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Book Of Ruth


ABBREVIATIONS: CA: Gower, Confessio Amantis; CM: Cursor mundi; CT: Chau­cer, Canterbury Tales; DBTEL: A Dic­tionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature, ed. Jeffrey; HS: Peter Comes­tor, Historia Scholastica, cited by book and chapter, followed by Patrologia Latina column in paren­theses; K: Kalén-Ohlander edition; MED: Middle English Dictionary; NOAB: New Oxford Annotated Bible; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; OFP: Old French Paraphrase, British Library, MS Egerton 2710, cited by folio and column; Whiting: Whiting, Proverbs, Sentences, and Pro­verbial Phrases; York: York Plays, ed. Beadle. For other abbreviations, see Textual Notes.

4441 both wyld and tame. See note to line 4440.

4442 our spekyng. The use of first-person commentary on the text, which the poet had slipped into increasingly in the story of Samson, continues here.

4451–52 Of hyr kynred com Cryst / and of the Jewes gentyll blud. That Jesus descends from Ruth is not mentioned in HS, though OFP 34c does have the detail (Oh-lander, “Old French Parallels,” p. 213). The connection appears in the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew 1:3–6. The gentyll blud of the Jews refers to the Davidic line of kings, as Ruth’s son Obed was the grandfather of King David (see Ruth 4:17).

4453 Aftur Sampson dede. The link to what the poet presents as the last story in Judges is not biblical and helps to underscore the deliberate juxtaposition of these stories. See note to line 4440.

4458 Emalec. In Hebrew, his name means “my God is king.” This is among the many facts that the narrative played out after his death by his wife and daughter-in-law will show.

4459 Neomy. In Hebrew, her name means “pleasant,” and it stands in sharp contrast to the name that she tells the people of Bethlehem to call her as a result of her misfortunes: Mara, meaning “bitter” (Ruth 1:19).

4462–64 Chelon . . . Maalon. That Naomi’s two sons will die is hardly surprising given that in Hebrew their names mean “consumption” and “sickness,” respectively.

4474 Orafayn. Orpah’s name in Hebrew seems to mean “neck.” According to Midrash this figuratively relates to the fact that she, unlike Ruth, turns her head away from Naomi.

4475 Ruth. In Hebrew her name means “compassion.” According to some traditions, she and Orpah are sisters, the daughters of the king of Moab, Eglon, but there is no sense of this here.

4479 Phylysteyns ware tho fayre wemen. Ruth and Orpah are not, technically speaking, Philistines, who are a people from a stretch of land along the Mediterranean coast in and around Gaza. Rather, they are Moabites, a separate people who lived in Moab, a land east of the Dead Sea. Philistine, long before the late Middle Ages, had become a sort of catchall general term for a pagan, a sense that continues today. The Moabites are related to the Israelites through Lot (Genesis 19:37), the nephew of Abraham, but the two peoples had a long history of conflict between them due to claims upon the same territories (see, e.g., Deuteronomy 23:4).

4495–98 Scho tuke Ruth furth to be hyr by, / and in that land scho leved Orfayn. / Of on enogh hyr toyght / to led the landes throgh. That Naomi chose to bring Ruth and to leave Orpah stands much in contrast to the biblical narrative on these points, where Naomi asks them both to stay behind. Ruth refuses and Naomi does not bother to argue about the matter (see Ruth 1:11–18). While the alteration slightly weakens the portrayal of Ruth as a woman of undying loyalty, it also makes her seem less stubborn. At the same time, it strengthens the image of her as a worthy woman since Naomi chooses to bring her (and not Orpah) back to Bethlehem.

4538 Neomy, thy nevow grett. The Bible says only that Naomi is a kinswoman to Boaz through her husband. The change here helps to account for Boaz’s familial duties to Naomi and her daughter-in-law, as Ruth 3:9 presents Ruth claiming connection to Boaz as next-of-kin. And, according to Jewish law, the next-of-kin must protect the honor and rights of such a family (see, e.g., Leviticus 25:25 on the passing of property, or Joshua 20:3 on blood vengeance). While the necessity of Boaz’s actions are less clear in the biblical account due to their only being kinsfolk, the alteration in the family structure here makes the law more binding.

