Rahab the Harlot

Why was Rahab described as a harlot in the book of Joshua?

We are not entirely sure, I suppose it depends upon who gave her that title.

Let's look at the occupation of Rahab:

Joshua 2:1
And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there.

She hid the two Israily spies amongst bolts of flax.

Joshua 2:6
But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof.

(She had enough flax (fabric) to hide the spies.)

Other Bible verses that mention Rahab the Harlot

Hebrews 11:30-31
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.

31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

James 2:24-26
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.

For additional information about Rahab we turned to Josephus, The Complete Works. Although this is not a holy scripture we are not trying to change anyone's faith, just to fill in some gaps about a person's life which falls into the realm of history quite nicely.

The Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.2
Now when he had pitched his camp, the spies came to him immediately, well acquainted with the whole state of the Canaanites, for at first, before they were at all discovered, they took a full view of the city of Jericho without disturbance, and saw which parts of the walls were strong, and which parts were otherwise, and indeed insecure, and which of the gates were so weak as might afford an entrance to their army.

2.6 Now those that met them took no notice of them when they saw them, and supposed they were only strangers, who used to be very curious in observing everything in the city, and did not take them for enemies;

2.7 but at even they retired to a certain inn that was near to the wall, whither they went to eat their supper; which supper when they had done,

2.8 and were considering how to get away, information was given to the king as he was at supper, that there were some persons come from the Hebrews' camp to view the city as spies, and that they were in the inn kept by Rahab, and were very solicitous that they might not be discovered. So he sent immediately some to them, and commanded to catch them, and bring them to him, that he might examine them by torture, and learn what their business was there.

2.9 As soon as Rahab understood that these messengers were coming, she hid the spies under stalks of flax, which were laid to dry on the top of her house; and said to the messengers that were sent by the king, that certain unknown strangers had supped with her a little before sunsetting, and were gone away, who might easily be taken, if they were any terror to the city, or likely to bring any danger to the king.

2.10 So these messengers being thus deluded by the woman, and suspecting no imposition, went their ways, without so much as searching the inn; but they immediately pursued them along those roads which they most probably supposed them to have gone, and those particularly which led to the river, but could hear no tidings of them; so they left off pay pains of any further pursuit.

2.11 but when the tumult was over, Rahab brought the men down, and desired them as they should have obtained possession of the land of Canaan, when it would be in their power to make her amends for her preservation of them, to remember what danger she had undergone for their sakes; for that if she had been caught concealing them, she could not have escaped a terrible destruction, she and all her family with her, and so bid them go home;

2.12 and desired them to swear to her to preserve her and her family when they should take the city and destroy all its inhabitants, as they had decreed to do; for so far she said she had been assured by those divine miracles of which she had been informed.

2.13 So these spies acknowledged that they owed her thanks for what she had done already, and withal swore to requite her kindness, not only in words, but in deeds; but they gave her this advice, That when she should perceive that the city was about to be taken, she should put her goods, and all her family, by way of security, in her inn, and to hang out scarlet threads before her doors [or windows], that the commander of the Hebrews might know her house, and take care to do her no harm;

2.14 "for," said they, "we will inform him of this matter, because of the concern thou hast had to preserve us; but if any one of thy family fall in the battle, do not thou blame us; and we beseech that God, by whom we have sworn, not then to be displeased with us, as though we had broken our oaths."

2.15 So these men, when they had made this agreement, went away, letting themselves down by a rope from the wall, and escaped, and came and told their own people whatsoever they had done in their journey to this city. Joshua also told Eleazar the high priest, and the senate, what the spies had sworn to Rahab; who confirmed what had been sworn.

Conclusion: It is our considered opinion, based upon what we have read in the Bible and in the Writings of Josephus that Rahab made fine clothing (the reason for all the flax that she had on her roof, enough to hide the two spies in). Her customers, often having to travel long distances to purchase her fine linen needed to be put up. Rahab also ran a inn, and she often put her clients up in her inn. Why did people of that time label a successful business woman "a harlot?" Maybe her business did better than their business.

Note from the bottom of the page:

It plainly appears by the history of these spies, and the innkeeper Rahab's deception of the king of Jericho's messengers, by telling them what was false, in order to save the lives of the spies, and yet the great commendation of her faith and good works in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), as well as by many other parallel examples, both in the Old Testament and in Josephus, that the best men did not then scruple to deceive those public enemies who might justly be destroyed; as also might deceive ill men in order to save life, and deliver themselves from the tyranny of their unjust oppressors, and this by telling direct falsehoods; I mean, all this where no oath was demanded of them, otherwise they never durst venture on such a procedure. Nor was Josephus himself of any other opinion or practice, as I shall remark in the note on Antiq. 9.4.3. And observe, that I still call this woman Rahab, an innkeeper, not a harlot; the whole history, both in our copies, and especially in Josephus, implying no more. It was indeed so frequent a thing that woman who were innkeepers were also harlots, or maintainers of harlots, that the word commonly used for real harlots was usually given them. See Dr. Bernard's not here, and Judg. 11.1; and Antiq. 5.7.8. (only Bible references have been linked here).

This information was taken from
The Complete Works

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