[b-hebrew] Dating the Book of Ruth

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Wed Jun 2 00:45:29 EDT 2010

On Wed, Jun 2, 2010 at 4:05 AM, George Athas wrote:
> Bryant Williams asks about the arguments for a late dating of Ruth. Since
> this goes beyond the original thread in which it was placed, I’ve changed
> the subject name. Please continue the thread here.
> What do we make of some of the personal names in Ruth:
> Mahlon = ‘Critically ill’ (Guess what he does: he dies!)
> Chilion = ‘Terminally ill’ (Guess what he does: he dies!)
> Orpah = ‘Back-of-the-neck girl’ (Guess what she does: she turns her back on
> Naomi)
> Ruth = ‘companion’ (Guess what she does: she acts as Naomi’s companion)
> Naomi = ‘Sweetie’ (She’s anything but, and she knows it, too)
> Boaz = ‘Strongly/Lively’ (Guess what he does: he comes to the rescue)
> Should these wordplays figure in a discussion on the dating of the book of
> Ruth?

Hello, George.

The interesting thing about the names in Ruth is that they are all
This contrasts sharply with the situation after the 9th century BCE, where names
of individuals are usually Yahwistic. This comes up both from the epigraphic
evidence, as well as the Bible itself.  We might react by saying that
the epigraphic
evidence is not representative and that all we have is the names of the literate
upper class, not more than 10%.  This is an argument from silence and even that
doesn't really work because the book of Ruth includes definite examples of upper
class individuals.  Further, the book of Ruth deals with a noble family to begin
with.  We must conclude that the author of the book of Ruth, if he made up the
names, still wanted to give his story a realistic setting and so used
names conforming to the period in question -- Iron IIA.

How would he know to do that?  One simple answer is that he lived in
the Iron IIA.
Another answer is that he did live later, but knew he should use non-Yahwistic
names.  How would a later individual -- living in the late 8th century
BCE or later --
know to use non-Yahwistic names when dealing with the period?  The only
possibility is that he had some kind of sources dating back to the
period and which
informed him that at the period the names were largely non-Yahwistic.  Such a
source could be the book of Samuel.  It could be Judges.  It could be a 9th
century chronicle along the lines of Naaman's suggestions.  It could
be something
else.  It could be truly historical, or it could be a made up story,
but whose setting
was modeled after the Iron IIA by someone living in the period.
Whatever it was,
the names in the book of Ruth provides indirect evidence that some
literature was
composed and preserved from the Iron IIA.

Yitzhak Sapir

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