Agricultural Dimensions of the Book of Ruth
Food, essential for life, plays a prominent role in the Book of Ruth. It serves as the prime motivation for Elimelech’s migration to Moab from Bethlehem, the “house of bread.” Upon Naomi’s return migration to Bethlehem, agriculture provides a safety net for her and Ruth, as well as to those with no other means of support, namely the widows, orphans, and aliens. This dissertation investigates farming and ecological practices, including agricultural motivations for migration in order to understand the background of the story of Ruth and the book itself. After a summary of previous scholarship, the focus turns upon the migration of Elimelech and his family during a time of severe famine and the return migration of Naomi, accompanied by Ruth (Ruth 1:1-6). Here, drought and famine are examined as well as the role they play in a decision to migrate to another land. Next, I examined the agricultural process and the role it plays in Ruth 2:4-17, 23 (harvest) and 3:6-13 (threshing). Pertinent archaeological evidence was brought to bear. Finally, the effects of migration, farming, and ecology on the plight of the orphan, widow, and alien were examined. In an agriculture-based system of taking care of the less fortunate, the fortunes of the poor are often interconnected with the success or failure of the farmer’s crop. Five main conclusions were drawn from this study. First, migration was seen as a viable alternative to starvation in the event of a prolonged famine. Because of a farmer’s fear of losing his property and his livelihood, this option was seen as a last resort. Second, when the primary means of support, the “breadwinner,” disappears, survivors are likely to engage in return migration, especially if they receive news that the famine has ended in their homeland as in the case of Naomi (Ruth 1:6). Third, the farmer is at the mercy of natural phenomena, such as weather, pests, and plant diseases. This was made manifest at the beginning of the Book of Ruth.Fourth, if natural circumstances cooperate, the farmer’s skill, from plowing to harvest, has a direct bearing on the success or failure of a given crop year. The farmer also practices ecological skills such as soil conservation through terracing and nutrient conservation by means of fallowing and crop rotation. Finally, the fortunes of the farmer and the poor are intertwined, provided the farmer abides by legislation in the law codes (Covenant, Holiness, and Deuteronomic). Boaz is an exceptional exemplar in his generosity toward Ruth.
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