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The Book of Ruth and the Possibility of a Feminist Canonical Hermeneutic

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image of Biblical Interpretation

The book of Ruth is written from a female perspective, which in 4:9-17 is deliberately contrasted with a male perspective. The inter-textual contrast between the gynocentricity of Ruth and the androcentricity of most narrative literature in the Hebrew Bible is recognized within the text of Ruth by the appending of the genealogy in 4:18-22. Here the male voice of compilers of traditional patrilineal genealogies replaces the female voice of the story. Though the story and the genealogy purport to recount the same history, the women's world of the story is completely ignored by the genealogy. This contrast characterizes Ruth as the kind of history which official, masculine Israelite history leaves out. Thus the conclusion of the book, which functions to give it a canonical setting in the larger biblical story, also gives it the specific canonical function of exposing the androcentricity of other biblical narratives. The book's revelation of the women's world which other narratives render invisible can therefore function canonically, not merely as an exception to the prevalent androcentricity of biblical literature, but also representatively, authorizing the reader to supply the female perspectives which are elsewhere omitted. This study of Ruth, it is suggested, offers an example of a feminist canonical hermeneutic which would also explore the specific ways in which other gynocentric texts within the canon (such as those parts of the Gospels which adopt the perspective of their female characters) can function canonically. Allowing these gynocentric texts a canonical role of relativizing the androcentric texts makes possible a feminist hermeneutic which can take the canon seriously as a body of literature normative for faith and practice.


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