Ruth - This is one of the more popular books of the Bible, and with good reason. While earlier Biblical references bash the Moabites, who are said to be the product of Lot's incest with his own daughter and not to be permitted into the congregation, here we see a woman of Moab become assimilated into Israelite culture through marriage. After the death of her first Israelite husband Mahlon (which actually means "sick," while his brother Chiliom's means "weakening"; giving your kids names like those is just ASKING for trouble), she follows her mother-in-law Naomi, accepting her culture and religion. This includes following the law of the Levirate marriage, and marrying Mahlon's relative Boaz. Their great-grandson David goes on to be King of Israel, giving this book political significance as well. I'm not sure how much of this book is actually accurate--even if David really was the great-grandson of a Moabite named Ruth, I don't know how the writers would have had access to her life story, and some of the names appear to be symbolic rather than realistic--but it's a tale with a positive message.
Esther - I said a little about this book here, but I didn't talk much about Esther herself. When the Persian King Ahasuerus becomes dissatisfied with his wife Vashti, he chooses the Jewish Esther to be her replacement. When the king's official Haman devises a plot to exterminate the Jews throughout the Persian Empire, Esther approaches her husband without being called for, and reminds him that her cousin and adoptive father Mordecai had earlier saved the king from an assassination attempt. Interesting that Esther got her position because Vashti was disobedient to her husband, yet she saved her people by being disobedient herself. It looks like the majority opinion is that Esther was written in the third or fourth century BC, yet Haman's plot to kill off the Jews specifically (as opposed to merely treating them as yet another enemy state, as the Babylonians probably did) seems to me to fit the persecutions of the Greek Antiochus Epiphanes more than anything that happened during the period of Persian rule. The basic idea can apply to a lot of different periods of Jewish history, however. It's crazy how some Christians, especially during the era of the Crusades, used a holy book that INCLUDED the Book of Esther in defense for being latter-day Hamans, but rationalizing violence is unfortunately something that humans have always done well. Incidentally, I understand that Martin Luther hated Esther and wished he could remove it from the canon, but I'm sure I'll have more to say about that foul-mouthed, anti-semitic founder of Protestantism in a future post.
Judith - It's kind of a shame that the book starring the biggest female badass in the Bible (or the Apocrypha, anyway) is so historically inaccurate, but such is obviously the case. This woman takes charge when her fellows are cowering in fear, and uses her feminine wiles to get the invading general Holofernes drunk, allowing her to assassinate him.
I'm not sure what I'll cover next week, but I'm thinking of Job.