Portrait of a woman as Ruth (c. 1853) by Francesco Hayez

Ruth (/rθ/; Hebrew: רוּת, Modern: Rūt, Tiberian: Rūṯ) is the person after whom the Book of Ruth is named. She was a Moabite woman who married an Israelite, Mahlon. After the death of all the male members of her family (her husband, her father-in-law, and her brother-in-law), she stays with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and moves to Judah with her, where Ruth wins the love and protection of a wealthy relative, Boaz, through her kindness.[1] She is the great-grandmother of David.

She is one of five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, alongside Tamar, Rahab, the "wife of Uriah" (Bathsheba), and Mary.[2]

Book of Ruth

Ruth in Boaz's Field by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld

In the days when the judges were leading the tribes of Israel, there was a famine. Because of this crisis, Elimelech, a man from Bethlehem in Judah, moved to Moab with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. There Elimelech died, and the two sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. They lived for about ten years in Moab, before Mahlon and Chilion died, too.

Naomi heard that the famine in Judah had passed and decided to return home. She told her daughters-in-law to return to their mothers' houses and marry again. At first, both Orpah and Ruth refused to leave her, but Naomi told them that she was unlikely to have more sons that Orpah and Ruth could marry. They all wept, and Orpah decided to leave Naomi and return to her people. Naomi tried again to send Ruth back, too, but she told her that "(...) where you go I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried." (ESV)

Eventually, Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. There lived a relative of Elimelech, Boaz, and Ruth decided to go to his field and glean after his reapers. When Boaz arrived at the field, he asked who the young woman was, and then told Ruth to not go to anyone else's field, but keep gleaning there, and told her that if she was thirsty, she could always drink from the vessels of the reapers. When Ruth asked him why he was so good to a foreigner, Boaz told her that he had heard how loyal she was to Naomi. At mealtime, Boaz invited Ruth to eat with him, and then instructed his reapers to not reproach or rebuke her, and even pull out some barley from their bundles and leave it for her to glean. Ruth gleaned at the fields of Boaz throughout the barley and wheat harvests.

When the harvest ended, and Boaz was winnowing barley at night at the threshing floor, Naomi advised Ruth to wash and anoint herself, go to the threshing floor, and when Boaz had lain down to sleep, uncover his feet and lie down there. Ruth did as she said. At midnight, Boaz woke up, and Ruth asked him to protect her, as he was her husband's goel, closest relative tasked with protecting his rights. Boaz said that he would like to do so, but Ruth had an even closer relative than him.

In the morning, Boaz went and sat down by the gates of the town, then talked to the relative when he arrived. He told him that Naomi was selling Elimelech's land. The man said that he would redeem it. Boaz told him that with the land, he would also acquire Ruth, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance in a levirate marriage and the man refused to do this, fearing that it would impair his own inheritance. Boaz then bought the land and Ruth. Ruth became Boaz's wife, and bore him a son, Obed, who became the father of Jesse, the father of King David.[1]

Religious interpretations

Jewish perspectives

Boaz and Ruth by Rembrandt

Boaz of Judah blessed Ruth for her extraordinary kindness both to Naomi of Judah and to the Judean People (Ruth 3:10). "And he [Boaz] said, 'May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter; your latest act of kindness is greater than the first, not to follow the young men, whether poor or rich.'" Commentary of Rashi (c. 1040–1105) regarding the first act of kindness: "that you did with your mother-in-law".

Ruth's kindness as noted in the Book of Ruth by Boaz is seen in the Jewish Tradition as in rare contradistinction to the peoples of Moab (where Ruth comes from) and Amon in general, who were noted by the Torah for their distinct lack of kindness. Deut. 23:5: "Because they [the peoples of Amon and Moab] did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you left Egypt, and because he [the people of Moab] hired Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim against you, to curse you." Rashi notes regarding Israel's travels on the way: "when you were in [a state of] extreme exhaustion."

According to the Ruth Rabbah, Ruth was Orpah's sister and the two were daughters of Eglon, the king of Moab; according to the same text, Eglon was the son of Balak.[3] Tamar Meir of the Jewish Women's Archive writes that Ruth and David being descended from these two men is seen as a "reward" for them.[3] For Balak, it is his reward for building altars and for Eglon, it is his reward for "arising upon hearing the name of God from Ehud son of Gera".[3] The same text says Ruth did not convert during her marriage to Mahlon, contradicting other rabbinic literature, which says Ruth formally converted to Judaism for the sake of marrying Mahlon but did not fully accept the faith until later.[3]

Josephus viewed the Book of Ruth as historical and referenced it in his Antiquities of the Jews.[4] Yitzhak Berger suggests Naomi's plan was that Ruth seduce Boaz, just as Tamar and Lot's daughters all seduced "an older family member in order to become the mother of his offspring". At the crucial moment, however, "Ruth abandons the attempt at seduction and instead requests a permanent, legal union with Boaz."[5]

