The Relief of Ruth (Ruth & 1 Samuel 1-3)

Monday, June 6, 2022


Thank you so much Mary for creating this transcript!

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi! I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminists Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:12] We focus on feminist interpretations of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me manual as a guide for study. We understand scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with The Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred texts with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture.

Channing: [00:00:41] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches, is our background, we follow our faith and our God on the winding path of spirituality over institution, and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others: Welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. This podcast is funded by our listeners’ generous donations. If you'd like to support our work, connect with us on Patreon or on our website at

Elise: [00:01:23] Welcome back everyone. We're so glad that you're here. This week we're going to be working through the book of Ruth and the first three chapters of first Samuel. These are for the dates June 6th through the 12th. We're so glad that you're here because honestly this episode has felt like such a breath of fresh air and such a bit of relief and tenderness amongst kind of back-to-back episodes that have felt really war-filled and violent. So we're grateful for this. 

Channing: [00:01:51] Yeah, Elise and I were Marco-ing each other as we were preparing for the episode. And honestly, when I first opened the book and I read the book of Ruth, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is the first time that I've ever,” like, not that I've ever, but that in recent memory, I've been touched in a very like gentle and loving way by the text. And so, yes, a sigh of welcome relief is definitely the right word for this. So this week, we don't have a ton of chapters to cover. The Come Follow Me manual, we're actually following their exact assignment for this week. The entire book of Ruth is only four chapters. And then the first three chapters of Samuel. So at least for Elise and I too it was welcome to not have to read an entire 30... 

Elise: [00:02:38] Exactly.  

Channing: [00:02:41] Like, exactly, like 30 chapters in Judges! Or like, who even knows. So it's very nice to have such a small sampling. And I feel like it really allows us to dig in and savor all of the goodness. Oh, my goodness, is there so much goodness waiting for us in the book of Ruth. But before we jump right into the story of Ruth, I want to just back up a little bit and ask the same question that I asked about the book of Joshua. And that is what is the book of Ruth? Because if you listened to that episode, you'll remember that our Jewish friends have three different categories in the Bible where different books are separated into. The book of Ruth is the portion of the Hebrew Bible known as the Ketuvim or the wisdom writings. This means that the book of Ruth is considered to be sacred and inspired, but it is not prophetic. That means that it doesn't contain any type of law or specific revelation that comes down from a very authoritarian or leadership role. But that doesn't mean that it's any less important or any less relevant or any less needed. So from there, we're just going to jump right into the book of Ruth. 

Elise:  [00:03:57] Starting in chapter one, this is where we meet Naomi and her husband and their two sons that are on their way to Moab to seek relief from famine. While they're there, Naomi's husband dies and her two sons marry Moabite women. Naomi's two daughters-in-law are named Orpah and Ruth. They all live together happily for nearly ten years before Naomi's sons die as well. Without a man in her life to take care of her, Naomi prepares to return to her homeland in Judah, hoping to rely on her late husband's inheritance there. She says to her daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to your mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you as you have with me. The Lord grant you that you may find rest. Then she kissed them and they lifted up their voice, and wept.” Both her daughters-in-law insist that they return to Judah with Naomi, but Naomi pushes back and she makes the argument that she has nothing to offer them there. There are no more husbands that she has to give to them. She reminds them that even if she were to become pregnant with a son, that very same day that the daughters-in-law would need to then wait until Naomi's pretend son had grown up old enough for them to marry. And is that even a feasible option? Of course not. Thus Naomi reiterates her wish that the women returned to their mothers houses and the scriptures say, “And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law [and left], but Ruth clave unto her.”

Channing: [00:05:26] I love this story. And I really wanted to spend so much time in chapter one because honestly it's written so poetically and so well and even in the first, like, 14 verses I'm already in love with every single one of these characters. And one of the things that I felt was particularly striking was that in this narrative we see a loving mother-in-law figure and this pushes back somewhat on, especially current cultural viewpoints of mother and daughter-in-law relationships. We have movies and books and even fairytales that kind of portray mother-in-laws as monstrous or jealous, meddling, undermining, or just generally unwanted in a marriage relationship. But we see the complete opposite in the case of Naomi. Her daughters-in-law wept, they cried loudly at the thought of leaving one another. Naomi's request for her daughters to leave wasn't because she didn't like, or didn't want them around, but because she loved them. Naomi cared for her daughters in law. She cared for their wellbeing, their health and their happiness. And she genuinely believed that they would be best cared for in their own lands and their own families of origin. And, this doesn't happen to me a lot- it should honestly probably happened to me more often- but as I was reading the story this week, I couldn't help but think of my own life and my own mother-in-law and I feel really, really, very lucky because in a lot of ways my mother-in-law is similar to Naomi. Since the minute I began dating my husband, my mother-in-law has treated me like one of her own. Even when there have been significant conflicts in my marriage, she's always insisted on sharing her love and reiterating my place and belonging in the family. My in-laws aren't perfect in the same way that my own family is not perfect, but they love me and I do know it. I may be the black sheep of my family as far as religion and politics go, but they always welcome me in, laugh at my jokes, invite me to every activity, hug me when I walk in the door, and hug me when I go out of it. And so I'm really honestly humbled and grateful to be able to see some of the positive and loving female relationships that I have in my own life reflected here in the scriptures.

