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This Saturday's Torah reading is Shelach Lechah, Numbers chapter 13 through 15, telling the story of how Moses sent spies into the Land of Canaan scout out the territory.  The Haftarah, Joshua chapter 2, continues the espionage motif, telling of a couple of spies sent into the city of Jericho.  

So naturally, I'm going to start off in the Book of Matthew.

Yes, this is what you get when you have a Lutheran expound upon the Torah.  Don't worry.  It will make sense.

The Gospel of Matthew starts out with a lengthy geneology of Jesus, tracing his line back to Abraham.  It seems likely that the author of Matthew was writing for a predominantly Jewish audience, because he frequently connects events from the Gospel narrative to prophecies in Scripture.  As a kid, I found the geneology in Matthew chapter 1 both boring, (there are a awful lot of "begats" in there) and fascinating, (trying to pick out the names I recognized from Sunday School).

The geneology, not surprisingly, is mostly a male one, with Fathers begetting Sons begetting more Sons after that unto the umpteenth generation.  But the author of Matthew does pick out four women to mention in the lineage of Christ.  And these aren't neccessarily the ones you'd expect.  He makes no mention of Rebekah, or Rachel, or even Sarah the Mother of Nations.  

No, the ones Matthew choses to honor are Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba.  One an adulteress.  One a prostitute.  Two are widows, one of which pretended to be a prostitute.  And all of them foreigners.  Four Inconvenient Women of the Bible, women who don't seem to fit the expectations we have of The Virtuous Woman.

We get Rahab's story in this week's Haftarah, Joshua chapter 2.

Forty years have passed since the Children of Israel paused just outside the Promised Land and Moses sent spies to scout out the Land of Canaan.  The story of the spies' report and how it dismayed the Israelites, and of God's anger at their lack of trust, is told in the main Torah reading for the week.  Now Joshua, one of the original twelve spies and one of the two who gave the land a good report, leads Israel and sends another pair of spies into the city of Jericho.

The spies come to the home of a woman named Rahab, whom the text tells us is a prostitute.  When soldiers show up looking for the spies, Rahab hides them and gives the soldiers a false trail to follow.  She offers to help the spies sneak out of the city and asks them to promise to protect her and her family when the Israelites attack.  

Why did Rahab hide the spies?  Perhaps as prostitute she was considered a social outcast and therefore had little loyalty to the city she lived in.  And I have to admit, the romantic in me likes to think that something happened between her and one of the spies.  That's the way it would work in a James Bond movie.

The reason she gives the spies is a pragmatic one:  she has heard about how the Lord had led the Israelites through the Red Sea and defeated the Amorites, and she recognizes that the people of Israel have divine backing.  In fact, she tells them that the whole city is terrified of their approach, which explains why the king of Jericho has his men searching for spies.

The spies arrange for Rahab to tie a scarlet cord to her window and have it hanging out, so that the Israelites will know which home to spare.  They want to make sure nothing goes wrong.

It didn't occur to me until this reading, but Rahab's scarlet cord parallels the blood the Israelites were commanded to place on their door and lintels the night of the First Passover, so that the Angel of Death would spare their homes.  Which was probably where the spies got the idea.

Thanks to Rahab, the spies make it safely back to their camp and give Joshua their report.  And later on, when the walls come a-tumbling down and the Israelites conquer the city, Joshua honors the vow his men made, and spares Rahab's family.  The text tells us that she lives among the Israelites to this day.

That's the last mention we have of Rahab in Joshua.  According to the geneology in the Book of Matthew, Rahab married Salmon, who was the great-great grandfather of King David.  I don't know where Matthew got that.  The only geneology I can think of covering that period is the one in 1 Chronicles, and that one only traces the male lineage.  Perhaps he was following an oral tradition about Rahab not written down in Scriptures; or perhaps he inserted her into the geneology for other reasons.

She is mentioned two other places in the New Testament.  The author of the Book of Hebrews includes her in the epic chapter listing the heroes of faith in Israel's history (Hebrews 11:31), and the Apostle James cites her as an example of a person whose actions demonstrated her faith (James 2:25).

And who was this heroine of faith?  A harlot and an outsider; but also a loving woman protective of her family, and a woman who recognized the hand of the Almighty; and ultimately she became a part of the community of Israel.

