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The Book of Ruth

Author(s): W. E. Staples
Source: The American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures, Vol. 53, No. 3 (Apr.,
1937), pp. 145-157
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/528920
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The American Journal of
SEMITIC LANGUAGES AND LITERATURES

Volume LIII APRIL, 1937 Number3

THE BOOK OF RUTH


W. E. STAPLES

In the past the Book of Ruth does not seem to have received a
great deal of attention. Scholars usually pass it by as of small value.
It is not worth while to squeeze the juice from so small a fruit. The
beauty is all on the surface. The outer skin is so transparent that all
the seeds can be detected without opening. The purpose of this paper
is to show that there may be possibilities in the book hitherto unnoted
yet worthy of consideration.
The casual glance to which this work has been subjected has pro-
duced various theories as to its purpose: it is a historical account of
the genealogy of David; it is a post-Exilic creation used as propaganda
against the racial particularism of Ezra-Nehemiah. When a second
glance disturbed these theories, scholars claimed it to be nothing but
a charming piece of literature.
The first two theories hang together. The book could be used as
antipropaganda only if it could be shown that David had Moabite
blood in his veins. Foreign blood flowing in the veins of any lesser
man would have been just cause for the nationalists to excommunicate
him from their midst. They could not do this to their greatest his-
torical hero.
An examination of the book with these theories in view shows,
however, that no mention of David is made until 4:17. Verses 18-22
of chapter 4 are obviously an addition by a later editor and are meant
145
146 THE AMERICAN OFSEMITIC
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to connect our story with an ancestress of David. This editor may


have been one of the literary school which opposed the principles
enunciated by Ezra-Nehemiah and so made use of this story for his
own purposes. However, he was sufficiently honest to insert a major
pause, S, between verses 17 and 18. This is the only major pause in
the book and surely indicates in a mechanical way the end of the story
and the beginning of the editor's comment. The editor wished verses
18-22 to be taken as his own interpretation of the story.
In verse 17 we find that the neighboring women gave the child its
name. In this verse there are two names mentioned, "YAlladh-ben-
leNaomi" and "Obed." Such a double naming is so unusual as to
make one doubtful of the originality of one of the names. Verses 14-17
show that it was the women of the village who gave these names to the
child. Under the circumstances narrated by the author, the former is
obviously the sort of name non-members of the family would give to
the child. The latter is a name a parent might give, but not an out-
sider. There seems to be no connection between "Yfllladh-ben-
leNaomi" and "Obed." It is possible, then, that another editor in-
serted the last clause of verse 17 as a connector between the story and
the following genealogy.
In the following pages I will point out that all the proper names in
our story have fertility-cult connections: Bethlehem, Naomi, Elime-
lech, and Boaz are all names associated with the cult; Ruth and Orpah,
Mahlon-Chilyon and YAlladh-ben-leNaomi, exhibit the characteristics
of contrast so common in cult names. We have Ruth, the true friend,
in contrast with Orpah who turned back; and we have the dolorous
names of Mahlon and Chilyon in contrast with the more promising
one "a son is born to the pleasant one." When, however, we reach
Obed in verse 17 and the further genealogy of verses 18-22 of chap-
ter 4, we enter into another realm of names entirely. The connection,
therefore, between these two parts is scarcely possible.
As soon as you admit "Obed" as the name of the child, you intro-
duce a strange name into the story and so disrupt the whole program
of the original author. "Yflladh-ben-leNaomi," "son of the pleasant
one," is the grand climax of the story. Any addition would be anti-
climactic and of poor dramatic construction. Our author, on the other
hand, is a real artist.
THE BOOK OF RUTH 147