I also really celebrate the book of Ruth because I think, hesitantly, from what I've read anyway, that it really showcases healthy and positive family relationships. Orpah and Ruth would not have wept at the thought of leaving Naomi if that relationship wasn't loving. Orpah and Ruth do not love Naomi out of obligation; they wouldn't have offered to stay at the risk of their own wellbeing if they did. The love and devotion between them is unspoken by the narrative, but it's not invisible. Not all-in-law relationships are like the ones that we see between Orpah and Ruth and Naomi. Many aren't. And that's exactly why this story is remarkable. 

Elise: [00:08:44] I love that. I think that's really generous of you to share your own experience with your mother-in-law and the podcast. And I hope that she listens to this episode just to know how much you love her. Secondly, with this story, we can resist readings that view Orpah's choice to return home and Ruth's choice to stay as a good or bad decision or the better and best decision, because neither Channing nor I appreciate readings that pit women's choices against one another. The way that it often goes with the Mary and Martha story. Naomi loved both her daughters-in-law and they both loved her. Her love is not coercive. It does not demand or manipulate, but instead it allows for freedom and agency for each of her daughters-in-law to choose for their own selves. Naomi's love intends to care for her daughters-in-law, and no doubt both celebrates and mourns Orpah's choice to return. It's a celebration because Orpah makes the best choice for her. And there's also morning because there's a separation and a separation of any kind in a loving relationship brings a lot of tears. We imagine Naomi blessing Orpah as she leaves and in doing so invites us to do the same. Blessings on Orpah for her intuitive, knowing for her courageous acts of bravery and heartbreaking time, for her reverence of love and life and for the tenderness she no doubt held for Ruth and Naomi in her heart.

Channing: [00:10:09] So yes, Orpah leaves, she returns back to her family and we see that Ruth makes a different choice because she decides to stay. Knowing this, Naomi again invites Ruth to return home, but in Ruth's reply, we have one of the most loving and the most arguably iconic verse. Actually, I should share this funny story. Our friend Kate is a historian and teaches history classes. And I remember one time Kate told us. The most annoying thing for them when they go through and read papers by students is when students say something along the lines of: “In all of time” or “in all of history.” And so I almost want to make the argument of: “Ruth's reply is one of the most iconic stories in all of the scriptures.” But I hear myself inner-laughing because,  

Elise: [00:11:13] Kate would be like, really? All time, all time?  

Channing: [00:11:17] All time? Right? So in honor of Kate, this is my favorite scripture period. Ruth says, “Where you go, I’ll go. Where you live, I will live too. Your people shall be my people, and your god, my god.” Is that not so good? I seriously can't. I love it so much. I think it's about two verses, this line spans two or three verses and oh my goodness. I personally know of no other example that resonates so well to my heart of what friendship, of what love, of what devotion, and fidelity look like in our relationship then than these words. To say, “I love you so much that come what may, I want to be with you. I want to face whatever life has with you, because I love you. And I can't- a life without you is no life to me. So yes, I trade it all in to be with you. 

Elise: [00:12:24] As a, sorry, as a side note. One of the articles I was reading was saying like, “Yeah, but Naomi doesn't say anything in response to her. Naomi's like, “okay, well, like thanks?”” *laughter*

Channing: [00:12:39] Okay. There was one, I was watching this, it was very irreverent, but I was also watching a video that summarized the story and Naomi replies to Ruth being like, “well, that was weird.”

Elise: [00:12:52] Okay. So mine wasn't the only piece that said something like that! No. Cause verse 18 says, “when she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her,” well, then it says “then she left speaking unto her.” Which, for some reason, the interpretation was she just left without speaking.

Channing: [00:13:16] Well, I think also I want to keep this on the podcast, but, I think also later in the chapter, like not even that long, like two verses later, Naomi says, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara for The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” So it may not be that Naomi didn't appreciate or acknowledge Ruth's statement of love and devotion, but like, I honestly think Naomi was grieving and feeling really depressed. And so it makes sense to me that Naomi didn't have the wherewithal to be able to reply to Ruth in an equally poetic or devoted sort of way. So I'm just gonna imagine in my, to borrow the words from Wil Gafney, “my sanctified imagination”, that Naomi was like, “I love you so much. I wish that I had the gift of poetry, but I don't. So I'm just going to let your words stand as like the most loving devotion that I have ever heard in my entire life. And we'll just pretend that we both wrote it.” Oh, okay. So from there, Ruth and Naomi leave to Bethlehem. 

Elise: [00:14:30] So this is now when we move into chapter two and in chapter two, Ruth goes to gather barley in the field of a near kinsman of Naomi and his name is Boaz. When Boaz sees Ruth, he asks about her and his field workers tell him the story of Ruth. Boaz then approaches Ruth and asks her to stay in this field, gives her his protection and invites her to take what she needs to care for herself and for Naomi. When Ruth asks why is he being so kind to her, he says, “It hath fully been shewed me all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and mother and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou newest not before. And the Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.”

