Agreements and promises

Every culture has ways of making promises and agreements. What is different is how the agreements are made and how people know they will be kept. Promises have to be kept for the society to work smoothly and peacefully. Often there have to be witnesses to an agreement for it to be binding. This can be written signatures of people who saw the agreement take place.In Scripture, oaths are a common form of making promises. They emphasize the promise that is being made. Ruth swears she won't leave Naomi to show how strongly she feels about staying with her (RUT 1:17). Another form of promise in scripture is called a covenant. These were made between governments of two countries, where one country was stronger than the other. The weaker country usually agreed to be a vassal or subject to the stronger nation and pay them tribute. The stronger nation promised to help if the weaker nation got in a war with some other nation. The agreement between the countries was written down, listing all the responsibilities of each side. God of Israel made covenants with both the nation and with individuals, with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:15-18Oaths were statements people made promising to do something, even calling a curse on themselves is they didn’t do what they promised. Oaths also were a way of blessing someone (1SA 25:26), or giving important information (1SA 20:21). Some people made oaths swearing by YHWH or another god or a king (GEN 42:16; 1SA 14:45). YHWH even swears by himself (NUM 14:28) when he makes promises to people or nations. This was a way to put emphasis on the promise or information being given.

RUT 1:15-18Oaths often took the form of “As surely as the YHWH lives I will do such and such” (1SA 19:6) or “May YHWH do to me [a gesture could be included here to show that God would kill the person] if I don't do such and such” (RUT 1:17).

Research suggestions
To study how agreements and promises are made and kept ask about them. When people talk to each other, listen for how they make promises and what hand gestures go along with them.
  • Who makes oaths? What is their purpose?
  • What oaths are used? When are they used? How acceptable is it to use them? What do they mean?
  • What kinds of gestures are used when making oaths? What do these gestures mean?
  • What other ways are there for making promises? How are they emphasized?
  • What kind of promises or agreements need to be kept? What kind are OK to not keep? What is the difference in how these promises or agreements are made?
  • What agreements or promises are written down? How does this make them more or less important?

Arranging marriages

Decisions about marriage are not fully free. Incest and other rules determine who can marry whom. Some cultures allow people to choose their own spouses while in other cultures the choice is made by other family members, or even non-family members.
Application to biblical source

RUT 3:6-13Going to Boaz dressed in festive clothing and sitting beside him in the dark may seem like Ruth is acting like a prostitute or proposing marriage to Boaz. The word ‘feet’ is one euphemism for male sexual organs, but is also used literally to refer to a person’s feet (ISA 7:20; GEN 24:32). Here the reference is ambiguous.

RUT 3:14-18In Israel when a woman got married, her family was given a bride price, a payment of goods or money. The grain Boaz gives Ruth is like a bride price a promise to her that he will marry her if he can. In many societies, the brideprice helps insure that the bride stayed with her husband because the bride price would have to be returned if she left him. It is a way of compensating the bride’s family or loss of her labor and help in the family.

Research suggestions
Research how decisions about marriage are made. Sometimes only a few people are involved, other times a lot may be involved.
  • Who decides on marriage partners? How does this process happen? Do the bride and groom have to agree to the marriage?
  • How are marriages arranged? How are the decisions made about who marries whom? Who else is involved in the decisions?
  • What happens to mark the arrangement of a marriage? Who tells everyone about it? What do people do when they hear the news?

Blessings and curses

Blessings are a means of wishing good to oneself or others. Curses are wishing evil or asking gods to do evil to someone else. In many cultures this is a way of asking God or gods to do good or evil to others. In Scripture, even if God’s name is not included in the blessing, people are asking him to act and give good.Blessings are an important part of Scripture. They are used in the old and New Testaments. In Israelite society people asked God to bless them and others (GEN 28:3; DEU 14:29). Fathers blessed their sons before dying (GEN 27:4; 48:9). This became a kind of prophecy about the child. Blessing meant abundant provision of goods and children (DEU 7:13). When women got married they are often blessed by others who ask God for many children for them. People who have many children are considered blessed (PSA 127:3-5). People also blessed God as a means of thanking Him for blessing them (DEU 8:10; PSA 26:12).
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:6-10When the famine was over, the Israelites believed God had come back and ‘visited’. He was active again to provide for the Israelites as he had promised to do in his covenant with them. He had blessed them again.

Research suggestions
Investigate what kinds of blessings and curses are used. Listen to everyday speech, and to stories for blessings and curses. These often take form as formulas in greetings.
  • What kinds of blessings are given? What kind of situations do people bless others? What phrases are used for blessings? Who is expected to do the blessing, the good to people? When do people bless themselves? How is this done? What gestures are associated with blessings?
  • Can people bless God? How is this phrased?
  • What kinds of curses are used? What kinds of situations do people curse others? What phrases are used for cursing? Who is expected to do the evil to people? What gestures are associated with curses? What gestures are used for people to protect themselves from curses?
  • Can people curse God? How is this phrased?

Buying and selling

Not everyone can make all that they need or want, so there must be exchange of goods. The process of exchange can be direct exchange where the goods are traded. Or it can involve money, as in buying and selling. Exchange can happen in many different places as well, yet there are often some places where exchanging goods is not allowed.Each culture has a way of exchanging things and deciding how an exchange is finished. Bargaining is common, but not done everywhere or for every exchange. Some people shake hands to show they both agree, others want witnesses that the exchange took place and what the agreement was. Which type of decision used depends on the situation and how important the culture thinks the exchange is. Children trading toys may not be as important as acquiring property.
Application to biblical source

RUT 4:1-6Business and legal transactions were done at the city gates, a place where many people gathered. People went from their homes in the city to the fields and to get water, and merchants went in and out. Whoever was present when transactions took place became witnesses. These transactions were public knowledge.

Research suggestions
When studying exchange and buying and selling, find out where this happens, how it happens, and who is involved.
  • Where do people buy and sell things?
  • What kinds of things are bought and sold?
  • Who can sell things? Who can buy things?
  • How are prices and value of items decided?
  • How does the exchange take place? Are there special rituals people have to do?
  • How do people know the exchange took place and is finished? What do people do if they aren't happy about the exchange?