If, then, the story ended at "Y-illadh-ben-leNaomi," David disap-


pears entirely from any theory one can adopt as to the original purpose
of the book, and at the same time the antinationalistic propaganda
theory receives its quietus.
Many scholars have already discarded these two theories and have
withdrawn to the stronger position: it is a charming story, a pure
piece of romance whose sole purpose is to please. The excision of
verses 17b-22 cannot disturb those who hold it. One cannot deny the
artistry and the charm of the story. Our quarrel with this theory lies
in the improbability of a Hebrew author, at this early date, writing
any story whose sole purpose is to amuse. These same scholars do
not attribute a like motive to any other section of the Hebrew Scrip-
tures. However, even assuming the possibility of such a thesis, we can-
not explain by it the author's choice of names of persons and locality.
Would a mere story-teller select names that are obviously cult names
and group others in such a way as to leave no doubt as to his implica-
tions? Surely, therefore, the author had some other purpose in mind
when he gave us this "charming story."
In an article to follow this one I shall endeavor to point out that the
fertility-cult concepts evolved with time and environment from crude
beginnings to become the basis for a theory of world-order and the
foundation of the Hebrew idea of a new and happier order for their
nation. In earlier literature the Hebrews pictured their heroes as
Tammuz-Osiris figures, and in later literature they pictured their com-
ing savior in the same language. Two main ideas persist in the philoso-
phy of the fertility cult: the end of the old and unhappy order and the
inevitable beginning of a new and happier era, and the birth or appear-
ance of a young man who will act as a savior or leader of his people.
Biblical passages which picture these incidents are largely written
in the style of the older cults, although the earlier significance of the
language may have become lost or modified. It seems logical, there-
fore, that we should look for ideas of this philosophy of a new world-
order in passages which are certainly cultic in flavor. If prophetic
passages be written in the style of the fertility cult, it seems right that
we should look for the prophetic in stories obviously cultic in style.
An examination of the Book of Ruth proves quite conclusively that
it has a strong cultic flavor. We are justified, therefore, in looking for
148 THE AMERICANJOURNALOF SEMITICLANGUAGES

something prophetic in it. In taking this view we are, at any rate, giv-
ing the cult motifs of the Book of Ruth a value consistent with similar
cult motifs found in the prophets. I shall endeavor to show that the
Book of Ruth is in reality a midrash written after the Exile for the
purpose of bringing comfort and encouragement to the people who
have passed through a distressing period.
A midrash1 may be defined as an interpretation of present history
in the light of past experiences, legends, myths, folk-lore, etc. As a
midrash of this type the story must have a historical background.
There must have been a historical incident to call forth the story. The
story opens with a picture of Elimelech and his family moving to
Moab because of a famine in Bethlehem of Judah. There are three
possible causes to which this famine may be attributed: lack of rain,
locusts, and hostile invasion. In regard to the first two causes the
climate and geographical position are of prime importance. It is to
be noted that the emigrants went to Moab which is east and consid-
erably south of Bethlehem. The rain comes from the west, hence
there is a good rain from Jaffa northward; as one goes south from Jaffa
the mass of the continent of Africa juts up to form a screen to the
Arabian peninsula, and hence the rain in Palestine south of Jaffa grad-
ually decreases until the desert is reached just south of Gaza. The
rain coming from the west, therefore, will gradually diminish as one
moves toward the east until he reaches the desert a short distance be-
yond Amman, or as one moves southward. Now Moab, being to the
east and south of Bethlehem, will receive much less rain in any one
year than Bethlehem. Locusts breed on the edge of the desert and
work toward the sown land. It is clear, therefore, that a district nearer
the desert will be overrun by locusts sooner than one farther away.
A famine from drought or locusts would last only a season or at most
two seasons. This leaves but one occasion for Elimelech's flight and
continued exile from Bethlehem-hostile invasion. Invasions on such
a scale were not frequent in historical times. Districts about Jeru-
salem were overrun by enemies in the following order: the Philistines
after the death of Saul, the invasion of Joash, the Syro-Ephraimite
wars, the invasion of Sennacherib, the invasions of Nebuchadrezzar in
597 and 586 B.c. Of these periods when hostile armies occupied the
1 S. A. Cook, "Midrash," Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th ed.), XVIII, 419.
THE BOOK OF RUTH 149

