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Literature / Book of Ruth

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"For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God."
Ruth 1:16

A short story set in the time of the Book of Judges, detailing how Ruth, a Moabite widow, finds a new husband. That new husband, as it turns out, is a relative of her mother-in-law Naomi's husband, and part of the lineage that would produce King David (and, according to Christians, the Messiah and Savior Jesus Christ).

Structure of the book:

  • Naomi loses her husband and sons and returns to Judah with Ruth (Ruth chapter 1)
  • Ruth finds work reaping the fields of Boaz (Ruth chapter 2)
  • Boaz's encounter with Ruth at night (Ruth chapter 3)
  • Boaz marries Ruth and the rest of the story (Ruth chapter 4)

"For your tropes shall be my tropes":

  • Adaptation Expansion: The 1960 Hollywood version briefly shoehorns the basic elements of the Bible account into a new tale of espionage, child sacrifice, and escape from slavery.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Their ages are not specified as such, but Boaz is old enough to call Ruth "my daughter" before they got involved, and expresses happiness that she chose him instead of a younger man.
  • Babies Ever After: The ending. And these are some pretty important babies too, since Ruth is the ancestor of David, and consequently, an ancestor of Jesus.
  • Batman Gambit: How Boaz ensures he'll marry Ruth, and not the nearer kinsman redeemer. When bringing up the topic with him, Boaz mentions only the land to be reclaimed, and leaves out the detail about also marrying Ruth until the other redeemer agrees. Once the man hears about the sudden marriage detail, he promptly backs out for fear of endangering the ownership of his property.
  • Bedmate Reveal: After celebrating the harvest (strong wine probably involved) Boaz spends the night outdoors on the threshing floor and wakes at some point in the night to find Ruth next to him and not all of his body parts covered.
  • Best Friends-in-Law: Naomi and Ruth are incredibly close.
  • Breather Episode: In the Christian Old Testament, the Book of Ruth, a short love story, is tucked in between the Book of Judges and Books of Samuel, both rather lengthy tales detailing the violent wars between Israel and its enemies and the slow descent into wickedness of the Israelites. Not so in the Jewish Tanakh, however, as Ruth is in a different section of the Bible alongside other literary books, between the Song of Songs and the Book of Lamentations.
  • Broken Bird: Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law. When moving back to Israel, she tells the other women to not call her Naomi (meaning "pleasant") but Mara (meaning "bitter"). Luckily, her spirit recovers after Ruth's marriage and her gaining a grandson.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: It's only at the end of her story do we find out Ruth's significance; she's David's great-grandmother. And thus for Christians, an ancestor of Jesus.
  • Converting for Love: With a twist. After Ruth's husband dies her mother-in-law, Naomi, advises her and Orpah to return to their old homes and religion. Ruth, however, stays out of loyalty to Naomi. In real life, Ruth's story has been used as a precedent for Jewish converts, particularly, the idea that someone can become a good Jew even if he wasn't born one (as Ruth, despite hailing from a nation long considered Israel's archenemy, became an ancestor to Israel's greatest king).
  • Get Thee to a Nunnery: "Feet" was a common euphemism for the genitals at the time, so Naomi directing Ruth to uncover Boaz's feet by night is bolder than it sounds.
  • Guile Hero: Ruth the Moabite, an expatriate who was determined to not fall into misery after losing her husband, ending up as the grandmother of King David.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ruth and Naomi; Ruth even abandons her family and homeland to stay with her mother-in-law.
  • Hope Spot: A mostly bright and heartwarming tale, especially when contrasted with the violent and bleak Book of Judges.
  • Loophole Abuse: There's another relative who's more legally eligible to acquire Mahlon's property than Boaz is. But when Boaz points out that marriage to Mahlon's widow comes with that property (and by Mosaic law, their first son would be considered Mahlon's son and heir), the other man backs out.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Averted (maybe). Despite laws about intermarriage, there is no explicit critique about either Mahlon (Naomi's son) or Boaz marrying Ruth. However, both Mahlon and Chilion die childless after marrying Moabite women, which some interpret as punishment. In Boaz’s case, Ruth adopts the Israelite religion, so this is less of a problem.
  • The Matchmaker: Naomi schemes to get Ruth and Boaz together.
  • Mandatory Fatherhood: According to Mosaic law (specifically, Deuteronomy 25:5-6), a relative of a man who dies without children must marry his widow and give her a son to be the dead man's heir. Boaz is their preferred candidate, but he knows of another man who is more closely related. In chapter 4, he gets this relative to withdraw his claim before witnesses and then becomes the father of Obed with Ruth. Obed himself becomes the father of Jesse and thus the grandfather of King David.
  • May–December Romance: Boaz is much older than Ruth, and says as much. This does not deter her.
  • Meaningful Name: Naomi's sons Mahlon and Chilion's names can be interpreted as meaning "sickly" and "failing" (in health); fitting names for two men who die young. Although the meaning of Mahlon's name has been debated.
  • Meaningful Rename: After Naomi's husband and sons die, she tells her friends to call her "Mara", meaning "bitterness".
  • Nice Jewish Boy: Although Boaz is well older than Ruth, it's implied in the Bible that he didn't ask after women until she showed up working the fields for her kinswoman. Hearing how she's taking care of her mother-in-law Naomi, Boaz sets aside a portion of the best grain for her take home and lets her sit with his table during meals (as a foreign-born, she normally wouldn't have been allowed in those days).
