Book of Ruth

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The Book of Ruth is the eighth book of the Old Testament of the Bible. A short story, it tells how Ruth, the Moabite widow of a Bethlehemite, with her mother - in - law Naomi's assistance, married an older kinsman Boaz, thereby preserving her deceased husband's posterity and becoming an ancestor of King David. The plot is artfully constructed and exhibits a pronounced belief in the comprehensive but hidden providence of God that works quietly in ordinary events. The legal customs concerning levirate marriage, redemption of property, and gleaning in the fields are relatively ancient, and the vocabulary and style are consistent with a date between 950 and 750 BC. The Davidic genealogy is a secondary appendix, written between 500 and 350 BC, which served to increase the importance of the book for postexilic Jews.

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Y I Broch, The Book of Ruth (1975); E F Campbell, Ruth (1975); R M Hals, The Theology of the Book of Ruth (1969).


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Ruth, a friend, a Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, whose father, Elimelech, had settled in the land of Moab. On the death of Elimelech and Mahlon, Naomi came with Ruth, her daughter-in-law, who refused to leave her, to Bethlehem, the old home from which Elimelech had migrated. There she had a rich relative, Boaz, to whom Ruth was eventually married. She became the mother of Obed, the grandfather of David. Thus Ruth, a Gentile, is among the maternal progenitors of our Lord (Matt. 1:5). The story of "the gleaner Ruth illustrates the friendly relations between the good Boaz and his reapers, the Jewish land system, the method of transferring property from one person to another, the working of the Mosaic law for the relief of distressed and ruined families; but, above all, handing down the unselfishness, the brave love, the unshaken trustfulness of her who, though not of the chosen race, was, like the Canaanitess Tamar (Gen. 38: 29; Matt. 1:3) and the Canaanitess Rahab (Matt. 1:5), privileged to become the ancestress of David, and so of 'great David's greater Son'" (Ruth 4:18-22).

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The Book of Ruth

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The Book of Ruth was originally a part of the Book of Judges, but it now forms one of the twenty-four separate books of the Hebrew Bible. The history it contains refers to a period perhaps about one hundred and twenty-six years before the birth of David. It gives (1) an account of Naomi's going to Moab with her husband, Elimelech, and of her subsequent return to Bethlehem with her daughter-in-law; (2) the marriage of Boaz and Ruth; and (3) the birth of Obed, of whom David sprang. The author of this book was probably Samuel, according to Jewish tradition. "Brief as this book is, and simple as is its story, it is remarkably rich in examples of faith, patience, industry, and kindness, nor less so in indications of the care which God takes of those who put their trust in him."

(Easton Illustrated Dictionary)

Book of Ruth

Catholic Information

One of the proto-canonical writings of the Old Testament, which derives its name from the heroine of its exquisitely beautiful story.


The incidents related in the first part of the Book of Ruth (i-iv, 17) are briefly as follows. In the time of the judges, a famine arose in the land of Israel, in consequence of which Elimelech with Noemi and their two sons emigrated from Bethlehem of Juda to the land of Moab. After Elimelech's death Mahalon and Chelion, his two sons, married Moabite wives, and not long after died without children. Noemi, deprived now of her husband and children, left Moab for Bethlehem. On her journey thither she dissuaded her daughters-in-law from going with her. One of them, however, named Ruth, accompanied Noemi to Bethlehem. The barley harvest had just begun and Ruth, to relieve Noemi's and her own poverty, went to glean in the field of Booz, a rich man of the place. She met with the greatest kindness, and following Noemi's advice, she made known to Booz, as the near kinsman of Elimelech, her claim to marriage. After a nearer kinsman had solemnly renounced his prior right, Booz married Ruth who bore him Obed, the grandfather of David. The second part of the book (iv, 18-22) consists in a brief genealogy which connects the line of David through Booz with Phares, one of the sons of Juda.


In the series of the sacred writings of the Old Testament, the short Book of Ruth occupies two different principal places. The Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the English Versions give it immediately after the Book of Judges. The Hebrew Bible, on the contrary, reckons it among the Hagiographa or third chief part of the Old Testament. Of these two places, the latter is most likely the original one. It is attested to by all the data of Jewish tradition, namely, the oldest enumeration of the Hagiographa in the Talmudic treatise "Baba Bathra", all the Hebrew manuscripts whether Spanish or German, the printed editions of the Hebrew Bible, and the testimony of St. Jerome in his Preface to the Book of Daniel, according to which eleven books are included by the Hebrews in the Hagiographa. The presence of the Book of Ruth after that of Judges in the Septuagint, whence it passed into the Vulgate and the English Versions, is easily explained by the systematic arrangement of the historical books of the Old Testament in that ancient Greek Version. As the episode of Ruth is connected with the period of the judges by its opening words "in the days. . .when the judges ruled", its narrative was made to follow the Book of Judges as a sort of complement to it. The same place assigned to it in the lists of St. Melito, Origen, St. Jerome (Prol. Galeatus), is traceable to the arrangement of the inspired writings of the Old Testament in the Septuagint, inasmuch as these lists bespeak in various ways the influence of the nomenclature and grouping of the sacred books in that Version, and consequently should not be regarded as conforming strictly to the arrangement of those books in the Hebrew Canon. It has indeed been asserted that the Book of Ruth is really a third appendix to the Book of Judges and was, therefore, originally placed in immediate connection with the two narratives which are even now appended to this latter book (Judges 17-18; 19-21); but this view is not probable owing to the differences between these two works with respect to style, tone, subject, etc.