district, that of Nebuchadrezzar suits the case better than any other
because of the completeness of the defeat of the forces of Judah and
the length of the occupation. It is to be remembered, too, that Zede-
kiah attempted to flee to Transjordania but was captured. Doubtless
many people of the district did manage to escape to Transjordania,
and Moab must have been as good an asylum for the Judaites as any.
While abroad, foreigners joined themselves to the Jewish commu-
nity. When it came time to return home, when Yahweh again looked
with favor upon the people of Bethlehem to give them bread, some
became apostate like Orpah and turned back, and others returned
with the exiles to become good Jews like Ruth. On their return to
their old home conditions must have been discouraging to them. It
was at this point that our author formulated his midrash in order to
bring courage and comfort to his people.
Had our author been a mid-Victorian he would have chosen an apt
quotation from the classics to adorn the upper portion of the title-
page. For this purpose he could not have chosen better than those
lines from Ps. 126-lines that leave no doubt in the mind of the reader
that the Hebrews connected the restoration of Israel with the world-
view as witnessed by the old cult ideas:
Turn again our captivity, 0 Yahweh,as the streamsin the south.
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy,
He that goeth forth with weeping,bearingseed,
Shall doubtlesscome again with joy, bringinghis sheaveswith him.

That the Book of Ruth is a story based upon cult ideas becomes ap-
parent with a study of the names of the personnel and locality of the
story. The action of the story takes place in Bethlehem. The prefix
"Beth" in the name of a town seems to indicate a place in which the
deity whose name is in the genitive relation with the "Beth" is wor-
shiped. Other Palestinian cult places with names of this type are
Beth-Awen, Beth-El, Beth-Dagon, Beth-Pe'or, and Beth-Shemesh.
"Lehem" may be equivalent to the Semitic god Lahama, Lahamu, or
Lahmu. Lahamu is mentioned as a deity in a Babylonian god-list.2
In the Babylonian Epic of Creationtwo deities, Lahmu and Lahamu,
are mentioned. These two deities were the offspring of Apsu and

SCT, XXIV, P1. I, 1. 15.


150 THE AMERICAN
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Tiamat whom Jean,3 following others, equates with fresh water and
salt water. Arendzen4suggests that Lahmu and Lahamu were the per-
sonifications of dawn and twilight and that their progeny were Anu,
Enlil, and Ea (sky, earth, and water). Luckenbill5 also suggests the
character of these two gods. Their characters are vague, but it seems
clear that they had something to do with the great world-cycle in the
creation and as such were nature-gods. Langdon' equates them with
a monster of chaos identified with constellations subdued by Marduk
and made to serve gods. These gods may have been the prototype of
the god worshiped at Bethlehem (cf. I Chron. 20:5). Whatever his
original nature, we do know that in the time of Jerome there was still
a grove dedicated to Adonis in Bethlehem.7 It seems probable, then,
that the deity Lehem who was worshiped in Bethlehem in the early
days of its history naturally gave place to the deity Adonis in later
days. We can assume, therefore, that Bethlehem was from early days
the center of a nature cult. Jeremias8 even goes so far as to identify
the Bit-NINIBor Bit-Ninurta of the Amarna tablets with Bethlehem,
and equates Ninurta with Tammuz.
The husband's name was Elimelech.9 "My god is king" is an ex-
cellent cultic name. Tammuz was both god and king. It is a fit name
for a man from Bethlehem.
His wife is Naomi. With tZ we may compare of Isa.
17:10. The names 0 7'2 and Ct5rir each have the common tS_
element W: , which is a designation for the old Semitic deity of love
since EY) is the Semitic for Adonis. With the word t:; is connected

