The Book of Ruth: Its Place in the Canon

We’re all familiar with the book of Ruth, a small four-chapter book tucked between Judges and 1 Samuel. It’s considered a sweet story by many, and the words of Ruth to Naomi have been read at many weddings (“Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay…”). It was likely placed where it was because it was seen as a historical narrative; therefore, its place should be among the historical books. It was placed between Judges and 1 Samuel because that was the most likely time frame of the book.

One thing a lot of people may not realize is that the Hebrew Bible has a different organization of the books of the Bible. It goes as follows:

Torah – what Christian Bibles have as the Pentateuch: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy
Prophets (Navi’im) – this is split into the Former Prophets (Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve – Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi)
Writings (Kethubhim) – this is Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles (Song of Solomon or Song of Songs), Ecclesiastes, Threni (Lamentations), Esther, Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Chronicles

Looking at the books in the order the Hebrew Bible puts them in can offer some addition insight into the books. For example, Ruth. When we look at it in our Bibles, it fits neatly into our historical books. In the Hebrew order, when Ruth follows the book of Proverbs, the last verses a reader would have read would be Proverbs 31… the chapter with the acrostic on the virtuous woman. In his book on OT Theology, John Sailhamer points out that the acrostic begins with “A virtuous woman, who can find?” (verse 10) and ends with “her deeds will praise her in the gates” (verse 31). If we immediately read through the book of Ruth, we find that the climax of Ruth comes in 3:11 (the words of Boaz to Ruth) – “All those in the gate of my people know that you are a virtuous woman.” This not only identifies Ruth with the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, but also connects her and her story with the wisdom theme of the book of Proverbs. It is not only due to Ruth’s virtue, but also to her wise decisions, that bring her story to a happy and blessed conclusion.

You may also notice that the Songs of Songs follows Ruth, but I’ll leave that potential connection for you to ponder…

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One comment on “The Book of Ruth: Its Place in the Canon

  1. This is a really wonderful thought to show how the (original) order of the books in the Tanakh, following the order in Hebrew Bibles, is full of meaning. Thanks for this excellent post.

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