Messing with Perfection

When I read After Abel: And Other Stories by Michal Lemberger, I remember she said of the Book of Ruth, “There is no improving on Perfection.” In the New Interpreter’s Bible, of course, perfection was not to be found even in the Book of Ruth because there were pragmatic and not only romantic consideration at play in the acts of the characters. I believe Lemberger’s response would be that in real life romance is sometimes chained by reasons considered practical. And in fact, in her book Paltiel–Michal’s second husband–eventually gets over the loss of Michal and takes another wife after David acquires Michal again at Saul’s death. His princess is eventually forgotten. This kind of thing makes After Abel a bittersweet collection of Biblical retellings. However, it does make her embrace of the Book of Ruth all the more remarkable.

When I wrote The Bible According to Eve (eventually a 4-volume set), I started where I believe Lemberger did: with those doubts about the Bible which I had as a child. Like her I wrote about the post-Abel Eve–and how in reality she lost two sons and not one. Yet there were some books–like Esther–which I was more positive about than she was… and that leads to the point. In the fourth volume I wrote, The Bible According to Eve: Ketuvim: Eve Wrestles with Man and God and Prevails, I wrote about some of my favorite poems in the larger set: The Song of Songs; The Song of Hadassah (Esther); and The Song of Ruth.

Though all of the book is in verse (either 8-feet iambic or 9-feet iambic), to me these three “Songs” were particularly lyric. Ruth–the one called perfection–is about the love between two women, Ruth and Naomi, and the love between an older man and a younger woman, Boaz and Ruth. Though the story is brief, it explores all the themes of mature love. Too often people marry for physical attraction without consideration of what the relationship will be like when the fresh young blush of young love is gone. Boaz and Ruth marry for love, but also for shared things they have in common. They have a commitment. And of course, Ruth’s sacrifice for Naomi is the great love of the story,

Intreat me not to leave thee,

or to return from following after thee:

for whither thou goest, I will go;

and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:

thy people shall be my people,

and thy God my God:

Where thou diest, will I die,

and there will I be buried:

the Lord do so to me, and more also,

if ought but death part thee and me.

As every fervent reader knows, Ruth is a Moabite convert to Judaism… that makes her story particularly poignant to me: I am a convert, though my assumed pseudonym is Hadassah and not Ruth. The Bible tells of all kinds of love: the love between friends (David and Johnathan; Ruth and Naomi); forbidden love (David and Bathsheba); paternal love (David for Absalom); maternal love (Solomon’s decision between two prostitutes who the “real mother” is); romantic love within the bounds of marriage (Solomon and the Rose of Sharon); excessive indulgence in the name of love (Solomon and his wives; the Solomon of Ecclesiastes); mature love (Ruth and Boaz); love of God (Psalms); and love of the Jewish people (Esther). Yet Ruth is a special kind of love story. It is never recorded if Ruth is beautiful, though she is still of childbearing age (because she bears Boaz a son who will be an ancestor of King David); Boaz’s love for Ruth is based on her character. So is hers for him. That is why nobody would ever suggest they’re not going on to be happy. (I once read the blasphemous suggestion that nobody can know if Ahasuerus was happy after the Jews were saved and he was left married to Esther).

So it is that the love portrayed in Ruth is among the Bible’s most perfect. Yet I rushed in where angels fear to tread: I attempted my Song of Ruth with an emphasis on the femineity of the book. I have often wondered if women could have written Ruth and Esther.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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