I won’t belabor the points made in the rest of the series, but I felt it was necessary to provide some concluding thoughts on the book of Ruth.
- First of all, the book is primarily a book explaining the rise of the House of David. It develops the preeminence of the clan in Judah which sets the stage for David’s rise as king and the claim his clan made on the rightful rule of all Hebrews.
- Second, Ruth contains a lot of core beliefs like redemption and resurrection that provide the foundation for the development of monarchical and exilic Hebrew thought. The themes certainly exist elsewhere, especially in the Joseph narrative of Genesis, but here they are explicitly tied to agricultural themes, out of which emerges the practices of the Hebrews.
- It provides glimpses into the polytheistic Hebrew culture that David overthrew in revering YHWH as the one true God. Naomi seems to embrace polytheism, or at least a consort to YHWH but this is rejected in favor of the worship of YHWH alone through Boaz and the people of Bethlehem.
- The book ties sexuality, agricultural seasons and human tragedy together in a single theme, uniting all of creation in the rhythms of YHWH’s work and will.
Ruth represents what I think of as proto-Jewish thought. Jewish thought really emerges after the Exile (c. 600 BCE) but all of the themes are present here. The Hebrews were a very loose identification and there are a lot of moving parts to their society that we simply cannot understand because of the difference in time and culture that stands between us and them. That being said, it is safe to assume that Ruth offers us a unifying point.
I have written elsewhere that I believe David is the keystone of the entire Hebrew Scriptures. It is his rule that unites the people of the region under one government, one religion and one language. It is his rule that allows for the collection, collation and publication (if such a word can be used anachronistically) of the Torah and the Psalms. These then essentially form Hebrew as a language and distinguish it from its proto-Canaanite predecessors and mark out the Hebrews as their own people.
Ruth then underlies David’s reign, gives it legitimacy in the face of opposing forces, particularly the tribe of Ephraim which would break free of the House of David in 922 BCE under Jeroboam b. Nebat and would ultimately come under the rule of the House of Omri (884 BCE). The House of David continued its rule in Judah until the Exile, even retaking large portions of the northern kingdom under the rule of strong kings like Josiah.
Speaking of Josiah, he will be the focus of another series of posts coming soon. There are four key compositional periods we must consider in studying the Hebrew Scriptures. They provide us with the bulk of the literary output of ancient Judah:
- David and Solomon (1000-922 BCE)
- Hezekiah (726-697 BCE)
- Josiah (639-609 BCE)
- Exile and Return under Zerubbabel (c 600-520 BCE)
These four periods, all considered part of the House of David, are responsible for almost all of the literary output that is the Hebrew Scriptures. It is amazing to think that there is a huge period of the history of Judah, indeed most of the reign of the House of Omri in the northern kingdom, during which we know next to nothing about Judah; and then there is a literary explosion during the Exile and the Return. There is very little in the Hebrew Scriptures that was not either composed or compiled during one of these four periods.
But more of that anon.