In Ruth, the first part of this volume, Tod Linafelt highlights the most unresolved and perplexing aspects of Ruth. In doing so he offers an interpretation he calls “unsettling.” Linafelt states that it is unsettling in the sense that he often refuses to “settle” on a single, unequivocal meaning of a particular word, phrase, or theme. Rather, he prefers to underscore the dual or even multiple meanings that the narrative so often has. In this commentary, Linafelt explores the ambiguities of meaning built into the grammar, syntax, and vocabulary of the story to discover how these ambiguities carry over to the larger interpretive issues of characterization, theology, and purpose. He also lays forth an argument that the book of Ruth is intended to be read as an interlude between Judges and Samuel.
The second part of this volume focuses on Esther, a story of anti-Judaism that raises strikingly contemporary questions concerning relations between sexism, ethnocentrism, and national identity. In Esther, Timothy Beal guides readers into the meaning of the story using rhetorical criticism. He asks questions without assuming that there must be answers and allows for complexity, perplexity, and the importance of accidents in the text. In essence, Beal emphasizes specificity over generality, and temporality over continuity; however, he does not altogether dismiss the importance of broader interpretations of Esther, especially those focusing on narrative structure.
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This double commentary begins with Tod Linafelt’s discussion of Ruth, a stimulating, well-written journey along the contours of the received text. It is a close reading of the story’s details with a perceptive eye open to key words and word play, intertextuality, chiasm, parallelism, rhythm, reversal, and, above all, ambiguity in the narrative. The commentary is a treat to read.
—Timothy S. Laniak, professor of Old Testament and academic dean, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
Tod Linafelt is assistant professor of biblical studies at Georgetown University.
Timothy K. Beal is Harkness Associate Professor of Biblical Literature at Case Western Reserve University.