4576 a yong man with ryve elders rent. Ruth 3:12–13 explains the events a bit more clearly: Boaz is willing to act as next-of-kin (see note to line 4538), but he knows that there is someone with a closer family claim that must be respected. If the other man refuses the duty, Boaz will do it. The language here in the Paraphrase, while less clear, does add in minor points not present in the Bible: the other man’s youth and, depending on how one reads ryve elders rent, his wealth. Ruth’s loyalty to Boaz thus becomes a more worthy thing, done not for money or youthful passions.


ABBREVIATIONS: L: MS Longleat 257; H: Heuser edition (partial); K: Kalén-Ohlander edition; O: Ohlander’s corrigenda to K; P: Peck edition (partial); S: MS Selden Supra 52 (base text for this edition).

4441, 43 Lines indented to leave space for an initial capital; first letter of line 4441 written in the middle of the space.

4447 Marginalia in S (at top of fol. 42v): no heading.

4449 pupplyst. S: p pupplyst.

4454 we. S: e inserted above the line.

4460 and in ther tyme. So L, K. S omits.

4462 Chelon. S: chelyon, with y canceled.

4464 Maalon. S: Thal Maalon.

4486 left. So L, K. S: led.

4499 Marginalia in S (at top of fol. 43r): no heading.

4509–10 So L, K. S omits lines.

4511 The God. S: The law of god.

4513 of hew and hyd. So L, K. S: hyd and hew.

4520 as for hyr dew. So L, K. S: for þei non sew.

4537 sojourns. S: u inserted above the line.

4542 sal. So L, K. S: sab.

4544 so. So L, K. S: hyr.

4549 Marginalia in S (at top of fol. 43v): no heading.

4562 felles. So L, K. S: feldes.

4574 unto. S: vn inserted above the line.

4575 wuns. S: vn wuns.

4581 forthi. S: for inserted above canceled to dwell.

4589 cyteseyn. So L, K. S: certayn.

4602 yt is ryght. So L, K. S: I haue hey3t.

4603 Marginalia in S (at top of fol. 44r): no heading.

4615 withowtyn. So L, K. S, Stern (Review, p. 281): was withowtyn.

4616 was rutt; of hym. So L, K. S: of hym was rutt. Stern (Review, p. 281) emends this line to Jesse the Jew. Of hym we rede, taking the Jew from L, deleting a dittograph was, and assuming the existing rutt to be a marginal notation (for “Ruth”) that has slipped into the text. I have treated the matter more simply, repunctuating K but assuming rutt to mean “begot” (from rutte).





God that weldes both wyld and tame
   in all our spekyng be our spede
Forto begyn withowtyn blame
   this boke and make yt for our mede.
A woman, that heygh Ruth be name,
   now forto nevyn of yt is nede.
And this boke is named of the same,
   the Boke of Rewth so we yt rede.
Scho was playn pupplyst
   of kynred fayr and gud.
Of hyr kynred com
   and of the Jewes gentyll blud.

controls; (see note); (t-note)
language; help; (see note)

who was called Ruth by
note; necessary
Ruth; read
widely known; (t-note)
[to come] from family fair and good
Cryst came Christ; (see note)
noble bloodlines

[NAOMI’S FAMILY (1:1–18)]










Aftur Sampson dede, that was dughty,
   of whom we told in tym beforn,
Of Ebrews reygned on Ely
   that mayntend them both evyn and morn.
And in Bedlem, a burgh ther by,
   on Emalec was bred and born.
He had a wyfe, heyght Neomy,
   and in ther tyme fell defawt of corn.
Semly suns had thei two:
   the on was named Chelon,
And that other of thoo,
   he was named Maalon.

Hungur was in that reme so ryfe,
   all Ebrews mad full yll chere.
Emalec toke chylder and wyfe,
   and went ther way thei fawre in fere,
To paynyms land to lenght ther lyfe,
   wher corn enogh was and not dere.
And thor thei wund withowtyn stryfe
   with Moabyse more then tene yere.
A wyfe thor wed Chelon,
   Orafayn, a woman wyse.
Ruth mared with Maalon,
   a paynyn of grett price.

