Ruth, an Introduction

The book of Ruth is an odd book in comparison to the rest of the books of the Old Testament. It is one of only two books out of thirty nine that is named after a woman. And, while it is disputed on whether or not Ruth or Naomi is the protagonist, the hero of the story is also a woman. Which is strange considering that ancient Israel was such a patriarchal society.

In our Bibles the book is found between Judges and 1 Samuel. This is because the events recounted in Ruth take place during the time of the Judges and shortly before the events in 1 Samuel.

But in the Jewish Tanakh the book is found in the third section, the Writings, between Proverbs and Song of Songs. So whereas our Christian Bibles have Ruth where it is because of the chronology of its events the Jewish Tanakh has thematic motivations for its placement. For Ruth is found right after Proverbs 31 and before Song of Songs in the Tanakh.

Now I’m going to segue into who the author was for Ruth, when it was written, and why.

The author of Ruth

We do not actually know who the author of the book of Ruth was. The author never identifies himself, as is the case with many books of the Bible. Rabbinic tradition identified Samuel as the author of Ruth. This is unlikely though since Samuel died before David took the throne.

The date

While I mentioned above that the date of the events of Ruth took place during the reign of the judges it is not completely clear when the book was written. It was after David took the throne of course. We know that the events depicted in Ruth took place a long time ago from our perspective. But apparently they were also far removed from the perspective of the author’s audience (Ruth 4:7).

The purpose

Since we don’t know who the author was or when it was written it is also difficult to nail down a purpose for the book. I think it was written and included in the Old Testament because it depicts a story of an ancestor of David who was the king of Israel. This would make since if it was written before the split of Israel and Judah. For it does not seem to favor Judah over Israel as a whole.

If it was penned after Israel had split into two kingdoms then it could have been written in hopes that the two nations would reunite into one. But this does not seem to be the clear purpose of the book either.

As Christians we tend to approach Ruth as a spiritualization of the relationship between Jesus and the Church. Jesus would be represented by Boaz and the Church is represented by Ruth. While I think that this is a legitimate interpretation of Ruth, the book could not have originally been written as a metaphor for the relationship between Christ and the Church. So this interpretation could not have been why the author wrote it so long ago.

What are your thoughts on the book of Ruth? I would like to hear why you think the book was written or any other interesting views you have regarding the book of Ruth.

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