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Ruth: Bridges and Boundaries


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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Exposition (1:1–6)


The exposition of the book of Ruth unleashes a dynamic sequence of events, a preamble to the main narrative that is virtually a story in itself.1 The most striking feature of the opening verses is their rapid pace – more than a decade is condensed into a few lines, while the rest of the book’s four chapters unfold over a period of about three months (concluding with pregnancy and birth, which adds another year to the story’s timeline). The details of these years remain in shadow. We are told nothing about how Elimelech spent his time in Moab, nothing about the events leading up to Naomi’s sons’ marriage with Moabite girls, and nothing about the relationship between the Israelite and Moabite families. Did the people of Moab alienate this Israelite family, or did they accept them? These omitted details convey much about the narrator’s priorities – and emphasize the bare-bones ingredients of the exposition. What can be gleaned from the sparse information that the narrator does reveal?

“And it Came to Pass In the Days When Judges Ruled”

The opening verse rings familiar with its seemingly formulaic use of “And it came to pass in the days of” (יֵמְיִּב יִהְיַו). However, this apparent familiarity belies its singularity. This opening phrase appears elsewhere four times in the Bible: “And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel” (Gen 14:1); “And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Yotam” (Isa 7:1); “And...

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