I'll bet Phineas had a cow over that.  But Phineas is a different story, for a different Torah reading.

Originally posted to Street Prophets on Fri Jun 15, 2012 at 02:32 PM PDT.

Also republished by Elders of Zion and Sluts.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (8+ / 0-)

    "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

    by quarkstomper on Fri Jun 15, 2012 at 02:32:05 PM PDT

  •  Awesome! (5+ / 0-)

    I had no idea of Rehab's place in the New Testament.  Thanks!  I agree, it must have been an oral tradition which I don't think made it into the rabbinical literature.

    The "begats" in the Torah are also male dominated, but Rabbi Ben Azai is quoted that the set in Genesis chapter 5 teaches the most fundamental principle in the Bible - that we are all descendant from Adam and Eve and are therefore brothers and sisters and we should treat our fellows as brothers and sisters.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Fri Jun 15, 2012 at 02:56:13 PM PDT

    •  I'm glad you liked it. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mayim, mapamp, Oh Mary Oh

      The Epistle to the Hebrews is an interesting book, and one I've never really studied that well.  The Early Fathers of the Christian Church weren't really sure what to do with it.  Some argued that it should not be admitted to the canon of the New Testament because it was written anonymously and so had no clear connection with any of the Apostles.  But there was so much good stuff in it, in the end it stayed.

      Much of the Book of Hebrews is devoted to describing the Christian doctrine of Salvation by tying it to the system of sacrifices for Atonement established by Moses.  As the author of Hebrews saw it, the sacrifices in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, were prefigurings of Christ's sacrifice for sin.

      But the part that always sticks out in my mind about Hebrews is the tremendous ode to Faith in the eleventh chapter, where the author goes through the history of Israel, beginning with the Creation and continuing well into the period of the Judges listing the Heroes of Faith and the deeds they performed.  It's an epic chapter and has a poetic music to it as it repeats the theme:  "By faith... by faith... by faith..."

      "All the World's a Stage and Everyone's a Critic." -- Mervyn Alquist

      by quarkstomper on Fri Jun 15, 2012 at 04:32:09 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I love that God takes the people (3+ / 0-)

    Most likely to be scorned and uses them for a great purpose. So many of our Christian right look down their noses at the very ones that God calls and chooses.

    Let's see, she was a woman and a prostitute (or as Rush would have it--a slut). Good thing the spies weren't the idiots of the Christian right, or those walls may not have come down!

    Amazing, God brings down walls that others insist on putting back up.


    Peace, Hope, Faith, Love

    by mapamp on Fri Jun 15, 2012 at 05:40:30 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for writing this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mapamp, Navy Vet Terp, quarkstomper

    I have said that you don't have to be Jewish to write a d'var Torah, but it has to reflect Jewish thinking.  I think you did that wonderfully.

    I keep putting off a diary to consider the future of the d'var Torah series.  Getting volunteers has been like pulling teeth.  After 2 years and the defection of several key writers, we seem to have fizzled.

    I will work on it.

    Old people are like old houses - lots of character, but the plumbing leaks.

    by ramara on Sat Jun 16, 2012 at 03:49:40 PM PDT

  •  This passage struck me in synagogue this morning (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    quarkstomper, ramara
    For the generations to come, whenever a foreigner or anyone else living among you presents a food offering as an aroma pleasing to the Lord, they must do exactly as you do.  The community is to have the same rules for you and for the foreigner residing among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.  You and the foreigner shall be the same before the Lord:   The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the foreigner residing among you. ’”
    Pretty appropriate, in my view, after President Obama had just limited deporations of undocumented "strangers" (the usual translation I've seen) or "foreigners" who came here as children.  

    Neither the rabbi nor the bar mitzvah boy mentioned this.  One problem with preparing a d'var Torah or a Sunday sermon when you have to prepare it in advance.

    Those who demand that we return to Christian or Judeo-Christian values and their Old Testament reading seems to be limited to Genesis chapter 1 and to Leviticus 18:22 need to read more.

    "We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals, now we know that it is bad economics." Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jan. 20, 1937

    by Navy Vet Terp on Sat Jun 16, 2012 at 06:13:19 PM PDT

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