Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ruth and Naomi: Love between women

“Ruth’s Wise Choice,” 1907 Bible card by the Providence Lithograph Company (Wikimedia Commons)

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 marriages. Few people realize that these beautiful promises 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.”
(Ruth 1:16)

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Ruth and Naomi: Biblical women who loved each other

The old-fashioned King James translation, still beloved by many, begins, “Whither thou goest, I will go…”

In the Bible Ruth was born to a pagan family and married the Jewish man Boaz. In Judaism she is honored 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. But Ruth refused, declaring her love in words that have extra meaning for LGBT people because they were spoken between women.

Were Ruth and Naomi lesbians? 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. Countless couples have validated this interpretation by using their vows as a model for how spouses should love each other.

The openly lesbian interpretation dates back at least to 1937, when the novel “Pity for Women” by Helen Anderson was published. The two main characters, Ann and Judith, recite Ruth's famous vow to show their commitment as a lesbian couple.

Contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Marsha Stevens of Florida used their vow as the basis for the song she wrote for her legal wedding to Cindy Pino: “Wherever You Go.” She sings about how Cindy grew up feeling alone as “a guest at every wedding, an extra place at meals,” with nobody recognizing her lesbian relationships as family. But the mood shifts after a chorus with Ruth’s vow to Naomi :

Now we stand on sacred ground, our families near,
Law allows these holy vows, your home is here.

“Wherever You Go” is available for listening and download at BALM (Born Again Lesbian Music) Ministries:

Enjoy a selection of Bible illustrations that celebrate the love between these two women of spirit. If you look closely, it sometimes seems that they are about to kiss.

Ruth and Naomi from

The previous two images are details from larger scenes that show Orpah leaving while Ruth stays with Naomi.

Ruth clings to Naomi (

“Naomi and Her Daughters-in-Law” from Doré's English Bible, 1866 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Ruth and Naomi” by Brandon Buehring

Artist Brandon Buehring included Ruth and Naomi in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Ruth and Naomi’s love has been illustrated by many artists, including the great English Romantic painter William Blake.

“Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab” by William Blake, 1795 (Wikimedia Commons)

The hardships experienced by Ruth and Naomi are often overshadowed by their famous vow of love and their association with the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. Ruth is revered as a Jewish convert and an ancestor of Jesus. But Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law were so poor that Ruth had to survive by picking up leftover grains of barley in the fields after harvest. Gay Israeli artist Adi Nes brings home the reality of their poverty by showing the pair scavenging onions from a contemporary street littered with trash after an open-air market. They are posed like the peasants in Millet’s “The Gleaners,” a painting well known for showing the dignity of society’s poorest members.

“Untitled (Ruth and Naomi)” by Adi Nes

The careworn faces of Ruth and her beloved Naomi become visible in a second portrait by Nes. He shows that their love for each other is all they have as they sit together among discarded crates. For more about Adi Nes, see my previous post "Adi Nes: Gay Israeli artist humanizes Bible stories."

“Untitled (Ruth and Naomi)” by Adi Nes

The painting below, “Whither Thou Goest” by Trudie Barreras, was commissioned in 2004 by Rev. Paul Graetz, pastor of City of Light / 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 City of Light / First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, GA.

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.” The website gives a detailed explanation.

Ruth and Naomi billboard from from and

For more info on the billboards, see the previous post, “Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.”

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

Queering the Church: Ruth and 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

Rut y Noemí: El amor entre mujeres en la Biblia (Santos Queer)

Special thanks to CJ Barker for the news tip.
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.


pennyjane said...

the story is one in the bible that just has to be divinely inspired. the way it is frank and so simple and so incredibly beautiful...and where it appears, in the midst of turmiol and terror.

i can't help but believe that God wanted us to take something very important, something unique to us from this story.

the love between ruth and naomi is never labeled, never made into anything but exactly what it expressed and unconditional. the pure love of God by His creation.

they did all the right things according to their culture, they did so willingly, without doubt, bitterness or objection. naomi was the proud momma when ruth gave birth. she was the parent as well as ruth. they were the proud grandparents of jesse, the father of david.

this whole story, the history of the house of david, from whence came our Savior is about how God loves us all...about the wholeness of His creation.

the whole love affair between the great king david and jonathan, the son of king saul, the rightful heir, is tied up in the lives of ruth and naomi. God brought this all together thru His prophet samuel...He did it for us, for the ones left behind, so we too are participants in HIS story.

it leaves me with a very good feeling in my a lesbian transsexual...that i, too, am a part, a welcome pilgrim to Kingdom of God.

