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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]

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 CE 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 the Hebrew Scriptures[edit]

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

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. When soldiers of the city guard came to look for them, she hid them under bundles of flax on the roof. 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".[15]

The soldiers sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring out the spies (Joshua 2:3). This is in strict keeping with Eastern customs, which would not permit any man to enter a woman's house without her permission.[citation needed]

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.

The point wherein she covers the spies with bundles of flax which lay on her house-roof (Joshua 2:6) is an "undesigned coincidence" which is supposed to validate the narrative.[clarification needed] 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".[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 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. 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[17] The Jewish Talmud states that Rahab of Jericho married Joshua bin Nun, a descendant of Joseph[citation needed]. 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)[18]

In fiction[edit]

See also[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. ^ 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. 
  16. ^ Geikie's Hours with the Bible, ii., 390.
  17. ^ R. K. Phillips, Rahab and Ruth, Who Were They?.
  18. ^ 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). "article name needed". Easton's Bible Dictionary (New and revised ed.). T. Nelson and Sons.