Rahab

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Rahab of Jericho

Rahab, (/ˈr.hæb/;[1] Hebrew: רָחָב, Modern Raẖav Tiberian Rāḥāḇ ; "broad," "large"; Greek: Ῥαάβ) was, according to the Book of Joshua, a prostitute who lived in Jericho in the Promised Land and assisted the Israelites in capturing the city. She became a figure of fascination to the writers of the New Testament, where she is reckoned among the ancestors of Jesus,[2] and is lauded as an example of living by faith,[3] while being justified by her works.[4]

Rahab's profession[edit]

James Tissot, The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies.

The Hebrew 'šh zwnh, used to describe Rahab in Joshua 2:1, literally means "a woman, a prostitute".[5] Rahab's name is presumably the shortened form of a sentence name rāḥāb-N, "the god N has opened/widened (the womb?)" [6] The Hebrew zōnâ may refer to either secular or cultic prostitution, and the latter is widely believed to have been an invariable element of Canaanite religious practice.[7] However, there is a separate word in the language that could be used to designate prostitutes of the cultic variety, qědēšâ.[8]

The 1st century AD historian Josephus, mentions that Rahab kept an inn, but is silent as to whether merely renting out rooms was her only source of income.[9] It was not uncommon for both an inn and a brothel to function within the same building, thus going into Rahab's building was not necessarily a deviation from Joshua's orders, and, as Robert Boling notes, "where better to get information than a bar?".[10] A number of scholars have noted that the narrator in Joshua 2 may have intended to remind the readers of the "immemorial symbiosis between military service and bawdy house".[11]

In the Christian New Testament, the Epistle of James and the Epistle to the Hebrews follow the tradition set by the translators of the Septuagint in using the Greek word "πόρνη" (which is usually translated to English as "harlot" or "prostitute") to describe Rahab.[12][13][14]

In Hebrew Scriptures[edit]

Rahab

According to the book of Joshua (Joshua 2:1-7), when the Hebrews were encamped at Shittim, in the "Arabah" or Jordan valley opposite Jericho, ready to cross the river, Joshua, as a final preparation, sent out two spies to investigate the military strength of Jericho. The spies stayed in Rahab's house, which was built into the city wall. The soldiers sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring out the spies (Joshua 2:3). Instead, she hid them under bundles of flax on the roof. It was the time of the barley harvest, and flax and barley are ripe at the same time in the Jordan valley, so that "the bundles of flax stalks might have been expected to be drying just then".[15]

Rahab told the spies (Joshua 2:9-13):

I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare the lives of my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and that you will save us from death.

After escaping, the spies promised to spare Rahab and her family after taking the city, even if there should be a massacre, if she would mark her house by hanging a red cord out the window. Some have claimed that the symbol of the red cord is related to the practice of the "red-light district".[16]

When the city of Jericho fell (Joshua 6:17-25), Rahab and her whole family were preserved according to the promise of the spies, and were incorporated among the Jewish people. (In siege warfare of antiquity, a city that fell after a prolonged siege was commonly subjected to a massacre and sack.)

In the midrash, Rahab is named as one of the four most beautiful women the world has ever known, along with Sarah, Abigail, and Esther. In Megillah 15a of the Babylonian Talmud, anyone who mentions Rahab's name immediately lusts after her. In Zevahim 116a-b of the Babylonian Talmud, Rahab converted at the age of 50 and repented according to three sins, saying:

Master of the Universe! I have sinned with three things [with my eye, my thigh, and my stomach]. By the merit of three things pardon me: the rope, the window, and the wall [pardon me for engaging in harlotry because I endangered myself when I lowered the rope for the spies from the window in the wall]." (Babylonian Talmud, Zevahim 116a-b).

Another similar tradition has Rahab declaring, "Pardon me by merit of the rope, the window, and the flaxen [the stalks of flax under which she concealed the spies].”

The rabbis viewed Rahab as a worthy convert to Judaism, and attested that Rahab married Joshua following her conversion; their descendants included the prophets Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Seraiah, Mahseiah, and Baruch, and the prophetess Hulda, although there is no report in the book of Joshua of the leader marrying anyone, or having any family life.[17] Rahab often is mentioned alongside Jethro (Yitro) and Na'aman as “positive examples” of the converts who joined Israel, and another midrash has Rahab acting as an advocate for all nations of the world.[18][19]

In the New Testament[edit]

Rahab (Greek: Ῥαχάβ) is also mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as one of the ancestors of Jesus (Matt 1:5). This can be found in the Genealogy of Jesus in chapter 1. In the King James version of this genealogy, her name is spelled Rachab. She married Salmon of the tribe of Judah and was the mother of Boaz.