Clothing and decoration

Clothing includes the garments and materials used to cover the body for utility, warmth and ornamentation. References to clothing in Scripture include: garments, fine clothes, expensive clothes, as well as many references to particular items: tunic, robe, cloak, belt, sandals.Although clothing is first of all an everyday item, it carries a significant load of meaning for humans in all cultures. People use clothing for both practical and symbolic purposes. For example, A Christian priest wears a special collar to indicate his position and role in society. Clothing can indicate status or which group a person belongs to.Three types of usage regarding clothing in Scripture are:
  • Literal: There are terms for specific items and types of clothing, their use, manufacture and repair, used descriptively without figurative or symbolic intent. When the angel tells Peter in prison to put on his cloak and sandals, it means just that. It is not figurative or symbolic.
  • Figurative: There are clothing terms used figuratively or metaphorically. The Bible’s figurative language may turn out to work well in a receptor language, even though the hearers initially perceive it as odd or unconventional. For example, the expression “you are clothed with splendour” in Psalm 104 requires an initial leap of imagination to make sense.
  • Symbolic: There are clothing terms used to stand for larger truths or meanings. They may use such features as colors, the actions of putting on, taking off, and changing clothes, and the symbolic opposition, clothed vs. naked. Clothing is used symbolically in themes running from Genesis to Revelation, from the skin garments of Adam and Eve to the white robes of the saints.
Application to biblical source

RUT 3:1-5Washing and putting on perfume was done before celebrations, such as marriage ceremonies or at the end of a mourning period for a dead relative (EZE 16:8-10; 2SA 12:20). Perfume consisted of olive oil with spices added to make it smell good. Anointing was part of getting dressed to go out of the house (2SA 14:2). Naomi is probably telling Ruth to dress well, not in ordinary clothes she would use for gleaning.

RUT 3:1-5Anointing was also part of a ceremony to indicate someone was chose for a special job. Priests and kings were anointed to indicate their special position in society (EXO 28:41, 1SA 9:16).

Research suggestions
Think about and observe clothing around you and how people decorate their bodies. The use of clothing and body decoration in some form, even the bare minimum, is an important human universal. Find out about the following topics.
  • How clothing and decoration is used for warmth, protection, to show modesty, ethnic identity, social status, or a spiritual condition. Many Muslim women wear a head covering for modesty as well as protection from harassment by men in public places.
  • The reasons people choose their clothing. They may signal a break with their cultural traditions or social conventions. For example, some immigrants choose to wear the clothing styles of their adopted country rather than maintain their traditional clothing.
  • How people began to wear clothing and decorate their bodies. Many culture-origin myths include accounts of how people came to wear clothing.
  • The language related to clothing can reflect all these factors and have sociolinguistic implications as well.
Note and record:
  • what items people wear (clothing and decorations) - men, women, boys, girls, adults, children, infants;
  • what people of different statuses and roles wear (including decorations) - elders, widows, youth, richer/poorer, leaders, outsiders
  • what people wear and what else they carry to indicate changes in social status or at events or ceremonies of life changes - weddings, funerals, baptisms, initiations, etc.;
  • How clothes are made and cared for, who makes them and how people acquire them.

Desires and emotions

Everyone has desires and emotions, and how these get expressed depends on how the people around us express them. Emotions are universal, expression of emotions is cultural. Some cultures encourage people to curse when they are angry, other cultures tell people to not show any anger at all, but to get revenge later. Even the word used to express pain is different. In English people often say ‘ouch’. In French they say ‘oi’.How emotions get categorized is also cultural. Laughing at someone can be either a way to make fun of them, or it can be a way to relieve tension when something unusual or embarrassing happens. English men shouldn't cry, while Arab men are encouraged to cry to show sadness, at funerals for example.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:6-10Crying was usually from grief or sadness, as when someone died (GEN 23:2). Orpha and Ruth probably cried because they didn't want to leave Naomi.

RUT 1:11-14Crying was usually from grief or sadness, as when someone died (GEN 23:2) or when something bad happened (1SA 1:8). The psalmist cried when asking for God to save him from his enemies (PSA 6:6). Orpha and Ruth probably cried because they didn't want to leave Naomi.

Research suggestions
Feelings and emotions can be subjects people don't want to talk about. Observe when emotions are expressed, and ask good friends what emotion is being expressed.Write down your observations about:
  • When people cry and how they cry.
  • When people laugh and how they laugh, what else is happening around them?
  • How do people express anger? What happens around them so that they do?
  • How do they express joy? Other emotions? What kinds of situations do they express joy in?

Family and kinship descent

Descent is the common ancestors of a family. The rules of descent usually include how inheritance is divided, who counts as family, and what names people are given. There are various patterns of descent in the world. They include patrilineal (through the father), matrilineal (through the mother) and bilateral (through both the mother and the father). In some cultures, when a woman marries, her children belong to the husband’s family, and if she leaves her husband she has no right to keep the children. In other cultures, the children belong to the mother, or they can belong to both families. In some cultures the children get to choose which family they belong to.
Application to biblical source

RUT 2:1-7The Hebrews had a patrilineal family structure where descent was traced through the male line. Men who shared a father, grandfather, or male ancestor were part of the same family. They shared responsibilities to take care of each other and their wives and children. The more recent the shared male ancestor, the closer the family tie and the greater the responsibility to take of a family member.

RUT 2:1-7The Hebrew word for kinsman means “one who is known”. The society was small and people knew each other, especially they knew family members. They knew about the close family members; what they were up to and how they were doing.

RUT 4:18-22It is interesting that Elimelech is not included in this genealogy of David. Boaz is included. Boaz is the biological father but Eusebius (see note for RUT 4:13-17) says the son of a levirate marriage could choose who to include in his genealogy. It appears that Boaz is a more important ancestor than Elimelech.

Research suggestions
To investigate the family structure and genealogies of the local culture, ask about descent and inheritance rules. Find out to which children and women belong. Women may always belong to their father’s family and never to their husband’s family.
  • Who is considered to be part of the family? How many generations are counted in the family?
  • Who lives together? How are they related to each other? Who is in charge of the family?
  • Who is responsible for other family members? How do they show that responsibility? Who takes care of the children? Of older people? Of sick people?
  • Who gets included in the genealogy or descent line? If someone is adopted are they included in their genealogy? What if there is levirate marriage, then which father is included?

Family groups

Family divisions usually follow hereditary lines by tribe or clan, or by other division lines such as moieties. When there are disagreements within the family, the level of loyalty to family members is usually greater to the smaller group. In agricultural or herding societies, resources such as land and wealth are divided according to the family divisions. Some cultures have common ownership or resources within each clan. The Navajo of the US divide the grazing rights by clan, and the whole clan can use the land. But the land belongs to all the Navajo people together, not to individuals.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5The Israelites were divided into tribes, each with its own territory and elders. Within each tribe were clans of people who were related to each other, who were part of the same family.

RUT 1:1-5Ephrathites could be one of the clans of Judah who lived in the territory around Bethlehem, or it could be the territory of the tribe that lived there. (GEN 35:16, GEN 4 8:7)

Research suggestions
Ask about the types of family divisions or groups that exist in the culture you live in. Find out the names of the groups and how they relate to each other.
  • How big are the divisions? Who belongs to them? Which division do the important people belong to, or are they spread around all the divisions?
  • What resources are associated with the different groups? Which ones have common ownership? How are resources distributed among the groups?

