A Book Review of Schipper’s Commentary on Ruth
Ruth: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. By Jeremy Schipper. Anchor Yale Bible 7D. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016, 221 pp., $65.00.
This is volume 7D in the Anchor Yale Bible Series whose general editor is John J. Collins. Jeremy Schipper is an associate professor of the Hebrew Bible at Temple University. This volume replaces an earlier commentary by Edward F. Campbell Jr. Though replacing Campbell, a great literary debt to the earlier author is acknowledged. Schipper also wrote Disability and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant.
This is a project with very high production values. With a respected imprint and impressive credentials at the authorial, editorial, and publisher levels, this volume is a worthy addition to the Anchor Yale Bible Series. The avid reader will appreciate the print (although a slightly larger type font would have been better), binding, and jacket aesthetics that always enhance the reading experience. With the deluge of digital media, I respect the effort to provide quality in print media represented in this book.
With more than fifteen pages of bibliography and significant indices, this work presents itself as a substantial contribution to the analysis, exegesis, and application of Ruth. Schipper includes an extensive introduction that examines the cultural backdrop of the story. This is marked by painstaking research. A new translation is offered that bears a distinct colloquial tone. Schipper offers this thesis of his commentary:
It concentrates on the nature of relationships in Ruth. Among other things, a focus on relationships foregrounds the negotiations throughout the book of ability, asymmetrical authority, blessings and their absence, divine activity, ethnicity, exogamy, gender, hesed, household structures, human desires, impover- ishments, labor, patriarchy, religious expression, responsibilities of the clan, sex- uality and status, among other topics. (p. 29)
Schipper writes, even when dealing with fairly technical matters, in a readable style. He presents his comments systematically and coherently. He also displays considerable fluency in Hebrew, deftly opening linguistic keys in the text, especially identifying figurative language. He concludes that all the conversations in Ruth are spoken as poetry. He highlights wordplay by uncovering alliteration, anagrams, assonance, puns, and rhymes:
To be clear, one cannot verify whether these literary effects reflect authorial intent or whether the author was even aware of them. Thus, I do not endorse Campbell’s claim that the literary crafting of the book reflects the fact that the author “was a genius.” Further, other scholars have noted many, if not all, of the literary efforts that I discuss. I only claim that my translation has benefited from the ingenious analyses of Ruth by many scholars before me, including Campbell. Nevertheless, there is at least hard evidence that the narrative style creates a number of these literary effects for the commentator to exploit. (p. 7)
This book includes much background material, and in doing so could be a valuable tool for connecting the reader to the time period of Ruth. However, there is no connection in the book to the master theme of all Scripture, which is Christ. Schipper has no listing in the index for “Christ,” “Jesus,” or even “Messiah.”
And while Schipper does not address the metanarrative of Christ in Ruth, he readily finds opportunity to discuss what he considers a significant error:
Instead of ahistorically assuming that all texts reflect on or two constant sexual identities, queer readings foreground how interpretive strategies may uncritically privilege certain relationships over others, be it Ruth and Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, or some other relationship. To be clear, noting the tendency toward heterosexual-normative interpretations of Ruth does not mean that mapping other under- standings of sexual desire onto the characters is any less presumptive. (pp. 37– 38)
Schipper does concede in his preface that he intends to offer no “definitive word on the book of Ruth that forecloses all other exegetical possibilities.” Rather, he says, “I aim to provide detailed discussions of the text in order to assist readers in asking whatever questions they may have about the book and its contents more precisely, including the many important questions that I have not anticipated” (p. xi).
From a larger perspective, it is apparent Schipper accepts the value of the ancient document that Ruth appears to be and acknowledges its presentation of the providence of God in some form or fashion. However, Schipper never discusses the inerrancy or infallibility of the text. He does not reject inerrancy; he never addresses the matter. He presents Ruth as a fascinating ancient Near Eastern document of uncertain composition as to date, authorship, or even genre. In that case, the value of this commentary is lessened by the fact that it presents Ruth as a short story of modest interest and importance, except as an opportunity to discuss current socio-economic or sexual ethics implicit in another text from antiquity.