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Orientation (1:1-5)

The first five verses of Ruth form what we have called "orientation". They set the scene, presenting the family about whom the story is told and its disastrous history which poses the problem. For, although the central characters are Ruth, Naomi and Boaz the story is, in another sense, "about" the family of Elimelek. The problem posed is the lack of descendants for this family, as well as the state of the two women who represent it.

The style is simple and direct, though there are several repetitions. The most cumbersome of these, and the only one to attract serious suggestions of pruning only really shows up in an over literal English version: "it happened in the days when the judges judged, a famine happened in the land". The first of these phrases is the one that the craft-knife school of scholarship would remove - for the second simply cannot be done without. However, notice that the phrase in question forms an inclusion with the end of the story - 
at the start: the judges, 
at the end: David the typical king.

Verse five also contains a hint of inclusion with the end, for here Naomi is "bereft of her two children" yet at the end of the story in 4:16 Naomi will take "the child" and lay him in her bosom.

Notice, too, how at the very start the telling moves slowly: "In the days when the judges judged" instead of "In the time of the judges" (or "200 years ago"), "there was a famine in the land" adds a hardly necessary precision at least when we shall be told the man comes "from Bethlehem in Judah". The pace of telling will pick up, but as the audience are "warmed up" the pace is slow and deliberate.

If we look at the pattern of information in the text there is an alternation of "shared" and "unshared" elements. This both provides new information necessary to situating the story, but also builds up a shared world between reader and narrator. Here is one way of viewing how this happens in the first verses of Ruth, whether you agree entirely with the division or not, notice how the narrator builds on shared information to create the new world of Ruth and Naomi for us.

Anaphora is frequent in these verses (see chart); as are repeated words (see chart). These both strengthen our sense of the cohesion of the text. Which, like building a sense of a shared world, is also necessary here at the start.

© Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.

You may quote and use these study notes, subject to the usual provsions of fair use - like giving proper credit e.g.
Tim Bulkeley, "Ruth: Genre" in Study Notes on Ruth [downloaded today's date].

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Tim teaches Hebrew Bible (First or Old Testament) at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and at Carey Baptist College his other sites include:
Amos - Postmodern Bible commentary
Study Notes on Jonah
Images of Archaeological Sites in Israel (Focusing on the Iron Age)