Channing: [00:15:25] Okay. For real. I thought it couldn't get any better. I'm just freaking out over the language and the poeticism of the way that Ruth talks and Boaz talks. Obviously this is a story that has been perfected over the ages because this is way too good. This is way too good. Everything about this story, I'm seriously obsessed with. One of the things that stuck out to me the most reading the entire book of Ruth is that we never actually hear directly from the voice of God throughout this entire story. There is no point of divine intervention. There's no like, “and God visited her,” which we'll see later in the story of Hannah, like God never talks at all. And nothing is attributed to God, except for the only time when Naomi says, “God's dealt very bitterly with me.” And so instead of having like a divine intervention from another worldly or divine source, all of the goodness that we see happen in the book of Ruth happens because of humans. It's the goodness that they show to one another. And so as I was reading chapter two and I got to see Boaz step in as this very protective and concerned and caring and almost-nurturing figure, in almost, at least to me (the language speaks to me this way), in the role of what we would normally attribute to God in the text. And so I really enjoyed actually seeing the interplay between the way that Ruth embodies divinity, the way that Naomi embodies divinity and the way that Boaz embodies divinity throughout this entire story. And so in the way that Boaz is talking to Ruth, he's saying, “Oh my goodness, look at everything that you've done for Naomi who's a part of my family. Look at everything that you've done for someone that you love. Now it's your turn to be cared for and taken care of. And I'm happy to provide that for you in whatever way that I can.”

Elise: [00:17:42] Yeah. I really liked that. And I think too, that reminds me Boaz's response is a really nice model for how we could better practice welcoming refugees and immigrants and how we could care for the stranger and the foreigner because Ruth here is triply marginalized, right? She's a widow. She's not from Judah; she's a Moabite and in Deuteronomy it's strictly forbidden for Israelites to marry Moabites and she's also poor. Her and Naomi show up as exiles or refugees and she's working in the barley fields as a peasant or as a servant. And so the hospitality and protection with which Boaz meets Ruth is a fantastic model for the ways that we might care for others. 

Channing: [00:18:28] Absolutely. And I think also speaking to that too, I think that this story illustrates really well, the concept of the interconnectedness of community, right? So Boaz isn’t only caring for Ruth when he says, “Hey, yes, you can gather all the grain that you want to. You can come drink water whenever you need it. Stay here, stay under my protection.” He's not only caring for Ruth. He's also caring for and providing for Naomi as well. And so it's this really beautiful illustration of the domino effect. Care reverberates throughout an entire community. The book of Ruth is such a gem because it's tucked in-between these stories of incredible violence, incredible harm and we saw in the book of Judges, we saw in the book of Joshua, we saw in the book of Numbers, how violence also reverberates throughout a community. But in this story we have such beautiful elements of care, concern, reverence, respect, hospitality, and we get to see all of the ways that those nurture not only the three characters involved, but also the whole entire community and generations down the line. It's seriously so cool.

So after this exchange with Boaz, Ruth returns to Naomi with all of the barley that she's gathered and with the deets of this exchange with Boaz. Naomi celebrates, and she's like, “oh my goodness, thank the Lord.” She says, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Ruth continues to glean wheat and barley in Boaz’s field until the end of the harvest.

Elise: [00:20:23] This is now when chapter three opens and it opens with Ruth saying to Naomi, “What if I maybe start trying to settle down into another marriage and create more security for you and I?” And Naomi says, “yes, actually, you know what? I have been thinking.” And then Naomi shares this whole plan that she has made for Ruth to propose marriage to Boaz. Ruth agrees. And so in the middle of the night Ruth goes to where Boaz was threshing wheat, and she uncovers his feet and lays down. Boaz is super freaked out at first because it's midnight and like, “What's going on?” And he asks, “Who art thou?” Basically: “Who is here? What's happening?” And Ruth replies, “I am Ruth thine handmaid.” Then the proposal comes, “Spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsmen.” This exchange has major sexual overtones, at least for the Hebrew Bible standard. Especially when we think about feet, that's a very phallic symbol in the Bible. And essentially Ruth is saying, “I'm here and I'm taking you at your word. Remember when we first met and you said, “Ruth, stay. Ruth, I will care for you. Ruth, I see you.” I believed you then. And I believe you now.” And up until verses 10 and 11, the text has never been really explicit in the feelings that either of them have towards one another. But if we were to read between the lines, there is a lot of fruitful space here for interpretation.

