An Article by Brad Embry (Regent University) on Legalities in the Book of Ruth

In previous posts, I have explored the book of Ruth, though not as much as I’d have liked to. Recently, Dr. Brad Embry wrote an article about the legalities in the book of Ruth. Feel free to read and enjoy.

Here is the Academia.edu link:

Legalities in the Book of Ruth: A Renewed Look

Musings on “The Exegetical Captivity of the Book of Ruth”

In a recent post by Jim Gordon, he raised a point to consider regarding the nature of commentaries about the book of Ruth (Click here to read the original post). The essence of his question will be considered/answered/discussed in this blog post. Because the first question is the best summary of his post, I will quote his first question and proceed.

Question: Can a man write an adequate commentary on a book in which women’s experience is definitive and central in the story? Is gender irrelevant to how a person approaches a narrative text like Ruth?

Consideration: One point to consider is the amount of scholarship and time being placed into study of the Megilloth. My former professor, Dr. Brad Embry, currently leads the Megilloth group at the Society of Biblical Literature because it has received so little attention. Thus, the amount of people seeking to actively research the book of Ruth is dramatically decreased. This is an important factor to consider in questioning why there aren’t more female author’s.

Furthermore, the hermeneutic utilized by one significantly affects how Ruth is and should be understood. Within a recent class at Northwest University, I experienced this factor. The entire class was about Ruth and each student participated in discussion about the text as we moved through it over the semester. As we moved through the text, it became more and more apparent that each student held a differing view about Ruth as different aspects stood out to them. Interestingly enough, nobody approached Ruth as a piece of literature about women’s experience. Nor do I. To assume that Ruth is specifically about a woman’s experience is a presupposition that should be proven prior to approaching it in that manner, or else the eyes of the interpreter become tunnel visioned to that idea. In my view, Ruth seems to transcend issues of a woman’s experience. Ruth, as a character, is the vehicle through whom God acts, a vehicle which could just as well be a male. Although a male would have conjured up different allusions and spoken to the reader differently, many of the basic concepts could still have been expressed.

I view Ruth as a sort of “indie” book of the Bible (read original post here) intended to speak about issues that transcend the issues of a woman’s  experiences. Emphasis is placed upon the nature of God and the community. Ruth may even be a sort of commentary, though not polemic, regarding traditions of strict separation between Israel/nations. In essence, the hermeneutics and aim of interpretation make a huge difference as to whether or not the gender of reader is relevant in interpreting Ruth. However, that is not to disdain to the value of a female’s interpretation about Ruth as a women’s experience, for this approach yields positive results in that it separates the tangle of patriarchy and permits one to move towards the transcendent value of Ruth.

In conclusion, I pose my own questions. What is the focus of Ruth? While a woman’s experience is an element as play within the book of Ruth, is it really the focal point of the book? Or are there multiple focal points as with indie films?

 

The Role of Ruth

Note: Ruth in italics represents the title of the Book of Ruth, while Ruth is regular caps is for the character.

Within the Hebrew Bible and biblical studies, one of the most overlooked portions is the Megilloth (Ruth, Lamentations, Song of Solomon, Esther, and Ecclesiastes). Although people like Dr. Brad Embry (Regent University) have started a Program Unit at SBL for the Megilloth, it remains overlooked. This is unfortunate because the Megilloth act in a unique manner. One major factor so unique about the Megilloth is their sense of being in the genre of “indie films”, or independent films. In essence, an independent film escapes the typical boundary markers set by the film industry. They need not appeal to the mass audience by creating a simple story with everything cut and dry (Note: Don’t think I am saying the whole Bible is cut and dry. I am speaking very broadly). Indie films, rather, demonstrate real life while still raising issues and making points. They don’t attempt to make everything neat and tidy. Within them, certain tensions exist as part of the drive and soul of the film.

In my view, Ruth is quite similar to an indie film. Contrary to the belief that Ruth was solely written as a polemic to Hezekiah and Josiah’s reforms, Ruth seems to be more of a down to earth view of Israelite society which recognizes that society is not nearly as black and white as is oft-portrayed. Ruth see’s no need to cover up the nature of Ruth as a Moabite. It even portrays her as the ideal Israelite and part of the assembly of God. Such actions directly contradict Deuteronomy 23:3-6, God’s command not to allow Moabites into the assembly or provide them with support. Clearly this independent “film” escapes the typical boundary markers set by ancient Israel. By escaping the boundary markers, Ruth occurs in tension with the rest of the Hebrew Canon, tensions utilized to progress the didactic goal of Ruth.

By approaching Ruth as an indie film, there no longer needs to be an attempt to synchronize everything theologically. As is often recognized, the Hebrew Bible displays many theologies, and these should be embraced equally. So, rather than “passing over” (It is Passover right now…) Ruth because it seems insignificant, it should be approached directly with respect for the indie like nature of the narrative. After all, if one fails to recognize that a film is indie and views it through the same lens as a mainstream Hollywood film, the life is suffocated from the film. In the same way, to place such stringent restrictions on how to read Ruth will result in the suffocation of a literary masterpiece.