Rahab, 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 named Rahab assisted Israelite spies. The spies, in return for the information, 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 keeps her word by hiding the spies when the city guard came to her house looking for them; they kept their word by sparing her family after taking the city. When the people of Israel conquered Canaan she left prostitution, joined the Jewish people and became an honorable married woman. She is the subject of a discussion in one section of the Talmud.
According to the book of Joshua, 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 dangling a red cord out the window.
The soldiers sent to capture the spies asked Rahab to bring out the spies . This is in strict keeping with Eastern manners, which would not permit any man to enter a woman's house without her permission.
Rahab told the spies :
The fact of her covering the spies with bundles of flax which lay on her house-roof 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".
When the city of Jericho fell, Rahab and her whole family were preserved according to the promise of the spies, and were incorporated among the Jewish people. (In antiquity, as well as the Middle Ages, 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.
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 and good works .
According to Jewish tradition, she was married to Joshua himself after the siege of Jericho.
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.
Some 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. Jewish legends claim that Rahab of Jericho married Joshua Bin Nun, a descendant of Joseph. 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 , and, signifying "the proud one."
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