Compromising Redemption: Relating Characters in the book of Ruth

By Danna Nolan Fewell and David Miller Gunn
Louisville, KY : Westminster/John Knox (1990). 141 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Irv Busenitz
2.1 (Spring 1991) : 103-104

This is the first of a new series entitled Literary Currents in Biblical Interpretation, edited by the authors of this book. They hold that "questions about origins`authors, intentions, settings`and stages of composition are giving way to questions about the literary qualities of the Bible, the play of its language, the coherence of its final form, and the relations between text and readers" (p. 8). They desire to initiate among readers a discovery

that the Bible in literary perspective can powerfully engage people's lives. Communities of faith where the Bible is foundational may find that literary criticism can make the Scripture accessible in a way that historical criticism seems unable to do. The goal of the series is to encourage such change and such search, to breach the confines of traditional biblical criticism, and to open channels for new currents of interpretation (p. 8).

Ultimately, Fewell and Gunn focus on what they perceive other readers to have missed and try to account for as many of those "misses" as possible. In their own words, they "offer a (relatively) subversive reading`a reading that offers no model heros, no simple messages, no unambiguous examples of how we are to live" (p. 13). From the viewpoint of literary critical analysis, they appear to have been relatively successful. They have certainly filled in gaps of the story with creative and imaginative perspectives.

The book divides into three parts. The first retells the biblical story, with significant imaginative enhancement. The second part treats the main characters, with the discussion centered about an analysis of the text. The third section represents notes to parts 1 and 2. The final section is the most helpful aspect of the work. It gives detailed and sometimes lengthy critical and historical data on the text.

On the other hand, unless one wants to write a Sunday School drama based on the book of Ruth, the book has little value. It is based primarily on imagination and speculation. It is true that the authors have tried to put themselves into the mental framework and milieu of Ruth's day by postulating "what might have been," but much of it is interpreted and framed with a twentieth century perspective. Especially inappropriate is the frequent inclusion of profanity (e.g. "damn" and "god," pp. 24, 26, 28, 32). Though some may view such terminology as common, everyday vernacular/conversational English, it is quite out of taste, certainly in a work of this nature, and should be excluded.