Pageviews last month

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Was Rachab a Harlot?

Was Rahab Really a Harlot?

So asks the title of an article in the September-October issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.  But that's not the real issue--it's just a catch phrase. The real questions about Rahab may not be any easier to answer, but they're of much more significance to the scholastic disciplines of biblical inerrancy and translation.

The first question to be answered, I suppose, is the most basic: was Rahab an actual historical figure? Bible skeptics, who don't believe that Joshua even conquered the city of Jericho--despite all agreeing that a particular mound of rubble along the lower Jordan is in fact the city of Jericho that Joshua didn't destroy--will of course say 'no.' But even for those who take Scripture at its word, questions remain as to Rahab's identity.

For example, was there just one Rahab, or two? Because the bewildering variety of ways in which Rahab is referenced in the hagiographic literature could point to distinct personalities.

There is the Rahab of Joshua chapters two and six. She treasonously protected the two Israelite spies in exchange for protection when Israel destroyed her city. She has quite an entry in Jewish hagiography, going on to marry Joshua himself and becoming the ancestress of at least nine notable Judeans.

On the other hand, the more ancient tradition of Rahab as the wife of Salmon and ancestress of Boaz (and thus eventually of the entire Davidic line right down to Jesus the Messiah) comes from the Christian scriptures--which nonetheless hold out the possibilities of two distinct individuals, Rachab in Matthew 1:5 (spelled Ῥαχάβ) as the mother of Boaz, and Rahab in Hebrew and James where she is identified quite unambiguously as   Ῥαὰβ πόρνη, or Rahab the Harlot.

In either case, there has been cultural pressure to redeem Rahab's occupation, first suggested in the turn-of-the-era Targums, which used a cognate Aramaic word that meant 'feeder' (and thus translated 'innkeeper,' for example by Josephus) rather than the original Hebrew word which has always been translated 'prostitute.'

Germane to that point is the question of Rahab's husband: if she didn't have one, it would definitely strengthen the case for her being a prostitute, as no unmarried woman of good repute would have put up men in her own home.  As it turns out, the book of Joshua does mention her family members, rather specifically in fact. And here, once again, we run up against the translation philosophy of the NIV's Committee for Bible Translation--whether for good or ill, remains to be demonstrated.

Joshua 2:12-13 "Swear unto me by the LORD, since I have shewed you kindness, that ye will also shew kindness unto my father's house, And that ye will save alive my father, and my mother, and my brethren, and my sisters, and all that they have, and deliver our lives from death"  --KJV

 Joshua 2:12-13 "Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you, 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" --NIV

Now, there are two noticeable differences between the KJV and the NIV here, and they both relate to the identity of those who Rabab is requesting to be spared.

1. "my father's house" v. "my family."  The English term "my family" is rather ambiguous. It can refer to either of two subsets, or to both, along with an even larger circle of extended family.  "My father's house," on the other hand, specifies only a single lineage and their spouses.  Inasmuch as Rahab goes on to delineate exactly who is in her father's house, the NIV's ambiguity here is as harmless as it goes. But the harm starts as soon as we get to the list of relatives, because the testimony here is far from unanimous.

2. "all that they have" v. "all who belong to them."  This is a question of translation--whether 'all' should be taken as neuter or masculine plural. Inasmuch as both the Codex Vaticanus copy of Joshua and the NKJV translate it as neuter (all the things that they have), one would think this to be a legitimate translation. But the exact same phrase is found in the Hebrew of 6:17, where there didn't appear to be any question (except to the LXX, who at least were consistent here) that those saved were people, not things. [CORRECTION: the word πάντα  appears to be a form shared by the masculine singular and neuter plural declensions in the accusative, so that the Greek would be ambiguous as to 'all things' or 'all people' where it refers to Rahab in the book of Joshua.]

So, if you're keeping score in the NIV's attempt to improve on the KJV, we have one win, one draw. And on this score, the New KJV doesn't come out any better than the Old. But what about the gender sensitivity question?

As we have seen elsewhere in our study of the NNIV, the CBT doesn't seem to know quite what to do with lists of relatives that include 'brothers and sisters' in the original. It doesn't sit very well with their firm belief that 'brothers' always really means 'brothers and sisters. But whether they intended to or not, they did miss a great chance improve significantly on the KJV, by taking into account the existence of polygamy in the Ancient Near East.

You see, the way the KJV reads, "my father's house" would include Rahab's father and all his wives, along with all their children--whether or not 'all that they have' ended up being translated as neuter (things) or masculine (people). But the NIV's "my family" wouldn't. One of Today's Young People does not think of his half-sibling's other parent as belonging to "my family."  And by putting "all who belong to them" at the end of the list of relatives, it's not at all obvious that the CBT intended to include any of Rahab's stepmothers.

