L. Daniel Hawk is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Ashland Theological Seminary. He writes primarily about biblical narratives, with particular interests in the ways biblical and modern narratives construct and maintain identity and the intersections of religion, violence, and ethnicity in biblical texts, An ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, he holds a B.A. from Otterbein University, M.Div. from Asbury Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. in Old Testament from Emory University.
What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Ruth?
I’ve been working with biblical Hebrew narrative for a long time, with an interest in how narrative shapes the identity, convictions, and commitments of the people of God. My work on narrative, especially the book of Joshua, incorporates narrative criticism, diverse reading approaches such as feminism and postcolonial studies, and the social sciences. In addition, comparative work with Greek tragedy has given me an appreciation for the biblical writers’ rich and sophisticated use of metaphor, which our modern information-oriented reading often misses. Finally, I’ve discovered that the stories and biblical figures that are commonly overlooked in biblical narrative – the women, widows, poor, and foreigners who stand at the fringes of the narrative – present some of the most powerful and vibrant messages about who God is and how we are to live.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
The Apollos commentary series is directed toward a broad readership. It aspires to make cutting-edge scholarship accessible to all interested parties and provide substantive reflection that bridges the biblical text and contemporary life. Although I hope that my approach will interest scholars, I’ve written the commentary with pastors, teachers, and lay Christians in mind. I invite readers to walk around in this beautifully-written story with me and discover how powerfully it speaks to today’s church and world.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Ruth?
The commentary draws on two outside disciplines that have not been widely applied to the study of Ruth. First, I incorporate insights from studies on ethnicity and nationalism that elaborate the ways that narratives construct group identity. Biblical narratives are addressed to a people first of all; they construct, exemplify, and challenge how the nation sees itself, its place in the world, and its relationship with God. There is a large body of scholarship that addresses the central role that narratives play in maintaining national identity, and my commentary appropriates this scholarship.
Second, the commentary is informed by structuralism, a method that offers a way to get beneath the surface of the text in order to understand its symbolic infrastructure. This also is new to commentary on the book. The two methods reveal what a masterful story Ruth is. To summarize, Ruth takes up a story about marriage to address a deeper concern about Israel’s identity. The book begins with Naomi telling her daughters-in-law to go back to Moab and settle down with nice Moabite men – which is a way of saying, “You’re better off with your own kind.” But it ends with the marriage of a stigmatized Moabite to a fine, upstanding Israelite man. In the end, all of Bethlehem praises the outsider and equates her with Israel’s ancestral mothers – as if to say, “We’re even better when we embrace outsiders as members of our community.” The intervening narrative subtly shifts the reader’s perspective from one perspective to the other. So the story is about marriage, but the point is deeper: Is Israel a nation defined by high ethnic walls or instead by love for God and others, no matter who they are?
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
I was particularly affected by the scene in Boaz’s field (Ruth 2), where Ruth shows up to glean. Ruth is the quintessential outsider, who enters Israel’s space uninvited and perhaps unwanted. Boaz epitomizes the ancient virtue of hospitality: welcoming the stranger. Boaz becomes Ruth’s advocate, drawing her from the periphery to the center of the community, telling her she belongs with them, providing for her, and protecting her. What a powerful vision for the church in a world of massive migrations, intensifying poverty at home and abroad, and polarizing racial and ethnic tensions!
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
Spending time with Ruth drove home for me the tight connection between loving God and loving others. The Hebrew concept of chesed – the demonstration of love through tangible acts of devotion – ties the book together. Ruth takes us into the lives of those who are excluded from many of the benefits of communal life and struggle just to survive. Her loyalty and caring undoes stereotypes about the poor and ethnic others. Naomi’s transformation from emptiness and despair to fullness and joy reveals the powerful effect of acts of caring and devotion. And Boaz offers a vivid portrait of divine love to others. Boaz extends to a Moabite woman – who could not be more different than him – what God has done for all faithful followers. We could not be more different than God, but Christ has drawn us into God’s sphere of belonging, making us partakers of the divine nature. Ruth show us what it looks like to extend God’s love and grace to others.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Ruth?
Eskenazi, T. C. and R. Trymer-Kensky. Ruth. JPSBC. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2011.
Hubbard, R. L. Ruth. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I’m writing a book on the violence of God in the Bible, focusing on the way that the narratives of the Old and New Testaments relate what happens when God decides to rescue a violent world by stepping into the unholy mess that humans have made – and how that story challenges the church to engage in a multi-faceted conversation about how to address violence in our time. I’m also working on a devotional focused on the biblical vision of justice. As for following my ministry, I use my Facebook page as a platform to float ideas and generate conversation. I welcome new friends.
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