Who Went Back to the City?

The book of Ruth presents a beautiful story of unselfish love. The book narrates the story of two widows who lost their husbands and became destitute. Ruth and Naomi became widows in the land of Moab and then returned to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Naomi.

The book is also a love story. It is the story of Ruth the Moabite widow who decided to leave her country and follow her mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem. Upon their return, Ruth met a rich man whose name was Boaz, a prominent man who was also a landowner in Bethlehem.

The love affair between Ruth and Boaz began when Ruth came to glean in the field that belonged to Boaz. When Boaz came to inspect his workers during the harvest of barley, he saw Ruth and took an interest in her.

Boaz had heard what Ruth had done for her mother-in-law and how she had decided to follow Naomi and come to Bethlehem after the death of her husband. Boaz was so impressed by Ruth selflessness that he decided to help her.

At the end of the day, when she finished gathering what she had threshed, she returned to Naomi and gave to her mother-in-law some of the food that was left over from the food she received from Boaz. Ruth worked in Boaz’s field until the end of the barley and the wheat harvests.

At the end of the harvest, Naomi realized that Ruth should marry Boaz, since he was a close relative and the family’s goel, a kinsman redeemer. So, Naomi told Ruth to dress up, put some perfume, go to the threshing floor, and spend the night there.

That night, after Boaz finished eating, he came to the threshing floor and went to sleep. Ruth slept by his side. In the middle of the night, Boaz awoke and realized that Ruth was by his side. He told her to stay there with him until morning. In the morning, Boaz gave Ruth six measures of barley and then someone went back to the city.

But, who went back to the city? It depends on what translation you read.

The Revised Standard Version reads:

“And [Boaz] said, ‘Bring the mantle you are wearing and hold it out.’ So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and laid it upon her; then she went into the city” (Ruth 3:15 RSV, emphasis mine).

The New Revised Standard Version reads:

“Then [Boaz] said, ‘Bring the cloak you are wearing and hold it out.’ So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and put it on her back; then he went into the city” (Ruth 3:15 NRSV, emphasis mine).

The versions disagree on who went back to the city. The following versions agree with the Revised Standard Version and say that Ruth went back to the city:

The Bible in Basic English, Complete Jewish Bible, Douay-Rheims, English Standard Version, Geneva Bible, Holman Christian Standard Bible, Jewish Publication Society, Tanakh, King James Version, New American Standard Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New King James Version, and the Webster Bible.

The following versions agree with the New Revised Standard Version and say that Boaz went back to the city:

American Standard Version, Complete Jewish Bible, Darby Bible, English Revised Version, God’s Word for the Nation, NET Bible, New American Bible, New American Standard Bible,New International Version, New Living Translation, Today’s NIV, and the Young’s Literal Translation.

Why such a discrepancy? Why do the versions differ on their translation? The reason is that several Hebrew manuscripts have the masculine form of the verb, “he went back to the city,” while many other manuscripts have the feminine form of the verb, “she went back the city.” In addition, the feminine reading is supported by the Syriac version and by the Vulgate.

One reason to follow the feminine and say that it was Ruth who returned back to the city is that the context seems to indicate that what follows is what Ruth did after she returned to the city. Here is how verse 15 reads and how verse 16 begins:

15 And [Boaz] said, “Bring the mantle you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and laid it upon her; then she went into the city.

16 And when she came to her mother-in-law . . . (Ruth 3:15-16 RSV).

Thus, it seems that it was Ruth who returned back to the city.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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