the floweranemonewhichthe Arabscall L.i~J i , woundsof


Adonis. Finally, Naomi (fem. of Nacaman) is connected with Bethle-
hem as was Rachel, the mother of Israel and an Ishtar figure. Naomi
was therefore a fit consort for Elimelech. She was the Ishtar to his
Tammuz.
3 La religion sumerienne, p. 46.
4 Catholic Encyclopedia, IV, 406.
5 AJSL, XL, 288 f.
6 Semitic
Mythology, p. 108.
7 Ep. L VIII ad Paulin.
8 Das Alte Testament im Lichte des alten Orients, p. 223.
9 Dr. Julius Lewy has kindly brought to my attention the fact that the name "Elimelek"
occurs in the Ras Shamra texts, an indication that it is an old Canaanite name.
THE BOOK OF RUTH 151

One cannot fail to note the parallels in the stories of Rachel and
Naomi. Both were connected with Bethlehem. The dolorous names
of the sons of Naomi, Mahlon and Chilyon, may be compared with
that which Rachel gave her younger son, Ben-Oni. Jeremiah pictures
Rachel weeping for her children who had been killed or exiled (gone
down into the underworld). Naomi considers her name should be
"Mara." Her children and her husband have died in exile. She says,
"I went out full and Yahweh has brought me back empty." Naomi is
the embodiment of the mother-goddess in name, and Rachel, the
mother of Israel, in experience. We also find a closer relation between
Ruth-Naomi and Rachel-Leah, the mothers of Israel. It could not
have been mere chance that led the women of Bethlehem to put these
names together in 4:11. Just as Rachel, the favorite wife of Jacob,
had borne Israel as a race, so should Naomi become the mother of the
new Israel.
The name Boaz is peculiar.10 We meet it as the name of the left
pillar before the door of the temple of Solomon (I Kings 7:21). Philo-
logical derivations have not aided greatly in solving the riddle. Archae-
ology, however, has come to our aid. Babylonian and Phoenician
temples had two such pillars before them. Herodotus found that Mel-
karth was worshiped in the form of a pillar in the temple of Tyre."1
Now Melkarth is the Phoenician counterpart of Marduk-Tammuz.
According to Ward, the column with a pineapple top is emblematic
of Marduk.12 Jeremias13pictures a clay model of a Phoenician temple
with pillars on either side of the door. These pillars have lily-like
capitals (cf. I Kings 7:19). Again, Contenau14reproduces seals en-
graved with symbols of Marduk and Nebo. That of Marduk is a pillar
with a pineapple top, and that of Nebo is a straight pillar. At al-'Ubaid
two pillars of wood covered with copper and inlay stood before the
temple of Ninhursag.15
10oHans Bauer, Das Alphabet von Ras Shamra (Halle, 1932), p. 73, suggests that T'j7 is
an abbreviated form of T7 I?f. With this we may compare the Greek BaXat of I Kings
7:7. This would point to Bocaz or Bacalcaz as an ancient Canaanite cult deity.
11 ii. 44.
12 The Seal Cylinders of Western Asia, p. 392.
13
Op. cit., p. 543.
14 Manuel d'archbologie orientale, p. 1363.
15 Woolley, The Sumerians, p. 40.
152 THE AMERICANJOURNALOF SEMITICLANGUAGES

