The Book of Ruth - when was it composed?
A brief personal perspective
There are clues in the Book of Ruth which indicate that it was written a considerable time after the events which unfold therein. These are to be found in 1.1 ("long ago in the days before Israel had a King"), 4.7 ("in those days") and 4.17 ("who was the Father of David"). A fourth is in 4.18-22, which gives a family tree down to David.
Assuming these verses were not added later, the composition of Ruth would appear to date from at least the time of the reign of David (c1010BC to c970BC).
However, the story may have been composed earlier and embellished later. The following notes are important in endeavouring to support or refute either supposition and I have taken these into account in reaching my personal conclusion, which appears at the end of this article.
4.12 mentions "the family of Perez". Whilst Perez appears in Genesis and Numbers1, therefore clearly pre-dating Ruth, I understand the descendants of Perez were well represented in the people of Judah during the return from the Babylonian captivity, so could this mean Ruth was composed in post-exilic times?
There is apparent acceptance in the story of marriage between a Jew and a foreign woman (i.e. Ruth "the Moabitess"2). Although the action took place, as stated, "before Israel had a King3", i.e. in the time of the Judges, could the story have been composed at a later time when such a practice was more acceptable?
The incident of the sandal4 may be completely different to that set out in Deuteronomy 25.7-10 or it may indicate how that early custom had changed and developed over time. If the latter, it still necessary for the author to provide an explanation at 4.7, implying that the custom had either died out altogether or had developed even further. Can a dating be made on this progression?
The Book of Ruth seems to have occupied two principal positions in scripture: (i) after Judges in the Septuagint, Vulgate and English translations or (ii) among the last section of the Hebrew Bible. However, neither of these positions necessarily sheds light on the date of its composition; there may be other reasons why the book was placed where it was (e.g. litugical, aesthetic etc).
The Talmud gives Samuel as the author of both Ruth and Judges, which would date the book somewhat earlier than c1030BC. However, this ascription of Ruth to Samuel is almost universally rejected by scholars, not least because the Talmud is a much later work (c400AD).
The apparent comparative purity of the linguistic style of Ruth stamps it, according to experts, as a pre-exilic composition. The numerous critics who hold a different view are said to overrate the importance of its isolated Aramaisms which are, it is said, best accounted for by the use of a spoken patois independent of the actual developments of literary Hebrew.
Some scholars see word affinity with the post-exilic books of Ezra and Nehemiah but there is doubt as to the statistical significance of these occurrences.
Considering all the above and discounting the possibility that the original text may have been added to later and the fact that David is mentioned twice in the final few verses5 leads me to conclude that Ruth must have been written during or after David's time.
1 Gen 38.29 and Num 26.21
2 Ruth 1.22 (KJV)
3 Ruth 1.1 (GNB)
4 Ruth 4.8
5 Ruth 4.17 and 22
© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire April 2016