Of Ebrews born both ware the men,
   of Jacob kynd and Jews cald;
Phylysteyns ware tho fayre wemen,
   and paynyns law holy thei held.
On this wyse ware thei wede then
   agayns ther law, bot so God wold,
For Crist suld com, os clerkes ken,
   of both the braunches I are told.
Emalec and his suns
   in that land left ther lyves,
And sythyn all same thor wonnes,
   the mother and two suns wyfes.

Bot then the mother Neomy
   langed into hyr land agayn:
Hyr lyked not paynyms cumpany,
   for of hyre fare ware thei not fayn.
Hyr suns wyfes was full wylly
   to wend with hyr, this is certayn.
Scho tuke Ruth furth to be hyr by,
   and in that land scho leved Orfayn.
Of on enogh hyr toyght
   to led the landes throgh.
So Ruth with hyr scho broyght
   evyn unto Bethlem burgh.

Sampson’s death, who was brave; (see note)
ruled one [man named] Eli

Elimelech; (see note)
called Naomi; (see note)
occurred a lack of grain (i.e., famine); (t-note)
Beautiful sons
Chilion; (see note); (t-note)
those [two]
Mahlon; (t-note)

realm so widespread

[his] children
those four together
heathen lands to lengthen their lives
not scarce (expensive)
there they dwelled
the Moabites; ten years

Orpah; (see note)
Ruth married; (see note)
pagan (Ruth) of great virtue (honor, gentility)

Hebrew descent were both
Jacob’s kind and called Jews
Philistines (i.e., pagans) were those fair; (see note)
pagan laws they considered holy
way were they married
against their; willed
left their lives (i.e., died); (t-note)
then all together there lived
sons' wives

longed to return into her land
She; pagan
behavior; pleased
to go
beside her; (see note)
left Orpah
one; thought




Ydder thei wan withowtyn stryfe.
   Hyr frendes befor full fayr scho fand,
And sone thei asked hyr resons ryfe
   both of hyr suns and hir husband.
Scho told how thei had leved ther lyf,
   and how thei past in paynyms land,
And how Ruth was hyr on sun wyfe
   and wold werke evyn os thei ordand.
She wold leve paynyms law
   and lere with all hir mayne
The God of Jews to knaw.
   Therfor thei ware of hyr fayn.

There; trouble
[from] before
many questions

left their lives
passed away in pagan lands
one son’s wife
leave pagan belief; (t-note)
learn; power









Ruth was ryght fayr of hew and hyd,
   and scho lyved lely os a Jew.
Togeydder so furth can thei byde;
   all folke hyr lufed fro thei hyr knew.
So yt betyd in hervest tyde,
   when men suld schere that thei ar sew,
Ruth sayd scho wold wend ther besyd
   and glene them corn as for hyr dew.
“Doyghghtur,” sayd Neomy,
   “go furth in my blessyng;
Thy dyner dyght sall I
   agayns thi homecomyng.”

So went scho furth on the morne
   to glene and byrdyns forto beyre.
A Boze, that was in Bethlem born,
   a dughty man in dedes of were,
He geydderd his folke hym beforne
   into the feld his corne to schere
And fand this woman gedderyng corn
   in doles wher scho myght do no dere.
He asked of them ylkon
   whethyn was that woman fayre.
The sayd, “The wyf of Maalon;
   to Emalec next hayre.

“Scho sojourns in this same cety
   with Neomy, thy nevow grett.”
Unto that semly then sayd he,
   “Wend with my men to drynke and ette
And werke with them in stede of me;
   all sal be thin that thou may gette.”
Scho thanked hym with wordes fre
   that so vowchsave hyr to rehete.
All day with them scho wroyght;
   that dede dyd hyr no dere,
For at evyn hom scho broyght
   als mekyll os scho myght beyre.

face and skin; (t-note)
afterwards; abide

happened at harvest time
reap; have sown
gather; as her proper work; (t-note)


gather and burdens to bear
[man named] Boaz
brave; deeds of war
crop to harvest
dales; do no harm



niece; (see note)
lovely [woman]
Go; eat
on my land
yours; gather; (t-note)

comfort; (t-note)
deed; harm
evening home
much as she could bear







Scho told hyr dame how scho had done,
   for that scho lengyd so lang a stage,
And how Boze bed hyr swylk a bone
   and werke and take hyr werke to wage
That Neomy toyght hyr allon
   Amang them forto make maryage.
Scho wyst of Boze: wyf had he none,
   and he was lord of hegh lynage.
Scho sayd, “My doyghtur dere,
   unto my tale take tent!
Tomorn loke thou be nere
   ay in his awn present.

