Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ruth and Naomi: Love between women in the Bible

Love between women is honored in the lives of Biblical figures Ruth and Naomi. Some churches observe their feast day today (Dec. 20).

Ruth’s famous vows to Naomi are often used in weddings -- heterosexual as well as same-sex unions. Few people realize that these beautiful words were originally spoken by one woman to another:

““Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Born to a pagan family, she married the Jewish man Boaz and is honored in Judaism as a convert. Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus Christ, listed in his genealogy in the gospel of Matthew. It reports mostly a male lineage, and Ruth is one of only four women who are included.

Naomi was the mother-in-law of Ruth and Orpah. After their husbands died, Naomi urged both of them to remarry. The painting by Trudie Barreras shows Orpah leaving while Ruth stays with Naomi.

A billboard featuring Ruth and Naomi is part of the Would Jesus Discriminate project sponsored by Metropolitan Community Churches. It states boldly, “Ruth loved Naomi as Adam loved Eve. Genesis 2:24. Ruth 1:14.” For more info on the billboards, see our previous post, “Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.”

Ruth and Naomi billboard from from WouldJesusDiscriminte.com and WouldJesusDiscriminte.org

The painting below, “Whither Thou Goest” by Trudie Barreras, was commissioned in 2004 by Rev. Paul Graetz, pastor of First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, for a sermon series that he was doing on the Book of Ruth.

“Whither Thou Goest” by Trudie Barreras, 2004
Acrylic, 18” x 14.” Collection of First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, GA.

For more on Ruth and Naomi, visit the following links:

Queering the Church: Ruth & Naomi

Pharsea’s World: Homosexuality and Tradition: Ruth and Naomi

Stroppy Rabbit Blog: Naomi and Ruth in art

Conjubilant with Song Blog: “Song of Ruth” hymn by Fanny Crosby, 1875

Top image credit: Ruth and Naomi from ChristianImageSource.com

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


Anonymous said...

I am a GFTM transgender & have lived a open lesbian life style since the age of 11. I read Ruth its only 4 chapters and I didn't read about a lesbian love affair but of a woman that loved her mother in-law so much that she wouldn't let the elderly woman whom openly states she is to old to have children walk all they back to Bethlehem alone but decided to take the journey with her although Naomi begged hero remain in Moab. Ruth was in love and married to Naomi's son who died and left her a widow. Naomi begged Ruth and Orpah her other daughter in law to remain behind and remarry. She feared her mother in law would get robbed or even killed on the journey back to Israel, so she decided to accompany her to Bethlehem on order to protect the old woman and out of respect and love for her husband that died. God rewarded that woman for her good dead and gather a rich husband and in Jewish tradition she married the next of kin. Boaz likedher a lot and even asked that no man touch her or bother her while she picked grain for her and her mother in-law. It states that Boaz and the towns men prayed on the issue before allowing him to marry her. And she became the great grandmother of King David the lineage of our Lord Christ Jesus. I read a story about compassion, love, and acceptance. A story that we should learn from on how to treating the elderly with compassion, about accepting people of other lands because they might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This is what God wants us to grasp from this story, God speaks toys in parables we must grasp the stories of the bible with paleness of heart.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thank you for your anonymous comment summarizing the whole Biblical story of Ruth. You have to read between the lines to see that it could be a lesbian love story, based on the assumption that love between women gets hidden by history written by men… and by defining “lesbian” broadly as same-sex attraction, not necessarily acted out with physical sexual contact.
I’ve never heard the phrase you used: “we must grasp the stories of the bible with paleness of heart.” I’m not sure what you mean, but I do believe that it is best to approach scripture with an open mind and open heart, allowing God to speak. Perhaps not everyone will receive the same message from God from the same scripture. And the story may even have different meanings to the same person at different times.

Renee said...

I would like to believe this of Ruth and Naomi but I need to know what Jewish torah expert/Rabbi translated that Hebrew word that connects them to Adam and Eve?

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for your question, Renee. You asked what expert translated the Hebrew word expressing love between both couples: 1) Adam and Eve, and 2) Ruth and Naomi. This is not a matter of translation. It is the same word in Hebrew.

The same Hebrew word (dabaq) is used to describe Adam’s feelings for Eve and Ruth’s feelings for Naomi. In Genesis 2:24 it says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The way that Adam “cleaved” to Eve is the way that Ruth “clung” to Naomi.

You might enjoy my updated version of this post. It has many more pictures of Ruth and Naomi, as well as extra info. You can find it at this link:


Anonymous said...

While it is true that the Hebrew word "dabaq" is used in both Genesis 2:24 and Ruth 1:14; the idea that it signifies a sexual union is inaccurate.

Dabaq is used in over 50 Old Testament verses and, if you step back and take a look at its use, it is clear that the term does not have a sexual connotation.

In fact, dabaq is used three other times in Ruth (2:8, 2:21, and 2:23) where Boaz, in one instance, encourages Ruth to "stay close" to his male workers as they glean the field and, in another, that she stay close to the other females at night. If dabaq were, in fact, a sexual term, then you are suggesting that Boaz was encouraging Ruth to have a sexual relationship with both his male workers and the females who were picking up the left over wheat.

If you are interested in reading more about this to get a counterpoint, please read this article:

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks for presenting an alternative view in an informative and well reasoned manner.