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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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Ruth and Boaz’s Encounter at the Threshing-Floor (3:1–18)

Extract



Blessed are you to the Lord, my daughter

Not only does the reader sense disappointment at chap. 2’s conclusion, “and she dwelled with her mother-in-law” (2:23) – Naomi herself is not pleased with the turnout of events, and she is the one who instigates Ruth’s midnight venture. Unlike the previous scene, which opens with Ruth’s request to go a-gleaning in the field, here Naomi is the initiator, and Ruth submits to her request. This disparity reflects the difference between the roles played by the two female protagonists: Ruth is the bread-winner, concerned for their livelihood, while Naomi is absorbed with the question of Ruth’s marriage; Ruth is busy gleaning in the field, while Naomi would have her put her bundles aside and focus on finding herself a husband, finding herself long-term “security.”

How is Naomi’s suggestion to be understood, and, on a fundamental level, what takes place at the threshing-floor? One of the underlying questions of the chapter is whether there is any sexual contact between Ruth and Boaz that night, and whether this is Naomi’s intention in the first place. Beyond the importance of actually understanding of the story, this question has vital implications for the characterization of the protagonists and their underlying motivations.

The different readings of this chapter generally fall under one of two extremes: some claim that no sexual content is present in the chapter, neither in Naomi’s suggestion, nor in Ruth and Boaz’ interaction, while, at the...

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