MembersVirgin, or Harlot: Who was Ruth?

While editing the article written recently by my wife Anat titled “Ruth and the Half-Full Glass,” I came for the first time upon a variety of different Bible translations in connection with Ruth.

By Aviel Schneider |
Kibbutz
Photo: Haim Azulay/Flash90

This raised the question: Who was Ruth the Moabitess–a virgin, a maiden, a child, or even a promiscuous woman?

“Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘Whose young woman is this?’ And the servant in charge of the reapers answered and said, ‘She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab.”

This is how the New American Standard Bible (1960-1973) translates the passage in Ruth 2:5-6. In the Complete Jewish Bible translation (1998), on the other hand, it reads: “Whose girl is this? It is a girl from Moab…” In the King James Version (1611) it says: “Whose damsel is this? It is the Moabitish damsel…” And the Revised Standard Version (1952) translates: “Whose maiden is this? It is the Moabite maiden…” In different languages and cultures, these terms can have very different meanings, ranging from virgin to harlot.

All these varied English expressions – girl, young woman, maiden, damsel – are derived from the word na’ara (נערה) in the Hebrew Bible text. Na’ara is a girl or a young...

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