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thanks, pj, for a really lovely comment and expression of faith. Your affirmation of my previous post about Ruth and Naomi is one of the main reasons that I decided to focus more on GLBT saints and Biblical figures of interest to GLBT people and allies.

You wrote -- “the love between ruth and naomi is never labeled” -- like you, I find that refreshing, but others seem to struggle with it. I added a new link to a post at Queering the Church where various scholars are wondering whether Ruth and Naomi qualify as real lesbians, but that’s not a burning issue for me.

Yes, these amazing women seemed to move easily between different roles. I aspire to that, too. To be able to be abased or abound, as Paul writes, and live fully with whatever circumstances come.

I love how you point out the connections with David and Jonathan, and on down the line to Jesus.

Trudie said...

It is such fun to see this painting again on the blog, although I see it every Sunday at FMCC, where of course it "lives". I've also enjoyed reading all the commentary.

One thing that has amused and fascinated me over the years is indeed the fact that in the cultures of the East, both in Old Testament times and subsequently, the situation of women in harems is completely ignored. One simply HAS to assume that female-female eroticism was/is more the norm than the exception in those situations where one male "owns" multiple wives/concubines. I know if I were in such a situation, I'd hardly "wait" for "the master" to get around to visiting me to engage in erotic and affectionate interactions with others. Let's get real, folks. Whether Ruth and Naomi were sexually intimate or not, there was a bond of affection much deeper than either one probably ever experienced with her male partner(s).

Kittredge Cherry said...

It’s always great when the actual artist joins in the discussion of their work here. Thanks, Trudie, for keeping it real.

I’ve also wondered about the woman-to-woman eroticism that must be unavoidable in harems. And what about between the “sister-wives” in plural marriages of Mormon sects?

Turtle Woman said...

KittKatt and Trudie-- We have to assume that women subverb male ownership in any way they can throughout history.
And since all of women's history, even the non-erotic history is largely hidden, destroyed or just ignored, then you really do have to imagine--- hey did a woman in the Renaissance really paint that painting that "the master" also claimed false credit for?

Or the discovery of the double helix? Or two women hiding out inside of enemy territory AKA the patriarchy.

Trudie, just loved your little jibe at these lords and masters throughout time! LOL too!!!

pennyjane said...

i have a little thing i do as a part of my week. i like to go to the nursing home next door, visit with the clients and see if anyone would like to hear me read from the bible for them...(i live in the bible belt so it's not hard to get takers here)

when someone says yes i always ask if there is anything they'd particularily like to hear. usually the answer is no....guess what i pick?

it takes 13 minutes to read ruth out loud. thirteen minutes to tell one of the most meaningful stories in the whole bible. thirteen minutes to share the essence of God's love with anyone who'll listen.

just thought i'd say that.

oh....i have one rather fun client there...when i ask her...she wants to hear "that part about Jesus!"

how could you not love her?

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

pennyjane, you are a wonderful person to read to folks in the nursing home. During the worst years when I was housebound by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I bought some tapes of the Bible so I could hear someone read it to me. I especially enjoyed Isaiah, and of course “that part about Jesus.” I can see how the Book of Ruth would work well as a 13-minute dose of God’s love.

Merry Christmas!

pennyjane said...

you're making me think again kitt. soon i'll have to start charging you for over the limit brain usuage.

but...comparing ruth to brings in to focus one reason why ruth works so well in nursing's simple and straight forward. i don't think i've ever "studied"'s just what it is, clear and concise.

isaiah....i've studied...and studied...and studied. there are so many angles and dips and corners in there that i'm not sure i'll ever get everything there is to get from it. maybe that's why he was that all these years later we'd still be working out his prophesies....maybe the day we do will be another of those really, really big ones!

