All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


RAHAB (Heb. רָחָב), the prostitute (Heb. zonah – see below), mentioned in the Book of Joshua as a central figure in Joshua's conquest of Jericho (Josh. 2–6). When Joshua sent two of his men to Jericho on a reconnaissance mission, they came to the house of Rahab and spent the night there (2:1–2). When the king of Jericho learned about the two spies, he sent word to Rahab ordering her to surrender them (2:3). However, she hid them on the roof under stalks of flax, and declared that they had already left (2:4–6). In return for the kindness that she had shown them and her promise to keep the entire affair confidential, the spies took an oath that she and her family would be spared when Joshua conquered the land (2:12–14). They further stipulated that when the conquest began, she was to gather her entire family into her home and bind a cord of crimson thread in the window, which would serve to identify her house (2:17–21). This cord of crimson thread was the same one which had been used to let the spies down through the window when they left Rahab's house (2:18). Rahab did as she was bidden, and so when Joshua did conquer the land, she and her entire family were saved (6:22–23, 25). After the total destruction of Jericho, it is stated that Rahab and her family elected to reside with the Israelites, who accepted her into their camp (6:25).

There are two somewhat conflicting Jewish traditions concerning Rahab's profession and later life among the Israelites. The first (e.g., Meg. 14b; Ginzberg, Legends, 4 (1954), 5–8) maintains that she married Joshua after becoming a proselyte, and became the ancestress of eight prophets and priests among whom were the prophet Jeremiah and the prophetess Huldah. According to this tradition, the fact that a proselyte and former prostitute could achieve such a name for herself in the annals of Jewish history proved that repentance can work salvation for anyone no matter how great his past sins. The second tradition contends that Rahab was not a prostitute at all but an innkeeper. This tradition (e.g., Rashi on Josh. 2:1) is based on the Targum's rendering of zonah as pundekita (pundeqita), the assumption being that this word means, like pundakit (pundaqit) in Hebrew, "hostess, innkeeper," and the derivation of the word zonah (normally "prostitute") from the same stem as mazon (מָזוֹן, "food"). If Rahab had been merely an innkeeper, then the shame of considering a former prostitute to be the ancestress of some of Israel's most important figures would cease to be a problem. However, as first noted by Kimḥi (on Josh. 2:1), the adherents of this theory simply misunderstood the Targum, for the Targum to the Prophets in various passages also renders zonah by pundeqētā, plural pundeqāyān or pundeqā'ān (e.g., i Kings 3:16; Ezek. 23:44), in which it cannot possibly have been understood to mean anything but "prostitute." Therefore, the Targum's rendering of Hebrew "prostitute" with Aramaic "innkeeper" is to be understood either as a euphemism or as an intended double entendre, implying that there is a connection between bars or inns and prostitutes.

[Chayim Cohen]

In the Aggadah

Rahab was one of the four most beautiful women in history. The mere mention of her name sufficed to excite desire (Meg. 15a). At the age of ten Rahab became a prostitute. There was not a prince or ruler who did not have relations with her. Because of this, she was well informed about events outside of Jericho (Zeb. 116b). Rahab became a righteous proselyte and married Joshua. She was the ancestress of eight prophets, among them Jeremiah, who were also priests, and of the prophetess Huldah (Meg. 14b). Her conversion is regarded as more complete than that of Jethro and Naaman for, unlike them, she acknowledged that the God of Israel is the only God both in heaven and on earth (Deut. R. 2:26–27).


Y. Kaufmann, Sefer Yehoshu'a (1959). in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index.