What explains Ruth’s contradictions and inconsistencies with the rest of the bible?

The biggest contradiction, in my opinion, is about the issue of foreign wives. Ezra & Nehemiah, the “authors” of the bible, showed up with this giant Torah, read it allowed for days, and  then they tore their hair and said, O No! Deuteronomy says we shouldn’t marry foreign women. Send them away! (Such wives would have either come with the Judeans from Babylon, or they would have been chosen from  surrounding communities once the Judeans arrived).

So what are we to make of Ruth coming along and saying, foreign women are good? (They can convert. They can save your family. They can father David.) I think Ezra and Nehemiah oversimplify what actually happened. These texts say that all the women just got up and left. But there’s plenty of evidence that they didn’t. And if they didn’t, you could see why at some point someone would want to write a defense of his own foreign wife.

Another big contradiction is between this text and Deuteronomy on Levirate marriage, where Boaz is supposed to be the Goel or redeemer, standing in for the dead husband. One reason this text might disagree with Deuteronomy 25 is that the texts were written at different times. The author of this article (https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/levirate-marriage) suggests that for women, Levirate marriage was an ideal solution, whereas men might find it problematic because they risked disinheriting their other children by standing in for an older brother and fathering his kids. It is clear that the bible has contradictory information about levirate marriage; at any rate, for the text to claim that “a child is born to Naomi” rather than Elimelech is a deliberate distortion of the institution, which existed to perpetuate the male line, not the female line.

The problem in Ruth being a Moabite when, in the actual time of the Judges, Moabites were enemies, can be explained by the late composition of Ruth. It begins “In the days of the Judges,” which is the bible equivalent to “Once upon a time…” The actual text of Ruth seems to have been written sometime after Judeans returned from Babylon in the second temple period.  I would suggest, then, that its author didn’t realize Moabites were once enemies, having never read Judges.

But the text had reasons for setting this story in “the time of the judges.”

  • It not only enlists the female point of view, but it seems to actively defend the value of foreign women as wives.
  • Its use of the term “Woman of valor” or Eishes Chayil (the same term used in Proverbs) suggests the two texts might have been written around the same time.  But Proverbs specifically defines the “woman of valor” as local, not foreign. She is defined in opposition to the bad “foreign woman” who seduces young men away from everything they know. So again, Ruth deliberately redefines “Woman of valor” to pertain to foreign women.
  • When we read Ezra and Nehemiah, we’ll see that leaders during this time strongly advocated sending away all foreign wives (that is, women who returned with their husbands from Babylon, but also women from neighboring communities acquired after the return).
  • The prohibition against foreign wives is made after the public reading of Deuteronomy; clearly, until that moment, no one knew it was against the rules to marry foreign women, because no one had ever even heard of Deuteronomy. That’s not so strange; Deuteronomy would have existed only in manuscript, and what we know about first time practices tells us that only kings and priests had access to those texts.
  • So the text of Ruth seems to be in active disagreement to standard church law about foreign women. Setting it in the distant past makes it safer.

On the larger issue of the canon and how Ruth made it in, I would suggest that making Ruth an ancestor of David ensures that the text will be read. Moreover, by the time the Hebrew canon closed, Ruth had become one of the five megillot, or festival scrolls. These were performed aloud on special holidays; in Ruth’s case, at a harvest festival. Once that happened, getting rid of it would have been difficult–kind of like our getting rid of Thanksgiving.

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