The Bible tells us that Ruth, the Moabite, was quite a bit older than her companion, the virtuous Naomi, when the two ladies set out from their native Moab. According to Biblical evidence, Naomi was the mother-in-law of Ruth’s late husband, Mahlon. Ruth was already a widow when she followed Naomi to Bethlehem, and it appears that she was considerably older than her mother-in-law. Just how old was Ruth in the Bible?
The book of Ruth gives few concrete facts to account for Ruth’s age. The time-frame presented in the book’s narrative confines Mahlon and his family’s stay in Moab to 10 years – a period encompassing Ruth’s marriage and the subsequent departed of her husband and father-in-law. This suggests that Ruth was between thirty and forty at the time. However, without any precise evidence, opinions differ.
Many scholars believe that Ruth must have been around the age of forty when she made her journey with Naomi, for it was at that age that Hebrew women married. If Ruth was in her mid-thirties she would have found a new husband quite easily by the time her widowed status became known in Bethlehem. According to the letter of the law, Ruth was well within her years for remarriage, but the chronology of Scripture does not explicitly support this assertion.
Other scholars believe that Ruth was no older than thirty-five or forty when she entered the book of Ruth, although some have suggested that she was only in her twenties. They point to the fact that Naomi was still in her sixties at the time of their departure from Moab and insist that Ruth would never have been old enough to have reached her ‘forties’ by that time.
However, it is notable that the biblical text makes no reference to Ruth’s age at any point in the narrative, which leads some to suggest that her age was not considered particularly significant for the story. Perhaps the authors were more interested in how Ruth’s life and actions were shaped by her widowhood, rather than her actual age.
The Deuteronomic Point of View
Despite the lack of information, some scholars view the book of Ruth from a strictly deuteronomic point of view. This theory hypothesizes that Ruth was in her sixties by the time Boaz married her, due to the law laid out in Deuteronomy 21:10-14. According to this law, a one-month period was allowed to elapse between the death of a man and the marriage of his widow. This would suggest that Ruth must have been at least sixty before Boaz married her.
This theory is lent further weight by many interpretations of the biblical text which claim that Naomi was not much younger than Ruth. From a deuteronomic point of view, this theory may have implications for Naomi’s age as well, potentially placing her in her late seventies or early eighties when Boaz married Ruth.
A Mature Age at Marriage?
One final theory suggests a much older age for Ruth, if indeed she was ever married. According to this theory, Ruth’s marriage may have been more of a formality than a true marriage. It is possible that Ruth was older than the socially accepted age for marriage and was instead given a token marriage to live with Naomi and provide her with companionship and protection.
This theory is supported by some ancient rabbinical writings, which hold that Ruth was in her late sixteenth year when the book of Ruth began. In rabbinical tradition, the death of Ruth’s husband is sometimes listed as being twenty years later – suggesting that Ruth wasn’t married until very late in life and instead spent her time caring for and supporting her mother-in-law.
It is impossible to say for certain how old Ruth was in the Bible, as there are various theories on the subject. Nevertheless, it does appear that she was much older than most women who married during those times – either in her late thirties or perhaps even her late sixties if we take the deuteronomic view. Either way, Ruth’s mature age is an interesting point to consider, and one that sheds light on the culture and customs of biblical era.