Channing: [00:21:50] Yeah, definitely. As I was reading the text, I really got the feeling that Ruth and Boaz totally caught the feels for each other. After Ruth's proposal, Boaz accepts on one condition: that Ruth return home while Boaz speaks with another man who is slightly closer in kinship and therefore has first claim to Ruth's hand in marriage. In chapter four, the next day, Boaz speaks with him and he ends up, this other kinsmen, ends up agreeing to not marry Ruth and Boaz claims to all of the town and all of the witnesses present, “Okay, see? This other guy has said he doesn't want to marry Ruth, so I'm going to.” From there, Ruth and Boaz marry, and together they conceive a child named Obed who is the grandfather of the future king David. Ruth and Boaz's relationship and their son Obed is celebrated by all. And we see this happening at the end of chapter four. With the women of Bethlehem saying to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, which has not left thee this day without a kinsmen... And he shall be into thee a restorer of thy life and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter-in-law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons.” 

Better to thee than seven sons, like, sons are like the end-all-be-all of all existence in ancient Jewish tradition. And so the fact that like Ruth is better to Naomi than seven sons that is for reals saying something. I love this story, as you can probably tell. I'm like majorly fan-girling as we’re going through and reading it. And for me, I am really feeling pulled and resonant with the traditional interpretation of the story, which is that Boaz loved Ruth and Ruth loved Boaz. Yes, like that. And I really think the text supports this interaction and I find this to be a wholesome story of consensual, respectful, and healthy love and marriage relationships. I seriously can't get over the complexity and imagery of the story. We see Ruth's bravery and her humility. We see Naomi's wisdom and faith, and we see Boaz with fidelity and care. I know that my interpretation or the traditional interpretation, isn't radical or queer or alternative in any way, but I also think it maybe is a little bit. Because even the heterosexual reading is so loving and healthy, whereas most of the other ones that you've seen in the Bible up until this point are not, it really stands out. The text is really starved for healthy examples of what heterosexual relationships can be. And here we have one. And I really think that healthy love modeled in a heterosexual relationship deserves to be celebrated. But, and this is like a huge, huge caveat to the text, precisely because the text leaves plenty of room for interpretation, there's ample room for other interpretations that are not heterosexual that are also equally supported by the text. And I know this because Elise and I discussed what we were going to talk about for the episode, and Elise's like, “I found the most amazing queer interpretation of the story of Ruth, and I'm excited to share it.” And I'm like, “Please do so.” Yay. I'm really excited. 

Elise: [00:25:23] Yes. One of the articles I came across that I'm super excited about is an article by Ruth Presser. The article is titled: “Things I Learned from the Book of Ruth: Diasporic Reading of Queer Conversions.” The author writes, “The urgent need to read queer desire and lesbian lives in canonic and hegemonic texts echoes one of the earliest strategies of feminist textual reading.” So yes, absolutely. Channing's point about healthy heterosexual relationships showing up in this story is radical and necessary and also the queerness that shows up in this story and lesbian relationships that show up in this story is also urgent and necessary. And I recognize, too, that some scholars don't wish to apply an anachronistic conception of lesbianism to the text, which is to say reading 21st century lesbian issues or lesbian relationship dynamics into an ancient text. This isn’t, of course, the only way to approach it though. And for example, organizers of the third lesbian conference that was held in Israel in 2004 chose Ruth's line to Naomi, “Wherever you go, I go” as the inscription on the conference t-shirts. So both relevant and lesbian here. So good. And I, too, believe that there is something quite queer and lesbian about the story that we can celebrate together.

Another fantastic article that I found was on the Jewish Women's Archive website titled “Wherever You Go, I Go: Queerness in the Book of Ruth” by Elana Spivack. The next few thoughts that we'll be outlining come from this article. So, first of all, one of the things that we see happen in the story of Ruth and Naomi and Orpah is that they're no longer tied to their husbands and they have far more opportunity to make their own decisions. And with this, that also means that they're able to shed their formal ties of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, therefore they aren't legally responsible to stay together in any way. And yet each of them chooses to remain together. Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi and Naomi chooses to stay with Ruth. We might ask ourselves, maybe, at this moment: were Ruth and Naomi, like, awakened to the possibility of love for each other in ways that go against the traditional mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship? And I know this was one of the sticking points that Channing and I had when we were prepping for the podcast. Like, “Ooh, how do we get around this kind of, like, familial tie?” And one of the things I liked in the Presser article is that Presser writes, “After all Naomi called Ruth my daughter. But so did Boaz later in the book and then he impregnated her.” 

Channing: [00:28:05] Yeah. I also was thinking about this too. Because at the end of chapter four and Elise, you were the one who originally brought my attention to this, but at the end of chapter four there's kind of this listing of, like, heritage or legacy that Ruth and Boaz are forming together. And one of the ancestresses that the scriptures call on is Tamar. Tamar, if you'll remember the episode that we covered her story in, she slept with her father-in-law in order to become pregnant by him, which was all in accordance with Levirate law at the time. And so these inter-familial relationships, even though they are foreign and uncomfortable to us today because we have different standards and ways of performing loving relationships, I think it could be argued that this wouldn't have been as uncomfortable then as we're reading back into it now. 

