[b-hebrew] Rahab's Guests

Jim West jwest at highland.net
Mon Jul 14 17:22:27 EDT 2003

At 03:52 PM 7/14/03 -0500, you wrote:
>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?

Yes it is.

>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].

Thanks for the rabbinic material- very interesting indeed.

>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. 

She used deception as well, and thus has at best a tainted personality and
indeed uses her sexuality to get her a man (as we say in the South).

>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. 

What's she doing on the roof?  Why no protest of force?  Just because its
the king?  If so, so power can truly make even the best folk corrupt.

>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.

She is an unwed mother.  Joseph is set to divorce her.  He doesnt only
because of divine intervention.

>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? 

Indeed- and now we approach Matthew's purpose, which in my mind is quite
simple- if God can use these morally questionable women... who can he not use?
(See the end of the Gospel... the so called great commission- i see the two
episodes- that is the ancestor list and the commission as brackets- forming
an inclusio...)

>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.

I agree.  Foreign, of doubtful morality, etc.  Foreign in fact often denotes
uncleanness in biblical texts.

> 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.

I agree.

>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.

could I be so bold as to request an offprint?



Jim West
Quartz Hill School of Theology
Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies

Biblical Studies Resources

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