The Book of Ruth is an unusual book and completely unlike the rest of the Bible. For a start its named after a woman, which is incredible considering as most other women in the Bible aren’t even given names. Two of the three main characters are women and it also has the first scene where two women are talking to each other. By the abysmally low standards of the Bible, this is practically feminism. It is also the first book in which God is not a character and plays no role at all. Finally, unlike the rest of the Bible it is mercifully short and to the point.
The beginning of the story is pretty bleak (in keeping with the times and the theme of the Bible) as there is a famine in the land of Moab and Naomi’s husband and two sons have died. So she decides to leave Moab of search of food but her daughter in law, Ruth will not leave her. Instead she proclaims “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.” This is an incredibly passionate declaration, often repeated by lovers and it’s interesting that its original context is non-romantic.
Even more interesting and unusual, Naomi harshly condemns God for her hardship, which is interesting because people have been killed by God for less. So far only villains have said a bad word about God, so this is another example of the maverick approach taken in Ruth. Naomi says: “the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
The two women are destitute and have to resort to going through fields picking up stray grains that the harvesters missed. One man, a farmer and relative of Naomi’s dead husband, named Boaz, takes pity on her and lets her have food and water. He even lets her pick with other women so as to keep her safe from being raped if she was alone (what does it say of the times that it wasn’t safe for a woman to be alone anywhere or at any time?).
Naomi knows a good thing when she sees it, so she advises Ruth to go to Boaz after he’s done eating and drinking for the day, find where he’s sleeping, uncover his feet (?) and lie with him (which I presume is a euphemism for sleep with him when he’s drunk). Boaz says he’s willing but there is another redeemer nearer than him who has first refusal.
The next day, the redeemer comes (unusually for a man he is not named, the Bible normally would say his name, his fathers, grandfathers, uncle’s and every other male relative he has). He is willing to buy the field but when he is informed that Ruth comes with the field, he refuses. So then Boaz declares that he will buy the field and Ruth. They married, had a child and lived happily ever after.
Now the book of Ruth is by far the best book of the Bible so far, but it still has problems. Ruth is basically treated as a piece of property like land (or even a part of the land) to be bought and sold by men. While this is the closest to a romantic story we’ve had so far, Boaz still did buy Ruth in a manner not too dissimilar from slavery. Also while it’s implied Ruth chose him, she was on the verge of starvation so didn’t really have much of a choice. She acted more like a drowning woman clutching at the nearest solid object than a passionate lover.
With only four short chapters, Ruth is by far the shortest book in the Bible so far. It’s also the first one I almost enjoyed, or at least wasn’t horrified or disgusted by. No one gets murdered, there are no massacres, God doesn’t smite anyone for a random reason and there’s no incredibly dull rendition of how a pile of rocks got its name or who a shepherds grandfather was. Even women are treated as human beings worthy of consideration and this is the first time we see things from a woman’s point of view. The book is practically secular in its absence of God and lack of moral scolding. Of course, praising Ruth also shows how low the standard is set by the rest of the Bible.