“And when thou hath bene all the day
   with hym and his folke in felles,
Wayt at evyn well, yf thou may
   lige in the loge that he in dwelles;
And when thou sekes, yf he ogh say,
   say that thou sekes hym and noyght elles,
Thee forto wys the redy way
   to sum maryag that he of mellys.
Loke thou be homly hyd
   to mette with hym at morne.”
Evyn os scho demed, scho dyd.
   Boze fand hyr hym beforne.

lady; (t-note)

gave her such a boon

thought to herself
Between; marriage
knew about
good family

advice take heed
Tomorrow; close
always; own presence

in the fields; (t-note)
Await that evening, that
sleep in the lodge
search [there], if he says anything
seek; nothing else
You to guide in the best way
some marriage; might arrange
humbly hidden (i.e., chaste)









When Boze hyr herd, he hade pety
   how scho hyre mane unto hym ment.
He sayd, “Here wuns in this cety
   a yong man with ryve elders rent.
Hym sall I make to mary thee,
   or elles the same sall I assent;
The herytage then weld sall we.”
   Thus told he hyr all hys entent.
Scho was full fayn forthi,
   and als sone as scho mogh,
Scho told to Neomy
   on what wyse scho had wroyght.

Then Neomy was farly fayn:
   on grownd was no thyng that hyr greved.
For well scho wyst hyrselfe certayn
   that Ruth full sone suld be releved.
Sone Boze gart summond ilke cyteseyn
   and sayd them how this mater meved.
And to the yong man told he playn
   how that the woman was myschewed,
And that he suld assent
   to be husband and hede,
Or els refuse the rent
   that com of hyr kynred.

The yong man answerd curtasly
   and sayd thus in thar aller syght,
“I luf another to lyg me by;
   hyr wyll I hold, os I have heyght.”
Then answerd Boze, “Ruth wed wyll I
   and have hir rent os yt is ryght.”
To this acordes this cumpany,
   so wedded he that worthy wyght.
The rent he con restore
   unto hym and hys wyfe.
Os elders dyd before,
   he used yt in ther lyfe.

complaint; told; (t-note)
dwells; (t-note)
much older claims; (see note)
else to the same [contract] I will agree

glad therefore; (t-note)

way she had worked

wondrously glad
earth; upset
settled (given comforts in a marriage)
each citizen; (t-note)
thing had gone
had come to grief

came from her family

all of their sight
desire another to lie beside me

property; (t-note)
agrees; (t-note)

As previous generations
enjoyed it (the rent) in their lives







In the spowsall ware thei copyld clene;
   os God wold, so was done in dede.
He was Ebrew and scho panym,
   bot by Goddes law ther lyfe thei lede.
A sone thei hade sone them betwen,
   qwylke Obeth heyght, who wyll take hed.
And of hym withowtyn wene
   Jesse was rutt; of hym we rede
How sythyn com Davyd Kyng,
   that was chefe Juge of Jewys.
Thus Jesus Crist wold spryng
   of paynyms and Ebrews.

And on what wyse He sprang and spred
   mone aftur com in carpyng clene:
Then ware no ledes that lyf led
   bot only Ebrew and paynym.
The Boke of Ruth thus have we rede
   of faders that before have bene.
In lytyll spech we have yt sped,
   that mony mater may be mene.
And next now aftur this
   begyns the Boke of Kynges.
He bryng us to His blyse,
   that Lord ys of all thynges.

marriage; chastely married
God willed; deed
lives they led
son they had soon
which Obed was named, whoever
doubt; (t-note)
Jesse was begot; read; (t-note)
who was foremost Judge

pagans and Jews

way He (Jesus)
must afterward; simple speech
Jews and pagans
brief; related
many matters; considered

[May] He; bliss


Go to First Book of Kings (1 Samuel)