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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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The Long Way Home: Naomi and Her Daughters-in-Law (1:7–18)

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Much of the book of Ruth is transmitted by way of dialogue between the characters,1 beginning with the description of Ruth’s pledge to Naomi and Orpah’s farewell. Each direct quotation introduces another facet of its speaker, her language and vocabulary revealing as much as her actions.2 Their dialogue essentially comprises of different monologues, through which the narrator carefully presents Ruth and Naomi’s perspective world views.

Verse 7 – “She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law;3 and they walked along the road back to the land of Judah” – seems to repeat v. 6. The lack of new information led Joüon to dismiss this verse as superfluous,4 though others argue this duplication has literary value. Sasson claims this verse ← 87 | 88 → creates suspense and alerts the reader to a new scene,5 and Zakovitch adds that the sensitive reader can detect a different emphasis between the two verses: the first narrates their departure without specifying their destination, while the second emphasizes their destination.6 Moreover, stressing Naomi’s departure from “the place she was in,” especially considering the use of the verb she “was” (התיה) exempts her from the criticism cast on her family for actually “living” (ובשיו) (1:4) there – Naomi herself never fully settled in “that place,” and she is as unattached to that nameless place as the day she first arrived (“and they came to the fields of Moab and they were (ויהיו) there” [1:2]).

The subtle...

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