Literary Structure in the Book of Ruth -- By: Reg Grant

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 148:592 (Oct 1991)
Article: Literary Structure in the Book of Ruth
Author: Reg Grant


Literary Structure in the Book of Ruth

Reg Grant

Associate Professor of Pastoral Ministries
Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas

The Book of Ruth is so profound in its structure that it has induced a flood of literary analyses. The purpose of this study is not to explore the book’s many intriguing literary angles, but to consider just its plot structure. A presupposition of this study is that the book’s plot structure is comic/monomythic. As such, it manifests four literary structural elements as the plot moves from tragedy through anti-romance, and then through comedy to romance.1

Another presupposition is that plot structure should inform (but not prescribe) exegesis. Where the structural elements occur in a strategic place (e.g., as central words, phrases, or sentences in chiastic structure), this study attempts to demonstrate the significance of the placement. Consideration is therefore limited to literary aspects of the book that contribute in some substantial way to the reader’s understanding of the hermeneutical significance of the structural elements. Though each of the four elements will be examined,

the focus will be on the transitional elements (the comic and tragic), since they are the loci of change in the story.

The Literary Element of Tragedy

The first scene is recorded in Ruth 1:1–7a. The element of tragedy is introduced in the first part of the scene (v. 1), in which the Lord used a famine to initiate the tragic element.2 The tragic element itself (that which effects the transition between the ideal state and the unideal) occurred at some point between the cause (“famine”) and the effect (expressed initially in Elimelech’s decision to move his family to Moab). A consideration of the contextual link to the period of the Judges3 reveals why the audience would expect that the famine mentioned in verse 1 would lead to tragic consequences for Elimelech and his family.

First, one may note the significance of Elimelech’s departure from Bethlehem in light of the place of the Ruth narrative in the so-called Bethlehem trilogy.4 In the first of these narratives (Judg 17–18), Jonathan, a Levite and descendant of Moses, left his hometown of Bethlehem5 to seek employment els...

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