As the precise object of the Book of Ruth is not expressly given either in the book itself or in authentic tradition, scholars are greatly at variance concerning it. According to many, who lay special stress on the genealogy of David in the second part of the book, the chief aim of the author is to throw light upon the origin of David, the great King of Israel and royal ancestor of the Messias. Had this, however, been the main purpose of the writer, it seems that he should have given it greater prominence in his work. Besides, the genealogy at the close of the book is but loosely connected with the preceding contents, so it is not improbably an appendix added to that book by a later hand. According to others, the principal aim of the author was to narrate how, in opposition to Deut., xxiii, 3, which forbids the reception of Moabites into Yahweh's assembly, the Moabitess Ruth was incorporated with Yahweh's people, and eventually became the ancestress of the founder of the Hebrew monarchy. But this second opinion is hardly more probable than the foregoing. Had the Book of Ruth been written in such full and distinct view of the Deuteronomic prohibition as is affirmed by the second opinion, it is most likely that its author would have placed a direct reference to that legislative enactment on Noemi's lips when she endeavoured to dissuade her daughters-in-law from accompanying her to Juda, or particularly when she received from Ruth the protestation that henceforth Noemi's God would be her God. Several recent scholars have regarded this short book as a kind of protest against Nehemias's and Esdras's efforts to suppress intermarriage with women of foreign birth. But this is plainly an inference not from the contents of the book, but from an assumed late date for its composition, an inference therefore no less uncertain than that date itself. Others finally, and indeed with greater probability, have maintained that the author's chief purpose was to tell an edifying story as an example to his own age and an interesting sketch of the past, effecting this by recording the exemplary conduct of his various personages who act as simple, kindly, God-fearing people ought to act in Israel.


The charming Book of Ruth is no mere "idyll" or "poetical fiction". It is plain that the Jews of old regarded its contents as historical, since they included its narrative in the Septuagint within the prophetic histories (Josue- Kings). The fact that Josephus in framing his account of the Jewish Antiquities utilizes the data of the Book of Ruth in exactly the same manner as he does those of the historical books of the Old Testament shows that this inspired writing was then considered as no mere fiction. Again, the mention by St. Matthew of several personages of the episode of Ruth (Booz, Ruth, Obed), among the actual ancestors of Christ (Matthew 1:5), points in the same direction. Intrinsic data agree with these testimonies of ancient tradition. The book records the intermarriage of an Israelite with a Moabitess, which shows that its narrative does not belong to the region of the poetical. The historical character of the work is also confirmed by the friendly intercourse between David and the King of Moab which is described in 1 Samuel 22:3-4; by the writer's distinct reference to a Jewish custom as obsolete (Ruth 4:7), etc.

In view of this concordant, extrinsic and intrinsic, evidence, little importance is attached by scholars generally to the grounds which certain critics have put forth to disprove the historical character of the Book of Ruth. It is rightly felt, for instance, that the symbolical meaning of the names of several persons in the narrative (Noemi, Mahalon, Chelion) is not a conclusive argument that they have been fictitiously accommodated to the characters in the episode, and more than the similar symbolical meaning of the proper names of well known and full historical personages mentioned in Israel's annals (Saul, David, Samuel, etc.). It is rightly felt likewise that the striking appropriateness of the words put on the lips of certain personages to the general purpose of edification apparent in the Book of Ruth does not necessarily disprove the historical character of the work, since this is also noticeable in other books of Holy Writ which are undoubtedly historical. Finally, it is readily seen that however great the contrast may appear between the general tone of simplicity, repose, purity, etc., of the characters delineated in the episode of Ruth, and the opposite features of the figures which are drawn in the Book of Judges, both writings describe actual events in one and the same period of Jewish history; for all we know, the beautiful scenes of domestic life connected in the Book of Ruth with the period of the judges may have truly occurred during the long intervals of peace which are repeatedly mentioned in the Book of Judges.


