Rahab is a citizen of Jericho who lives by prostitution. Her story is told in Joshua 2 and Joshua 6. The Israelite spies sent by Joshua to spy out the land come to her house and she agrees to hide them and protect them when the king of Jericho discovers their presence. In a humorous moment, Rahab hides the spies under the thatch on her roof and then tells the king’s men the spies have gone but they might still catch them up if they hurry. Rahab then sends the spies on their way having first obtained a promise of protection for herself and her family since “I know that the LORD has given you the land” (Josh 2:9). Rahab and her family are able to live among the people of Israel when they come into the land (Josh 6:25).
Rahab is portrayed in the Old Testament narrative as having more faith than the spies, since she is willing to risk her life on the triumph of YHWH. This faith is further emphasised, as Frymer-Kensky argues, by the use of “covenant” language in her speech, such as “deal kindly” in 2:12 (Frymer-Kensky 214).
Rahab in the New Testament
The New Testament also cites her as one of the exemplars of faith (Heb 11:31) and doing right (Jas 2:25), as well as an ancestor of Jesus (Matt 1:5).
It remains striking that someone so much on the “outside” – literally, since her house is on the walls, and figuratively since she is a Canaanite and a prostitute – should be someone remembered with honour in the traditions of biblical Israel’s story.
Frymer-Kensky, T. “Reading Rahab.” Pages 209-24 in Studies in Biblical and Feminist Criticism. JPS Scholar of Distinction Series. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2006.