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?

 

Old and New Covenant: Reconsideration

This previous semester at Northwest University, I observed a consistency among fellow students and my professors. In discussion of the New Testament and issues relating to the Sinai covenant to Jesus’ covenant, the entirety of covenant in the Hebrew Bible was often simply described as the “Old Covenant”. Such a basic and non-fluid dichotomy, one which attempts to systematize a fluid and dynamic biblical theology, fails to recognize the complexities of covenant within the Hebrew Bible. Covenant is not restricted to the Sinai covenant; rather, it includes God’s covenant to David, Abraham, and the whole of creation. While professors likely grasp the complexity of a simplified term like “Old Covenant”, do the students understand those complexities?

I would guess not. Unfortunately this sort of simplicity is often presented in classes, without discussion of what “covenant” completely encompasses and the relational aspects of the term. Perhaps this should become something more students and scholars actively consider as they develop their understandings and interpretations of the Bible, Hebrew Bible and New Testament alike. Such a movement would hopefully inspire students to more thoughtfully consider how they understand Israel, creation, and various leaders within the Hebrew Bible. Additionally, it would provide for more dynamic and in-depth Jewish-Christian dialogue by encouraging Christians to broaden their understandings of what, throughout the Bible, defines covenant.