Family relationships

For people everywhere, the kinship network with all its rights, responsibilities, and emotions is the basis of their most important social relationships. Kinship-related issues, stories and symbols also permeate the Scriptures. Israel developed out of a family, a man and his wife. In the NT, the church is compared to a family, and terms used for family members are also used for fellow believers.Kinship refers to those relationships that people have with one another on the basis of:
  • Descent or 'blood', both a direct descent (parents to grandparents to great-grandparents) and side descent with a common ancestor (sisters and brothers of parents and grandparents),
  • relatives through marriage (parents and grandparents of spouses).
These are generally the most important kin relationships for people and societies everywhere. Although kinship is a human universal, kinship systems and terminologies vary from locale to locale. They also change over time. Contact between cultures is a chief agent of change.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5The God of Israel was concerned for widows and orphans (EXO 22:22; DEU 10:18). The land belonged to men so women were dependent on men to survive. Before marriage, a woman depended on her father or brothers. After marriage her husband was responsible for her. If he died, she depended on her sons. If she had no sons she had no one to take care of her. So Naomi was really destitute with no husband and no sons.

RUT 1:6-10Women depended on men to provide for them, either a father or a husband or a son. When Naomi left Moab, her daughters-in-law didn’t have to go with her, but they had no one else to take care of them. They had married into Naomi’s family, so her family was responsible for them. They became loyal to the husband’s family rather than their fathers’ families. Naomi wants to give them the opportunity to have sons in another marriage so tells them to go back to their mothers to get another husband.

RUT 1:6-10Ruth is being loyal to both the living (Naomi) and to the dead (her dead husband). Instead of having children for another husband, she goes to Bethlehem with Naomi to take care of her in her old age since Naomi has no one else, neither husband nor son.

RUT 1:11-14When a man died without having any sons, his name and importance and honor would die with him. To make sure each man’s name continued, Israel had a system of levirate marriage. One of the man’s brothers would marry his widow and her first son would be considered the son of the dead first husband and carry on the name of the dead man. Other children the widow had with in the second marriage would belong to the second husband (DEU 25:5-10).

RUT 1:11-14Naomi says to her son’s widows that she is too old to have other sons who will marry them. So there is no way they can have sons to carry on the name of their dead husbands.

RUT 2:1-7When Naomi returned to Bethlehem, her family did not take care of her so Ruth had to go glean in the fields to get food as other poor people did. She was looking for a patron who would help Naomi and her. She ended up in Boaz’ field by chance.

RUT 2:17-23Loyalty to the family was highly valued in Hebrew society. Younger family members respected and obeyed the older men, women respected and obeyed the men. Boaz praises Ruth for being loyal to both the living and dead, to both Naomi (by coming with her to Bethlehem) and to her husband’s family (by not getting another husband).

RUT 3:1-5The ‘kinsman redeemer’ (*go’el*) is a family member who serves other family members in need. In cases of the murder of a man, the *go’el* as ‘redeemer of blood’ is responsible to find the killer and take revenge. If money is paid to the family of the dead man, the head of a clan acts as *go’el* and receives the blood money from the killer’s family, or other restitution for a wrong done to a family member. (NUM 5.8, 35:19-21).

RUT 3:1-5Other kinds of help of a *go’el* include gaining justice in court and financial help to destitute family members. When a family member has to sell his land, the *go’el* buys it back, or redeems it as a means of keeping the land in the family (LEV 25:25).

RUT 3:1-5More than one family member could be the *go’el* for another family member. God claims that He himself is a *go’el* for orphans who takes up their cause to keep their land when it is taken away by other family members (PRO 23:10-11).

Research suggestions
Kinship is one of the more systematic and structured areas of human social life. Important topics for kinship study are:
  • kinds of kin groups,
  • kinship terminologies,
  • right ways of speaking of ancestors and reciting family genealogies, and other important genealogies,
  • kin roles and their expected behaviors,
  • fictive kin, or people who are called by kin terms even though they are not 'really' related,
  • causes and outcomes of conflict between kin and kin groups, and
  • changes in kin-related language and behavior resulting from culture contact.
The study of kinship and kin groups enables you to:
  • understand and empathize with the relationships that matter most to people in your locale.
  • prepare for translating and checking the many literal and figurative kinship topics and themes in Scripture.
Research into kinships relationships starts with genealogies. Ask a friend to tell you his or her family genealogy.Next, find out about the responsibilities of the different types of relationships: e.g. mother-son, mother-daughter, father-grandson, brother-sister, husband-wife, etc. Expand this investigation to find out about what happens to a person when they do something the family doesn’t like.
  • What is the social status of a widow? Of orphans? Who is responsible for them?
  • What happens to family members who no longer have means of support, due to illness or loss of land or jobs? Who takes care of them? How do they live? Where do they live?
  • What kind of loyalty is expected within the family? Who should you be loyal to? How is loyalty shown? How is it acknowledged? When are people praised for being loyal?

Forms of government

Every cultural group has some way to decide things for the whole group, and to distribute power. This is the type of government they have. Some cultures have one or a few people in charge; other assign certain people to take leadership under certain conditions. Governments are involved in the organization of the following activities:
  • Deciding how and where to use material resources such as land, water, food; and of cultural resources such as man-power (for defense against attack or for building roads, etc.), technology, education. Taxation is used to fund the cost of the government.
  • Distributing the resources to groups and individuals. This distribution is usually unequal in larger or classed societies.
  • Providing for social control, through making laws and providing a system for gaining justice. Larger societies have police for controlling disturbances and crime. Smaller cultural groups may do this through family structures or through ostracism.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5After arriving in Canaan from Egypt, the Israelites settled into regions according to tribes. There was no central government. Each tribe had elders that made decisions, settled disagreements, and kept order. The Israelites were still fighting neighboring people like Ammonites and Philistines. Certain men called by God would lead temporary armies when there was need for military action. These leaders were called judges. Besides being military leaders they also gave advice to the elders and made judgements in disputes between people. There were a few women judges as well. The book of Ruth calls this the time when the judges ruled. No judges governed the whole region where Israelites lived. This was before the time when Israel had kings.

Research suggestions
When researching forms of government remember that the national form of government is only one for that affects the ethnic group. Each group will have its own traditional form of government too. Focus on the how the ethnic group handles disputes and keeps peace.
  • Who are the people in control of keeping order? How do they keep order?
  • What resources are important for people, such as land and water? Who has access to them? Who decides whether people have access to them? How are the decisions made?
  • How are communal tasks decided on? Who decides? Who gets involved in doing the communal tasks?
  • What else do local authorities or powerful people do?
  • How do local authorities relate to the national government? Who represents the national government and how much power do they have in the local area?


