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Structure

The chapter divisions in Ruth fall in roughly the right places. (The reasoning behind the provisional sub-divisions I have used are given below, and linked from the table.)

Chapter 1 
Orientation (vv.1-5)
Scene one: Moab (vv.6-18)
Scene two: Bethlehem (vv.19-22)
Chapter 2 
Ruth & Naomi (v.1-2)
Ruth in the Fields (vv.3-17)
Naomi & Ruth (vv.18-23)
Chapter 3
Naomi instructs Ruth (vv.1-5)
Ruth & Boaz: Threshing Floor (vv.6-15)
Naomi & Ruth (vv.16-18)
Chapter 4
Boaz at the Gate (vv.1-12)
Obed's Birth (vv.13-17)
Coda: Genealogy (vv.18-22)

Orientation (1:1-5)

The first five verses set the scene for the book, while in v.6 the action begins. In verses 1-5 the men have been the subject of the verbs. The only action Naomi performs is to "be left" - a passive verb, even in dieing the men are active and the woman passive! This is usual in ancient texts like the Hebrew Bible. However, in verse 6 "she" becomes the subject and acts. 

So, at the level of both content and syntax, verses 1-5 stand apart as a separate section.

Scene one: Moab (1:6-18)

The rest of the chapter divides naturally into two scenes. As well as the change of location vv.16-17 contain Ruth's declaration and v.18 closes with Naomi unable to say more.

Scene two: Bethlehem (1:19-22)

The scene in Bethlehem begins with an introduction, and ends with a conclusion, as Aristotle required

The only room for maneuver is the final clause of v.22. Are the words: "They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest." A summary conclusion for the Bethlehem scene, a brief recap introducing the next section, or a bridge linking the two?

Ruth & Naomi (2:1-2)

Many will choose to read these verses as introduction to the scene in the fields. However, since the scene is different I have preferred to separate them. Either way they provide, with vv.18-23, a nice frame to the main scene. The chapter coheres.

Ruth in the Fields (2:3-17)

Verse 3 works well as an introduction, succinctly placing Ruth in a new context, the harvest fields, while v.17 not only mentions "evening", but provides a summary result to Ruth's day's work "about an ephah of barley".

Naomi & Ruth (2:18-23)

This section begins with another change of location, and ends with "the end of the barley and wheat harvests" v.23. 

Naomi instructs Ruth (3:1-5)

Naomi's instructions to Ruth end in v.4, and v.5 provides a nice conclusion as this model daughter-in-law says "all you told me I will do."

Ruth & Boaz: Threshing Floor (3:6-15)

The main action of the chapter is carried on in vv.7-15 after the necessary change of scene in v.6. Verse 15 closes with another mention of quantities of barley (cf. v.17) but also the change of scene.

Naomi & Ruth (3:16-18)

As at 1:19, 22; 2:3, 18; 4:13 the verb bo' ("enter" or "come") marks a transition. Largely what is said recaps the previous scene, but Naomi's final remark looks forward to the next.  

Boaz at the Gate (4:1-12)

This scene tells the complex byplay by which Boaz "acquires" Ruth, and ends with the consequent blessing of their union by the significant players of Bethlehem. 

Obed's Birth (4:13-17)

The summary statement of their marriage and the fulfillment of the blessing is very brief, but the rest of the section is devoted to filling out and underlining its meaning.  Verse 17b provides a mini-coda, bringing the story forward three generations.

Coda: Genealogy (4:18-22)

The full genealogy in 4:18-22 not only makes this coda formal, but links the story back into the patriarchal stories and so provides a thorough end to the narrative.


© 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 http://www.hypertextbible.org/ruth/genre.htm [downloaded today's date].

If you want to reproduce large sections you should contact Tim. (tim at bible.gen.nz)

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)