But Ruth Clung To Her Textual Constraints On Ambiguity In Ruth 1:14 -- By: Scott N. Callaham

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 63:2 (NA 2012)
Article: But Ruth Clung To Her Textual Constraints On Ambiguity In Ruth 1:14
Author: Scott N. Callaham

But Ruth Clung To Her
Textual Constraints On Ambiguity In Ruth 1:14

Scott N. Callaham


Researchers commonly assert that deliberately ambiguous language in Ruth 3 kindles sexual tension in the depiction of Ruth’s nocturnal encounter with Boaz upon his threshing floor. Perhaps inspired by the literary artistry of the author of Ruth, some recent interpreters have also averred that an erotic undercurrent flows through words they deem intertextually suggestive and allusively ambiguous in Ruth 1:14 as the text reads, ‘but Ruth clung to her’. The present study critically examines this proposal in light of interrelated semantic, syntactic, and intertextual literary evidence.

1. Semantics Of דבק

Although the lyrical nature of Ruth 1:16-17 dramatically underscores the depth of devotion Ruth expresses toward Naomi, it is the verb דבק (‘cling’) in verse 14 that constitutes the primary point of departure for proposals of a sexually-charged motivation behind Ruth’s actions.1 Even when a given commentator does not advocate a lesbian subtext to Ruth 1:14, highlighting alleged erotic connotations lying behind דבק is commonplace in critical literature.2 Focus upon the meaning of key

words is especially relevant to interpretation of the book of Ruth, for its unfolding plot manifests careful word selection through its employment of certain words as leitmotifs. It follows that the use of דבק rather than some other word in Ruth 1:14 likely carries significance. Therefore delimiting the semantic range of דבק is a reasonable foundational step toward evaluating any ‘sexual subtext hypothesis’ concerning the Ruth-Naomi relationship.

A relatively common verb, דבק appears four times in Ruth, with fifty more appearances in fifteen other books of the Hebrew Bible.3 Detailed rehearsal of the research available in standard lexicons and dictionaries is not necessary in the present study.4 However, several salient findings arise from such data and merit emphasis, for t...

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