13 Romance in the Bible? Ruth and Boaz, Samson and Delilah

In this chapter you will

  • consider why stories about men and women in the Bible are often dramatized as romances when this is not an explicit part of the stories in the texts
  • prepare to contrast the texts and music with those in the next chapter, which focuses on settings of the Bible’s erotic poetry

The story of Ruth has been explored as a drama about the romance between Ruth and Boaz, yet there is little basis for that in the biblical text. The story told in the book of Ruth is much more about widowed women’s vulnerability in the time the story is set and the resourcefulness with which they cope with their challenging circumstances. It is also a story of loyalty, as Ruth, who is from Moab, accompanies her mother-in-law, Naomi, back to her homeland in Israel to not only worship her God but eventually become part of the history of her people as she ends up being among the ancestors of King David. There is probably also a message of inclusion that challenges what other parts of the Scriptures say, such as Deuteronomy 23:3 excluding Moabites from the assembly of God’s people even to the tenth generation.

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Naomi and Ruth, op. 137, focuses on the female characters and is a setting of the biblical text of Ruth 1:1–17.[1]

Luise Adolpha Le Beau’s Ruth: Biblical Scenes, op. 27; César Franck’s Ruth, eglogue biblique; Lennox Berkeley’s Ruth, op. 50; Georg Schumann’s opera Ruth, op. 20; and Susan Bingham’s chancel opera Ruth all have librettos that expand on the biblical text. Franz Waxman explored the story twice: in a work for narrator and orchestra as well as a film score for The Story of Ruth. There is also an interesting cantata by Isabella Parker. Ruth is also included in Frederick Jacobi’s Hagiographa, and Ruth and Naomi feature in Aaron Avshalomov’s Four Biblical Tableaux.

The story of Samson and Delilah provides a more promising basis for exploring romance, although the focus is on the antagonism between their two peoples, the Israelites and Philistines. Delilah is often depicted in misogynistic ways, being conformed to the type of the “femme fatale.” This is true in movies such as Samson and Delilah, with a soundtrack by Victor Young, as well as operas such as Camille Saint-Saens’s Samson et Dalila. There are also modern songs, such as Blind Willie Johnson’s “Samson and Delilah” (most famous in the rendition by the Grateful Dead). It is due to patriarchal presuppositions that a powerful, independent, seductive woman tends to be evaluated or even prejudged negatively. There are several striking songs by female songwriters and vocalists about Samson sung from the perspective of Delilah or that at least take that as their starting point for a broader exploration of a romantic relationship. Listen to Regina Spektor’s “Samson” and also this song by Madi Blair written as a project in the class the author teaches at Butler University. There is also an oratorio, Samson by G. F. Handel. The chapters that follow on Song of Songs / Song of Solomon and Salome will explore other examples of romance in (or introduced into the elaboration of stories in) the Bible in conjunction with the musical treatment thereof.

For Further Reading

Clanton, Dan W. Daring, Disreputable, and Devout: Interpreting the Bible’s Women in the Arts and Music. New York: T & T Clark/Continuum, 2009.

Fauquet, Joël-Marie. “Les Deux Versions De ‘Ruth’ (1845/1871). Essai D’interprétation D’un Double Succès.” Revue Belge De Musicologie / Belgisch Tijdschrift Voor Muziekwetenschap 45 (1991): 97–108.

Leneman, Helen, The Performed Bible: The Story of Ruth in Opera and Oratorio. Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2007.

Locke, Ralph P. “Constructing the Oriental ‘Other’: Saint-Saëns’s ‘Samson et Dalila.’” Cambridge Opera Journal 3, no. 3 (1991): 261–302.

Sallinger, E. “Saint-Saens’ ‘Other’: Orientalism in Samson et Dalila.” MA thesis, Duquesne University, 2010.


  1. This recording was provided to YouTube by NAXOS of America.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The Bible and Music by James F. McGrath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book