Ruth, Tobias, Judith, and Esther make up a group of short books that are usually classified as Didactic or Hagiographic, and we could title as “lives of the saints of Israel.” All four have didactic and pedagogical purposes, focused on a specific character and not on village events. Therefore, its purpose is to teach, to exhort and to encourage readers. They do not cover more or less long periods of time, they only have as their theme a specific episode with a protagonist who gives the book its name.
In these books, God is the teacher who teaches us lessons of life. We are the disciples, and we are asked for attention, silence, recollection, to absorb all the teachings of eternal life that our good God gives us, and thus, put them into practice.
II. DOCTRINAL OBJECTIVE: Reviewing these didactic books.
III. LIVING OBJECTIVE: Learning the lessons that these books offer us and take them into our lives.
IV. THESIS: Although they relate historical facts, these books aim to teach the people, because they are edifying stories, and strengthen the faith of the Jews who lived in the Diaspora (outside the country) proposing the virtues of their characters as an example of life, both personal and family life.
V. EXPLANATION OF THE THESIS:
1. Author and date
a) Ruth: it is unknown when this precious story of the time of the judges was written. It deals with the ancestors of David. There is a very likely hypothesis that it was written in the time of King David, and it is assumed that the author is the one who wrote the first book of the Kings, perhaps, the Prophet Samuel.
b) Tobit: was written around the year 200 BC. It is a deuterocanonical book.
c) Judith: was probably written around the year 150-100 BC. It is a deuterocanonical book, like that of Tobit.
d) Esther: was written in Hebrew, during the period between the V and II century BC.
2. Literary characteristics
The literary characteristics of all these books are these: they are midrashic stories; that is, didactic writings that describe a historical situation, and idealized, adding characters and apt stories to give their teaching and doctrine. They are masterpieces of Hebrew narrative art.
3. Division and thematic content
a) Ruth: is the story of a young Moabite woman, a foreigner in Israel. Despite the nationalist and xenophobic tendencies of much post-exile biblical literature, the book of Ruth is a window to the universality of salvation; that is, God has come to save all, and not only the people of Israel.
b) Tobit: it is a family story inspired by the patriarchal stories of Genesis. Through the story of Tobit, son of Tobit and Anna, and his wife Sara, attempts to inculcate the traditional values of Judaism, both personally and in family. The family institution is a school of learning, living and transmitting Jewish moral and religious teachings.
c) Judith: Judith, the “Jewess,” is a prototype, point of reference, a model that embodies the best virtues of her people: trust and faith in Jahveh, obedience to the Law and sincere religiousness. It is a heroine who faces alone the enemy, General Holofernes, and kills him in order to rid the people of the enemy yoke.
d) Esther: a story set in the years of Persian domination-a setting that is part of literary fiction-and according to which a Jewish woman, Esther, became Queen of Persia and saved her people, a Jewish community condemned to extermination
4. Theological and spiritual content
Universal openness: belonging to the Jewish community; she is not conditioned by race; a foreigner can be part of it. It is already becoming clear how salvation is for everyone and we must avoid fanatical nationalisms.
Defense of the sense of family solidarity and the law of the Levirate. The Hebrews had a strong sense of family solidarity, also to guarantee an offspring. At a time when men had no idea of the resurrection, they sought the immortality of their own name through their children and grandchildren.
The continuity of the family was also threatened by the lack of children. The custom of the Levirate came to solve this crisis; when one died without children, the brother of the deceased was obliged to take the widow for himself, and the first child born of that union was considered the son of the deceased, heir of his belongings.
The brother who fulfilled this task was called “levir,” from which comes the term “levirate” to designate this law. Ruth is a faithful reflection of this solidarity of ancient times. It could happen that even a distant relative, like Boaz, married a widow without children, to raise an heir to the family of the deceased.
The Divine Providence disposes and makes that even minor events concur to the fulfillment of its greater designs.
The main theme of the book is the path of happiness, represented in the journey of Tobit under the guidance of the angel. The way of happiness consists in this: fear of God in obedience to the commandments; respect and pity towards parents; practice of the works of mercy, prayer and fasting, justice and honesty.
Divine Providence: God cares for His children; He is not responsible for the evil of men; indeed, He comes to their aid, even if they are in the diaspora.
Mission of the angels, good and bad: the good helps, heals and saves; the bad destroys the work of God. Good angels are the instrument of God.
The family virtues: piety, love, respect, union.
God is the Lord of history: everything is led by Him for the best interests of His people.
Important role of women in the design of God: God chooses the weaknesses, and human eyes to confuse the strong. The story highlights the wisdom of the woman, and her faith in God, praising the virtues of the widowed and pious woman and anticipates the praises of Ana’s virtues (cf Lk 2:36-37) of Mary and Christian virtues
(cf 1 Tim 55:5).
Thanksgiving in the tests: in the historical books, adversities were considered as punishments for infidelity to God. Here the religious mentality is being purified little by little: adversities are proofs for the faith of the people.
Inviolability of the people of Israel in history: although it is small and persecuted, it carries in itself the blessing and favor of God, and it is the bearer of salvation.
Providence of God: God intervenes in history to save his persecuted people.