A more widespread view, even among feminists, is that it's not incorrect to read Ruth as a tale of feminine resourcefulness, love, loyalty, and strength. And, Pressler says, that's something that ancient readers would have noticed, too, given the paucity of biblical stories about women. Indeed, there's speculation that the author of Ruth was a woman. Vanessa L. Ochs, director of Jewish Studies at the University of Virginia, finds that theory plausible, though she herself doubts that it is true. "Ruth and Naomi know the rules and how to manipulate them—and that's a story that women tend to tell."
Ochs, however, advises against calling Ruth and Naomi feminist icons, because each has negative characteristics. Naomi initially fails to appreciate Ruth's steadfastness. And Ruth, Ochs says, behaves essentially like a prostitute. "She has to go sleep with an old man—that's the old casting couch." The seduction scene is certainly vexing for modern readers. "You don't want [her] to be a role model for our children," admits Pressler, who prefers to stress that Ruth acted in service to her family. And Ruth's other good qualities—her kindness, for instance—somewhat mitigate her wanton behavior, Ochs says.
But why was Ruth's story included in the Old Testament? One widely endorsed theory says the story was written to implore Jews to reject xenophobia and welcome foreigners. Ochs, however, says if that were the case, the story wouldn't end with Naomi suckling Obed while Ruth and her Moabite ancestry seemingly disappear. "Ruth is just a vessel," she says. The Jewish Naomi is the real main character, she says, and it's partly a justification of levirate marriage—the ancient practice of having a dead man's brother marry a widow in hopes of producing a son to carry on the dead man's name. "This is Jewish reincarnation."
So what was the original point of the story? Says Ochs: "Though women are pleased to tell it, the story's point is to tell how our hero [King David] was born. If it were only a story of how women worked together to sustain themselves, I don't believe for a minute that it would have been a canonized story. It is a legend used to justify the power of a kingship."