Rahab is a literary character in the book of Joshua, the first of the four books of the Deuteronomistic History. According to most scholars, Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, and 1-2 Kings were edited into a coherent story intended to advance the themes of the book of Deuteronomy, particularly the claim that Israel’s fate depends on worshipping Yahweh alone.
Over the centuries, interpreters have debated what Rahab’s profession really was. Josephus describes her as an innkeeper, explaining “prostitute” as a slur. Based on her ownership of the house, some have viewed her as “madam,” managing rather than personally providing sexual services; claims that she ran a linen business are based on the story’s reference to flax stalks on her roof (
Rahab’s status as a prostitute helps dramatize the story’s deuteronomistic message. She is not only a Canaanite, marked for annihilation (
Allusions to the exodus story further elevate her status as savior of God’s people: her speech echoes the Song of Miriam (
Most later Jewish and Christian traditions have continued to read Rahab’s story with the deuteronomistic grain, praising her faith and bravery (
When the story is read against the grain, however, Rahab becomes a more ambiguous character. She betrays king and country in order to save self and family, and her confession of faith may be less pious than strategic, providing the spies with the story Joshua needs to hear (in
- Bird, Phyllis A. “The Harlot as Heroine: Narrative Art and Social Presumption in Three Old Testament Texts.” Semeia 46 (1989):119–39.
- Frymer-Kensky, Tivka. “Rahab.” Pages 140–41 in Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament. Edited by Carol Meyers and Toni Craven. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001.
- Robertson, Amy H. C. “Rahab and Her Interpreters.” Pages 109–12 in Women’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Carol Newsom, Sharon Ringe, and Jacqueline Lapsley. 3rd ed. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2012.