Ruth

In the Bible, the book of Ruth is a lesbian love story.

Ruth’s husband has died. Naomi is Ruth’s mother in law, who prays The Lord grant that you may find security. But where? The only place is in the house of your husband. Then Ruth makes her famous declaration of Love, often read at weddings:

Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.

At Bethlehem, Ruth meets Boaz. He does not speak to her at first: he asks the foreman, ‘To whom does this young woman belong? But Ruth does not belong to any man. So Boaz has to order the young men not to bother her. They might sexually assault a lone woman like that.

How are these two women to survive? Naomi tells Ruth to find where Boaz sleeps, and lie down by his feet. That is, she offers herself to him, and he accepts. But after the declaration of love between the two women, there are no words of love between Boaz and Ruth, only gratitude. After she has lain at his feet, he gives her a gift of barley.

A woman cannot own property. Only a man can. So who shall redeem Elimelech’s land, which his widow Naomi holds? Boaz is the only kinsman who will do so, and with the land he acquires Ruth as his wife. The purpose of this law is that the name of the man Elimelech will not die, for Boaz effectively will give him sons to inherit his land, through Ruth.

The only place where these two women will not starve is the house of a man, and it is better to have one man to protect them or any man may sexually assault them. (Marital rape was legal in England until the 1990s). The final proof of their love: the women say to Naomi your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons. Naomi took Ruth’s son and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse.

This post is for deorl, who boasts of being “a degreed student of the Bible” and accuses me of eisigesis, which by etymology means “reading [my] own biases into the text” but is more often used to mean interpreting a passage in a way the speaker does not like. The text is clear, and only his homophobia prevents him from seeing the love of two women celebrated in the Old Testament. That is, his is a cultural interpretation from conservative evangelicalism, not an open-minded interpretation seeking the meaning of the text.

Ruth is the Bible at its best, challenging the extreme oppression of women. In the Torah, we see women as chattels, so that if a woman is raped the solution is to marry her to her rapist, on the principle of “You break it, you buy it”. The Bible supports the rule-based oppressive religion that deorl still craves. However it also continually subverts it, as with this story.

Gentileschi, Susannah and the Elders 1

12 thoughts on “Ruth

  1. I think there is something wrong with me. I read this post and think “Wow! That never occurred to me!” Great post and I am inclined to agree with you but the thing that stands out after all of this, what should be earth shattering for a Christian, is instead – what painting is that?

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  2. I don’t really think it’s a crypto-lesbian story, Clare, although people can read stuff into it, like they do with “subtext” on television shows. What it’s really about, hon, is accepting people outside of your little group. Ruth wasn’t an Israelite, yet she was n the line of David and Jesus.

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    • Really? A pity.

      That point has been made about the Gospel genealogies- including a foreigner, even a woman! It is hard to reconcile with Ezra and Nehemiah and Haggai, though, on about purity from the foreigner. I still get my Bible of differing views.

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  3. I read, and am commenting on your revisionist telling of Ruth’s story because you were kind enough to do the same, and kinder still to dedicate your story to me. You have indeed performed eisegesis in your interpretation of the text, which is typically the result of looking for something that you want to prove in a given passage, then interpreting from the framework of the conclusion you had already arrived at before approaching the text. I have seen many conservative interpreters do the same thing. What is missing is proper context: grammatical, historical, theological and canonical.

    1) Historical/Canonical. The concept of lesbianism, or the kind of sexual expression to which it infers is entirely foreign to the Old Testament. We could look at Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of God’s treatment of homosexuality in the Old Testament, but it only gives examples of males involved in a violent form of sexual expression that included raping a woman to death. There is no lesbianism mentioned. With this in mind, you have approached Ruth’s story as a pretext, and divined a subtext, instead of looking at the context in order to prove lesbianism. As a friend of mine observed recently when confronted with this same bizarre interpretation of Ruth, there may be confusion among some people because the text you quoted from Ruth is often used in weddings. The problem is in always understanding that love must involve or eventuate in sex. Sex, in fact, is not love, and has less to do with love in our present culture than ever.

