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Rahab, (//; Hebrew: רָחָב, Modern Raẖav Tiberian Rāḥāḇ ; "broad," "large"; Greek: Ῥαάβ) was, according to the Book of Joshua, a woman who lived in Jericho in the Promised Land and assisted the Israelites in capturing the city. Nearly all English translations of Joshua describe her as a harlot or prostitute.
The medieval Jewish commentator Rashi claims she was a food-seller in the market in Jericho. 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. 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.
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".
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.
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".
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.)
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. Some Christian scholars have theorized that the Rahab described in Joshua is not the same person as the Rahab mentioned in Jesus' genealogy. This is based on linguistic and textual evidence. The Jewish Talmud states that Rahab of Jericho married Joshua Bin Nun, a descendant of Joseph. For Christians, this can also be seen as an argument against her being the same Rahab in the Matthean genealogy - unless she married twice, to two different Israelite leaders of different tribes. This is possible, but not very likely (see Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews). Rahab who married Joshua was ancestress to Huldah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and other prophetesses and prophets. Rahab (Ῥαχάβ - no Ῥαάβ with Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25) who married Salmon was ancestress to King David, all the kings of Judah, and Jesus.
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.
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)
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