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

pj, I’m glad that I’ve gotten you thinking, and that you seem to enjoy it. I get frustrated by people who assume that Christians don’t’ use their brains, just because we have faith. I see faith and intellect going hand in hand.

I agree that Isaiah is challenging and I certainly don’t feel that I fully understand all the prophesies. But some of them are very powerful for people with health issues, such as Isaiah 40:31:

"Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."

pennyjane said...

oh kitt! that is just so true!

when the Spirit told me i needed to transition and begin living a truthful life, i, like so many others, said, "huh?"

"me? You want me to transition?, you want me to fly without a net?"

and the Spirit told me that i could not fulfill the life my Lord and Savior gave me unless i did. so i whined and fussed and pleaded all sorts of impossibilities...all to no avail. the Spirit went silent. the choice was now mine and mine faith follow, or by arrogance refuse.

needless to say, i caved. i jumped off the cliff...and found myself soaring with the eagles.

amazing! how in the face of proof after proof we still find ourselves doubting.

old isaiah got it right again!

much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

pj, I’m glad you took that leap of faith. There’s another great Isaiah prophecy that many believe relates to your transition and similar journeys of transgenders and other LGBT folks.

Are you familiar with the interpretation that the word translated as “eunuch” refers to a broad category of people whom we would call LGBT or queer today? In that light, the following prophecy is especially powerful and pertinent. It’s from Isaiah 56:4-5:

This is what the LORD says:
"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant-

to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off."

Uh oh, pj, you’ve got me going on Isaiah now! I can’t end this comment without sharing one of my own personal favorite prophesies from Isaiah, the “peaceable kingdom” of Isaiah 11:6-9:

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling [a] together;
and a little child will lead them.

The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

pennyjane said...

ok, now you've done it!

in the next 6 weeks in my bible study class we're going to be looking at paul's work in thessalonica, then a 6 week lenten series presented by two of the most learned women in our church...then...isaiah...again.

i will take all the time needed for this. if you know of a good coriculuum guide i would love to hear about it...i have twelve weeks to get it together. i wouldn't mind if you had some new approaches or takes on it.

in the last four years we have looked at isaiah twice...but never with much intensity and always seemed to center on the messianic messages. so any reading you might think would be useful to me in preparation would be gratefully appreciated.

see what happens when you open up cans of worms?

God bless you, dear woman, with much love and hope. pj

Kittredge Cherry said...

It’s great that you’ll be doing a class on Isaiah, pennyjane. You might want to read some of the online materials about the broader meaning of eunuchs. Here are a couple of good links to get you started:

Much of the discussion focuses on what Jesus meant when he said, “There are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:10)

There is also historical info that the word translated as “eunuchs” had many meanings in the ancient world.

Taken together, this sheds new light on Isaiah’s prophecies about eunuchs.

I can’t say that I know an especially great commentary about Isaiah. I just referred to standard references, and read the Book of Isaiah prayerfully many times.

Let me know how the class goes!

Anonymous said...

The love Ruth and Naomi shared and the love Jonathan and David shared was agape love, not eros love. It is the same love Jesus had for His disciples. There was nothing sexual about their relationship. The perversion and misunderstanding of how God loves is leading many into error. There are zero scriptures to support eros or sexual love between people of the same gender. It saddens me because this is a twisting of agape love for something that God calls sin. God outlines any sexual relationship outside a man and woman in marriage as sin in the old and new testament.

We are called to agape love everyone. We are not called to eros with everyone. Romantic and sexual love is reserved for a man and woman in a committed relationship that God ordained as covenant.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Scripture does not condemn loving, responsible homosexual relationships. There are many resources that fully explain the Bible and homosexuality. Here are a few that I recommend:

Jesus said nothing directly about homosexuality, but he did say, “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)