Elise: [00:29:10] Yeah. I think that's fair. I'm really glad that you brought that up. And even, we can look at the story of commitment to companionship, right? And that might lead us to discuss some different elements of queerness and attraction as not all attraction has to be sexual or even romantic. One of the posts that I think Channing you shared once in your stories was from the Instagram account, @QueerSexTherapy that kind of outlines different types of attraction, like sensual attraction, or the desire to interact in tactile non-sexual ways like holding hands or hugging or cuddling. You also have emotional attraction, like the desire to connect with someone emotionally in trusting and vulnerable ways. And also there's something called aesthetic attraction where there's this overwhelming appreciation for an attraction to someone's appearance or beauty. So with each of these different types of attraction in mind, I really like the line that Presser includes in the article where they say, “The Book of Ruth does not detail the relationship between Ruth and Naomi. It simply presents us with an exceptional story of devotion. It reverberates Adrian Rich's notion of woman identification and a lesbian existence, which exceeds the boundaries and norms of heteronormative kinship. Cautious not to apply an anachronistic conception of lesbianism to the text. Queer scholars seemed to agree that the Ruth Naomi dyad offers a powerful biblical example of same sex intimacy.” 

I love this. And so whether we're reading this as like a queer or a strictly lesbian story, what is obvious here is that devotion, is that intimacy in whatever form feels best for your interpretation, as it stays relevant to the story.

Channing: [00:31:00] With these examples that Elise has shared so succinctly, we can really see that the story of Ruth and Naomi is significant and radical for its connection and commitment to queer relationship dynamics. Also, it seems really clear to us that Ruth and Naomi loved each other. The same Hebrew word “Dabaq” that is used to describe Ruth's feelings for Naomi is the same word used to describe Adam's feelings for Eve in Genesis. The word means “to cleave.” Thus the way that Adam cleaved to Eve is the way that Ruth clung to Naomi. Okay, side note here: this totally reminds me in a lot of ways of our friendship and like moments in our friendship. I remember when we were little baby best friends, just barely figuring out how much we enjoyed being with each other, you left for this 10 day trip to China and the entire time you were gone, I was like, “Oh my gosh, I really miss Elise. I'm thinking about her every day and wondering if she's doing good and I can't text her and that's a super bummer.” And then when you got home, I was so excited to see you. And I love this word cleave and the concept of almost- I hate this word- “soulmates” because it has such connotations to it, but this idea that this is a once in a lifetime relationship and a once in a lifetime friendship. And I feel so privileged to be a part of that and to be able to have found someone as equally amazing and also equally invested in the relationship. I feel like that's so few and far between as far as friendships go. And so I love this concept in all of its interpretations, right? Whether it's like queer-romantic love or it's friendship, or it's family devotion or it's whatever. This concept of, to use words from Emily Bronte, “souls being made of the same stuff” is really, oh, it's just so radically loving. I can't get over it. This may be my favorite book of scripture so far.

Elise: [00:33:18] So I think that's fair. And sometimes you and I will say to each other: not only is it a once in a lifetime friendship, but it really does feel like a once in a lifetime love. And sometimes we'll say to each other, “I hope that other people can be able to experience the love that we have for each other.” It is that special and that urgently necessary. And I remember when you moved to Utah I might as well have said what Ruth said to Naomi, “entreat me not to leave thee, return from following, where you go, I go.” And though, unfortunately, I wasn't able to move with you, that was still the sentiment: wherever you go, wherever we go, we will always be connected. We'll always be devoted to each other. 

Channing: [00:34:05] Yup. Yup. I'm so thankful for you.

Elise: [00:34:08] I am too. I'm thankful for you. Another thing that we can recognize in this story in a different way, thinking about Boaz, is that when Ruth and Naomi arrive in Judah, Boaz meets Ruth with approval and protection, even though she's a foreigner, like we talked about. And this is my own imagining, but I like imagining that perhaps, this is Boaz supporting Ruth and Naomi's relationship and helping them play the system and establish an even larger network of connections and support. Almost as if Boaz knows that Ruth and Naomi are together and he accepts them exactly the way that they are. And he says, “You know what? There's something that I can do to help you both scheme or help us play the system that allows you to get your land back and to continue your lineage,” because those are important things for women of the time. 

Channing: [00:34:49] Yeah. I mean, in that reading, we might be able to read them as like a polyamorous couple, or maybe we can read Boaz as asexual and like, oh my gosh, seriously, one of my favorites things is coming across stories like this where we're like: there are infinite interpretations that we can offer of this one single story and I'm excited about all of them. This is why scriptures are still so incredibly relevant and so important because they still apply. The story of Ruth and Naomi still applies. And I love that seriously, so much.

Elise: [00:35:27] And one of the other things that we had talked about when we were preparing for the episode is you had brought up the idea of “chosen family”. And I think that's what I'd also like to focus on next. The story also shows us queer family dynamics. And this is not like queer as only an inclusive term for members of the LGBTQ+ community. But queer as in critiquing what is considered normal and abnormal, queer as in unexpected and peculiar, queer as in dissolving categories and harmful traditions. So for example, first of all, Naomi and Elimelech struggled to make ends meet so they decided to leave Bethlehem and go eastward toward the kingdom of Moab. And in a sense they are exiles and nomads. Additionally, like we talked about, their sons marry local women. They marry Moabites: Orpah and Ruth, when we've heard in previous chapters and episodes that Isrealites were not allowed or that it was really discouraged for Israelites to marry outside of their own lineage or tribe. And especially not to marry Moabites. And then after the father and sons die, Ruth and Orpah, refuse to break their relationships and leave Naomi, for such is this desire for chosen family, regardless of what laws or marriage covenant they've made along the way. 

