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. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
The old-fashioned King James translation, still beloved by many, begins, “Whither thou goest, I will go…”
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: http://balmministries.net/track/323379/wherever-you-go
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.
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.
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.
The previous two images are details from larger scenes that show Orpah leaving while Ruth stays with Naomi.
Ruth and Naomi’s love has been illustrated by many artists, including the great English Romantic painter William Blake.
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.
The careworn faces of Ruth and her beloved Naomi become visible in a second portrait by Nes. Ruth’s vow to Naomi, which begins “Whither thou goest, I will go,” is often used in weddings. Nes 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."
The painting below, “Whither Thou Goest” by Trudie Barreras, was commissioned in 2004 by Rev. Paul Graetz, pastor of First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, for a sermon series that he was doing on the Book of Ruth.
Acrylic, 18” x 14.” Collection of 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 WouldJesusDiscriminte.org gives a detailed explanation.
For more info on the billboards, see our previous post, “Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.”
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.
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 GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.
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