The Book of Ruth in the time of the Judges and Ruth, the Moabitess

23 Aug 2016

This article addresses two issues in the Book of Ruth that have not yet received much scholarly attention: why is the narrative plotted in the time of the judges, whilst the time of narration dates to the postexilic period, and why is one of the protagonists Ruth, the Moabitess, whilst the law in Deuteronomy 23:3–4 (HB 4–5) clearly forbids the presence of Moabitess and Ammonites in the community of YHWH? A suggestion is made that a possible explanation to both these questions may be found in tensions regarding Israel’s identity in the Second Temple period. Two different yet not completely opposite viewpoints are illuminated: that of the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah who envisioned an exclusive Israel that is construed along genealogical and religious lines, and that of the Book of Ruth where solidarity with the people of Israel and the worship of YHWH are embraced by foreigners. Both sides are concerned about the identity of Israel and loyalty to YHWH, yet they employ a different jargon in order to argue for the inclusion or exclusion of foreigners. Furthermore, Ezra and Nehemiah consider mixed marriages as a serious threat to Israel’s identity, and they justify the expulsion of foreign wives on the basis of the Book of Moses. According to the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses interpreted the Torah for the children of Israel at Mount Nebo in Moab: Moab thus functioned as an interpretive space for the Torah. The Book of Ruth proposes an alternative interpretation of the Torah, also from the plains of Moab and the exegesis comes in the person of Ruth, the Moabitess. INTRADISCIPLINARY AND/OR INTERDISCIPLINARY IMPLICATIONS : This article challenges the point of view that the Book of Ruth is a charming narrative of loyalty and love. Research reveals that this Book is a polemic document and its main contribution is to the intradisciplinary field of biblical hermeneutics that requests a re-interpretation of texts for changing circumstances.