Ruth and Esther are the only two women for whom books of the Hebrew Bible are named. This distinction in itself sets the books apart from other biblical texts that bear male names, address the community through its male members, recall the workings of God and human history through a predominately male perspective, and look to the future through male heirs. These books are particularly stories of survival. The story of Ruth focuses on the survival of a family; Esther focuses on the survival of a people.
As biblical characters, Ruth and Esther are women of their time—and are likewise women for all time. Each conforms to the cultural norms of their story’s setting while pressing against boundaries of domination and privilege that limit female and outsider participation.
As female characters, Ruth and Esther stand in a long line of biblical women who emerge as heroes in their stories. Each is a part of ancient Israel’s larger story of what it means to be and live as people of God.
This commentary assembles a rich collection of materials and sets them in conversation—and even in disputation—with the books of Ruth and Esther. New insights emerge here from sustained attention to the various canonical contexts of both books: this volume will enliven its readers’ study not only of Ruth and Esther, but of all five of the Megillot.
Assistant Professor of Old Testament Duke Divinity School