Phyllis Trible’s “Two Women in a Man’s World”: A Brief Summary

Trible observes that after the deaths of Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, Ruth and Naomi take their futures into their own hands. They each have a choice to make. Ruth chooses to live out her days in Bethlehem. Orpah eventually, on her own terms, concedes to Naomi’s pleas to return to her mother’s house. Ruth, in defiance of Naomi’s command, follows her into a foreign land, forsaking her family, religion, and future security through marriage.

It is important at the outset to note that neither Ruth nor Naomi are interested in securing their futures through marriage. Instead, these women forge a destiny that is not given by men. Ruth steps out and follows Naomi into a country of isolation. She takes initiative in finding work to sustain them both. She finds favor in Boaz’s field, and she continue to work throughout the barley harvest without seeking a husband for herself.

Though Naomi’s role recedes on account of her grief and bitterness, she ultimately steps away from her grief to forge a delicate and daring plan for Ruth that will secure their place in Israel. Through this plan, “Naomi works as a bridge between tradition and innovation” (279). She advises Ruth to function as the primary agent in prompting Boaz to fulfill his role as redeemer. (Heretofore, Boaz has made no effort in remedying the situation. He is aware of his relationship to Ruth and Naomi. He has chosen not to take the initiative in redeeming according to his right.) In so doing, Naomi and Ruth use Israel’s patriarchal power structures to their advantage.

Chapter four highlights the male dominated concern for the necessity of progeny to continue the line. Yet this should not overshadow the thrust of the book as a whole. This book portrays primarily women characters who are responsible for almost all of the action that takes place within the book. Though significance is attributed to Ruth and Naomi on account of the birth of Obed, who is a part of the David’s ancestry, it is often overlooked that  Naomi is blessed by the women of the city, not primarily on account of the birth of Obed, but on account of Ruth’s faithfulness, who is better than seven sons (Ruth 4:15).

Trible’s article is powerful and, dare I say, a necessary read for anyone studying the book of Ruth. The unique lens she offers to its interpretation  is indispensable as well as the artful way she weaves together the themes of fullness and emptiness, life and death.

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