Who Are You, My Daughter? Reading Ruth through Image and Text

Article excerpt

Who Are You, My Daughter? Reading Ruth through Image and Text. By Ellen F. Davis and Margaret Adams Parker. Louisville, Ky. and London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2003. xxiv + 127 pp. $19.95 (cloth).

This collaborative work takes the form of Davis's annotated translation of Ruth, interspersed with Barker's illustrative woodcuts. It is divided into four chapters corresponding to the four chapters of the biblical text. The three basic elements of translation, commentary, and illustration are pleasingly balanced. The translation is given in large type on the left-hand pages, and the notes in smaller type on the right-hand (and sometimes several succeeding) pages. Although the notes are considerably longer than the text itself, they do not overwhelm it. They gently guide the reader through the story without displacing it as the main object of attention. The illustrations are strategically placed at turning points in the story, so that each shapes the reader's imagination through one section of the narrative until a plot shift provides the occasion for another one to shape the imagination through the next section.

Unlike most modern translators, Davis does not strive for completely idiomatic English. Particularly because she views certain repeated words as narrative leitmotifs, she wants to translate them with the same English term in every instance, so as not to lose the repetitive effect. For example, various modern translations render davaq as "cling" in 1:14, where it describes Ruth's staying with Naomi in contrast with Orpah's kissing her good-bye, but render the same term as "keep close" or "stay with" in 2:8, 21, and 23, where it describes how Boaz has Ruth associate with the women gleaners rather than the men. One can see why a translator might choose different ways of rendering davaq in these two different contexts. In loyally deciding to leave her homeland and follow Naomi, Ruth does more than just "stay with" her. And however tightly Ruth associates with the women gleaners, she does not "cling" to them. Davis, however, looks for an English equivalent that might work in both contexts, so as not to efface their suggestive interconnection. She uses "stick with," noting that "repetitions of the relatively rare word [davaq] . . . hint at the fact that Ruth's own exceptional loyalty to Naomi is beginning to find an echo in Boaz's protective regard for this courageous and yet still vulnerable foreign woman" (p. 45). This approach to translation sometimes leads to cumbersome English phraseology, but it serves to highlight significant connotative associations that would otherwise be lost.

Davis's comments show a gentle sophistication. Although they take the form of notes on particular words or phrases, they amount to a sustained reading of the entire narrative. In addition to telling readers about the social world reflected in the story, as well as the subtleties of Hebrew terminology that cannot be conveyed in translation, Davis presses the ambiguities in the narrative. …