Willliam L. Lyons has observed that biblical interpreters have viewed Rahab as a model of hospitality, mercy, faith, patience, and repentance in her interaction with Joshua's spies. Thus the harlot of Jericho became a paragon of virtue.[20]

Based on linguistic and textual evidence, some Christian scholars have theorized that the Rahab described in Joshua is not the same person as the Rahab mentioned in Jesus' genealogy.[21] Elsewhere in the New Testament the Rahab of the Book of Joshua is mentioned as an example of a person of faith (Hebrews 11:31) and good works (James 2:25), but these use another Greek word - Ῥαάβ and it is coupled with the term harlot.

Rahab as etiological narrative[edit]

Michael Coogan claims the book of Joshua, more than any other book of the Bible, contains short narratives that explain the origins of religious rituals, topographical features, genealogical relationships, and other aspects of ancient Israelite life, and that the legend of Rahab is such an example. The story of Rahab would therefore provide an answer as to how a Canaanite group became part of Israel in spite of the Deuteronomistic injunction to kill all Canaanites and not to intermarry with them (Deut 20:16-18)(Deut 7:1-4)[22]

In fiction[edit]

  • Rahab is depicted as a virtuous soul (in The Third Circle of Heaven) in The Divine Comedy of Dante (Paradiso 9.112 ff.)
  • Rahab is a figure in the mythos of William Blake. She is pictured as a harlot, akin to the whore of Babylon, and figures alongside Blake's character of Tirzah, as representing materialism, false religion, and fallen sexuality.
  • Afshar, Tessa. Pearl in the Sand (2010), ISBN 978-0-8024-5881-0; fictional account of Rahab's life, including leaving Jericho, becoming a Hebrew, and marrying Salmon.
  • Burton, Anne. Rahab's Story (2005), ISBN 0-451-21628-8; a fictional account of Rahab's early life and meeting with the Hebrew spies, Book 2 in Burton's "Women of the Bible" series.
  • Havel, Carlene and Faucheux, Sharon. The Scarlet Cord (2014), ISBN 1940099692; fictional account of Rahab's life.
  • MacFarlane, Hannah. The Scarlet Cord (2009), ISBN 1844273709; fictional account of Rahab's life.
  • Morris, Gilbert. Daughter of Deliverance. ISBN 0-7642-2921-4; fictional account of Rahab's heroic act and later life among the Hebrews. Book 6 of "Lions of Judah" Series.
  • Rivers, Francine. Unashamed: Rahab (2000), ISBN 978-0842335966; fictional account of Rahab's life, Book 2 in Rivers', "The Lineage of Grace" series.
  • Slaughter, Frank G. The Scarlet Cord: A Novel of the Woman of Jericho (1956), ISBN 0671774980; fictional account of the life of Rahab.
  • Wolf, Joan. This Scarlet Cord: The Love Story of Rahab (2012), ISBN 1595548777' fictional account of Rahab's life.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ LDS.org: "Book of Mormon Pronunciation Guide" (retrieved 2012-02-25), IPA-ified from «rā´hăb»
  2. ^ The Gospel According to Matthew, 1:5
  3. ^ The Epistle to the Hebrews, 11:31
  4. ^ The Book of James, 2:25
  5. ^ pp 144-145. Boling, Robert G.:Joshua, vol 6. Anchor Bible Series(1981)
  6. ^ Noth, Martin, "Israelitischer Personennamen im Rahmen der gemeinsemitischen Namengebung", Beitrage zur Wissenschaft vom Alten und Neuen Testaments III,10, 193.
  7. ^ pp 144-145. Boling, Robert G.:Joshua, vol 6. Anchor Bible Series(1981)
  8. ^ ibid
  9. ^ "The Antiquities of the Jews/Book V".
  10. ^ pp 144-145. Boling, Robert G.:Joshua, vol 6. Anchor Bible Series(1981)
  11. ^ ibid
  12. ^ James 2:25, 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament
  13. ^ Hebrews 11:31, 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament
  14. ^ Joshua 2, Greek Septuagint (LXX)
  15. ^ Geikie's Hours with the Bible, ii., 390.
  16. ^ Mobley, Gregory (2012). The Return of the Chaos Monsters: And Other Backstories of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 978-0-8028-3746-2. 
  17. ^ Joshua ben Nun
  18. ^ Assis, Elie. The Choice to Serve God and Assist His People: Rahab and Yael, Biblica 85 (2004), pp 82-90
  19. ^ Baskin, Judith. The Rabbinic Transformations of Rahab the Harlot, Notre Dame English Journal 11.2 (1979), pp 141-57
  20. ^ William L. Lyons, William L., " Rahab through the Ages: A Study of Christian Interpretation of Rahab ," Society of Biblical Literature Forum, July 2008
  21. ^ R. K. Phillips, Rahab and Ruth, Who Were They?.
  22. ^ Coogan, A Brief Introduction To The Old Testament, Pg 162-164

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainEaston, Matthew George (1897). "Rahab". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.