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.
Naomi (and Ruth’s) Return to Bethlehem (1:19–22)
Can this be Naomi?
The meeting between Naomi and the people of her hometown is charged with emotion, detected in the lines that depict her defeated return: “When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town buzzed with excitement over them. The women said, “Can this be Naomi?” (1:19).
The narrator relays Naomi and Ruth’s arrival in plural form – they have undertaken this journey together – and the women of the town marvel over both of them, although they feign to ignore Ruth, asking only “can this be Naomi?” The narrator draws attention to the disparity between their clear interest in both women and their exclamations over Naomi alone, a disparity I will shortly return to.
The author chooses an interesting verb to describe the excitement of the town at Naomi’s return (םוהתו).1 The plain meaning of “םוהתו,” assuming its root is ם.ו.ה, is “muttering, shouting, loud vocal noises.”2 The town is abuzz with excited rumors – Naomi is, so to ← 113 | 114 → speak, the talk of the town. The town’s reaction to Naomi is narrated in two steps: firstly, there is great buzz around their return; secondly, there is the local women’s verbal reaction – “can this be Naomi?”3 The verb “םהתו” appears in the bible in both contexts of mourning and sadness, such as: “why are you downcast, my soul, and why do you mourn (ימהתו)?” (Ps 42:5), as well as in contexts of joy: “and as the Ark of the covenant of the...
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