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Ruth: Bridges and Boundaries

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Jonathan Grossman

Ruth: Bridges and Boundaries is a literary close reading of the text as a bridge between the anarchic period of the Judges and the monarchic age that begins with the birth of David, as reflected through Ruth’s absorption process within Bethlehemite society. This bridge is constructed from three main axes: the theological perception that human actions have the power to shape and advance reality; the moral-legal perception that the spirit of the law must be privileged over the letter of the law and social conventions; and the principle that the institute of monarchy must be based upon human compassion. The commentary traces the narrative sequence through the paradigm of this three-fold cord, showing how these threads are woven throughout the book. This innovative reading is illustrated with an unprecedented psychological analysis of Ruth as a narrative of transition, using modern psychological theories.
This contemporary yet textually faithful literary commentary offers new insight into the inner workings of the text of Ruth as literary masterpiece. Academic yet accessible, this work provides tools for readers of Ruth and the field of biblical narrative in general.
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Three axes form the underlying structure of the Book of Ruth: the relationship between human action and divine action; the attitude towards the law; and the attitude towards the Other. All three axes develop similarly: initiative and responsibility is settled upon human shoulders alone.

As I discuss in the introduction, and touch upon throughout, the story is not characterized by the usual concept of dual causality, but rather by “integrative causality”: God orchestrates situations in which people are forced to act; the person freely decides how to act, and God reacts to his or her decisions. Ultimately, it is the characters’ actions that allow the story to reach its happy end – the author ascribes the outcome of the plot to its characters’ decisions no less than to the acts of God. The end of the story hints at human limitations – “and the Lord granted her pregnancy” (4:13), but until this point, the characters alone advance the plot, and it is human action that leads to Boaz and Ruth’s union.

The narrative’s attitude towards social and legal conventions is similarly presented. Here, too, the legal world is a starting point for the character’s actions, rather than its end. The entire story revolves around social customs and legal procedures, but is not characterized by adherence to these customs and laws – rather, it unfolds according to their reinterpretation, which is governed by compassion towards the living and the dead. “Proper” social conventions are bent beyond recognition...

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