Geography deals with how people see the physical world and arrange the space around them. The Navajo of the US have four sacred mountains that border their land. In Cameroon, the Ewondo people distinguish between village and bush by what grows where. Western society divides town and city based on size of population. Spaces are named based on many different factors. Towns and cities are named for the people who founded them, or for the people who live there, or for an event that happened there. One village in Africa was named because the elephants used to pass through it. Translators need to be aware of how Scripture and the target culture talk about the physical world. Jerusalem was in the hilly country, on a hill. So Scripture talks about going up to Jerusalem and coming down from Jerusalem. For cultures who live on flat land, this may not be readily understood. There are two kinds of rivers in Scripture. The big rivers: the Nile, the Euphrates and the Jordan flowed all year round, with seasonal changes in the water level. Around the land of Palestine there were small rivers that often dries up in the dry season. This term is sometimes translated in English as brook. Some cultures don't have the big rivers, other Don't have the small ones. So there can be misunderstanding of the context of the physical geography of Palestine.
Application to biblical source

RUT 3:1-5The countryside around Bethlehem is hilly with valleys between hills. Some valleys have rivers or streams running through them. Towns were usually built on hills with fields on the flat areas below them. The Hebrew word *har* means hill or mountain.

Research suggestions
Translators should be familiar with the geography of the region of Palestine and the Mediterranean Sea when translating. Don't expect the names of physical features to correspond to the local perception of geography. Check translation aids to learn more about how Scripture deals with geography and possible ways to translate them.Find out how people name the different physical features of their world.
  • What are the different physical features called? What significance do they have, either religious or cultural?
  • Are there places that are special, or forbidden to certain people? What makes them special? What makes them forbidden?
Investigate the language used to talk about moving around in the world. In Indonesia one group that lives in a mountainous area always adds a word to indicate whether the person is going up or down the mountain.
  • What words or phrases are used to indicate direction, or other movement (such as up and down)? When are they used, and for whom?

God (supreme creator)

Many cultures believe in a supreme God who is quite distant from them. Often they have a legend that humans did something to displease this God and so he left. Hebrew, Christians and Muslims believe there is only one God and he is supreme. You will need to compare ideas of a supreme God from the local culture to ideas about YHWH God in the Bible to see how well the ideas correlate.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:19-22The Hebrew believed God was active in the life of the whole group as well as the lives of the individuals. When the people disobeyed God’s instructions or commandments, or when they complained, God punished them (NUM 11:11) God blessed people by providing for them and giving them abundance of goods and children (GEN 33:5, 11). Naomi is expressing in her change of name that God has taken away what he had given her before she left.

Research suggestions
Study the origin stories and other stories about the group and their gods. Find out about the supreme God if there is one. You will need to compare the ideas from Scripture with the ideas from the local culture.
  • Is there a supreme God? What is he/she like? Where does he/she live? How is he/she different from the other gods?What is his/her name?
  • What happened to the relationship between the world and this God? Between humans and this God?
  • How is he/she worshipped? How does he/she relate to people and how do they relate to him/her?

Grain agriculture

The agricultural cycle is one way a society organizes its activities throughout the year. It involves the seasonal activities associated with the production of food crops in a particular locale. Whether families grow their own food, buy and barter for food grown by others, or do both, the agricultural cycle plays a key role in the formation of any society and its culture.As you study the agricultural cycle in your locale, you will:
  • learn language and cultural patterns essential to your own adjustment to the basic rhythms of life and work in the locale.
  • understand matters of basic importance to your neighbors: what they eat and how they obtain it.
  • build a fund of knowledge in preparation for translating the many passages where there is literal or figurative use of agricultural themes in Scripture.
Application to biblical source

RUT 2:1-7Gleaning was the process of picking up the stalks of grain or other produce that were left on the ground or left uncut by the people harvesting the grain, grapes, olives and other fruit. It was a means of social solidarity and sharing with the whole group the blessings from God to his people (DEU 24:19-20).

RUT 3:1-5After the grain was cut it was taken to the threshing floor, an open space near the fields where rocks have been removed and the ground made hard. Often the threshing floor was slightly elevated above the level of the fields to take advantage of wind for winnowing. The grain was threshed by laying it out on the threshing floor and beating it or having a donkey walk on it. This caused the outer covering of the grain to break open. After threshing, the grain was winnowed, that is, separated from the chaff (the broken outer coating and straw) by tossing it into the air with specially made tools. The grain was then stored separately from the straw.

RUT 3:1-5The gleaning process took a few days, so people slept at the threshing floor. Their presence probably prevented thefts of grain (1SA 23:1). They ate and drank at the threshing floor as a kind of holiday from normal routine. Women were there helping with the work, and probably also cooked meals.

RUT 3:6-13Sections of the fields were owned by different families, and they all did the harvesting and threshing together. Each family was assigned a place on the threshing floor so the grain from each family was kept separate.

Research suggestions
Study the agricultural cycle in your location by observing and recording the seasons of the year and their typical weather patterns, and what crops grow in what season.Ask about the different work phases and requirements (burning, tilling, weeding, etc.) and the division of labor and composition of workgroups (who does what part of the work)Learn the terms used for the seasons and their associated activities.


Hospitality is used to establish and build existing relationships. How this is done and what each element of hospitality means depends on the culture where it is practiced. Elements of hospitality include:
  • Invitations, which can be oral or written, or understood from the context of the situation. In some cultures verbal invitations mean informal meetings while written invitations mean formal meetings.
  • Events such as meals, having a drink together, attending an event together are ways of showing hospitality.
  • Greetings show hospitality. People don't greet people they don't have relationships with. The kind of relationship indicates what kind of greeting takes place.
  • Gift giving is an important part of hospitality. There is usually an expected reciprocity, where a gift of equal or greater value should be given in return.
  • Hospitality is usually reciprocal, but not always. If an important person is hospitable towards a person with little status who has no way to reciprocate, the reason for the hospitality may be to invite the low status person to become a client to the high status patron.
Application to biblical source

RUT 2:14-16Boaz goes beyond kindness, inviting Ruth to eat and making sure she gets enough. He treats her like a family member, showing real hospitality by taking care of her.

Research suggestions
When researching hospitality, think about both hospitality in private and in public spaces. Find out about:
  • How people treat non-family members or foreigners who come into their homes or localities.
  • How are people who don't ‘belong’ to the group are treated.
Observe and note down the elements of hospitality: greetings, gift giving, sharing meals, invitations, etc.
  • How is hospitality shown? Who is it shown to? Who is hospitable to whom?
  • What are the obligations of the host? What are the obligations of the guest?
  • Who is considered hospitable in your area? What do they do to show hospitality?
Find out the purpose of hospitality for the people around you.
  • What do they expect in exchange for showing hospitality?
  • What kind of relationships can develop, or are expected to develop as a result of hospitality between people or groups? What do people expect to gain from offering hospitality?

Ideas about family

Family members relate to each other in ways that may not be the same as how they relate to non-family people. The relationships may be closer or more distant. In Victorian England many couples never called each other by their first names, but only as Mr. or Mrs. First names were reserved for sibling and parents, or very close friends. Ideas about family can include who eats together with whom, who controls the finances, who makes the decisions for the whole family or for individual family members, who is seen in public, and many other family behaviors. There can be fictive family member, people not related by blood or marriage but who are treated like family. There can also be legal or formal adoption of people not related into the familyOften there are special relationships between certain family members. In many cultures in Africa, a mother’s brother has a special kind of relationship with her son. The son can ask anything of the uncle, or treat him very badly, and no one objects. But the father’s brother is a disciplinarian, like a second father.
Application to biblical source

RUT 3:14-18In many societies, it is common for women to refer to their husbands and the men in their family with pronouns or other phrases, and never say their names. Naomi and Ruth do this with Boaz. They never refer to him by his name, only as ‘he’.

