To King or Not to King: A Canonical-Historical Approach to Ruth -- By: Michael S. Moore

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 11:1 (NA 2001)
Article: To King or Not to King: A Canonical-Historical Approach to Ruth
Author: Michael S. Moore


To King or Not to King:
A Canonical-Historical Approach to Ruth

Michael S. Moore

Fuller Theological Seminary Southwest Phoenix

Contemporary approaches to Ruth tend to focus on the book’s internal structure and contents. Only rarely is sufficient attention given to the book’s external context, particularly its canonical-historical context. In Judges 17-21 all of the major characters balk in the face of challenge. Priests, landowners, husbands, wives, and warriors all abandon their responsibilities. In Ruth, however, the main characters valiantly shoulder their responsibilities, however burdensome. In Judges, men treat women insensitively, shamefully, even violently. In Ruth, women are treated like partners on a common mission. Why? Having been led by the book of Judges (particularly the self-contained anthology incorporating chaps. 17-21) to wonder whether the one-and-only source of Israel’s agony is kinglessness, Ruth is a canonical-historical surprise. Both Ruth 1-4 and Judges 17-21 come from the premonarchical period of the “judges,” yet each offers a radically different response to this fluid situation. To read Ruth against its canonical-historical context not only reconnects us with some of the book’s earliest interpreters, it also generates newer literary and sociological insights into the theological message of this beloved short story.

Key words: Old Testament, Ruth, Judges, political criticism, canon criticism, Septuagint, leadership, theological criticism

One day the trees went out to anoint a king for themselves. They said to the olive tree, “Be our king:”

But the olive tree answered, “Should I give up my oil, by which both gods and men are honored, to hold sway over the trees?”

Next, the trees said to the fig tree, “Come and be our king.”

But the fig tree replied, “Should I give up my fruit, so good and sweet, to hold sway over the trees?”

Then the trees said to the vine, “Come and be our king.”

But the vine answered, “Should I give up my wine, which cheers

both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?”

Finally all the trees said to the bramble, “Come and be our king.”

The bramble said to the trees, “If you really want to anoint me king over you, come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, then let fire come out of the bramble and consume the cedars of Lebanon!” (

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