Reading Ruth for the sake of poor rural women : a bosadi womanhood approach.
This study posits that a deconstructive socio-historical reading of Ruth will elicit aspects of ancient Israelite women’s agency which can then be used to inspire greater socio-economic agency amongst poor rural women today. While it is difficult to establish the date of Ruth with any precision, the study argues that the book was first written to legitimise David’s kingship and then used as a polemic against Ezra-Nehemiah’s intermarriage policies some 550 years later. Accordingly, it discusses the socio-economic conditions pertaining to both periods, namely the early monarchic and the early post-exilic periods. The study shows that Israel began as a loosely organized tribal confederation, which lacked a structured political system, in the pre-monarchic period, and that far-reaching changes ensued upon the institution of the monarchy. During the monarchic period, the political structure of the land was increasingly centralised around the king. Despite the political changes, and variances within the mode of production, the family remained the basic economic production unit throughout Israel’s history. Similarly, Israelite society remained patriarchal in nature, and women derived their identity and economic wellbeing from the men in their lives. Women did not have any economic rights per se; their rights, if any, were secured and safeguarded by the men to whom they belonged. Furthermore, land was the most important economic commodity but Israelite law deprived the majority of women of the opportunity to own land. These factors disenfranchised and impoverished women, particularly childless widows. Within this context, Naomi and Ruth devised strategies which subverted the oppressive patriarchal structures of their time and overcame their socio-economic distress. The principles underlying their actions may be used to encourage poor rural women to develop greater socio-economic agency today.