It’s been a long while since I’ve posted much of anything on the Old Testament, and it’s high time I did so!  As I have announced recently, in February I’ll be publishing a six-lecture course on the Pentateuch (the first five books) – one of the most influential collection of books in the history of civilization.  There are lots of other amazing books in the Old Testament as well, and it’s a real pity people don’t read them more.

With this post I am starting a thread on the “short stories”  of Scripture.  I begin with one of the truly greats, Ruth.  This one will take a couple of posts.

I have taken the discussion from my book, The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2nd edition, 2018)



One of the real gems among the books of the Hebrew Bible is the four-chapter book of Ruth, the tale of a Moabite woman married to and then widowed by an Israelite man, who then uses her wits, determination, and sexuality to ward off desolation.  In the English Bible, the book appears in the middle of the Deuteronomistic History (even though it was originally not a part of it), because the opening verse indicates that its action took place “In the days when the judges ruled” (1:1). But it was written sometime after the Deuteronomistic History was produced; several words used in this gripping narrative are borrowings from Aramaic, and so the book appears to have been written in the postexilic period, possibly in the fifth or fourth century b.c.e.  As with the other books we are considering in this chapter (apart from Jonah) it is found in the Hebrew Bible among the Kethuvim.

Among the distinctive features of this account is the fact that the main character is

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