The Book of Ruth is anonymous, for the name which it bears as its title has never been regarded otherwise than that of the chief actor in the events recorded. In an ancient Beraitha to the Talmudic treatise "Baba Bathra" (Babylonian Talmud, c. i), it is definitely stated that "Samuel wrote his book, Judges, and Ruth"; but this ascription of Ruth to Samuel is groundless and hence almost universally rejected at the present day. The name of the author of the book of Ruth is unknown, and so is also the precise date of its composition. The work, however, was most likely written before the Babylonian exile. On the one hand, there is nothing in its contents that would compel one to bring down its origin to a later date; and, on the other hand, the comparative purity of its style stamps it as a pre-exilic composition. The numerous critics who hold a different view overrate the importance of its isolated Aramaisms which are best accounted for by the use of a spoken patois plainly independent of the actual developments of literary Hebrew. They also make too much of the place occupied by the Book of Ruth among the Hagiographa, for, as can be easily realized, the admission of a writing into this third division of the Hebrew Canon is not necessarily contemporary with its origin. But, while the internal data supplied by the Book of Ruth thus point to its pre-exilic origin, they remain indecisive with regard to the precise date to which its composition should be referred, as clearly appears from the conflicting inferences which have been drawn from them by recent Catholic scholars.

Publication information Written by Francis E. Gigot. Transcribed by Thomas M. Barrett. Dedicated to Ruth Peterson The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


Commentaries.--Catholic: CLAIR (Paris, 1878); VON HUMMELAUER (Paris, 1888); FILLION (Paris, 1889); VIGOUROUX (Paris, 1901); CRAMPONI. Protestant: WRIGHT (London, 1864); KEIL (Leipzig, 1874): BERTHEAU (Leipzig, 1883); OETTLE (Nordlingen, 1889); BERTHOLET (Freiburg, 1898); NOWACK (Goettingen, 1902).

Book of Ruth

Jewish Perspective Information


-Biblical Data:

-Critical View:

Date of Composition.

Bewer's Theory of Interpolations.

The Book of Ruth, which is poetically idyllic in character, although the narrative is in the form of prose, contains an episode from the period of the Judges. For this reason it is placed in the Septuagint after the Book of Judges; and this order is followed in the Vulgate and in the English translations. In the Hebrew Bible, however, Ruth is found in the "Ketubim," or third part of the canon, where it stands next after the Song of Solomon, being the second of the Five Megillot. In Spanish manuscripts and in one Bible of 1009 Ruth comes first (Buhl, "Canon of the Old Testament," i., § 10; see Bible Canon). This position, as will be noted more fully below, probably accords better with the date of the book; for it was written so long after the date of which its story treats that many of the customs to which it refers had become antiquated.

-Biblical Data:

The book takes its name from one of its characters, who, with her mother-in-law, Naomi, shares the honor of being its heroine. The story is as follows: Elimelech, a man of Bethlehem-judah, with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, went in time of famine and sojourned in the land of Moab. There Elimelech died, and the two sons married, Mahlon taking Ruth as his wife, and Chilion taking Ophra-both women of Moab, where both sons likewise died. In due time Naomi heard that the famine in Judah had passed, and determined to return thither. Ruth, in spite of the dissuasion of Naomi, accompanied her mother-in-law to Bethlehem, and cast in her lot with the people of Judah. The two women arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Naturally they were in a state of dire poverty. Elimelech had had an inheritance of land among his brethren, but, unless a Go'el, could be found, Naomi would be compelled to sell it (in Ruth iv. 3 should be pointed = "is going to sell"; comp. "Am. Jour. Semit. Lang." xix. 145). Elimelech had a prosperous relative in Bethlehem whose name was Boaz, and who, like others, was engaged in the harvest. Naomi sent Ruth to glean in his fields, and, after he had spoken kindly to her and shown her some favors, she, still acting upon the advice of her mother-in-law, approached Boaz at night and put herself in his power. Boaz was attracted to her, but informed her that there was a kinsman nearer than he who had the first right to redeem the estate of Elimelech, and that it would be necessary for this kinsman to renounce his right before he (Boaz) could proceed in the matter. Accordingly he called this kinsman to the gate of the city before the elders, and told him of the condition of the wife and daughter-in-law of Elimelech, and of his (the kinsman's) right to redeem the estate and to marry Ruth. The kinsman declared that he did not desire to do so, and drew off his shoe in token that he had renounced his rights in favor of Boaz. Boaz thereupon bought the estate from Naomi, married Ruth, and became by her the father of Obed, who in due time became the father of Jesse, the father of King David.E. C. G. A. B.

