Linking the אשת חיל (“Woman of Strength”) of Proverbs and Ruth in the Leningrad Codex -- By: Joel Soza
ATJ vol 45 p. 21
Linking the אשת חיל (“Woman of Strength”) of Proverbs and Ruth in the Leningrad Codex
The phrase 1אשת חיל appears only three times in the Hebrew Bible, twice in Proverbs (12:4; 31:10) and once in Ruth (3:11). The rarity of the term and the rarity of such a woman herself have led to midrashic and other investigations in hopes of giving definition and life to this incredible woman. For instance, Midrash Mishlei 31:9 goes back to the beginning of the Pentateuch and finds the wife of Noah to be a אשת חיל. And the Midrash does not stop here, as it suggests that there are many other possible women who might be worthy of such honor.2 Many traditional Jewish homes to this day will recite Prov 31:10–31 on Friday nights as a part of the table prayers before the Shabbat dinner because the אשת חיל is a model and image for Jewish woman to imitate and follow.3 Traditional Jewish interpretation has also understood אשת חיל to be the wisdom of Torah itself.4 Christian interpreters from the Fathers through the medieval period have likewise attempted to make identification of the אשת חיל ranging from viewing her as a literal person, such as the Virgin Mary, to concepts, such as wisdom, the soul, the mind, or a figure of the Church.5 As far as scholarship goes within the last half century or so, it has been mired in a debate as to whether or not this woman was some sort of ideal or more of a literal person.
Yet it is curious that many of the scholarly discussions on אשת חיל focus primarily on Prov 31:10–31 while neglecting, or paying little attention to Ruth, the only named woman in the Hebrew Bible actually called a אשת חיל. The placement of the book of Ruth after the book of Proverbs in the Leningrad Codex lends naturally to reading the character of Ruth as the primary example, in specifically narrative form, of what an אשת חיל does in actual life, not merely in idealized poetry, as in the Prov 31:10–31 acrostic. Together, the You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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