The Book of Ruth (from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible)
The Book of Ruth tells the story of a Moabite woman, Ruth, who accepts to follow the God of her mother in-law, Naomi, and integrate into the Israelite community despite being a foreigner. This choice causes Ruth to become the great-grandmother of David, the Israelite King, and hence join the ancestry of Jesus. Ruth and Naomi’s stories in the book portray the significant influence on culture and history, in terms of lineage, that their choices had, influencing feminist scholars’ reference to the book as a feminist-oriented narrative.
I think that Phyllis Trible’s argument that the book involves portrayal of “women in, against, and transforming culture” is unjustified in terms of lack of Ruth and Naomi’s deliberate actions and active roles in the story. I think that depiction of the book’s story in the context of feminist ideology is erroneous because the two women’s obedience to God’s Will, rather than active decisions on their parts to influence culture and history, formed the motivations for their choices and actions. Feminism concerns ideologies and socio-political movements that have as a common goal the definition, establishment, and achievement of equal rights for women. In contrast, the actions of Ruth and Naomi in the book did not feature deliberate objectives of contributing to the society and transforming the culture. For the women, these consequences were only unplanned effects of their actions and choices to obey God and His Will and desire in their lives.
In Ruth 1: 16-17 (New International Version), Ruth tells her mother in-law that she would live with her and her people and worship her God. As a Moabite woman, Ruth portrays humility in this choice because she has the freedom to leave her mother in-law’s family after her husband’s death.Ruth 4: 13-22 records that unwittingly, Naomi initiates Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, a rich man in Bethlehem, thus laying foundations for the lineage of King David and Jesus.This assessment means that the women’s choices are significant in determining subsequent generations. Nevertheless, it is evident from the book that God’s Will and the women’s obedience are central themes. Ruth 1: 9-18 shows that Naomi’s intention was to let her daughter in-law free as she planned to return to Bethlehem, but Ruth chose to obey the Israelite God, which involved following Ruth to Bethlehem. When Ruth meets Boaz in the fields, he notes her obedience and humility to God and prays for God’s blessings in her life. Ruth 2: 12 records Boaz’s request to God to “repay” Ruth’s actions richly, observing that Ruth had chosen to “take refuge in God’s wings”. The factor of God’s Will in the story is evident in the fact that Naomi did not know that Boaz was the man she had met in the fields when she went to collect leftover grain, as Ruth 2:19-20 records.
The implication of this evaluation is that while the actions and choices of Naomi and Ruth resulted in their influence in King David’s lineage, the women had no active and deliberate roles in such influence. Their actions only represented humility and obedience to God’s Will. Rather than portraying “women in, against, and transforming culture”, the story shows the power that humility, obedience, and faith in God can have in personal life and in the society. The women in the story were passive towards God’ Will, and such faith was the cause of their influence on culture. Their actions at a personal level had no objectives of affecting, rebelling, or transforming culture.
The Bible (Hebrew Bible, NIV). The Book of Ruth.