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.

From Death to Life

Of the multiple papers presented at the Society of Biblical Literature Conference, one of the most outstanding to me was by a lady, whose name I cannot recall, that drew out the concept of resurrection within Job. Upon referencing Job 19:26, a passage commonly used within the 1st four centuries as a prophetic text for Jesus’ resurrection, she explored how it was the root of the concept of resurrection which developed rapidly within the 2nd Temple Period. One nuance of Job, which I do wish she’d spent more time explicating, was that the concept of moving from death to life within the book takes place within life. Why does this matter?

In essence, reading the concept of resurrection within one’s life permits for a more practical hope to be held. Rather than simply pushing hope to be the resurrection after one has died, the hope for resurrection from death is permitted to take place in this life, not another. Essentially, it allows people to participate more practically in the Job narrative and join Job in his journey to understanding the nuances of life: how does one move from a living death to a living life?

Of course, while these concepts are utilized within the New Testament beyond this life, that does not nullify an understanding of resurrection within this life. Expansion of how we define resurrection, especially for Christians, beyond a postmortem occurrence may very well open up doors to encourage, build, and change the world in even greater ways. It offers hope to people who live now rather than forcing them to take upon themselves the pessimistic weight of Ecclesiastes as their life.

And, most importantly, an expanded understanding of resurrection, from death to life, permits more successful Jewish-Christian dialogue, which may well lead to a unity of the two traditions to move together towards the healing of the world.