Posted On December 19, 2016

One of the obligatory elements of studying any book of the Bible is taking a look at the background information, the history, setting, date of writing, overarching theme, main characters, and any other issues that impact how one approaches what they are reading. Since understanding this type of information is an important function of sound biblical exegesis, as we kick off our study of the Book of Ruth and before we get into the actual text, we are going to take the needed time in this post in order to look at the important background information that will in many ways help frame how we approach our study of Ruth.

Jewish tradition, specifically the Babylonian Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b) attributes the authorship of Ruth to the prophet Samuel. This was due to the similarity in language between Ruth and the books of Judges and Samuel. However, most scholars no longer accept that tradition as valid, instead noting there is nothing in the text of Ruth that points to the exact author. What can be deduced is the author “was a literary artist and a skillful teacher.”[1]

In the same manner, as we are unsure as to who the author of Ruth was, there is some manner of debate among scholars as to when Ruth was written. Much of the methodology surrounding the dating of Ruth comes from analysis of linguistics, an approach that scholars have admitted is not always a sound footing upon which to base the dating of a text. Most scholars seem to affirm either a late pre-exilic to the early post-exilic date of authorship.

Time Period of Events
The events described in Ruth take place during the period of the Judges. The period of the Judges took place following the death of Joshua up until the crowning of King Saul as the first King of Israel. It is difficult from the text of Ruth to determine an exact timeframe within the period of the Judges when the events described took place given the text does not indicate too many specifics as to the time of the events. Furthermore, there is also some debate as to the exact timeline of the period of the Judges. However, it was sometime between the late 1300s B.C. and the mid-1000s B.C. The events of Ruth took place in Bethlehem and Moab.

Canonical Status

There has never been much debate as to the canonical status of Ruth as it has been widely accepted by Jewish and Christian scholars as being part of the sacred scriptures. With that said, its exact location within the canon, meaning its placement after and before certain books or its location within certain sections of scripture has varied. K. Lawson Younger, Jr. notes “It’s (Ruth’s) canonical place divides broadly along two great traditional lines: the order generally found in the Hebrew Bible’s textual traditions and the order found in the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Old Testament.”[2]

Ruth is included in the Megilloth scrolls. These scrolls “were part of the third division of the Hebrew Bible, the Ketubim or Writings. The grouping of these five scrolls or books was for functional, liturgical reasons.”[3] Ruth was read as part of the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost which accounts for its inclusion in the Megilloth scrolls. Huey states “In the Jewish Bible, Ruth appears in the third division, the Ketubim, though not always in the same position. In the Talmud (Baba Bathra 14b), it was the first book in the Ketubim, followed by the Book of Psalms. It was later transferred to the Megilloth…but its position there has varied also…in most printed Hebrew Bibles today it stands second, after Song of Songs (following the chronological order of the Jewish festivals, in which one of the books of the Megilloth is read.)”[4]

In the Septuagint, Ruth is found after the book of Judges due to a similarity in setting noted in the first verse of Ruth which states, “In the days when the judges ruled.” This placement of Ruth following the book of Judges is where most people are familiar with Ruth being located in their Bibles today.

The book of Ruth is considered to be in the genre of a classic short story. Edward Campbell, Jr. further defines Ruth as belonging to the category of Novelle, a “form-critical category which seems for most of those who use it to connote a combination of brevity with a plurality of episodes.”[5]

Main Characters
Ruth – Daughter-in-law of Naomi, wife of Mahlon and later wife of Boaz
Naomi – Wife of Elimelech, Mother-in-law to Ruth
Boaz – The Goel (kinsman-redeemer) of Ruth
Orpah – Daughter-in-law of Naomi, wife of Chilion
Elimelech – Husband of Naomi
Mahlon – Son of Elimelech and Naomi, husband of Ruth
Chilion – Son of Elilmelech and Noami, husband of Orpah

As noted by Daniel Block, “The Book of Ruth is one of the most delightful literary compositions of the ancient world. The narrator is a master at painting word pictures.”[6] While it can be argued that one purpose of the Book of Ruth is the historical and genealogical transition from the period of the Judges to the time of King David, the overarching purpose and theme of the book of Ruth is to demonstrate the providence and sovereignty of God. Warren Wiersbe rightly comments “because she (Ruth) put faith in the God of Israel, she was accepted, an illustration of God’s grace to the Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-22). Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, is a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ who paid the price to redeem us and make us His bride. The unknown kinsman was unwilling to jeopardize his inheritance for the sake of Ruth, but Boaz so loved Ruth that he made her a part of his inheritance! The grace of God and the providential leading of God are major themes of this story.”[7] Essentially, this story is a depiction of the movement from emptiness to fullness, taking the reader from the tragedy that unfolded in the opening verses with famine and death of loved ones, to the fullness found through faith in God and the kinsman-redeemer.

We will spend a great deal of time engaging the concept of the kinsman-redeemer (goel) and the Hebrew word hesed, both of which form a fundamental basis for the book of Ruth and the events that transpire within its pages.

As you can see, there is a lot contained in this short book. In our next post, we will take a look at Ruth 1:1-7 so stay tuned!

[1] F. B. Huey. “Commentary on Ruth” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Deuteronomy through 1&2 Samuel. Edited by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 510.
[2] K. Lawson Younger, Jr., NIV Application Commentary: Judges-Ruth (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 390.
[3]. Ibid.
[4] Huey, 514.
[5] Edward Campbell, Jr., Anchor Bible Commentary: Ruth (New York: Doubleday, 1975), 4.
[6] Daniel Block, The New American Commentary: Judges, Ruth (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), 603.
[7] Warren Wiersbe, Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1993), 244.

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