Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Book of Ruth: A Contrast to the End of the Book of Judges

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

The Book of Ruth: A Contrast to the End of the Book of Judges

Article excerpt

The Book of Ruth provides a contrast to the last two narratives in the Book of Judges. The impression one gains from the end of Judges is that of a nation in chaos, with no moral compass or sense of right and wrong. Ruth presents a very different view of that era, in which people lead peaceful lives and help one another. In the final chapters (17-21) of the Book of Judges, Israelites repeatedly perform acts that seem moral to them on the surface, but which in fact lead to theft, murder, rape, and ultimately civil war. By contrast, those figuring in the Book of Ruth perform many of the same acts morally and virtuously, looking beyond the surface of Ruth as a foreigner and recognizing the goodness within her. In this way, the story of Ruth serves as a thematic contrast to the depravity recorded in the closing chapters of Judges. The Israelites transform themselves from a society that is superficially virtuous, but in reality corrupt, to a society that learns to look beyond surface appearances and to recognize virtue from within. (1)

In this article I will briefly outline the basic connections between Judges and Ruth, highlighting select words in these two books that indicate the patterns of corruption and virtue outlined above and which show, thematically, how the Book of Ruth serves as a contrast to the evil deeds recorded in the final chapters of Judges. This analysis will accentuate the difference between the ending of the Book of Judges and that of the Book of Ruth. While the last chapters of Judges include a refrain that ultimately turns into the declaration, In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did as he pleased (Judg. 21:25), the Book of Ruth concludes, in stark contrast to the chaos and anarchy described in Judges, with the pronouncement of a new era of kingship, the birth of King David (Ruth 4:22). (2)

BASIC CONNECTION BETWEEN THE BOOK OF JUDGES AND THE BOOK OF RUTH

The Book of Ruth opens with the words, In the days when the judges judged (Ruth 1:1). In these first words we are told that the story unfolds within the time period of Judges. The Babylonian Talmud also connects the authorship of both books, ascribing Judges and Ruth to the prophet Samuel (TB Bava Batra 14b).

LINGUISTIC CUES

In Judges, the Israelites mustered for a devastating civil war are designated "warriors who draw [sholef the sword" (Judg. 20:2). This is the only instance in the Tanakh where those drawing their swords are called fighting men on foot. In Ruth, the verb "to draw" [shalaf] is again used in the context of feet. Here, though, Boaz virtuously redeems his kinsman's field when he draws off [vayishlof] his shoe (Ruth 4:7-8). The root sh-l-f appears 25 times in the Hebrew Bible, six of these in chapter 20 of Judges. Furthermore, on 21 of these occasions, it refers to men who draw swords, twice more to wishing that ill befall the wicked and enemies of Israel. Only in the Book of Ruth does sh-l-f occur in an entirely peaceful context, when it is used twice to describe how Boaz redeemed Elimelech's field.

The root d-v-k in Judges is used to describe Israelites chasing each other in battle. For example, the men who lived near Micah are said to have overtaken [va-yadbiku] the Danites (Judg. 18:22). Then, during the civil war, when the Benjamites tried to escape to the wilderness, the fighting caught up with them [hidbikat'hu] (20:42). In the Book of Ruth, davak takes on the meaning of virtuous loyalty, both when Ruth clings [davekah] to Naomi, her mother-in-law after the death of her husband and when Boaz tells Ruth to stay close [tidbakin] to his maidens and field in order to collect food for Naomi and herself (Ruth 1:14; 2:8; 2:23). The d-v-k root appears three times in three consecutive chapters at the end of Judges and four times in two chapters of Ruth. In its next most common occurrence, it appears eight times in of 24 chapters of Deuteronomy. (3)

The root l-y-n, meaning "to lodge" or "stay overnight," is used 71 times in the Tanakh: 13 times in chapters 18-20 of Judges, 12 of these occurring in the concubine of Gibeah episode, a tale of perverse hospitality that leads to rape, killing, and ultimately civil-war (see, for example, Judg. …

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