RUT 4:1-6Redeeming land (LEV 25:25-28) and levirate marriage (DEU 25:5-10) were related responsibilities within a family. Boaz talked about the land redemption first to the other *go’el*. After that he talked about the levirate marriage to Ruth.

RUT 4:1-6The term ‘brother’ often refers to any two men who share the same male ancestors. Boaz probably was willing to marry Ruth because he was a good man and wanted to provide for Naomi and Ruth.

RUT 4:1-6Another possibility is that the closer *go’el* was waiting for Naomi to die so he could get the land without taking Ruth as a wife. Boaz challenges this attitude, showing his good character by being willing to care for the widow and the foreigner as instructed in DEU 24:17.

RUT 4:13-17Ruth’s son becomes Naomi’s (grand)son due to levirate marriage. The son carries the name of his mother’s dead husband. Naomi was still alive with no sons, so he became her ‘son’ as her son’s son. The boy was expected to take care of Naomi when he grew older.

RUT 4:13-17The women of Bethlehem congratulated Naomi who now had a *go’el*, her grandson. She now had a male to take care of her, and to provide descendants for her husband.

RUT 4:13-17Naomi became her grandson’s nurse and caregiver. This boy was from her husband’s line so she could claim him. Bringing him up also created ties of affection so he would want to take care of her. Eusebius (writing in the 3rd century AD) claimed that the child born of a levirate marriage could choose which people to include in his genealogy, that of his mother’s first husband or that of his biological father.

Research suggestions
Research ideas about family by being around families and watching how they relate to each other. Ask someone you trust about her or his family, who they honor in a particular way, who they spend a lot of time with, how they get along with other members of their family.
  • How do family members refer to each other? When do they use first names? Who uses first names with whom?
  • What terms are used to refer to other family members of the same gender who are not children of the same parents?
  • What family members spend time with each other? Who are they loyal to or stick up for when there are disagreements in the family?
  • What special relationships are there between family members? How do these relationships change the behavior between these family members? Which ones give people more freedom? Which one restrict freedom of action and speech?
  • What kinds of fictive kin are there, where people who are not related are still considered family? What kind of adoption exists?


Anything that is passed from one generation to the next is an inheritance. This can involve material goods and non-material things such as titles. Each culture has its own rules about what does or doesn’t get inherited, who can inherit what, and who decides what is inherited. Some things are automatically inherited, such as in Europe where titles of nobility and the land and wealth that goes with it. These often go to the oldest surviving son, grandson or male relative. But some titles are not allowed to be inherited. Other places such titles or and property are decided by the group and not inherited by the children of the current titleholder. Some cultures require documents to prove ownership and inheritance. Others depend on witnesses who can say who owns what and who will inherit it.
Application to biblical source

RUT 4:1-6In Israel men inherited from their fathers. All the sons inherited a portion. If there were no sons, then the daughters inherited. If there were no daughters, the man’s brothers inherited (NUM 27:5-11).

RUT 4:1-6In societies where men inherit but women do not inherit, often women have the right of use of the land until they die. Thus the land is called Naomi’s land even though she didn't own it. It belonged to her husband, and his sons, even though they were dead, because there was a woman belonging to the family who could produce sons for them (see the section on levirate marriage).

Research suggestions
Examine the rules of inheritance by asking questions about who, what, and how.
  • Who can inherit? Who can give something as inheritance to someone else? What can be included in inheritance? Who can be excluded? Can foreigners inherit?
  • Is there a difference between rich and poor people, between women and men, between children and adults?
  • What can be inherited? How is this decided? What choice do people have about what they want to give as inheritance, or receive as inheritance?
  • How does the process work? What is required for someone to be able to give an inheritance? What is require for someone to get an inheritance? How does everyone know who gets it?

Inter-ethnic relations

Inter-ethnic relations has to do with how individuals or groups from different ethnic backgrounds interact. When there is a majority of one ethnicity, the other ethnicities may be discriminated against, or they may be privileged. Ethnic groups that live next to each other commonly have rivalry between the groups, and intermarriage can be forbidden. From the point of view of outsiders, ethnic groups may appear to be very similar. For the groups themselves, there are clear characteristics that distinguish them from each other. These distinctions are taken very seriously.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5Foreigners living with the Israelites didn't have the same rights to land or access to the holy places. But God was concerned about foreigners and instructed the Israelites that foreigners should not be mistreated. (DEU 10:18-19; 27:19)

Research suggestions
Consider how the local group identifies itself in relation to other groups.
  • What makes them different from the ethnic groups around them? What makes them superior? What makes them inferior?
  • Who are considered foreigners? How are foreigners viewed and treated? What kinds of status can they have?
  • What are the causes of inter-ethnic strife? How are conflicts or problems with other ethnic groups resolved?

International relations

National governments relate to each other at the highest levels of government, sending ambassadors to other countries and to international meetings. The people of different nations also relate to each other as part of international relations. Differences between two national groups can be religious, political (forms of government), economic, ethnic, or social (how they do things).In Scripture there are many nations which interacted with Israel. During Solomon’s reign he had ambassadors from Egypt and Ethiopia (Sheba). Israel and Judah both became vassals of Babylon and Assyrian, and were constantly asking Egypt for help against these two nations. They had international trade with Tyre, Arabia and Cyprus.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5Moab was the name of a territory next to Israel, across the Jordan River to the east. The Israelites and Moabites has similar cultures; they were farmers and sheep and goat headers. There was political tension between the two groups which traced back to when the Israelites came to Canaan from Egypt.

RUT 1:1-5Israelites considered the Moabites to be descended from an incestuous relationship between Lot, the nephew of Abraham, and his own daughters. (GEN 19:30-38) Later, Moabite women married Israelite men and the men started worshiping the Moabite god, Baal of Peor, instead of the Israelite God YHWH. No Moabite was allowed to be part of Israel, to the 10th generation. (NUM 22-25, DEU 23:3,4). Moab conquered part of Israel during the time of the judges (JUD 3:12-14) so Moab was considered an enemy.

Research suggestions
To study international relations, look at the national government and how it relates to countries around it. Consider the local ethnic group and how it relates to ethnic groups in countries around it.
  • Who are the powerful countries in the region where you work? What makes them powerful? How does the country where you live relate to it’s neighbors?
  • What is the historical relationships between countries and ethnic groups? How does this affect the relations today?
  • How does the ethnic group where you work relate to ethnic groups of other countries? What kind of relations do they have? How are their relations different from their national government relations with the neighboring countries?