-Critical View:

It should be noted that in the narrative of the Book of Ruth there are several points which are not quite clear. In certain parts, as i. 12-14, the action seems to presuppose the existence of the levirate law (comp. Gen. xxxviii. and Deut. xxv. 5 et seq.), while in other parts, as iv. 3 et seq., the redemption of Elimelech's estate for his widow seems to be the chief point in the discussion. This seems to presuppose the extension to wives of the law concerning the inheritance of daughters (Num. xxxvi.). Again, from the general course of the narrative one receives the impression that Boaz is the Go'el; but in iv. 13 et seq. the go'el seems to be Obed (comp. Nowack, "Handkommentar zum Alten Testament," p. 199, s.v. "Richter," "Ruth," etc.; Bertholet, in "K. H. C." ad loc.). Finally, if the levirate law had been really fulfilled, Obed should have been counted the son of Mahlon, the son of Elimelech, whereas he is really called (iv. 21) the son of Boaz.

Bewer (in "Am. Jour. Semit. Lang." xix. 143 et seq.) points out that four steps in the development of the levirate are met with in the Old Testament: (1) the go'el need not be a brother, but may be any kinsman of the deceased, as in Gen. xxxviii.; (2) he must be a brother (although this form is not actually found, it is necessarily presupposed by the following); (3) only such brothers as have lived with the deceased are required to perform the duties of the levirate (comp. Deut. xxv. 5 et seq.); and (4) no man is allowed to take his brother's wife (Lev. xx. 21). According to this classification, the form of levirate in the Book of Ruth is the oldest of all, but here is encountered the difficulty that the described form of purchase of the estate of Naomi does not at all accord with any form of levirate, but with the law of Lev. xxv. 25 (Holiness Code, cited hereafter as H). Bewer therefore concludes that the levirate idea is not an original part of the Book of Ruth, but that the work was first composed on the basis of Lev. xxv. 25, and that it was afterward interpolated to some extent to ingraft upon it the levirate idea. The phenomena of the book, however, may quite plausibly be explained in another way, as will be pointed out below.

Date of Composition.

According to Bewer the Book of Ruth is later than H., i.e., it is post-exilic. This view of the date is for other reasons held by many scholars (e.g., Kuenen, "Historische Bücher des Alten Testaments," i., part 2, p. 195; Cornill, "Einleitung," p. 241; Nowack, l.c.; Bertholet, l.c.; and Kautzsch, "Literature of the Old Testament," p. 129). The days of the Judges are referred to as a time far past (i. 1), and even the law of Deut. xxv. 5 et seq. is referred to as a custom now obsolete (comp. Ruth iv.7); the language of the book contains several Aramaisms(e.g., , i. 4; , i. 13; and , iv. 7); the interest in the genealogy of David (iv. 20 et seq.) is thought to indicate a date when David had become the ideal of the nation; and the evident interest of the author in the marriage of an Israelite with a Moabitess-an interest in sharp contrast to the law of Deut. xxiii. 3 et seq. as well as the procedure of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra ix., x., and Neh. xiii. 23 et seq.)-indicates that the author of Ruth was a contemporary of Ezra and Nehemiah and wrote the book to show that their opposition to foreign marriages was contrary to ancient and most honorable precedent.

Although Driver ("Introduction," p. 427) urges that the general beauty and purity of style of Ruth indicate a pre-exilic date, holding that the Davidic genealogy at the end is probably a later addition, the post-exilic origin of Ruth seems to be confirmed by its position among the "Ketubim," in the third part of the canon. The view which makes it a tract against the marriage policy of Ezra and Nehemiah seems most probable.

Bewer's Theory of Interpolations.

Bewer (l.c. xx. 205 et seq.) holds that the work was written at that time and for that purpose, and that in its original form, without any reference to the levirate, it was a more effective weapon in the controversy than it is now. His view is that some friend of Ezra added the levirate interpolations in order to make it appear that the foreign marriage of Boaz was not a precedent for ordinary people, as the levirate compelled him to act thus. If the book was written at the date supposed, it is clear from the law of H (Lev. xx. 21) that the levirate had passed away. It is too much, therefore, to expect an absolutely clear and accurate account of its workings. That the writer should mingle its provisions with those of Lev. xxv., which refer to the redemption of the estates of the poor, would at this date be very natural. Confusion, too, as to who the go'el actually was would also be natural. Bewer's theory of interpolations seems, accordingly, unnecessary. Cheyne's view ("Encyc. Bibl." s.v.) that Elimelech was a Jerahmeelite, and that he went to sojourn in the land of Miṣṣur, is one of the curiosities of his Jerahmeel-Miṣṣur theory.

Executive Committee of the Editorial Board, George A. Barton

Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.


In addition to the works cited in the article, Bleek, Einleitung in das Alte Testament, ed. Wellhausen, 1893; König, Einleitung, 1893; Strack, Einleitung, 4th ed., 1895; Oettli, Ruth, in Kurzgefasster Kommentar, 1889.E. C. G. A. B.

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