In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ruth

  • Introduction
  • Queer Interpretations
  • History of Interpretation and Cultural Criticism
  • Theology in Ruth
  • Other Issues in Ruth

Biblical Studies Ruth
Jennifer Koosed
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 February 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0313


The biblical book of Ruth is composed with great literary artistry. Its narrative arc is well constructed, its characters richly drawn, and its use of motifs and productive ambiguities is masterful. The historical-critical questions that have dominated scholarship include when, and the interrelated question of why, it was written. There are two dominant theories. Some scholars understand Ruth to be written during or immediately following the reign of King David as part of the apologetic propaganda justifying his usurpation of the throne from the house of Saul. Perhaps David really did have a Moabite grandmother, leading to disparagement of his identity and questioning of his loyalty to Israel. Other scholars position Ruth in the Persian period when, according to books like Ezra-Nehemiah, there were intense debates around intermarriage. In this context, the focus of the narrative would be to demonstrate the power even providence of some intermarriages by claiming that David himself was a descendent of such a union. In this case, Ruth is also in allegiance with texts like Isaiah 56. Regardless of the dating of the text, Ruth is generally understood to be a work of fiction, classified as an idyll, short story, or folktale. Some have pointed out the comic, even carnivalesque, elements in the story. As a work of fiction, the literary artistry of the text comes to the fore and much scholarship centers around an analysis of this artistry. The agricultural seasons structure the plot, the laws of gleaning provide the setting for the meeting between the two who will end up married in the end; there is a connection between human fertility and agricultural fertility and it is only when they come together (Ruth’s pregnancy in a land full of bread) that the story resolves. Ruth is ultimately a story of relationships. Recently, productive interpretations have been generated around issues of gender, sexuality, class, and ethnicity. The characters do not stay within the proscribed boundaries but instead challenge gender expectations, cross ethnic boundaries and class borders, and perhaps even promote queer kinship arrangements.


Like with most biblical books, commentaries on Ruth can be classified by the primary focus of their inquiries. Some commentaries focus on literary-critical issues, others on historical-critical questions. Some are geared toward readers of faith (primarily Christian readers), whereas others read through the hermeneutical lens of feminism or psychoanalysis.

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