In regard to the significance of these pillars we catch a glimpse in


the myth of Adapa in which Adapa mounts to the gate of Anu. Guard-
ing the gate of Anu stood Tammuz on the left and Gishzida on the
right.'" It was natural, therefore, that the earthly temple should con-
form with that of the heavens, since earth was but a duplicate of the
heavens. Thus before the temples stood the symbols of two divine
beings. In the home of Anu it was Tammuz and Gishzida; in the tem-
ple of Melkarth we find the same pillars. We can have little doubt,
then, that in the two pillars, Boaz and Jakin, in front of the temple of
Solomon we have an example of the same thing. Sayce considers
Boaz to be a corruption of Tammuz."1 Whether it is a corruption or
not we may be fairly certain that Boaz was to the door of the house of
Yahweh what Tammuz was to the door of the house of Anu. When we
apply this significance to the Boaz of the Book of Ruth, we find further
evidence that Boaz was here a Tammuz figure. He is a great grain-
grower. His home is in Bethlehem. He speaks as a man of authority
when he says: "All the gate [elders, judges, etc.] of my people." When
Ruth first meets him, she falls on her face to the ground and worships
or does obeisance before him (2:10). Such a gesture is unusual except
before a deity or the representative of a deity such as a king or prophet
(II Kings 4:37; I Kings 1:31). Boaz meets Ruth in the grainfield. He
sleeps beside the piles of grain. He presents Ruth with six measures of
barley in the morning, a proper present from a grain god. He takes
the place of Elimelech as the perpetuator of the family. He is the liv-
ing god who takes the place of the dead god.
In the case of the two daughters-in-law, Orpah is the one who turned
her back on Naomi and Bethlehem; Ruth, the one who returned to
Bethlehem with Naomi. We may consider these two persons as second-
ary to the story. Both were inmates of the home of Naomi; the one
suggests in name and character "apostate," the other, "true friend."
These two women with names and characters so in contrast with each
other remind us of the contrast between Cain and Abel, Jacob and
Esau, Tammuz and the Dragon. Their appearance here in this fashion
marks them plainly as a cult couple.
In the story as we have it Ruth is clearly a nonentity. She is but a
16
Langdon, op. cit., p. 180.
17 Early Religions of Egypt and Babylon, p. 460.
THE BOOK OF RUTH 153

satellite of Naomi, with no personality of her own. Her words when


she decides to come with Naomi are pertinent to this hypothesis:
"Whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy
people shall be my people, and thy god my god; where thou diest I
will die and there will I be buried." Ruth has become one with Naomi.
She has become an initiate into her cult. Just as an initiate becomes
one with Osiris and so Osiris, so Ruth becomes Naomi. When the
women returned to Bethlehem (1:19), no notice is taken of Ruth.
Naomi alone is mentioned. Naomi states quite clearly: "I went out
full and Yahweh has brought me back empty." She does not consider
that Ruth is an acquisition, for Ruth and she are one. In the relations
between Ruth and Boaz, it is Naomi who directs in each case. When
the child is born, the women of the village attribute it solely to Naomi,
not to Ruth. When Boaz takes over the property of Elimelech, he de-
rives it not from Ruth but from Naomi.
The reason for introducing a kinsman more nearly related to Elime-
lech than Boaz is not clear. It adds little to the story, and the kinsman
is not considered of sufficient importance to mention his name. Pro-
fessor Graham suggests that the author introduced the kinsman into
the story to provide an occasion for making the relation between Boaz
and Ruth publicly and officially ratified. The important thing, how-
ever, is that Boaz is eventually recognized as the next of kin to Elime-
lech. Without discussing the legality of Naomi's selling the land be-
longing to the estate of Elimelech, we may consider it to have been
sold. According to Num. 27:11 the order of kinship for purposes of in-
heritance is son, daughter, brother, brothers of father, his flesh that is
nearest to him. In regard to land that has been sold in this way, Lev.
25:25 states: "If thy brother be waxed poor and sell some of his pos-
sessions, then shall his kinsman that is next to him come and shall re-
deem that which his brother has sold." The nearest kinsman to Elime-
lech has passed his right of inheritance over to Boaz. The first duty of
such a go'el is to restore the possession of Elimelech by repurchasing
the land and returning it to the estate of Elimelech. His next duty
is to raise up seed to Elimelech so that the line of Elimelech may con-
tinue to enjoy his estate. As next of kin, Boaz can now inherit the
estate of Elimelech. Part of this estate is the widow of Elimelech,
Naomi, who has no children. The widow must therefore be taken
154 THE AMERICAN OF SEMITIC
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along with the property, for it is only through the widow of Elimelech
that his line can be continued. The daughter-in-law has no legal or
moral standing in the case at all. Boaz was next of kin of Elimelech,
not of Mahlon and Chilyon. These had passed out of the picture be-
fore the property could pass to them. Had it been in the mind of the
author that Boaz inherited the estate of Elimelech from the son Chil-
yon, then he would have spoken of the property as having come to him
through Ruth; but he states quite clearly that he received it from
Naomi (4:5, 9). Boaz inherited the estate through Naomi, and he
raised up seed to Elimelech through Naomi. In ordinary circumstances
the place for the daughter-in-law, when her husband has died and
when her husband's brothers are also dead, is in the home of her
father. She can have no further interest in the estate of her father-in-
law. But Ruth was not an ordinary daughter-in-law, she was one with
Naomi.
When the child is born, the women of Bethlehem said to Naomi:
"Blessed be Yahweh who hath not left thee this day without a kins-
man" (4:14). They also say that this son of Ruth and Boaz is the re-
storer of life to Naomi and the one who shall nourish her gray hairs.
He is spoken of as the go'el of Naomi, not of Ruth. Finally, Naomi
took the child and laid it on her bosom and became its nurse. This
surely points to the motherhood of Naomi in regard to the child. Then
the women, her neighbors, gave it a name, saying, "There is a son
born to Naomi." Mahlon and Chilyon have become ben-Naomi, just
as ben-Oni, the son of Rachel, became ben-Yamin. It should be noted
in 4:17 that two names are given the child. The text reads: n:R'p•
% : :; T ?
-=; w:VX1 1.
"1x
is••: ?j . "N is equiva-
lent toI*-/:
our quotation marks; hence we have "and they called his
name 'a son is born to Naomi.' " "Obed" is meaningless here and has
no connection with the story. Such a double naming is unusual, so
we must conclude that the second phrase is another addition inserted
to connect the story with David. The former is the obvious name
villagers would give the child; the latter could be given only by the
child's parents. This verse was translated by one scholar:18 "And the
women in the neighborhood spread the report of him, 'a son has been
born to Naomi,' so they called his name Obed." According to this
18 The Bible: American Translation (1928).
THE BOOK OF RUTH 155

