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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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Naomi (and Ruth’s) Return to Bethlehem (1:19–22)

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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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