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.

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