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How many Gods had Ruth?

  • Alastair Hunter (a1)


In the first chapter of the book of Ruth there is an interesting exchange between Naomi and her daughters-in-law. Having successfully persuaded Orpah to return to ‘her mother's house’, Naomi turns to Ruth with the words, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ But Ruth said, ‘Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.’1



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page 427 note 1 Ruth 1.15–16. The version quoted is RSV; emphasis is added.

page 427 note 2 This is not the place for a general discussion. Suffice it to note, for example, I Samuel 4.7f (Yahweh apparently spoken of both in the singular and in the plural); Exodus 32.4, 8 (where the one golden calf is spoken of as ‘these…gods’).

page 428 note 3 ‘Orpah is not the opposite of Ruth; she too has been commended for her ḥesed to the dead and to her mother-in-law. Orpah is a worthy woman; therefore Ruth is all the more so. Again we are invited to look at the extraordinary in Ruth, not to focus on some imagined failure in Orpah.’ (Campbell, E. F. Jr., The Anchor Bible, 7: Ruth (Doubleday, New York, 1975) p. 82.)

page 429 note 4 See, for example, in Hayes, J. H. & Miller, J. M., Israelite and Judaean History (SCM, London, 1977) pp. 484f.

page 429 note 5 The ‘Lament over the Destruction of Ur’, lines 330–85 (translated by Kramer, S. N. in Pritchard, J. B. (Ed.), Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the OT, pp. 461 f.) affords a pertinent illustration. In lines 330ff. the poet asks how, after the city has perished, the goddess Ningal can continue to exist. But the section ends with an appeal for the restoration of city and goddess. Hope has not been finally abandoned with the city's destruction.

page 429 note 6 Ackroyd, P. R., Exile and Restoration (SCM, London, 1968) pp. 237256, provides a useful summary of these points.

page 430 note 7 For a Jewish perspective on this point, see Maybaum's, Ignaz last book, Happiness outside the State (Oriel Press (Routledge & Kegan Paul), Stocksfield, 1980), especially Chapter III, pp. 32–54. The recent formal annexation of Jerusalem by Israel may reflect similar religious and emotional forces.

page 430 note 8 Thus three of the last four kings of Judah, Josiah, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah, all became involved in nationalistic political adventures with uniformly disastrous results. Jehoiachin was presumably only saved by the enforced brevity of his reign.

page 431 note 9 Porten, B., Archives from Elephantine (Cambridge University Press, London, 1968) pp. 103186 (especially pp. 173–9).

page 431 note 10 We have not forgotten Deutero-Isaiah! The point at issue is precisely that both Israel and her neighbours appear to have varied beliefs with regard to the influence of deities outside the territory normally associated with them. Thus in any particular case (such as Ruth 1.15f) the question must be regarded in principle as an open one.

page 432 note 11 Judges 10.6–16; Deut. 8.19; 11.16; 13.3; etc.

page 432 note 12 Ps. 96.5; Isa. 44.9–20; Jer. 5.7; etc.

page 432 note 13 It seems probable that the authors of the polemic against idols had little understanding of the religion of the other nations. See, for example, Carroll, R. P., ‘The Aniconic God and the Cult of Images’, Studia Theologica 31 (1977) pp. 5164.

page 433 note 14 I hope to discuss this whole question in more detail in a future paper.

page 433 note 15 Ashtoreth (Judges 2.13); Ashimah (Amos 8.14); Azazel (Leviticus 16.8); Baal-berith (Judges 8.33); Baal-peor (Numbers 25.3); Baal-zebub (11 Kings 1.2); etc.

page 433 note 16 Baal-peor is also associated with Moab (Numbers 25.1–3), but is probably to be understood as ‘the Baal of (the place) Peor’, and hence a local name for Chemosh.

page 433 note 17 The reference to ‘Molech the abomination of the Ammonites’ in I Kings 11.7 is almost certainly an error for Milkom.

page 433 note 18 The Century Bible (New Edition): Joshua, Judges and Ruth (Nelson, 1967).

page 434 note 19 The Septuagint uses the explicitly plural form, pros tous theous autēs.

page 434 note 20 Campbell, op. cit., pp. 10–18.

page 434 note 21 Campbell, op. cit., pp. 13f.

page 434 note 22 RSV. The argumentation used here might well indicate that the form ‘god’ should be employed in 2.12 as well.

page 436 note 23 See especially Childs, B. S., Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture (SCM, London, 1979), in particular Part One; and Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Issue 16, May 1980.

How many Gods had Ruth?

  • Alastair Hunter (a1)


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