    2) Grammatical. The word “love” is used once in Ruth, and it is an observation by the women who speak of Ruth’s actions to Naomi. Speaking of Obed, Ruth’s baby son, the women say, “May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” (Ruth 4:15). Ruth has shown love to Naomi, not sex, not some kind of lesbian relationship, but love. What does that word mean? The Hebrew “ahava” here is as broad as our English word. It is used to refer to “affection both pure and impure, divine and human” (Brown Drivers Briggs lexicon). Thus, it is even more important to look at the context in which the word is used. It is Ruth’s actions that serve to define the term. Ruth has left her homeland and been faithful and obedient to her mother-in-law; Ruth has continued to count herself a part of Naomi’s family to provide the older woman with an heir to maintain the family line. I like C.S Lewis’s fundamental definition of love, which is evident here: “Love is acting in the best interest of the beloved.”

    3) Historical/Theological. Ruth is a story about redemption. The Hebrew concept of the “goel” or “Kinsman Redeemer” is central, so it is important to understand it, as it is to understand the Hebrew legal provision of Levirate Marriage. First, here is what the Expositor’s Bible Commentary says about the kinsman redeemer: “The OT concept of kinsman-redeemer includes the protection of a relative’s person and property. It involves avenging the murder of a relative, the purchase of his alienated property, and/or the marriage to his widow (cf. Lev 25:25; Num 35:21; Ruth 4).”
    (Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 6 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 678.) Next, Levirate Marriage involved the kinsman redeemer, typically a brother, taking in a widow and providing an heir for her and the deceased, in order to maintain the family lineage and property. “It was the duty of the nearest male relative of a deceased man to marry his childless widow and to father her children. Her firstborn son would then be acknowledged as the son of her deceased husband and would inherit his property.”
    (Jocelyn McWhirter, “Marriage,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014).
    Ruth is a story about redemption. Naomi has lost everything: her husband, her sons, and fears she is too old to have another family. Ruth from Moab demonstrates loyal love toward her mother-in-law by returning with her to Israel. When Naomi returns she tells everyone to call her “Mara” or bitter, because of how God has treated her. She is in for a pleasant surprise. God is good. God is faithful. God is love. Ruth discovers Boaz, an older man who owns property, and providentially is in line to be one of the Kinsman Redeemers for Naomi’s family. Boaz obviously shows both compassion and tenderness toward Ruth by giving her special treatment as she gleans in his fields. Naomi puts Ruth up to the idea of approaching Boaz about “spreading his covering over” her. Boaz consents and is determined to get this sweet woman as his wife, even though the heir will not be his. Boaz redeems Ruth and restores Naomi’s property and provides and heir. That heir so happens to be the grandfather of the greatest king in Israel’s history: David.

    4)Practical. God redeems and God restores. He sent his Son Jesus Christ to redeem humankind from death and eternal destruction. God adopts people into his family who will receive His Son. “To as many as received Him, He gave the right to be children of God, even to those who called on His name” (John 1:12). The name we call on is Jesus. “There is no other name under heaven, given among people, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). When we call on Jesus to save us, he restores God’s broken image, in which human beings were originally created. “…in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). When God’s image is restored in the person who has received Christ, they begin to have the character of the Son of God formed in them. “For those he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). “If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold, all things are made new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I pray everyone who reads this receives Christ’s offer of redemption, even as Ruth received Boaz’s. The blessing of living under cover of his wings is immeasurable!

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    • Thank you for commenting, and your lengthy exposition. I hate to indulge in a tis/tisn’t argument, but the eisegesis is yours. You interpret the book from within your conservative evangelical culture, which at the moment is obsessed by hatred of gay people. You read that beautiful comment about eunuchs, and were unable to appreciate it because of your culture. Think!

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