Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Eschatological Meaning of the Book of Ruth: "Blessed Be God: Asher Lo Hishbit Lakh Go'el"

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Eschatological Meaning of the Book of Ruth: "Blessed Be God: Asher Lo Hishbit Lakh Go'el"

Article excerpt

In this paper I will present what I believe to be a new understanding of a major leitmotiv of the book of Ruth: ge'ulah (redemption), and the theological context in which the work is to be understood.

It is likely that from the moment of its writing, the diminutive Book of Ruth was seen as an ethically compelling religious work of the highest order. We can surmise that its inclusion in the canon was based on several factors: 1. The genealogy of David. 2. The ubiquitous spirit of kindness, charity, and fidelity (hesed shel emet) which is the backdrop to the birth of David's grandfather Oved, and so ultimately of David himself. 3. The allusions to the laws found in the story of Judah, Tamar, and their son Perez (Genesis 38). 4. The Rabbis saw Divine involvement in the events of Ruth and inspiration in its composition. As is true of all great literature, they intuited deeper and higher meanings in the narrative configurations of the story.

Modern scholars have come to recognize significant biblical parallels to elements in the story of Ruth. However, they have failed to decipher the full religious nature of the book. To understand it requires that we examine key aspects of the book anew, as well as the biblical text which is most clearly linked to Ruth, the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38. The similarities between the Judah-Tamar episode and Ruth have long been recognized. Foremost is the genealogical connection. King David is descended from both Tamar and Ruth.

Both women are from proscribed nations, one a Canaanite (Gen. 38), the other a Moabite (Deut. 23:4). Both women display exemplary character, but must resort to some ruse in order to consummate levirate-like relationships after the death of their respective husbands. What has not been recognized in the Judah-Tamar account is the unmistakable symbolism in a prominent aspect of the story. The narrative hints at the future Davidic monarchy. Prior to having relations with Tamar, Judah undertakes to send her a kid from his flock as payment for her services, believing her to be a harlot. Tamar asks Judah to leave her a pledge in lieu of the payment. When Judah asks her to specify what she wants, she answers: your seal and your cord, and the staff which you carry (Gen. 38:18). In recognizing the staff as nothing other than the royal scepter of Judah which will never pass (Gen. 49:10), and the seal as the royal seal that is found throughout the Near East, we are given to understand that Tamar, in a biblically prophetic moment, is laying claim to the kings of Israel who will issue from her and Judah. Ruth, at a later date, as the great-grandmother of David, attains the same status.

There are two practices of note in Ruth, integral to the narrative, which appear to be variations of Torah laws. They are the law of land redemption and a form of levirate marriage. In the single Torah reference to levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5-10) we are told that the obligation devolves only upon the deceased man's brothers, while in the book of Ruth, Boaz, and, we can assume, the primary go'el (Ruth 4:1) are unspecified relatives of Elimelech, Ruth's father in-law. (1) The Torah law of land redemption appears in Leviticus 25:25-28. It takes effect when an individual has been forced to sell his ancestral land to an outsider, and allows either him, or a relative acting on his behalf, to redeem the land within a specific period of time. In chapter four of Ruth, these two laws are merged. Boaz informs the go'el who is first in line of his twofold duty: to redeem the land of our kinsman Elimelech which was in Naomi's possession (4:3-4), and to marry Ruth. When you acquire the property from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabite, you must also acquire the wife of the deceased so as to perpetuate the name of the deceased upon his estate (4:5). The go'el agrees to redeem the land but demurs in regard to marrying Ruth, lest it impair my own estate. You take over my right of redemption (4:6). …

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.