An Atheist Reads The Book Of Ruth: The Least Biblical Book In The Bible

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.


Filed under Religion

20 responses to “An Atheist Reads The Book Of Ruth: The Least Biblical Book In The Bible

  1. It occurred to me as I was reading this that the Book of Ruth would pass the Bechdel test (two named women speak about something other than a man). I Googled and found that someone has analysed which books of the bible pass. (It’s not many).

    • yeah, went there… saw two books Mark and Luke he had in the no offense category and I had to throw a flag. As a long time verse by verse bible teacher I can tell you right now that no verse that has two named women talking about something other than a man exist in either one of those gospels.

      I saw his two examples one verse from each gospel and they don’t pass the test. In mark he as a single verse where two women are talking about how they are going to roll away the stone from Jesus tomb so they can do proper burial preparation of the body…. um hello Norman..

      The luke reference is two women Mary and Elizabeth talking about an unborn Male child… who just happens to be a major male character in the story…

      You have got to be kidding me.

      A real example would be Two Women, say… Lydia and Mary talking about what its like to be a seller of purple cloth in Thyatira. Now that would pass the test. but sadly it doesn’t exist in the bible.

      not surprising since the bible is about a male deity, who makes men and is all about what the men do.. and women were made for the men so they would not have to screw sheep all the time and so they would have someone to make them a sandwich. (yeah that’s genesis)

      • The irony of this comment is that you failed to notice that the author of the blog post you’re critiquing is, in fact, a woman, not a man.

        However, I stand by my analysis of Mark’s gospel. I agree that the Luke reference is ambiguous but give my reasons for including it in the comments.

        As a long time verse by verse Bible teacher, though, I’m surprised that you don’t have a better grip on ezer kenegdo in Genesis, but I’ll leave you to pursue that further on your own.

        • true, but doesn’t change the fact that I’m right.

        • The Story clearly has God presenting all the animals to Adam and no suitable “partner” or “mate” is found. I red by that for YEARS and never saw what it was actually saying. There are countless cases like this for me, Its what happens when you “believe” something so strong. You gloss over, reinterpret or ignore what is right there in front of you.

          • btw the current attempts to reinterpret what the ancient Phoenicians might have actually meant with the words is actually irrelevant to the context of the Hebrew usage and the facts of what the bible goes on to say about women and do to them by the command of this same deity.

        • On the other hand that speaks well of me, as I didn’t care what your gender was only about your ideas. Something the Deity in the bible nor the men in the bible can say.

          • So much of what “the Bible says” really is a function of what its readers bring to the text. Take as an example Proverbs 31; some people see that as a text contributing to the subjugation of women, confining her to the domestic sphere etc. Yet it can be read completely contrary to that, as affirming the dignity and worth of women.

            I do not find the Bible oppressive of women, and I certainly don’t find God oppressive of women. Patriarchal social structures, on the other hand, have cheerfully co-opted both for their own agenda!

  2. Pingback: An Atheist Reads The Bible | Whistling In The Wind

  3. And the moral of the story is …? WTF? If this story has a point, it is beyond me.

  4. You object (rightly) to the attitude that women are treated as property, yet even today when a woman is married someone, usually her father, “gives her away” to the husband. How is that different?

    • yeah you got a point. “who gives this woman away”. Though usually its “her mother and I”

      Yeah, as I think about it… its all pretty insulting and weird even if it is traditional in every culture save a few.

      We as a whole have really been fubared over by Abrahamic religions.

      • not to argue with myself but it depends on if we are completely the product of natural processes or if there is an external influence on us.

        Even if it is absolute natural processes, then the way we universally treat women is a product of the universe and our evolution. I say this because even religion is a product of our evolution.

        On the other hand if there is an external component influencing our development and our ideas it is an entirely different argument.

        One you can condemn, judge, whatever, the other you can not. any more than you can condemn why we have two eyes.

    • Yeah and isn’t there something in the vows about to serve and obey? Plus the reason women took the husband names is that she now belonged to him. At least nowadays all that is only symbolic.

      • It’s very unusual to have someone promise to “obey” now. These days it’s usual for both spouses to promise to “love, honour and cherish” one another.

        • This is true

          I went to a catholic wedding a month ago and was really impressed by one of the things the priest said towards the end. he told the man to always remember that “She is your Equal”.

          I thought that was very impressive. This priest doesn’t come across as a liberal either so that is a good sign in my book.

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