Studies in Bible and Feminist Criticism

By Tikva Frymer-Kensky | Go to book overview

14 / Reading Rahab

1997

As we study a biblical story that is often simple on its surface, it opens like a rose to reveal complexities and significance unhinted at on the surface. I am delighted to dedicate this reading to Moshe Greenberg, who taught us to lift our eyes from the word and the verse and to look at biblical texts as coherent literary units.

The historical books of the Bible open with the story of Rahab, the prostitute who saved the Israelite spies trapped in Jericho. On the surface, this is a charming story of a familiar antitype in folklore, the prostitute-with-the-heart-of-gold. This biblical Suzie Wong is helpful to the spies, has close ties with her family, and has faith in God's might. But the charm does not explain its prominence as the first of the conquest stories, strongly associated with the triumphal entry into the land. Its importance begins to become clearer as we take a careful look at the way the story is constructed. It begins and ends with a frame: the charge that Joshua gives the two men that he is sending on a reconnaissance mission and their report to him. He tells them to “go and see the land and Jericho” (Josh 2:1), and they return to declare, “God has given the land into our hands; all the inhabitants are melting away before us” (Josh 2:24).l Neither we nor the spies are given more information. Joshua doesn't charge the men to discover the defenses, and they do not gather any military information. In the next “spy story,” when Joshua sends men to Ai (Josh 7:2–4), he makes it clear that the men are to 'spy,' using the key word *rgl, a technical term also used in the later story of the Danite spies at Laish (Judg 18:2–11). Yet another “spy story” in the Deuteronomistic History uses a separate technical term *tûr, 'to scout,' the term used in one of the biblical stories that is a direct “intertext” to our story: Moses' sending of the spies to scout the land in Numbers 13.

The Rahab story is a masterpiece of allusive writing. It is set in the first five chapters of the Book of Joshua, which contain numerous

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