Channing: [00:36:46] And then when we see Ruth and Naomi arrive in Judah, a brand new family dynamic emerges with the plan to have a child by Boaz. Presser,whose article we've quoted in this episode, also writes, “It is a return to a masculine genealogy that materializes in and through a womb, a conspicuous surrogacy involving two fathers and two mothers.” In summary, we see Boaz as the biological father and Milan, who was Ruth's late husband as the name giver who ties the newborn to the land and the nation and the family. We see Ruth as both a lover and a surrogate mother and egg donor. And then we also see Naomi as a lover and a wet nurse, as she, “took the child and laid it in her bosom and became nurse unto it.” In this way, Naomi's receiving of the baby allows her and Ruth the complete act of returning and belonging home. That means they are no longer exiles. This also means Naomi is able to redeem the land and establish a house and a lineage. Although the narratives may reproduce the norm of motherhood, we see Presser also write, “The root is so queer and thwarting that it does not adhere to scriptural legal standards, either for establishing kinship ties or for redeeming the land.”

Elise: [00:38:14] And I really appreciate this idea of both queer family dynamics, but also queering what it means to be a parent and what it means to be a family. And one of my most favorite examples, actually, probably my favorite book of all time is this book called “Woman on the Edge of Time” by Marge Piercy. It's this 1970s, feminist utopian text. And I think one time when Channing picked me up from the airport, I just spent the entire drive rehearsing this book to her because I was like, “no, seriously, you have to read it.” So for everyone listening, you have to read it. 

Channing: [00:38:47] It was, and it was also really funny because that entire conversation happened in the context of Elise spent the entire drive from the airport telling me about this book and then I spent the entire drive back to the airport telling Elise all about how I was watching Schitt's Creek. We were both equally so uninformed about the other's interests. And we just laughed about how we patiently listened to each other nerd out about whatever it was we were into at the time.

Elise: [00:39:15] Exactly. And so even though I will ask for people's patience as I rehearse my favorite book, it actually is I think really relevant. It is amazing. And it's also really relevant to this conversation that we're having about like, parenthood and motherhood. And so in this book, Women on the Edge of Time, there's this futuristic utopian society in which anyone has the ability to be a mother regardless of their sex or gender. And in fact, there's actually no such thing as biologically birthing children. So anyone can be a mother. And the way that the society works is that every child is raised by three mothers. So regardless of sex or gender three mothers who don't usually have sexual relationships with one another, just to keep things smooth and congenial for the child and all of these three co-mothers raise the child together until that child is 12 years old. Then, at that point the co-mothers kind of take a step back and the aunties come in to further raise the child through their adult years. Now, becoming a co-mother is completely voluntary and were you to take it on it would be considered just like any job, if I'm remembering that correctly. It's like, full-time responsibility. It's not that you are having to work and be a co-mother. So there's this really incredible dynamic that we see presented in this book that I think can kind of be echoed back to the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. And what if perhaps all three of them helped raise Obed and perhaps the community did too. And I appreciate other understandings of parenthood and motherhood that can offer something that, to me, feels, from a distance, far more life-giving and far more supportive and pays tribute to the work that's involved in parenthood. I also appreciate in Presser's article that Presser imagines a few lines from Ruth. Like: what if Ruth didn't actually want a child? What if Ruth didn't want to be a mother? What if all she wanted most was to be with Naomi? Presser writes, “Perhaps they discussed it at night, plotting together. Perhaps Ruth said, ‘I don't want a child. I want you.’ And perhaps Naomi answered, ‘I’ll raise him. It won't hurt your freedom. Without this, they will never accept you. You will always be a foreigner. You've seen how they gaze at you, how they react to your accent, pretend not to be able to understand you. They will never let us be. And I will not be able to protect you forever. There's a system, let's take advantage of it.’ And perhaps Ruth was silent for a while. Then perhaps she said, ‘Let me think about it for a bit.’” Look how much depth can come from playing with these characters and from imagining conversations that happen behind closed doors in bedrooms late at night. There's so much to the story that is left unsaid, and this is not the only story in scripture where that happens. But I think that we're feeling really creatively driven and positively excited about this piece. And so I'm appreciative of all the different interpretations that we've come across so far. 

Channing: [00:42:27] Absolutely. One of the other thoughts that I've been having about the story of Ruth, because Ruth is one of the characters that is named in the lineage of Jesus. And I keep going back through all the books that we've read so far in the Hebrew Bible. And Tamar is an ancestress of Jesus Christ. Rahab is an ancestress to Jesus Christ. Ruth is an ancestress of Jesus Christ. And it's just that Jesus, the Son of God who came to radicalize the entire Earth and bring the kingdom of God here decided to come through someone who pretended to be a prostitute to get pregnant, somebody who actually was a prostitute, and then somebody who is a Moabite, somebody who the Israelite law specifically forbade marriage with. And so Jesus is a rule breaker 100% through and through. I just, oh my gosh, this story is so cool. I am so happy we got to read it. So happy.