translation one would expect to find in "Obed" a result of the report


spread concerning the child. Although the idea of "spreading a report
about him" is a rather ingenious rendering for tj emp*, 15
there is no precedent for it. It may be noted in passing that the later
edition of the American translation of the Bible has changed this
rendering. Jotion"9has noted the difficulty of this double naming and
has altered the text to W1'1 ) 1
~$1't j ~' n" v;i ;
"2'11; 2t. He then translates: "Et les voisines 'dirent':w.m'bI1 est
n6 un fils a No6mi! et 'elle' [Noemi] lui donna le nom de 'Obed.' " Such
treatment is drastic and unnecessary. Joiion considers that Naomi
has adopted the child as her own, but such an explanation is quite un-
necessary under our thesis.
Passages throughout the story reflect the cult ideas of Tammuz-
Adonis-Osiris, e.g., 1:8, "May Yahweh deal kindly with you as ye
have dealt with the dead and with me." Along with this passage
should be considered 2:20: "Blessed be he of Yahweh who hath not
left off his kindness to the living and to the dead." The "dead" in each
case refers to Elimelech, the dead god; the "living" of 2:20 is equiva-
lent to the "me" of 1:8. That is to say, the "living" refers to Naomi,
the mother-goddess. In 1:22 the women return to Bethlehem at the
time of the barley harvest; in 1:20 f. the name Naomi chooses to de-
scribe herself, "Mara," is one that fittingly describes the devotees of
Tammuz who has just died. The idea of fulness and emptiness is an-
other cult symbol. Chapter 2 deals with Ruth among the gleaners.
The washing, anointing, and changing of raiment (3:3 ff.), was a sign
of putting off grief and so of re-entering upon the enjoyment of life.
It was part of the accepted ritual before marriage (Ezek. 16:9). The
aggressiveness of Ruth toward Boaz (3:7 ff.) is very reminiscent of
that of Ishtar toward Gilgamesh when she fell in love with him. Ruth
goes down to the threshing floor. The fact that she is to conceal her-
self from Boaz until after he has eaten and drunk would suggest that
she veiled herself as Tamar had done when she went to meet Judah.
This veil is strongly suggestive of that of Ishtar. Boaz became slightly
intoxicated. Wine, the fruit of the vine, was a symbol of the begin-
ning of the new world-order. Immediately after the flood Noah
planted a vineyard (Gen. 9:20). The daughters of Lot first made
19 Ruth, pp. 94 f.
156 THE AMERICAN OFSEMITIC
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their father drunk when they decided on their course of continuing