6: 17  "only Rahab the harlot shall live, she and all that are with her in the house"  --KJV

6:17  "Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall be spared"--NIV

Here is another question, one that could be either textual or translational (but only in the case of a really loose translation like the NIV). Clearly, the Hebrew reads "in the house" and the Vaticanus Greek reads "in her house."  Since the house in question was already identified as hers back in 2:1 and 19, it's a simple paraphrase to call it "her house" here, and that is apparently what the LXX did to set the example for future translators. We could maybe even be magnanimous here, and say that the literal meaning of 'at home to her' could well be accurately translated as "in with her in her house."

There's just a couple more verses to look at, and then we're done.

2:18 "thou shalt bring thy father, and thy mother, and thy brethren, and all thy father's household, home unto thee."  --KJV

2:18 "unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house" --NIV

Oh ho ho, suddenly the CBT doesn't feel a need to translate "brothers" as "brothers and sisters," even though the same loose approach to translation by which they translate "the house" as "your house" would demand it!  Is is that they are subtly trying to hide the elephant in the room, Rahab's stepmothers? Because, by leaving out specific mention of the sisters just this one time, they leave the impression that "all your family" encompasses them categorically (whilst rejecting, virtually every other place it occurs, the idea that 'brothers' could also encompass sisters categorically).  But, like so many writers of historical fiction, they are transplanting their modern (at least as of 1967) idea of what constitutes a 'family' back to a different time and place, where Rahab knew full well that her hypothetical stepmothers were part of her father's household, but wouldn't necessarily have considered them part of her 'family.'  And in so doing, they also skillfully disguise the obvious non-existence of Rahab's husband. He sneaks in under the guise of being a part of HER family, when in fact it was only her FATHER's family, which would not have included her husband, that was delivered. Thus they join a long line of theologians trying to salvage Rahab's reputation by concealing the obvious nature of her occupation.

There's one other note to make here: there's a textual problem in verse 13--the Masoretic Text reads 'sister,' but the Masoretes had a footnote reading 'sisters.' Codex Vaticanus left out the word entirely, probably indicating either that the original Hebrew was using 'brothers' collectively, or that the LXX did when they translated it. No one seems to think that Rahab had only one sister living in her father's house, although that is entirely within the realm of possibility, her married sisters not having been included in her father's household.

6:24-25 "And they burnt the city with fire, and all that was therein: only the silver, and the gold, and the vessels of brass and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD.
And Joshua saved Rahab the harlot alive, and her father's household, and all that she had; and she dwelleth in Israel even unto this day; because she hid the messengers, which Joshua sent to spy out Jericho." --KJV

6:24-25  "Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD's house. But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho--and she lives among the Israelites to this day." --NIV

Now, there are other members of Rahab's father's household who are less hypothetical: the slaves. Rahab's house was in a strategic location, built into the city wall so that her customers could come and go discreetly after the city gates were locked (an obvious choice, then, for the spies--who needed just such an accommodation).  It's commonly known in the business that prostitutes don't function as proprietors, but are always under the patronage of a pimp, to whom they remit the lion's share of their income. It would appear that Rahab's profession was one chosen by her father, who was wealthy enough to set her up for business in the prime location of the city. Ergo, he must have also owned slaves--some of whom no doubt served as her associates. In fact, there's a good chance that they did all the dirty work for her, and that her position was more of a madam rather than a streetwalker. Because whether you follow the Talmud or Matthew 1:5 in fitting Rahab further into Jewish history, she clearly married into the upper class of Jewish society.

Okay, despite the inconsistencies of the KJV and the ambiguities of the NIV, I think we can finally come up with a list of the people who were eligible to escape total destruction by taking refuge in Rahab's house of prostitution (fortunately for them, it must have had a large capacity):

- Rahab, the proprietress
- Rahab's two parents
- Everyone who lived in Rahab's house (basically, her trafficked humans)
- Everyone who lived in Rahab's father's home compound (including his slaves and his married sons' families)

Of course, as in the case of Lot's deliverance from Sodom, only those who actually chose to take refuge escaped destruction. It appears from the text that, this time, nobody turned down the offer.

One more note on the 'things' versus 'people' question. Since all the riches of Jericho were to be devoted to utter destruction (witness the problem Achan got himself into when he couldn't bear to see some of those riches go to waste), it is germane to the question whether Rahab got to keep all of her wealth, or was spared with her life only, and those of her father's house. It appears obvious, if not from the text then from the context, that Rahab was spared not only her people, but also all their goods. This certainly would have made her more attractive as a potential wife to Salmon, prince of Judah. This reminds of of our post on Genesis 12:5, where there also appear to be used an expression which encompasses both all of one's goods, and all of one's people.

No comments:

Post a Comment

One comment per viewer, please--unless participating in a dialogue.