Who was Rahab, what was her significance to the Hebrew narrative, and what does her story tell about the character of the protagonist?

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Reading through Joshua this week, a blog topic practically jumped off the page! The passage that initially struck my interest was Joshua 2:1, “Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.” So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there”. Having heard this story many times, I was pretty familiar with the character of Rahab. My familiarity was very one-sided. Growing up in the “Bible belt”, I was only taught the surface of this story. Looking at the Bible from a literary perspective made this passage full of potential questions. Who was Rahab? What was her significance to the Hebrew narrative as a whole? What do the authors want the reader to understand about the protagonist from her story?

The first question was the easiest to answer. From the text we know that she had family within the city, but we do not no anything else about them except that they will be spared because of Rahab’s courage. Her home was within the outer wall of Jericho and this location will be the eventual sanctuary for the spies of Yahweh. The most notable characteristic of this woman, however, is her job. As a major helper in the advancement of God’s chosen people, one would assume she has a very respectable job. Nope. She’s a prostitute, a harlot, a lady of the evening. The words prostitute and harlot have a very negative connotation. Biblegateway.com states that, “Three times over Rahab is referred to as “the harlot,” and the Hebrew term zoonah and the Greek word porne have at no time meant anything else but “harlot”—a woman who yields herself indiscriminately to every man approaching her”. (biblegateway.com) However, according to Jerold Aust of UCG.org, Halley’s Bible Handbook suggests she may have been a temple prostitute, which in Canaanite eyes was an acceptable line of work (2000, p. 190)“(UCG.org)  Maybe her job’s negative connotation was dependent on the cultural perspective you ascribe to. Aust goes on to say that, “Besides her infamous profession, it appears that Rahab engaged in less-questionable labor as well. Either raising or buying flax, she dried it on her rooftop and made linen from it”.(UCG.org) Aust helps the reader see a possible alternative lifestyle for Rahab. It is possible, that within her own culture, she was a perfectly respectable woman of the day. Either way, this woman risks her life to hide and aid the Israelite spies and even goes on to become a wife to one of them and it from her line that Jesus Christ will eventually come.

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So,what is this woman’s significance? How can this woman, especially a prostitute, be mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ? In our society it’s not odd to read a woman’s name in a genealogy. In fact, I normally read right over it without giving it a second thought; until now. Looking at this idea from a literary perspective, you have to understand the role of women in that culture. According to Judith Baskin of myjewishlearning.com, the, “woman is a subsequent and secondary creation, formed from man’s body to fulfill male needs for companionship and progeny“.(myjewishlearning.com) The authors at Bible-history.com go a bit further and state, “In ancient Israel the Jewish culture was one of the most male dominant cultures in the whole world. In ancient Judaism the woman only had rights in the home and even that was very limited. The man had authority over his wife and daughters establishing their activities and their relationships. Women were passed from the control of her father to the control of her husband with little or no say in the matter. They were sold for a dowry settlement usually when they came of age. The Mishnah taught that a woman was like a gentile slave who could be obtained by intercourse, money or writ (m. Qidd 1:1).(bible-history.com) These two ideas paint a very sad, miserable picture of the ancient role of women for this culture. However, can this all be true if a woman plays such a big role in the narrative?

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The answers to this question, I believe, are what the author is trying to point out with this episode. I believe the author is trying to show not only the future generations but current ones that women were important. Rahab’s story is significant to the narrative and culture of these people as a whole because it illustrates that women can be used by Yahweh for more than childbearing and keeping the house. Another thing the author shows us here is a deeper look into the nature of the protagonist. By using not only a woman, but a sinful woman, we see that Yahweh can use and transform anyone. Rahab shows the Hebrew people and eventually the Christian people that the protagonist can work through anyone. We see this same idea in Moses. He did not believe that he was worthy or even capable of being Yahweh’s messenger to Pharaoh. The protagonist, however, pushed him and he became one of the most prominent figures in the Old Testament. Essentially, Rahab is the female counterpart to this idea.

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In conclusion, Rahab’s mentioning is very significant to the Hebrew narrative. Firstly, she is significant because she shows that women can be used as integral pieces of Yahweh’s plan. Secondly, she is important because not only shows women can be used, but that sinful women can be used. Her being a sinful woman, gives way to the notion that ANYONE can be used by the protagonist. In a male dominated culture, especially one so focused on being holy and obedient to Yahweh, Rahab is essentially the worst of the worst and it is from her line that Jesus Christ himself is born.

 

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