their race after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:31
ff.), and Joel 4:18 pictures the new time as one in which the mountains
drip sweet wine. Boaz and Ruth lie on the threshing floor, and in the
morning Boaz presents Ruth with six measures of barley to take to
Naomi, the mother-goddess. The passage recalls that of Hos. 9:1:
"Thou hast loved hire upon every grain-floor." Ruth is pictured as a
satellite, or kedeshah, of the mother-goddess, Naomi, and receives a
present of grain for her.
In summing up the story, then, we need to take into consideration
only the main characters: Elimelech, Naomi, Boaz, and the child.
Each of these characters has been shown to be a cult figure in name.
Elimelech is reincarnated in the person of Boaz, and Naomi receives a
son to the joyous acclaim of the women of her village. Her time of
weeping has been succeeded by a time of rejoicing. The cult cycle
has been completed. Naomi, who is Ishtar, has borne a son, ben-
Naomi, who is Tammuz.
This, then, is the story that has been woven into the historical
background of the Exile and return. As we have noted above, for-
eigners joined themselves to the Jewish community while they were
abroad. Some of these became apostate, while others returned to
Palestine with the Jews as Jews. In an earlier cycle which came to a
close when the Israelites were returning to Palestine from Egypt, the
presence and the fate of apostates are mentioned. In Num. 14:29 ff.
Yahweh condemns the apostates to death in the wilderness en route to
the Promised Land, the Garden of Eden. Orpah had begun the return
journey but turned back. Isa. 35:8 expounds a like fate for the apos-
tates of the cycle with which the Book of Ruth deals.
Not, however, until after the return of the exiles is their burden
lifted. Naomi is still hopeless of the future. She is still Mara. In
time a son is born to her and her hope revives.
As a pertinent parallel to the outline of this midrash on the return
of the exiles, I cannot do better than cite the passage in Jer. 31:15 ff.:
Thus saith Yahweh: A voice is heardin Ramah,lamentations,and bitter
weeping,Rachel weepingfor her children;she refusethto be comfortedfor
her children,becausethey were not. Thus saith Yahweh: Refrainthy voice
fromweepingand thine eyes fromtears;for thy workshallbe rewarded,saith
THE BOOK OF RUTH 157

Yahweh;and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there
shall be hope for thy latter end saith Yahweh; and thy childrenshall come
again to their own border.
The Book of Ruth is filled with motifs from the fertility cult myths.
In it we find the world-cycle pictured, the passage from sorrow to joy;
and in it we find the birth of a child as the signal of a happier age.
When these characteristics are met with in the prophets, we find that
they deal with a vision of the new age that is about to come. There is
no sufficient reason why we should not put the same interpretation on
these cultic motifs in the Book of Ruth. The prophets had prophesied
a destruction of Israel and a return. The author of our book had ac-
cepted their teaching. Israel had been destroyed. A salvation had been
wrought; the exiles had returned, but the expected era of happiness
had not yet dawned. The people needed encouragement, and so our
author wrote this midrash, using the language and motifs which the
writers of their early legends and biographies had used to set their
patriarchs and heroes apart from common man, and which their
prophets had used to proclaim their message of a new and happier age.
VICTORIA COLLEGE
TORONTO