National Geographic explores notable biblical figures in our ongoing series People in the Bible, as part of our coverage of the history of the Bible and the search for sacred texts.
The story of Ruth, described in the Book of Ruth (one of the few books in the Bible named after a woman) is set in the same time period as the book of Judges. A famine struck Bethlehem, forcing a man named Elimelech to leave his hometown and take his wife, Naomi, and sons Mahlon and Chilion to the country of the Moabites. Elimelech died, whereupon Mahlon and Chilion both married local women. Mahlon chose a young woman named Ruth, but he also died shortly thereafter. Heartbroken, Naomi prepared to move back to Bethlehem and told Ruth to return to her own family. Ruth decided to stay with her, saying, “Where you go, I will go” (Ruth 1:16). (Discover how modern technology is bringing ancient writings to light.)
And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.
In Bethlehem, Ruth sustained herself and her mother-in-law by gleaning kernels from the barley harvest. One day, she met the owner of a field named Boaz, who received her kindly. Naomi urged Ruth to return to Boaz at night and “uncover his feet”—an invitation to have relations with her. In response, Boaz promised to take care of her, a symbolic acceptance of marriage (Ruth 3:11).
After they married, Ruth bore Boaz a son named Obed, the future father of Jesse, who would become the father of King David. Thus, Ruth was David’s great-grandmother, and is listed as such in the Book of Ruth and in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. (Follow the love triangle between Leah, Rachel, and Jacob.)
Entries in this series have been adapted from Who's Who in the Bible: Unforgettable People and Timeless Stories from Genesis to Revelation, published by National Geographic Books.