A woman and her mother-in-law embrace and gaze at a landscape of rolling green and yellow hills and colorful dwellings. “Their future” says Susan Sink (Art of The Saint John’s Bible, vol. 3, p. 31), as their current situation is bleak. They are two widows, Ruth and Naomi, and one of them is an outsider. But thanks to their love for each other, and God’s favor toward them, they will thrive. Ruth’s attentions to her mother-in-law will attract her second husband and she will produce a son, the father of King David.
But for the moment they survive through Ruth’s gleaning. She follows harvesters to steal a grain and perhaps a stray stalk here and there, an occupation that lasts only during the gathering time and that places Ruth at risk of being harassed by the men in the fields. On the facing page we see Ruth standing proudly with her basket.
Sink draws our attention to several motifs on the page, such as the stamped motif sparkling around Ruth and Naomi’s heads in both images, representing cosmic order to the universe and especially God’s miraculous provision for the two widows. And the basket of plenty, which Sink describes as
…more than a basket of grain. It seems to speak to the abundance and fertility at the center of her being, an extension of her swirling skirts. Barrenness and God’s promises will play a role in [several stories in the Bible]. The parallels are rich.
The image of Ruth and Naomi has parallels also in other Saint John’s Bible images, such as (says Sink) the portrait of Mary and Martha in the Luke Anthology. Come to the UP Authors event next Thursday 10/9 from 3:00 to 4:30 to examine this and other images up close.