By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Ruth, Women in the Bible


At the end of the story of Ruth, it appears that Naomi owns some land that Boaz is willing to sell for her. If she had this land all along, why didn't she sell it earlier and save herself a lot of trouble?


We hear this for the first time from Boaz. He makes an announcement to all those assembled at the gate that is usually translated, "Naomi is selling the parcel of land that belonged to their relative Elimelech." Boaz asks the unnamed man (another relative) if he wants to buy it, and surprisingly, the individual does. It seems pretty straightforward until one remembers that Naomi and Ruth have been living like paupers ever since they returned from Moab. When Naomi came into the city of Bethlehem, she complained that she had been brought back empty. Now we're supposed to understand that she's been sitting on some property this whole time? It really doesn't make any sense.

Scholars struggle with this, too, and have recognized that several words are unusual and hard to translate. But the integrity of the story warrants against Naomi owning property that she could have sold much earlier, thereby saving herself and Ruth a lot of hardship and anguish. In fact, we might feel less sympathetic to their plight knowing that they had other options from the beginning. But did they?

Scholars doubt that Naomi would have had the right to sell the property even if she did own it. She would have needed a go'el (a legal term for a kinsman-redeemer)to do that for her. And essentially, Boaz is that – their go'el. However, again, this could have been done much earlier so Naomi and Ruth would have enjoyed the profit from the sale. There is another option, however -- one that fits the integrity of the story. It is likely that when Elimelech left Bethlehem to go to Moab, his property was simply claimed by someone else. It sort of worked like "squatters' rights." He who is on the property owns the property – at least until the original owner returns. If Elimelech planned to be in Moab for only a short time, he probably did not make any arrangements for its sale. We see something similar in the story of the Shunammite woman when she appeals to the king for the return of her land (see 2 Kings 8:1-6). In this case, however, Naomi either didn't have the resources or the legal ability to transact such a sale. If the land belonged to her, she needed Boaz to make the transaction happen, and he had the resources and the willingness to do it.

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