Introduction to the Book of Ruth

Eighth Book of the Old Testament

The Book of Ruth is part of the Christian Old Testament, the Writings group of Jewish scriptures, and the Historical Books in the Christian scriptures. The Book of Ruth is, naturally enough, about a woman named Ruth — a Moabite who marries and Israelite and, according to later biblical texts, her descendants include David and Jesus.

Facts About the Book of Ruth

  • Ruth has 4 chapters and 85 verses
  • Ruth is the eighth book of the Christian Old Testament
  • Ruth takes place during the same time span as the Book of Judges
  • Ruth is among two or three biblical texts bearing the name of women

Important Characters in Ruth

  • Naomi: Ruth's mother-in-law
  • Ruth: Moabite convert to Judaism, ancestor of David and Jesus
  • Orpah: Ruth's sister-in-law
  • Boaz: Second husband of Ruth, "redeems" Ruth through marriage

Who Wrote the Book of Ruth?

Traditionally, the authorship of the Book of Ruth has been ascribed to Samuel, an Israelite prophet who plays an important role in the Book of Judges and the Books of Samuel. Today, though, scholars have concluded that the text was written much later than Samuel would have existed.

When Was the Book of Ruth Written?

If the Book of Ruth had indeed been written during the time of the Book of Judges and by the prophet Samuel, it would have been written during the first half of the 11th century BCE. Scholars have concluded, however, that Ruth was probably written during the Hellenistic era, making it one of the last books of the canon to be written.

The Book of Ruth may or may not have been based on older material, but there is no evidence that any source material dates back to the time when events in the text are supposed to have taken place. It's more likely that the book was put together to serve a particular theological agenda.

Book of Ruth Summary

Ruth 1: An Israelite family tries to escape famine in Bethlehem by moving to Moab. The sons marry Moabite women, but then the two sons die. The mother, who has also been widowed, decides to return home because the famine has ended. She convinces one daughter-in-law, Orpah, to return to her own people. Ruth, the second daughter-in-law, refuses — she adopts Judaism and returns to Bethlehem with Naomi. Ruth 2-3: Ruth meets Boaz, a relative of her mother-in-law Naomi, who is generous with food. Naomi recommends that Ruth marry Boaz as part of Levirate law which obligates men to marry the widows of deceased brothers (or some other close relatives) and protect them. Such marriage was regarded as "redeeming" the widow. Ruth 4: Ruth marries Boaz. Property is transferred and they have a son, thus making Boaz a "redeemer" for Ruth.

Book of Ruth Themes

Conversion: Ruth is the first and perhaps most prominent convert to Judaism described in the Jewish scriptures. Much of the biblical text thus far has emphasized the importance of keeping the Israelites and everything about them separate from surrounding tribes. In the Book of Ruth, though, we find an acknowledgment that not only can there be mixing, but in fact allowing others entry to the group can be beneficial over the long term.

Entry, though, is conditional upon adopting a rigorous and strict religious code — there can be ethnic mixing, perhaps, but no dilution of the covenant with Yahweh. Ethnic purity does not need to be maintained; ideological purity, in contrast, is the most important thing and must be strictly maintained.

Redemption: The idea of "redeeming" that which has been lost plays a role throughout the Christian and Jewish scriptures. In the Book of Ruth, though, we find the concept being used in what might be an unfamiliar and unexpected way: "redeeming" a person and "redeeming' land through marriage. Christians relate this story closely to the story of Jesus; Jews focus on the principle of loving kindness and generosity.