Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Compact Story Telling in the Book of Ruth (Annotation G2-5/Goddard)

In the book of Ruth, “Long ago, in the time of judges,” replaces “Once upon a time.” Likewise “they lived happily ever after is summed up with “The child will give you new life and cherish you in your old age,” (The New English Bible Ruth 4.15). In the four short chapters of this book, all the elements of a story develop with economy: scene, character, plot, conflict, and resolution.
“In the time of Judges,” places the story in a remote past. In this short introduction, the story is past in setting. In the first chapter, a family from Bethlehem flees their homeland due to famine and taken residence in Moab, this sets the reader up for theme of foreigners in a foreign land. After the father dies, the two sons intermarry by taking Moabite women. “They lived there ten years,” when the sons both die. Within the first few verses, the story takes the feminine point of view, following the lives of three women: Naomi, Orpah and Ruth.
The bereaved Mother Naomi implores her two daughters-in-law to remain in their country while she flees Moab to return to her people. Orpah obeys, and Ruth does not. Ruth’s character develops as an obedient and loving woman following her mother-in-law into Bethlehem, making her the foreigner. Both women in this short piece are widows, and foreigners.
Ruth in Bethlehem is subject to more discrimination than her mother-in-law experienced in Moab. In Bethlehem, Ruth, reduced to “gleaning” the fields, a common practice, which was social custom of welfare, takes her place as someone lower than a peasant does. Her unending devotion to her mother-in-law endears the reader to Ruth.
Enter Boaz, a rich landowner. Taking special care of Ruth, he instructs her to stay close to his girls in the field. His instructions lead the reader to think about the potential danger of foreigners gleaning the fields. Naomi Explains to Ruth of local Israeli customs of widows, wishing only the best for her daughter-in-law. The obedient Ruth follows yet more instructions to go into the Boaz’s threshing floor and “turn back the covering at his feet and lie down,” (The New English Bible Ruth 3.4). Humbled to Boaz, he becomes inclined to help Ruth and marry her to her dead husband’s next of kin. The conflict of the custom becomes apparent as Ruth is a foreigner, and the Boaz meets her next of kin along with ten elders. As the man has, family of his own Boaz simply states; “I will act as next-of-kin,” (The New English Bible Ruth 4.4).
The resolution: “So Boaz took Ruth and made her his wife,” (The New English Bible Ruth 4.7). The last few verses of the book link the genealogy of their union to David.
Whether the intention of the Book of Ruth is a genealogical account of King David, or allegory of how to treat foreigners, the compactness of scene, character, plot, conflict and resolution is impressive.

The New English Bible. The Delegates of the Oxford University Press, and The Syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1970.

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