Language and gestures

Communication includes both speech and body language: the gestures we make with our bodies. Facial expressions and hand gestures communicate much of the meaning of communication. Some gestures must accompany a certain word or phrase or the meaning is not understood. Some gestures or facial expressions don't need words at all to communicate. These gestures are specific to each culture. They can even have opposite meanings in different cultures.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:6-10Greetings and farewells in Hebrew usually include the words ‘peace’ and ‘blessing’, *shalom* and *barakh*. Greeting could include kissing and bowing to each other (EXO 18:7; 1SA 1:17; PSA 129:8).

Research suggestions
To study language and gestures, focus on how people hold their bodies, and how they use their hands as they speak.
  • What kinds of gestures are used when speaking? Are there specific kinds of information that require gestures?
  • How are greetings and farewells expressed? What gestures are used? What kind of body contact is used? How does this differ depending on the situation?

News and information

Information dissemination happens both orally and in written form. It can have different levels of certainty, such as eye-witness knowledge, second-hand but reliable information, hearsay, story. Disseminating information about people in different levels of society may happen in different ways.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:19-22In small societies where people know each other well, and know about almost everyone, information spreads quickly. People talk about what is happening in the town and region. In Ruth’s time, the people who lived in Bethlehem would have known that Elimelech had left with his wife and sons, and now his widow had returned with her Moabite daughter-in-law.

Research suggestions
Questions to ask when exploring how information is passed along:
  • How are different levels of certainty indicated when information is given?
  • How are important life events announced?
  • How is information about people in different levels of society communicated (ordinary person, respected teacher, royalty)?
  • How is important information spread to others?
  • What is the means of spreading credible information?
  • When information is spread, what can happen to make it seem suspicious or not true?

Numbers and measures

You need to learn about the numbering and measuring system–or systems–people use in your area. This is the study of numeration. You also need to learn about the beliefs people may have about certain numbers, that they are lucky, unlucky, or otherwise symbolic. This is the study of numerology. You'll be using the local system of numbers and measures:
  • in many areas of daily life, such as buying and bartering,
  • in translation: there are many number and measure terms in Scripture, some very important symbolically.
Some examples of Numbers and Measures in Matthew are:
  • two [brothers; miles; years old],
  • fourteen [generations],
  • forty [days and nights],
  • many, few [people],
  • to measure out [grain].
Application to biblical source

RUT 2:17-23An ephah was a measure for grain and flour. It equals about 22 liters, or 3/5 of a bushel.

RUT 3:14-18The size of the measure is not specified. It was an amount that Ruth could carry home.

Research suggestions
As you learn the numeration system, also research numerology. Look for recurring special numbers or counting patterns:
  • in oral tradition material such as stories, legends and folktales;
  • in music and songs;
  • in the way people interpret dreams;
  • in how objects get arranged;
  • in games and gaming.
Watch out for lexical differences in numeration: that is, little or no match between the numbers and measures used in the Scripture language and those used in the receptor language.
  • How are different things counted? Do they all use the same counting system? What counting systems are there?
There are cardinal, ordinal, and fraction numbers to be translated in scripture, but there are counting systems which do not have specific words for quantities beyond “one, two, many” or for very large numbers, or for fractions.Watch out for grammatical issues: for example, noun classes in the language that govern the counting of different kinds of things. Watch out for sociolinguistics issues: for example, a dominant or prestige language number system in use alongside a traditional system but not totally replacing it. You need to learn when people use each one and decide which to use where, in translating. Watch out for numerological issues: just as some biblical numbers have recurrent symbolic meanings (forty, seven, three), so many numbers in the receptor language have special magical, mystical, lucky or unlucky, or ritual meanings. Watch for mismatch of symbolic meanings.
  • What numbers have special meaning? What are theses meaning? Who can count using these systems?

Regulation of marriage

Marriage is another cultural universal. Men and women living together is regulated by the culture they live in. People who go against these cultural rules can be ostracized or killed, or sent away or disinherited. The reasons for marriage also can be very different, ranging from looks to wealth to love to availability of someone to marry.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5It was unusual for Naomi’s sons to marry Moabite women who were outside the family. Men married women in their tribes to keep the land property in the family. They didn’t like to marry women from other Israelite tribes, much less foreign women (NUM 36). Another purpose for marrying inside the tribe was to maintain loyalty to the God of Israel, YHWH. Husbands and wives from other groups trapped the Israelites into worshipping other gods (JOS 23:12-13).

Research suggestions
Ask about the rules for marriage, and who can marry whom. Consider the following:
  • Who are the most common marriage partners? Who cannot get married?
  • What age people are when they marry. How does this differ for men and women?
  • How common is marriage outside the family? When does this happen? Why is it done or not done?
  • Can people marry foreigners? How are the bride and groom treated after they are married? Which group do they and the children they have belong to? How are their families treated?
  • Why people marry, such as economic reasons, or establishing good relationships with another group or family. What other reasons are there?
  • What kinds of tests do people have to go through to show they are ready or able to get married? This may be economic, physical strength, certain knowledge, etc.

Religious beliefs

Religion is beliefs about reality—what is real, about why things are the way they are and how they came to be, about the destiny of life and the world. It is a way to make sense of the human experience, to create order in the world around one. These beliefs are expressed in origin stories and other folk discourse. They often involve spiritual beings but not always. Some forms of Buddhism have no spiritual beings.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5Famine was often viewed as punishment of YHWH on Israel for disobedience or not doing what was right (LEV 26:18-20; HAG 1:9-11). YHWH also ended famines when Israel changed their behavior and became obedient.

Research suggestions
To study religious beliefs, listen to origin stories and other stories about heroes and about the local group. Examine how they explain the world and how things came to be the way they are. Find out how they describe the universe, its parts, and any spiritual beings that exist.
  • How did the world come to be? How was it created? What are the origins of your ethnic group?
  • What kinds of beings exist? How do they relate to each other? Which ones relate directly to humans? How are they related to humans?
  • What causes bad things to happen? Who is responsible? How can it be made better? How can bad things be prevented? Ask for a story about something bad happening to a person, and ask why it happened to them.

Rest days and holidays

Every culture has special days or times when normal daily routines are changed or suspended. They can be dedicated to religious observances or to commemorative occasions, such as weddings or national and cultural holidays. Or they can be weekends when people Don't go to work. Often rest days and holidays are associated with annual or monthly cycles of time, such as planting and harvest, sheep shearing, etc.
Application to biblical source

RUT 3:14-18In Israelite culture, as in many others, there is a celebration at the end of the harvest. Sometimes whole families went to the threshing floor and cook there.

RUT 3:14-18Wine was the common drink at meals, often with water added. Boaz was not necessarily drunk, he had just eaten a good meal and had wine with it. He was celebrating the end of the harvest and threshing.

Research suggestions
Rest days and holidays usually include special or different activities, food, drink, and clothing. It might involve travel to other places, such as religious shrines or special rooms as for wedding receptions. You should find out about these differences from normal life routines for each of the different holidays or rest days.
  • What special days or holidays are there in your region? How are they decided? Who decides when they happen?
  • How is each special day celebrated? What special events take place? What special food is eaten or drunk? How do people dress for this holiday? What places do people go for this holiday? (Ask these questions for each holiday or rest day.)

