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Rahab of Jericho

Rahab, (Heb. רחב rachav; i.e., "broad," "large", Greek: Ῥαχάβ or Ῥαάβ) was, according to the book of Joshua, a woman who lived in the city of Jericho in the Promised Land and originally worked as a prostitute.


In Jericho, a prostitute, also known as a harlot, (Biblical commentator Rashi claims she was a food saleswoman) named Rahab assisted Israelite spies by hiding them from the local authorities. The spies, in return for her protection, promised to save her and her family during the planned military invasion as long as she fulfilled her part of the deal by keeping the details of the contact with them secret and leaving a sign on her residence that would be a marker for the advancing soldiers to avoid. She kept her word by hiding the spies when the city guard came to her house looking for them; the Israelites kept their word by sparing her family from the general massacre after taking the city: they recognized Rahab's house by a red cord hanging from her window. After the people of Israel conquered Canaan, she left prostitution, joined the Jewish people, and became a respectable married woman. She is the subject of a discussion in one section of the Talmud.

In the Old Testament

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.

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 fact of her covering the spies with bundles of flax which lay on her house-roof (Joshua 2:6) is an 'undesigned coincidence' which strictly corroborates the narrative. 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". [1]

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 up to the 19th century: a city that fell after a prolonged siege was commonly subjected to a massacre.)

Rahab is curious ethically: not only did she follow a profession that is deprecated in Judaic Law—although not totally condemned—but she has mixed allegiance: she betrays her own city (which may or may not be ruled by a tyrant); and she buys favorable treatment for her own family by doing so. By this act, she gains a place of honor in Scripture.

Josephus refers to Rahab as an Innkeeper and makes no mention of her being a harlot and some scholars argue that we really don't know if she was a harlot or not. Her behavior and closeness to her father's family seem to indicate that she may not have been a Harlot.

In the New Testament

Rahab is also mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as one of the ancestors of Jesus. 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. Subsequent mentions are as an example of a person of faith (Hebrews 11:31) and good works (James 2:25).

In other places

Rahab identified her house with a scarlet cord. According to some, this was later adapted by prostitutes to become a red light that was placed at their windows to indicate the nature of their business to potential customers.

In the Talmud (Ta'anit 5b) it is related that Rahab could cause men to ejaculate by the mere mention of her name.[2]

Some Christian scholars have theorized that the Rahab described in Joshua is not the same person as the Rahab mentioned in Jesus's genealogy. This is based on linguistic and textual evidence.[3] Jewish legends claim 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 who married Salmon was ancestress to King David, all the kings of Judah, and Jesus.

Rahab is also the name of a sea-demon and, connected with this, a poetical name applied to Egypt in Psalm 87:4, Psalm 89:10 and Isaiah 51:9, signifying "the proud one."

In fiction

  • Burton, Anne. Rahab's Story. ISBN 0-451-21628-8; a fictionalized account of Rahab's early life and meeting with the Hebrew spies, Book 2 in Burton's "Women of the Bible" series.
  • Morris, Gilbert. "Daughter of Deliverance". ISBN 0764229214; fictional account of Rahab's heroic act and later life among the Hebrews. Book 6 of "Lions of Judah" Series.
  • Rahab appears as a character in Robert A. Heinlein's 1984 novel Job: A Comedy of Justice.
  • Rahab is described as a 10-year old harlot in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita.
  • Rahab is depicted as a virtuous soul (in The Third Circle of Heaven) in The Divine Comedy of Dante (Paradiso 9.112 ff.)

See also

  • Hooker with a heart of gold
  • Red light district


  1. Geikie's Hours with the Bible, ii., 390.
  2. Burton L. Visotzky, Fathers of the world, Mohr Siebeck, 1995, page 109
  3. R. K. Phillips, Rahab and Ruth, Who Were They?.

External links

This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

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