Return to Ruth: contents page


Ruth: Genre

Evidently "Ruth" is a narrative, but of what sort?

The category "history" does not fit, for Ruth shows no sign of dependence on archives or other documentary sources, the events described are private and not public, and the style is highly artful.

The contents and, up to a certain point, the style too fit with the category "family saga" but Ruth is too long and its episodes too closely integrated for this to really fit.

Nor however is Ruth a "legend", for there is nothing fabulous or miraculous here, and the characters do not have religious or political significance in the sort of sense usual for "legends".

Since Gunkel it has been noticed that Ruth is more comparable with the "novella" (novelle) a genre telling of everyday events with few characters, but at least some subplots, and sometimes quite complex plotting. Well rounded characterisation is also typical for the major actors in such novellas. The more artistic nature of these stories means that the author emerges more strongly distinctive than with most other types of OT narrative. Examples would be Esther, Judith, Tobit and Gen 24. Typically every event is the scene of divine action, though this is often implicit rather than explicit: e.g. Rt2:3 "she happened to come..."

Campbell has been followed by others in his use of the category "Hebrew short story" which he defines to include Ruth and some other OT pieces hitherto classed as novellas. 

Their distinctive features would be: 
the use of elevated style (Kunstprosa) especially for speech, 
the mixture of public and private interests (thus the genealogy would not be incidental to such a story), 
the apparent desire to both entertain and to instruct and 
the use of highly individualised characters;
the "Hebrew short story" also often describes historical events and shows some concern for historical accuracy.

© 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].

If you want to reproduce large sections you should contact Tim. (tim at

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)