Social relationships and groups

Social relationships are how people relate to each other, both in the community and outside it. Every society has groups that are distinguished by different characteristics. They all have adults and children; some also have adolescents or teens. Many cultures of Africa have age sets developed early and lasting for life. There are men and women, and sometimes honorary men. Thailand has ‘ladyboys’ who are transvestite men. Ethnic or physical characteristics can distinguish groups. Groups can also be defined by wealth or other material characteristics such as clothing.Relationships can depend on the type of group a person belongs to. Stereotypes of groups can lead to relating to all the people of a group in a certain way. The way a group is treated by other people may be formalized in the culture, such as in the caste system, or it can be informal, as when poor people are not allowed into fancy hotels.
Application to biblical source

RUT 2:14-16The Hebrew law instructed harvesters to leave some of the grain, grapes and olives for the poor people. At harvest time the edges of the fields were not to be cut, and some grapes and olives were to be left on the vines and trees (LEV 19:9, 10). What was left in the fields was for the poor and those who had no one to take care of them: the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. It was a means of social solidarity and sharing with the whole group God’s blessings of food to his people (DEU 24:19-20).

RUT 3:6-13The term often translated in English as ‘kindness’ is the work for loyalty, *hesed*. This is the loyalty God extends to his people and expects from them in return (EXO 15:13; DEU 5:8-10). The same term is used when people are loyal to each other (GEN 21:23). Ruth is being loyal to her dead husband and his family, to Naomi, by not going after young men and marrying outside Elimelech’s family line.

RUT 3:14-18In a face-to-face society people know all about what everyone does. Boaz keeps Ruth with him until dawn to insure she is not seen. At dawn other people would be out of their homes starting their business of the day, and her being out in public on the path from the threshing floor to Bethlehem would not be unusual.

RUT 3:14-18People would talk if they knew she had spent the night beside him. People would assume that they had sex together. This would dishonor both of them, and could jeopardize the legal transaction of next day. Boaz wants to maintain his reputation as well as Ruth’s.

Research suggestions
You will want to find out what kinds of groups exist in the target culture, and how they relate to each other.
  • Who is grouped together? On what basis are they grouped?
  • How do people from one group relate to people from other groups? How often do they relate to each other? In what kinds of situations do they relate to each other?
  • How formal are these groups? Can people change groups? How do they do it?

Spirits and gods

Gods are supernatural beings who have power over humans and the world. Often they have power over only one part of the world, such as storms or the sea. Their power can be partial, or absolute. Humans use rituals to interact with the gods, often to induce the gods to do good to people, or to not harm them.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:1-5One of the reasons the Israelites hated the Moabites was that they worshipped different gods. The Moabite god Chemosh required human sacrifices (2KI 3:27; NUM 21:29).

RUT 1:15-18Each group of people in the Old Testament believed in their own gods, called territorial gods. Thus YHWH was called the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, since that was the family that worshipped Him (EXO 3:16). Many people had idols in their houses where they worshipped their gods. These were called household gods (GEN 31:19-35).

RUT 1:15-18Naomi sends her daughter-in-law back to their people and their gods. She doesn't expect the women to become worshippers of her God, YHWH.

RUT 2:8-13One of the expectations people had of their gods was protection from evil. A metaphor often used in Scripture was taking shelter under the wings of YHWH (EXO 19:4; PSA 57:1; 61:4) like baby birds are protected by their parents’ wings.

RUT 2:8-13The covenant box of the Israelites had cherubim with wings, a physical representation of God’s care for his people (EXO 37:9). Egyptians and several other cultures of the time of the Old Testament had idols with wings.

Research suggestions
You will want to find out what gods there are and how they act. This should include the supreme God, though there are specific questions about a supreme God too. Find out how gods relate to each other and to humans. They may relate to animals and plants or other parts of the world and the universe.
  • What kinds of gods are there? What are they like? What genders are they? What are their names? What forms do they take? What kind of power do they have? How is this power limited?
  • What territories, objects, groups are gods or God responsible for or associated with? What do people of that territory do for the gods? What do gods do for the people?
  • Who worships the gods? Who is expected to worship and obey them? How are they worshipped? What does worship do for the people?
  • How are gods chosen by people? How are people chosen by the gods?

Status and prestige

Status and prestige are about how important a person is the community where they live. High status means they have a lot of influence as well. They may have different status and prestige in different social groups. Status can be ascribed: someone’s importance is based on what family or group a person belongs to, such as a caste system. Or status can be achieved: people gain status by what they accomplish, in business, in education, etc., or in contributions to the community, in hospitality or generosity. Others recognize what they have done or how they have served the community.Status usually has symbols associated with it to show what the status is. These symbols include clothing, jewelry, decorations, documents, means of transportations, such as a priest’s neckband, a coat of arms, diplomas, limousines.Some kinds of status are permanent, other kinds are temporary. A doctor can lose her license to practice medicine, but she will always be a graduate of medical school.
Application to biblical source

RUT 2:1-7Boaz asks his workers about Ruth. He had probably never met her since he had high status and she had low status. But he had heard about her without recognizing her. He praised her loyalty to Naomi, which he probably had heard about from other people in Bethlehem.

RUT 2:1-7Boaz is called a ‘man of reputation, of noble character’. This word often refers to a military man, brave and physically strong (JUD 6:12). In the time of the judges Israel was still fighting against the people who had lived in the land before them. Israelites valued brave warriors who could fight well. Boaz shows his character by treating his workers well, providing shelter and food for them during the harvest. The sun could be very hot during the day in spring in that part of the world.

RUT 2:1-7The ‘servant’ means someone of lesser status and probably was a younger family member. The whole family worked together and younger members would call themselves servants of the older family members (GEN 33:5; DEU 24:14) as a way to show respect to the elders.

RUT 2:8-13Boaz warns Ruth to stay in his field and not go to other fields to glean. He instructed his workers to respect her and not bother her. Lower status people could be abused by higher status people, and gleaners were poor, of very low status. Workers could take advantage of them, such as yelling at gleaners if they got in the way of harvesting or took more than the left over grain (RUT 2:15-16). By using the term ‘my daughter’, Boaz shows respect to Ruth. Inviting her to eat with his people raised her status and protected her.

RUT 2:8-13In Israelite society everyone was identified by their relationships to their family. Foreigners had no family among the people of Israel and so had low status. Some Israelites thought they could take advantage of foreigners because they had no family to speak up for them or protect them

RUT 2:8-13High status people had more wealth and power, and could take advantage of people with lower status. Low status people would abase themselves to higher status people, bowing and calling themselves servants, showing they recognized the power high status people had over them.

RUT 2:8-13Ruth bows to Boaz and reminds him she is a foreigner, someone of low status without family to protect her. He responds by praising her for her loyalty to Naomi, and so placing her in a family, and for seeking refuge in YHWH the Hebrew God instead of the god of Moab, Chemosh.

