The Queer Family in the Book of Ruth

The story of Ruth and Naomi and their deep love has often been used to illustrate love between women in the Bible.  There is more to the book than that alone, for a queer reading. Although the book begins as the story of Ruth and Naomi, it ends as that of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, as Mona West makes clear in her chapter on Ruth for The Queer Bible Commentary, concluding with a reflection on its lesson for queer families – in all their variety.

With the strong public interest in the struggle for marriage equality and gay adoption, we often overlook the simple but important fact that not all queer families are imitations of conventional families, differing only in the minor detail of being headed by a couple of the same biological sex. We come in a multitude of forms – like the family I meet recently, comprising three men who have just celebrated 25 years of living as a mutually supportive and committed triple. This obviously does not fit with the modern conception of “traditional” marriage and family – but nor do the families of Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament, and nor does the family of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, as we know it by the end of the book.

Naomi was a Jewish woman, mother-in-law to Ruth, a Moabite. After the deaths of their husbands, both were left childless and destitute. Ruth chose to return to her Jewish homeland, and urged Ruth to remain with her own kin. Ruth refused, insisting in the famous verses, “Where you go, I will go”. They both return to Bethlehem, where they come under the protection of Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi’s, who ends by marrying Ruth.  This much is familiar: what caught my attention was Mona West’s reflection on the unusual features in this relationship.

Boaz is Naomi’s kinsman, and so has obligations to her – not to Ruth. But after originally making some provision for their economic survival, he comes to recognize and respect the love and devotion that Ruth has for Naomi. He marries Ruth (at her proposal, not his)  but Naomi is not excluded.

All these actions indicate Naomi, Ruth and Boaz’s decision to create their own family and define their own understanding of kinship and responsibility to one another within the context of the inheritance and kinship laws of ancient Israel. These actions are similar to the ways in which Queer people of today create families: a bisexual man and two lesbians live together with their biological child; a gay man is a sperm donor for a lesbian couple and is part of the parenting of their child; three gay men live together as lovers and family for twenty years; a lesbian mother and her lover live two doors down from her lesbian daughter and her lover.

-Mona West, “Ruth” in The Queer Bible Commentary

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