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Inverted, quite famously. Ruth and Naomi get along swimmingly, even after Naomi's son has died. Averted also with Orpah, who got on well with Naomi and Ruth and was clearly sad to leave them.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Naomi loses both of her sons in the first chapter.
  • Out-of-Genre Experience: Ruth, which reads like a domestic drama, is set in the action-packed Crapsack World times of Judges.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Boaz had something of a legal obligation to marry Ruth, but there's little doubt they were genuinely in love.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: Ruth vows her loyalty to her mother-in-law in the famous "where you go, I will go" speech. While not romantic love, it is still very touching.
  • Plucky Girl: Ruth has no husband, children, or strong protectors. Yet she does her best to scratch out a living for herself and her mother-in-law, and her loyalty ultimately pays off.
  • Present Absence: In the Christian Old Testament, this is the first book where God takes no explicit actions or directly communicates with any of the people. Nevertheless, God is referenced by Ruth and Boaz, and the closing genealogy suggests to some God’s ultimate control over events.
  • Quote Mine: The familiar verse "Where you go I will go..." is sometimes quoted in marriage services. It does sound very romantic out of context, but in context Ruth is saying it to her mother-in-law. They did evidently have a very close relationship, but (probably?) not that close.
  • Rescue Romance: Boaz proves himself to be a good man by showing favor to Ruth, leaving more wheat for her to gather than he is legally required to, and protecting her from male harassment.
  • Romancing the Widow: Boaz to Ruth, although Ruth (with Naomi's collusion) did a fair bit of the romancing herself.
  • Romantic False Lead: There's another family member of the tribe that's technically more qualified to marry Ruth and carry on the Levirate duties (i.e., first child born belongs to the family line of the dead husband, not to new hubby), but he backs out of the obligation.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Boaz going above and beyond the laws of generosity is one of his good points.
  • Second Love: Ruth's first husband dies early in the book and is barely mentioned afterward. Only one verse even tells us specifically which one of Naomi's sons he was (it was Mahlon).
  • Sequel Hook: The genealogy at the end connects this story to the Davidic kingship.
  • Shipper on Deck: Naomi for Ruth/Boaz — she's even the one who teaches Ruth what to do and say to get Boaz to agree to cementing the 'ship.
  • Shipper with an Agenda: Ruth is widowed, destitute, and living with her mother-in-law Naomi. She goes out to glean scraps of grain from a nearby farm, just so they have enough food to barely survive, and catches the eye of the farm's owner Boaz. Naomi encourages her to go for it and gives her some advice on how to seal the deal, as Boaz is a wealthy guy and marrying him will ensure they're both cared for. (It helps that he was a close relative of Ruth's late husband, and was thus obligated to marry her under the laws at the time.)
  • Shiksa Goddess: Ruth, the Moabite daughter-in-law of the Jewish widow Naomi, who later on marries Naomi's kinsman Boaz. Her marriage to Boaz is a Subversion, though, as it's made clear she was a Jewish convert before she married him.
  • The Stateless: Ruth is this after the death of her husband, when she chooses to leave with Naomi. Naomi is returning to her homeland, although it's unclear whether she has any family left or would be welcome in her community. Although there were no legal statutes determining citizenship, someone without family members was essentially stateless.
  • Together in Death: Non-romantic version: After the death of her husband, Ruth expresses Undying Loyalty to her mother-in-law, Naomi, and refuses to leave her, even at Naomi's insistence.
    "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried."
  • Tomato Surprise: Ruth, a foreign-born woman, is the great-grandmother of David, Israel's greatest king.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Naomi goes through this in the first chapter: forced to flee Israel because of famine, her husband dies, and then both her sons die. Naomi lampshades this by renaming herself 'Mara', meaning "bitterness".
  • Undying Loyalty: Despite having the option to stay in Moab, Ruth has the loyalty of a daughter to her mother-in-law, Naomi and vows not to leave her. Her famous speech provides the page quote.
  • Unexpected Kindness: Ruth, as a Moabite woman, doesn't expect any warm welcome in Bethlehem, as the Jews and the Moabites are bitter enemies, and is overcome with gratitude (which soon leads to stronger feelings) when the wealthy Boaz not only allows her to glean in his fields but offers her protection and allows her to eat together with him and his reapers.
  • The Unseen: At no time does God show up or be directly invoked... and yet the whole book is a perfect example of God's covenant with the Hebrew faith.
  • Unusual Euphemism: As mentioned above, uncovering Boaz's "feet" probably meant more than just taking his sandals off.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: The most obvious interpretation of Naomi's planned encounter with Boaz and Ruth was to convince him that something had happened between the two of them during the night — he was celebrating the end of harvest season, wine had been consumed, he woke up with parts of himself uncovered and with Ruth next to him saying, "Now you must marry me"...
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Naomi's other daughter-in-law, Orpah, decides to stay in Moab the first chapter and is never mentioned again.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Why Naomi wanted to send her two daughter-in-laws away — if they went back to Israel with her, they would have been foreigners with little or no protection.
  • You Can Turn Back: Naomi says this to her two widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Orpah takes her up on it, Ruth refuses.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: Naomi tries to send her two widowed daughters-in-law back to their families to get Moabite husbands. Ruth will have none of it, and Orpah goes back only with reluctance.

Alternative Title(s): Ruth