RUT 2:17-23Boaz instructed his workers to respect Ruth and not bother her. Lower status people could be abused by higher status people, and gleaners were poor with very low status. Workers could take advantage of them, such as yelling at gleaners (or worse) if they got in the way of harvesting or took more than the leftover grain.

RUT 3:6-13In communal and face-to-face societies a person’s character and reputation was publicly known. The whole village recognized Ruth as a loyal woman. They were probably wondering why the nearer *go’el* (redeemer) had not acted yet to help Naomi.

RUT 3:6-13Ruth was a foreigner, but had lived with Naomi in Bethlehem for a while, so she had gained her status of a resident foreigner and had the right to be treated as an Israelite (LEV 19:34).

RUT 4:18-22Having a ‘name’ or being ‘renowned in Israel’ meant people had a lot of honor. They were important people whom others looked up to. Men tried to make a name for themselves through being good soldiers (see note in RUT 2:1-7). ‘Men of renown’ refers to warriors who fought in the war with the original inhabitants.

Research suggestions
When researching status, think about what differentiates the important people from the unimportant people. Think about wealth, gender, age, occupation.
  • What kinds of status exist in the culture? Which are permanent and which aren’t?
  • How do people gain status? How can they lose status? How is status talked about? What terms indicate status, either low or high?
  • Who are the most important people in your area? What makes them important? What do they know about other people who are not as important as they are? What do they expect from people who are less important?
  • Who are the less important people? What makes them less important? How do they relate to the important people? How are they treated? What do they expect from important people? How are they referred to?


Time is counted in many different ways, even in a single culture. Clocks mark the passing of minutes and hours, calendars mark the passing of months and years. Events that happen are used to mark the passing of time. For agricultural societies, events like planning and harvest are very important. For industrial societies weekends are important. Units of time may differ between cultures. Weeks, months and years may vary in length. The Islamic year uses 12 lunar months, while the west uses solar years of 12 months. The year starts at different times for different cultures. Chinese New Year comes two months after the wester New Year.Time can be viewed as a cycle that keeps repeating itself, or as a line with a beginning and ending. Some cultures look at time starting with today and looking to the past, emphasizing what has happened before. Others look at time from the present into the future, focusing on what will happen rather than what has happened. Other cultures live in the present, with past and future as insignificant compared to today.Hebrew culture viewed time as linear, with the beginning at creation (GEN 1:1) and ending with God’s kingdom coming and his judgement of the world (REV 10:11-13). Sabbath started the week and was the most important day of the week.As an agricultural society, time was marked in Scripture by agricultural festivals. They were also religious festivals since they involved worshipping God. The year started in late summer with the Passover, the following festivals were counted by weeks as described in LEV 23.
Application to biblical source

RUT 1:19-22Time was determined by seasonal events like spring planting and rains, by festivals like the firstfruits harvest festival (LEV 23:9-14), or by holy days like Passover (LEV 23:4-8). The beginning of barley harvest happened in mid-April.

RUT 1:19-22The Hebrew calendar was based on the moon’s phases, but also on the sun. Some festivals like Passover were counted by the solar year. Other festivals and events were counted by the moon, such as the planting and harvest festivals. Days were counted from sundown to sundown, so the Sabbath day started at sundown on Friday and ended sundown on Saturday (the last day of the week).

Research suggestions
To study the perception of time, find out how many systems are used to mark time passing. The various systems may not mesh very well with each other. Find out how long each unit of time in each system is. Many cultures today use the western 360 day year, 12 month year and 7 day week. But they may also use more traditional systems alongside the western system.
  • How is time viewed overall: cyclical or linear, or something else? What is the ultimate end of time? What happens then?
  • What events are important to mark time? Yearly, monthly, weekly, other? How do these systems compare to each other?
  • What religious festivals mark time? How do they fit into other time systems?

Traditional justice

Every culture has a way to determine what is right and what is wrong to do, and to decide when a person has acted wrongly. Justice is when the person who acted wrongly is punished and the harm they did is righted. Today, there are national justice systems and well as international justice systems, like the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. At the same time, many cultures have traditional justice systems that they use locally. These can depend on knowing the right people who can help you get justice for your situation.
Application to biblical source

RUT 4:7-12The agreement of who would take care of Naomi was made between the two men. The sandal was given to show the agreement was finished. This was a public act that everyone could see and remember. The ten elders and all the other people were witnesses to the agreement. People watched because it was an interesting event. The witnesses all agreed it was the right thing to do, that Boaz was acting rightly. This could imply the other *go’el* was shamed for not doing the right thing of taking Ruth as a wife.

RUT 4:7-12In Israelite law, when a man refused to take his dead brothers wife in levirate marriage the widow could shame him by taking his sandal off and in front of the elders and spitting in his face, and condemning him (DEU 25:9).

Research suggestions
In researching justice systems, find out which justice systems the people have available to them in the local community. They may use different systems for different kinds of problems.
  • What kinds of justice systems do people use? What kinds of problems do they use them for? Who is involved in the different justice systems?
  • How public is the justice process? Who can be involved? How do people know that justice has been done?
  • What do people do if they think justice has not been done? What recourses do they have? Investigate this on all the justice systems they use.

Wedding ceremonies

Ceremonies marking a marriage exist in most cultures. They are a public way of declaring the establishment of a new family group, or an extension of an existing family. Ceremonies can be very elaborate or very simple, involving many people or a few, or lasting weeks or just minutes. There are often many traditions associated with marriages, usually with a symbolic meaning. In Guatemala, a silver necklace is twined around the necks of the bride and groom during the marriage ceremony to show their union. Many elements of a marriage ceremony can have symbolic meaning. Throwing rice around the couple as they leave the church symbolizes the many children people wish for the couple.
Application to biblical source

RUT 3:6-13The cloak of a man was put on the bride during the marriage ceremony (EZK 16:8) expressing his intention to take care of her. The action is symbolic of the husband providing protection to his wife. This is the kind of protection Israel expect ed from God when he put his wings over them (see notes from RUT 2:11). Ruth asks Boaz to put his cloak over her, asking him to marry her, to do the action of a man to his bride.

RUT 4:7-12The community blessed those who got married because it meant the whole community benefited. Israelite blessings at weddings asked God for many children for the family (GEN 24:60). In this way, the husband’s name and honor would continue through his sons. The woman would be cared for all her life if she had sons.

Research suggestions
Attend a marriage ceremony and observe what happens. Ask someone you trust about the meaning of the different things that happened during the ceremony.
  • How does the groom accept the bride? How is this recognized by the whole community?
  • How long does a wedding last? What happens? Who is involved? What roles do they have during the wedding? Who attends or watches the ceremony?
  • What symbolic elements are there during the wedding ceremony? What do they mean?
  • What clothing and ornamentation is involved in a wedding ceremony? For the family? For the bride and groom? For others who attend or watch?