Christian perspectives

Ruth and Naomi by William Blake

Ruth is one of five women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, alongside Tamar, Rahab, the "wife of Uriah" (Bathsheba), and Mary.[2] Katharine Doob Sakenfeld argues that Ruth is a model of loving-kindness (hesed): she acts in ways that promote the well-being of others.[6] In Ruth 1:8–18, she demonstrated hesed by not going back to Moab but accompanying her mother-in-law to a foreign land.[6] She chose to glean, despite the danger she faced in the field (Ruth 2:15) and the lower social status of the job. Finally, Ruth agrees with Naomi's plan to marry Boaz, even though she was free of family obligations, once again demonstrating her loyalty and obedience (Ruth 3:10).[6]

Barry Webb argues that in the book, Ruth plays a key role in Naomi's rehabilitation.[7]

Ruth is commemorated as a matriarch in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod on 16 July.

She can also be seen as a prototype of a convert to Judaism.[8]

Tomb of Ruth

Tomb of Jesse and Ruth in Hebron

Main article: Tomb of Jesse and Ruth

The traditional burial place of Ruth is a building located in Hebron. Francesco Quaresmi in the early 17th century reported that Turks and Orientals generally believed the structure contained the tombs of Jesse and Ruth.[9][10] According to Moshe Sharon, the association of the site with Ruth is very late, starting in the 19th century.[11] It receives numerous visitors every year, especially on the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, when the Book of Ruth is read.[12] Haim Horwitz in his 1835 book on Israeli holy sites Love of Jerusalem[13] discusses the oral tradition that the tomb houses Ruth's grave as well as Jesse's, who is mentioned in earlier writings. Menachem Mendel of Kamenitz[14] wrote in 1839, "Also in the vineyard was a shelter with two graves: one of Jesse, father of David, and one of Ruth, the Moabite."[15]

Cultural influence

Ruth is one of the Five Heroines of the Order of the Eastern Star.

Ruth was played by Elana Eden in Henry Koster's The Story of Ruth (1960); the film depicts Ruth as a pagan priestess prior to her religious conversion.[16] Sherry Morris portrayed her in The Book of Ruth: Journey of Faith (2009).[17]

In English literature, John Keats in "Ode to a Nightingale" references Ruth as isolated and grief-stricken when laboring in exile: "Perhaps the self-same song that found a path/Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,/She stood in tears amid the alien corn;"[18]

Genealogy: the descent of David from Ruth


See also

Further reading


  1. ^ a b Barton, George A. (1936). "Ruth, Book of". Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Co.
  2. ^ a b Weren, Wim J. C. (1997). "The Five Women in Matthew's Genealogy". The Catholic Biblical Quarterly. 59 (2): 288–305. JSTOR 43722942.
  3. ^ a b c d Meir, Tamar. "Ruth". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  4. ^ "Book of Ruth". Catholic Encyclopedia. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  5. ^ Berger, Yitzhak (2009). "Ruth and Inner-Biblical Allusion: The Case of 1 Samuel 25". JBL. 128 (2): 268. Emphasis original.
  6. ^ a b c Katherine D. Sakenfeld, Ruth (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1999), 11–12.
  7. ^ Barry G. Webb, Five Festal Garments (Leicester: Apollos, 2000), 43.
  8. ^ Ostmeyer, Karl-Heinrich (2022). No citizenship for Ruth? Names as access permissions in the Scroll of Ruth. Springer. p. 245. ISBN 978-3-030-83277-3.
  9. ^ Claude Reignier Conder, Herbert Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine: Memoirs of the Topography, Orography, Hydrography, and Archaeology, Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund, London, 1883, Vol 3 pp.327–8.
  10. ^ Franciscus Quaresmius, Historica theologica et moralis Terrae Sanctae, 1639, vol 2 p.782.
  11. ^ Moshe Sharon, Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palaestinae, Vol 5, H-I BRILL, 2013 pp. 45–52.
  12. ^ "Converts pay homage to Ruth at her Hebron tomb". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  13. ^ "HebrewBooks.org Sefer Detail: חבת ירושלים – הורביץ, חיים בן דבריש". www.hebrewbooks.org. Retrieved 28 January 2016.[page needed]
  14. ^ "The first Holy Land hotelier". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  15. ^ Cook, David G.; Cohen, Sol P. (August 2011). "Book of the Occurrences o f the Times to Jeshurun in the Land of Israel". Miscellaneous Papers. repository.upenn.edu (10). Retrieved 28 January 2016.
  16. ^ Crowther, Bosley (22 December 1960). "Screen: 'Story of Ruth':Biblical Tale Opens at Two Theatres". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  17. ^ "The Book of Ruth: Journey of Faith (2009)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 9 November 2017.
  18. ^ Vendler, Helen (1985). The Odes of John Keats. Harvard University Press. pp. 102ff. ISBN 9780674630765.