In the first verses of the Book of Ruth, Elimelech and Naomi migrate to Moab because there is a famine in Judah. Implicit in the story is that the famine did not extend to Moab, or at least had a lesser effect there. The Book of Ruth, of course, does not explain how it is that Moab escaped a famine that was being experienced just across the Dead Sea in Judah, leaving us to ask, “Why would Moab be a better place to find food?”

Our investigations at Balu‘a may have revealed the answer. The land around the site is quite fertile, perhaps in part because of the volcanic soils of the area (thanks to nearby Jebel Shihan). Soils derived from basalt can be rich in minerals that make it quite fertile and productive for dry farming. Preliminary archaeobotanical analysis confirms the presence of barley, wheat, lentils, and peas in the site’s Iron Age occupation levels. So, although the biblical author does not specifically identify the area around Balu‘a, his general knowledge of Moab’s relatively stable agricultural food supply seems to underlie the setting of the story.