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Bethlehem

1050 B.C.E.

The people of Bethlehem look at their dying fields with dismay and weep. During the months of Ziv and Sivan, scorching winds shriveled the barley kernels, turning them hard and black, and now they blast the wheat until it burns, too. There will be nothing left for reaping.

Throughout the land, people suffer. The Canaanites pray and make sacrifice to Baal. Their high priest climbs the stairs to the top of the temple and pours water through the lattice work to make rain spatter onto the stone face of the altar god below hoping this will entice the god to cause the rains to fall and the earth to live again. When no rain comes, he pours his water again, and then again, and many times more. But Baal sleeps on. The Philistines along the coast pray to their gods, too, but their prayers don’t ring with the same desperation as those of their inland neighbors for the Philistines can live on fish from the sea while they wait for the north winds to blow clouds in their direction.

Although they weep in Bethlehem, and although they will not get any richer this year, at least the people know they will live. Their god has been more foresighted than Baal, commanding his people to store one-seventh of their produce each year and hoard their stash against a calamity such as this. One-tenth of the grain they’ve saved must be distributed to those who have none.

While the hungry clamor for their share, holding out their jugs and baskets, the possessors of the grain argue how best to accomplish the dispersal of the tenth with no more loss to themselves than necessary. But one man decides to leave altogether. Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, along with seven servants and bondsmen to live in Moab.

But when the rains come again in Judea, when the grasses turn green and the almond trees bloom, of these eleven people, only one will return.

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