[b-hebrew] Rahab's Guests

Charles David Isbell cisbell at cox.net
Mon Jul 14 16:52:09 EDT 2003

I assume the five women in the genealogy of Jesus would be [1] Tamar; [2]
Rahab; [3] Ruth; [4] Bat Sheva (not actually named, but referred to in 1.6
as wife of Uriah); [5] Mary. Is this correct?
Yigal already noted the double-sided Rabbinic view of Rahab, on the one hand
a righteous convert who married Joshua and entered into the line of
Jeremiah, Huldah, inter alia; but on the other hand a troubling person
because of her former profession.
But I find two things interesting. First, the sexual aspect is not only not
troubling to the first idea, but is used to explain how she came to be a
convert more righteous than even Jethro or Naaman [see here Deut Rabbah
2.26-27]. Here, the fact that she was a prostitute for the entire forty year
wilderness era and had relations with so many men explains how she KNEW all
the reports of YHWH that she recounts for the spies in Joshua two. "She was
ten years old when the Israelites departed from Egypt, and she played the
harlot the whole of the forty years spent by the Israelites in the
wilderness. At the age of fifty she became a proselyte. Said she: May I be
forgiven as a reward for the cord, window, and flax" [Zev 116b]. In other
words, as an international prostitute, she was up to date on current
international affairs [pun intended].
But the second aspect involves the common thread among the five women in
Matthew one. While all except Rahab are directly connected with David, only
two are connected with prostitution. Ruth was a widow acting on the advice
of her mother-in-law, and although she surely used sex for her proposal to
Boaz, there is no hint that she did it for money, but for an acceptable
levirate deal. Bat Sheva was married, and although the Rabbis try to clean
up her act by saying that Uriah had divorced her before going off to battle
[let's not get into that can of worms!], and the Chronicler omits any hint
of doing the nasty with David, even the Samuel account has her more a silent
victim than a bad girl. She only gets pushy when it is time to oust Adoniyah
in favor of Solomon [1 Kgs]. So I don't think it automatically follows that
Mary is involved in anything like prostitution or harlotry.
That does leave the question of the commonality among the famous five,
however. I would ask two questions. First, is the fact that a woman is named
at all in a line like this not quite a statement in itself? Second, is not
the "foreign" element important? I don't think Tamar has a foreign
background, but Rahab and Ruth surely do, and Bat Sheva may, as the wife of
a "Hittite" could indicate that she too was Hittite. In other words, could
the inclusion of these women serve to indicate the otherwise attested
openness of Jesus to women and foreigners? I know this is strictly a NT
issue, but I think it flows directly out of the narratives dealing with
"interesting" women in the Bible.
P.S. May I immodestly mention my article, "Nice Jewish Girls: Liquor, Sex
and Power in Antiquity," Forthcoming [this Winter] in Proceedings of the
Fourteenth Annual Klutznick-Harris Symposium: Women in Judaism, Leonard J.
Greenspoon and Ronald A. Simkins, eds. (Studies in Jewish Civilization 14;
Omaha: Creighton University Press). Here I discuss the daughters of Lot,
Ruth, Esther, and Judith.

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