This coming week we will return to two questions from earlier in the semester via our consideration of another Biblical book common to the Jewish and Christian scriptural tradition, the Book of Ruth. Although the reading is relatively light this week, please make time to watch attentively the documentary by Agnès Varda, The Gleaners, preferably during the week-end. Guiding questions can be found on Canvas under Discussions Week 10b. As for the readings for this week, I invite you to consider the following issues. Remember also that you DO NOT have to respond to all prompts for thinking!
* The twin association of agriculture with punishment and violence (via the myth of Cain and Abel) AND with culture and the arts altogether (remember that Cain’s descendants became musicians, builders of cities, blacksmiths and the first to practice animal husbandry). This topic has gained new traction with the publication of James Scott’s book _Against the Grain _, which argues that many of today’s environmental problems can be traced to the rise of agriculture in the Ancient Mediterranean. To listen to an interview with the author on WFHB Bloomington community radio, click here here (start listening around minute 16:30). To imagine what civilization looks like without agriculture, take a look at this short article on a work-free life in the Amazon forest of Brazil.
* The place in a society where means are scarce for the destitute (what obligation, if any, do we have towards them?). Who are the people in the Book of Ruth who seem to be outside the economic cycle of productivity, and how do they find a place in society? Why does God command Moses and his people in Leviticus 19:9-10 to leave food ungathered so that others may glean it instead of simply commanding the field-owners to *give* the food to the destitute? What does it say about work in ancient times?
As you read, I invite you to think about the way the scholar who wrote the introduction (Mary Joan Winn Leith) presents the text. She calls it “an exquisite short story that instructs and delights” and speaks of how the text uses “dramatic dialogues, suspense, extended word play, intricate symmetries” to tell a story that has a close connection to oral tradition. What are the implications of calling this book a “short story” in contrast to, say Genesis, which is called “ancestral or primeval history”? If you agree that the story “delights and instructs,” choose one concrete passage that does either one of these things and explain how it accomplishes its teaching or entertainment.
The action in the Book of Ruth is linked to the agricultural cycle and practices. Why is harvesting and threshing an important background to a story of lineage and survival? Finally, a central concept to understanding the story is the verb “to glean” which Merriam Webster defines thus.
The practice is sanctioned in the Bible (Leviticus): why would a society dictate that some food must be left unharvested on the plant stalks on the field for the poor to collect? What similar practices might we find today (even if not religious)? Why is gleaning so often associated with women (see in addition to Ruth and Naomi, the image on this week’s Canvas page)?