his countrymen that the greatest of all Israelites since the days of Moses had Moabite blood in his veins. This would indicate a period in the latter half of the fifth century, when, under the influence of Nehemiah, an attempt was being made to eliminate Moabite connexions altogether from Israel.


The text is well preserved, and there are very few passages where there is any real doubt, as to the reading. The versions do not differ greatly from the MT.