Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives

Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives

Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives

Gleaning Ruth: A Biblical Heroine and Her Afterlives

Synopsis

The biblical story of Ruth celebrates the power to begin life anew, to gather what has been scattered, to glean what one needs. In this original approach to understanding an ancient love story, Jennifer L. Koosed crafts a multifaceted portrait of the Old Testament character of Ruth and of the demanding agricultural world in which her story unfolds. Highlighting the most complex aspects of the book--the relationships Ruth has with her mother-in-law, Naomi; sister-in-law, Orpah; future husband, Boaz; and infant son, Obed--Koosed explores the use of pairings to define Ruth's aspirational fortitude. Koosed also touches on the narrative's questions of sexuality, kinship, and law as well as the metaphoric activities of harvest that serve to advance the plot and illuminate the social and geographic context of Ruth's tale. From the private world of women to the public world of men, Koosed guides readers through the book of Ruth's revealing glimpses into the sociology of the ancient Hebrew world. The study concludes with a discussion of the postbiblical fascination with Ruth and her later representations in a variety of literary and visual media. Koosed's approach is eclectic, employing a host of methodologies from philology and theology to literature, folklore, and feminism. Thoughtful of the interests of both scholarly and lay audiences, Koosed presents inviting and compelling new insights into one of the Old Testament's most enigmatic characters.

Excerpt

Critical study of the Bible in its ancient Near Eastern setting has stimulated interest in the individuals who shaped the course of history and whom events singled out as tragic or heroic figures. Rolf Rendtorff’s Men of the Old Testament (1968) focuses on the lives of important biblical figures as a means of illuminating history, particularly the sacred dimension that permeates Israel’s convictions about its God. Fleming James’s Personalities of the Old Testament (1939) addresses another issue, that of individuals who function as inspiration for their religious successors in the twentieth century. Studies restricting themselves to a single individual—for example, Moses, Abraham, Samson, Elijah, David, Saul, Ruth, Jonah, Job, Jeremiah— enable scholars to deal with a host of questions: psychological, literary, theological, sociological, and historical. Some, such as Gerhard von Rad’s Moses (1960), introduce a specific approach to interpreting the Bible and hence provide valuable pedagogic tools.

As a rule these treatments of isolated figures have not reached the general public. Some were written by outsiders who lacked a knowledge of biblical criticism (Freud on Moses, Jung on Job) and whose conclusions, however provocative, remain problematic. Others were targeted for the guild of professional biblical critics (David Gunn on David and Saul, Phyllis Trible on Ruth, Terence Fretheim and Jonathan Magonet on Jonah). None has succeeded in capturing the imagination of the reading public in the way such fictional works as Archibald MacLeish’s J. B. and Joseph Heller’s God Knows have done.

It could be argued that the general public would derive little benefit from learning more about the personalities of the Bible. Their conduct, often less then exemplary, reveals a flawed character, and their everyday concerns have nothing to do with our preoccupations from dawn to dusk. To be sure, some individuals transcend their own age, entering the gallery of classical literary figures from time immemorial. But only these rare achievers can justify specific treatments of them. Then why publish additional studies on biblical personalities?

The answer cannot be that we read about biblical figures to learn ancient history, even of the sacred kind, or to discover models for ethical action. But what remains? Perhaps the primary significance of biblical personages is the light they throw on . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.