Okay as if we haven't already talked everyone's ears off about how much we love this story, we have one final story that we would like to share with our listeners. And that is a story that we find in Samuel chapters one through three and we encounter a woman named Hannah. And in this story, Hannah and Peninnah were the wives of a man named Elkanah. Peninnah had children but Hannah didn't and this caused her a lot of pain. And unfortunately Peninnah persisted in reminding Hannah that she didn't have children until she was driven to tears and refused to eat. The story opens with the scene of Hannah running away from a feast to weep and pray to God and promises in her prayer that if God gave her a son, she would dedicate him to God’s service. While this is all unfolding a priest named Eli witnesses Hannah, but assumed, wrongly, that she was drunk because she was absolutely distraught. Eli said to Hannah, “How long wilt that be drunken? Put away thy wine from thee.” And Hannah replied back, “No, my Lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.. out of the abundance of my grief… have I spoken.” Eli then sends her on her way with the blessing and Hannah returns to her family where she allows herself to eat again. And the text says, “Her countenance was no more sad.” Hannah becomes pregnant and bears a son named Samuel. When she weans him, she accompanies Samuel to the house of the Lord and says to the priest, Eli, “For this child I prayed; and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also have I lent him to the Lord; As long as he liveth, he shall be lent to the Lord.” 

Elise: [00:45:40] Next in chapter two, we have a beautiful praising, that's like a prayer or a song or song from Hannah. She says, “My heart rejoices in the Lord,.. the Lord killeth, and maketh alive: He bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: which he bringeth low and lifteth up. He raiseth the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar… to set them among the princes, and to make them inherit from the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and he hath set the world upon them.” Eli once again blesses Hannah that, “The Lord give thee seed of this woman for the loan which is lent out to the Lord.” And in chapter two, verse 21, “And the Lord visited Hannah, so that she conceived, and bare three sons and two daughters.” Samuel continues to grow before the Lord. And by chapter three, Samuel was called by God to be the prophet. 

Channing: [00:46:33] This is a really incredible story. And has specific relevance, especially for women who have experienced or are experiencing infertility. And infertility is not talked about enough, especially at church or in church circles, but it can be an incredibly, incredibly painful experience for women who deeply desire to have children. And I know that this story has brought comfort and hope for women who have experienced infertility or are maybe still carrying that burden. 

Elise: [00:47:11] Yeah. That's something that I came across too in my findings, is that the story of Hannah seems like it has the potential to provide special encouragement to those struggling with infertility. Not necessarily because God ends up providing Hannah with a child, but because God remembers Hannah and perhaps those who struggle with infertility know the depth of sorrow that Hannah experienced. They know that depression of not wanting to eat and wanting to be absolutely alone, of feeling mocked and judged and betrayed by their community and by God, and in that way, too, I can understand why it would feel like God has forgotten you. And yet God is present with Hannah in her suffering. God is present with us in our suffering. God remembers us as God remembers Hannah. And I find that to be perhaps an encouraging message, amidst a really devastating story.

An article I found when preparing for this episode was written by Gale A. Yee titled, “The Silenced Speak: Hannah, Mary and Global Poverty.” And the author begins by contrasting the silence and invisibility of the women that were kidnapped and raped in the book of Judges, and those of our own time, with Hannah, who is “able to verbalize her own pain, anger, and protest to God for her infertility, along with an magnificent prayer of praise.” From a feminist perspective the author would like to hope that “in the literary juxtaposition of these accounts, the silenced women at the end of Judges, eventually found some sort of expression in the bitter laments and protest of Hannah. The image of Hannah releasing her anguish before God can also be a model for countless women who have been raped in combat. And that, as with Hannah, the God of the oppressed will hear their cries and respond.” I appreciate this contrast and this, kind of, hopeful legacy of those who have suffered in silence, right? Can women and gender nonconforming folks who were kept at a forceful distance from those they love find expression and visibility in the story of Ruth and Naomi? Can those who feel depressed and suffer alone in infertility, find the life giving lineage in the story of Hannah? And I also know that this isn't the only cross-book connection that we saw here. I know that you had also seen a connection between Hannah's story and the daughter of Jephthah from last week. 

