Book Review

[K:NWTS 20/3 (Dec 2005) 48-50]

André LaCocque, Ruth: A Continental Commentary. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004. 187 pp. Cloth. ISBN: 0-8006-9515-1. $28.00.

Here is the J, E, D, P theory of the construction of the book of Ruth. LaCocque, preeminent French structuralist of the school of Ricoeur ("Dedication," p. vii), Derrida (pp. 151-52) and others, invents the book of Ruth by arguing that it was manufactured in the Exilic era (post 586 B.C.) as a justification for allowing strangers (Gentiles) into the club (Jewish community). His basic thesis is that Boaz and Ruth mirror hesed ("kindness") by going "above and beyond the law" in an era of Israel's history (Exile in Babylon/Persia) when Jewish particularism was being rejected for a new-found inclusivism. If this reads like 20/21st century pluralism and multi-culturalism imposed on a book of the Bible, you have landed on LaCocque's principal presupposition. If exegesis is the application of the prevailing philosophical approach to modern culture read back on biblical texts, LaCocque is a master of the deceit.

Thus LaCocque's J, E, D, P is not that of the invention of the more famous Julius Wellhausen re the Pentateuch (Jehovist/Yahwist, Elohist, Deuteronomist, Priestly writer). Rather LaCocque's source-critical version of this tiny book derives "J" from the Exilic Jurist (but reconstructed in terms of the 20/21st century international World Court); "E" from the Enviromentalist (post-1970s eco-freaks concerned with agrarian "fields" as opposed to industrial capitalist thugs); "D" for the Deconstructionist who reorders Exilic Judaism in a universalistic and inclusivistic fashion; and "P" for the Pornographer who portrays the seduction scene at the threshing floor (Ruth 3) in bold, graphic detail so that we moderns can abandon our Puritanical inhibitions. If LaCocque appears to apply the culture of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s to the book of Ruth and then make the exilic Jews prototypical hippies, left-wing progressives, situational ethicists and worse, you get the picture. This book is not a commentary on an 11th to 13th century B.C. divinely-inspired Hebrew story; it is a socio-political statement of avant-garde 20/21st century French deconstructionism using the biblical text as a pretext. What rubbish! What utter rubbish! Fortress ought to be embarrassed to have wasted live trees and petroleum-based inks on this piece of junk (and that is being too kind). For whatever is of value in LaCocque's work on the Hebrew text may be found elsewhere.1

When, for example, Ruth prostitutes Boaz in a threshing-floor trick (pp. 89-103) so as to experience hesed above and beyond the law (of chastity), we learn that for LaCocque sexual purity is a toy; sexual pleasure is a political trip (Ruth seduces Boaz to get what she wants); sexual relations are restrained by nothing—nothing at all save self-interest. Is this sound theology let alone sound morality? Indeed not!! This is perversion in the interest of 20/21st century self-gratification.

Of course, all this is "the teaching of Jesus" (p. 152). Jesus must serve LaCocque, even as Ruth and Boaz must serve LaCocque. What a travesty! All liberals are the supreme applicationists—reading biblical texts as their own narcissistic self-reflection from the bottom of an agendaistic, reductionistic, tendentious cesspool. Pages 151-54 present a clear explanation of LaCocque's wax nose approach to the book of Ruth. Here he parades his eisegetical presuppositions explicitly; one needs to read no more than these pages to consign this work to the rubbish heap.

The book is an insult: to Ruth and Boaz, to the Lord Jesus Christ, to the Hebrew Old Testament. What is needed after sloughing one's way through this gutter is a truly radical reading of Ruth—she is a heathen convert to the covenant faith; she is transformed by that conversion and conformed to the image of the living God who has married her to himself; she is assiduous in faithful service to her mother-in-law; chaste even in her boldness with Boaz; redeemed by her goel to become his own and the mother of his son, whose greater son is David, whose greatest son is Jesus Christ. So radical is this reading of the book of Ruth that no modern critical fundamentalist of LaCocque's ilk can see it because they are too busy reinventing themselves in the biblical text. What a travesty!!!

James T. Dennison, Jr.


1 The most helpful full commentary is by Robert L. Hubbard. Cf. also this reviewer's 2005 Kerux Conference address, "Ruth: Literary and Biblical-theological Analysis" as well as his four sermons on the four chapters of the book of Ruth (both items available from Northwest Theological Seminary, 17711 Spruce Way, Lynnwood, WA 98037).