God, Feminists and Ruth

Ruth is one of two books which have a female name as the title. Not only that, unlike the other, Esther, the women dominate the story. The plot is driven by dialogue, predominantly through women’s voices.

When one is studying the book of Ruth one does not seem to be able to avoid reading the work of feminists. As though it were some orphaned child, feminists take up the book of Ruth as their own and look at it from many feminist angles. There is much that has been written. With trepidation, therefore, I have begun to look at these texts.

I have just finished A Feminist Companion to Ruth edited by Athalya Brenner (Sheffield Academic Press, 1993). It is a collection of essays by women. I have to admit that I was expecting to read eisegesis of 20th century sexual politics into the text. If it was there I missed it. I was pleasantly surprised by its absence. Yes, there is a focus on the characters and how they used the “androcentric” environment to get what they wanted. There is the question of whether the author is female (if a man had written this plot it would have taken three or four bald sentences, rather than intriguing dialogue). There is the issue of how later Jewish Rabbis idealised Ruth as the perfect woman. And so on. All very interesting, I suppose.

The thing that always stands out to me in these kinds of writing, is the lack of interest in God. God is conspicuous by his absence in the thinking of these feminist commentators. Perhaps they have fallen into a trap. God does no miracles in the text of Ruth. When Yahweh is mentioned, with one exception (4:13) he is on the lips of the characters themselves, not in the commentary of the narrator. Is the concept of Yahweh a product of the culture? Feminists seem to subconsciously take this idea up. God is not really the mover and shaker in this story. God is on holiday or something, if he exists. Though in some ways it was interesting to see things from their perspective (and it was, believe me) it is nevertheless deeply disturbing to view scripture without reference the source of all providence.

The one exception to this was an essay by Cynthia Ozick (simply entitled, “Ruth”). It was a delight – a well written, exciting essay that moved with pace. She had noticed the implication of Ruth’s insistence on accompanying Naomi back from Moab to Bethlehem. It was not simply pragmatics (“it would be better for me if I stuck with you, Naomi”), nor was it altruism (“I am concerned for you, Naomi, and I want to help you”). No, something amazing had happened to Ruth – Naomi’s God had become her God and she wished it to remain so. Unlike Orpah, who could take or leave God according to her circumstances, Ruth could not be unfaithful to God. So she remained faithful to Naomi. Ms. Ozick’s observations were a nice close to the book.

Many writers who have an interest in the biblical text do not seem to be interested in the God of the bible. (This is incomprehensible to me, I’m afraid.) So it is no surprise that God does not appear in their writings. But God is at the core of Ruth’s story. He is both the God of providence and the one who draws his people to himself so that they know him and are faithful to him.

God, Feminists and Ruth

2 thoughts on “God, Feminists and Ruth

  1. rev-ed says:

    Good insights, Stephen. Taking God out of the Bible is all a part of the “demythologizing Scripture” movement — which is no more than finding a way to concentrate on our own selfishness instead of reality.

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