Channing: [00:49:36] Yeah. I thought that was so fascinating, especially because what was most striking to me about the language used by the text to describe Hannah's promise that if she were to have a son, then she would dedicate him to the Lord’s service. The text says, “And Hannah vowed a vow”, which is the exact same wording that Jephthah uses in Judges 13 to make his fatal vow to God that he would sacrifice whatever first came out to meet him after his battle. And it was his daughter. And I almost wonder- the similarity is so striking that I almost wonder if it was done on purpose. It's very hard to miss. Well, at least for me when I was going through and reading the text. And what's most striking to me is that these almost function as a compare-and-contrast situation, right? Like Hannah, just like Jephthah, is saying I will make a sacrifice to God if my request is granted, but then that's the point that they stopped sharing any similarities because for Jephthah he could have- and honestly based on the arguments that we saw last week should have- not followed through with his vow and Hannah's vow instead was saying, “If you give me life, Lord, I will give life back to you.” And then more and more life comes out of this, right? Like Hannah bears a son. She gives her son to God's service and then God says, “Hey, thanks so much. You're the best. I'm actually going to give you five more babies.” But then, with the daughter of Jepthah, Jepthah says, “okay, God helped me slaughter these entire cities worth of people. And I promise then to slaughter something in your name.” And God's like, “I don't really think I want that.” At least, God's strikingly silent in that story. And when Jephthah sacrifices his daughter, she is his only descendant. And so from then on Jephthah’s lineage ends with her. And so it's almost as if these stories compared and contrasted with one another are saying death begets more death and life begets more life. And so I know not in all interpretations that same line of thinking really applies. Like, when we did the creation episode we talked about the necessity of death to bring forth more life, but it almost seems like this vow of sacrifice, when it's done with a life-giving perspective brings more life rather than ending an entire lineage. I thought that was really interesting. What a crazy crossover between the book of Samuel and the book of Judges is just wild. 

Elise: [00:52:44] Yeah. And one of the other things that I'm thinking about too, is that for the first time we actually hear Hannah's voice is when Hannah speaks directly to God. Otherwise people are like talking about her or around her which is really different than what we see in the book of Ruth, where the woman characters are really active and agentic and they have a lot of lines but in the story of Hannah, we learn a lot about her without actually hearing from her until she speaks with God. And so in this way, we might think that she finds her voice in speaking with God and then also pushing back to Eli when she's like, “no, I'm not drunk. I'm a deeply troubled woman.” Right? Like, “Leave me alone.” I have “great anxiety and great vexation” is what she says. And Hannah doesn't only find her voice to speak for herself, but she also uses her voice in a really political way that I hadn't noticed in the song of Hannah, that shows up in chapter two verses one through 10, like we read a little bit earlier. And at first we might expect her song of praise to focus on her fertility and the children that God blessed her with. However, her song, actually, she chooses to use her voice politically as a response to the abusive kings who exploit the peasant classes with taxes and tributes that barely allow the people to live. Thus, she praises a God who, as Gale A. Yee writes, “Shakes up the status quo by overturning these oppressive hierarchies, taking power and wealth from the dominant and giving it to the poor and vulnerable. The military will become crippled, but the exhausted will be girded with strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread. The royal elites will now actually have to work to eat while the starving, upon whom they preyed, will become satisfied. God will raise the poor from the city dump and the needy from the garbage heap.”

And I'm quite grateful for this article, not only because it highlights Hannah's voice, protest and triumph over God, but also because it makes political connections between parenthood, child raising and one's material world and existence. One of the things that I've been noticing over the last few weeks is how similar this protest is to the arguments that are happening online about abortion. I've seen posts that say, “oh, look, we claim to care about children and families and parents. But if we say that, where's the actual support? Where's the paid paternal leave and community connections? Where are the financial and material resources? Where are the medical interventions when black women and those who give birth are three times more likely to die during pregnancy and postpartum?” Motherhood and parenthood is political because we need safe and caring homes in which to raise kids. And we also need safe and caring communities and societies so that all can thrive.

Channing: [00:55:43] What I'm finding most striking about the stories that we've covered in this week's episode is like, “oh my gosh, the text didn't even have to try hard at all to be feminist.” Like, there are times where I feel like we've wrestled with the text and we're like, “We're here. We're gonna read the feminist crap out of you.” And the text is like, “No!” But then this time it was like, “okay, here we go. I'm going to give you a break. Yeah. Here's everything you need.”

I know you and I just have been saying over and over and over what a relief, what a joy, what amazing, beautiful, incredible stories. I love that word that you used: agentic women, who make and move and imagine, and create and all of the beautiful, artistic and loving, communal ways that they do in this story. This is a time where I'm feeling excited and rejuvenated by the text in a way that I haven't especially over the last couple of weeks. And so I am deeply grateful for this much needed reminder of the relevance, the beauty and the poeticism of scripture. So friends, thank you so much for joining us this week. This episode has been such a joy to prepare for you, and we hope that it is equally as joyful for you to listen. Love you! 

Elise: [00:57:14] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists podcast. We know your time and space is sacred and we are so grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we'd be so happy if you left us a loving rating on iTunes and Spotify. So other seekers can find us.

Channing: [00:57:33] Financial donations support the many hours of research work and devotion to each episode, as well as the everyday cost of creating and publishing the podcast. You can support us on Patreon or through a simple Venmo donation and help us create a world where creators, artists, activists, and beauty makers are valued and paid for their labor. Find us on those platforms and on Instagram as @thefaithfulfeminists, we're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends!

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