On the Possibility of Multiple Rahabs

October, 2015 - before I had any Greek

Correspondent

I was talking to someone this week about Rahab, and there is a point of confusion I was wondering I could clear up with you. Apparently, the spelling of Rahab’s name is different when she is mentioned in Matthew (Jesus’s genealogy) than when her name is mentioned in Joshua. It is spelled the same everywhere else, but how can we be so sure it’s the same Rahab? Or is everything I said wrong?

Steven

I did a bit more research and this [Post hoc note: evidently this site no longer exists, so my comments are addressing points that are now impossible to read in context. This is unfortunate, but there’s nothing that I can do about it] seems to be the prototypical opinion of those who would wish to have “another” Rahab. Note that me refuting this argument does not necessarily refute the position in toto, but since I think this is a fair and representative sample of the position, I do not find it to be too much of a straw-man. What your friend was likely referring to was not the difference between the words for Rahab in Joshua and Matthew, but rather the difference between the Greek word used in Matthew 1:5 ( Ῥαχάβ, transliterated Rhachab) and the Greek word used in James 2:25 and Hebrews 11:31 ( Ῥαάβ, transliterated Rhaab). Ῥαχάβ only occurs in some mss., as we shall see, so this “problem” is actually not present if you are using the earliest witnesses to the GNT (Sinaiticus, Vaticanus, etc.) [Post hoc note: See below. I was actually not quite right here]. The likely reason why your friend ran into it is that most English speakers use Strong’s exhaustive concordance for so called “word study”, which is based off of the KJV’s Textus Receptus (TR), a critical edition of the GNT that draws primarily from late Byzantine texts. With the exception of a few people who try to defend the manuscript tradition of the TR, most scholars accept that the TR has some inferior readings from late textual witnesses, and my guess is that this is one of them.

Part I: Refutation of the Main Argument

The main argument of the “2 Rahabs” fellow:

Quote

But Matthew 1:5, Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25 cannot be classified as being ‘in the same context’. Therefore more positive methods have been used in these passages to identify the person concerned precisely and exactly, and to distinguish between one person and another. Thus in Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25, the reader is told explicitly that these passages refer to Ra’ab the harlot of Jericho:

  • a. by stating her name,
  • b. by repeating her designation of a harlot,
  • c. by mentioning the action which she took to help the two spies. These are all positive marks of identification.

On the other hand, in Matthew 1:5 Rachab the wife of Salmon is clearly distinguished from ANY identification or association in any way with the harlot of Jericho:

  1. by the different spelling of her name in the ‘original’ Greek,
  2. by the different pronunciation of her name,
  3. by the absence of any offensive designation attached to her name,
  4. by the absence of any reference to Jericho or any activity that took place there.

“Therefore more positive methods have been used in these passages to identify the person concerned precisely and exactly, and to distinguish between one person and another.”

This is an outright assumption. Unless the writer claims to know the mind of James and the writer of Hebrews (you can make a good case for Paul), there is absolutely no possible way he can make the argument that “this is what they really meant when they wrote this.” He can certainly take this position (i.e., that they used these things to identify Rahab the harlot specifically), but it requires exegesis and evidence from context, neither of which was provided (and neither of which can be provided sufficiently to make this claim).

Part (a.) in the first set is invalid because Matthew 1:5 also “states a name.” This is an entirely bogus reason, and I can’t fathom how it is supposed to aid in drawing a distinction. Parts (b.) and (c.) are valid points; when Rahab is mentioned in the “heroes of faith” section in Hebrews 11 and in the “faith that works” section of James 2, she is mentioned both times as being a prostitute, and also complimented both times for her faith and legitimate production (i.e., action) from that faith.

I’ll take the second set backwards. (3.) and (4.) do not necessarily imply that this is a different Rahab, even though the passage doesn’t directly mention Jericho or her (former) status as a prostitute. To put it in more logical terms: “the absence of proof (i.e., statements that identify her with Joshua 2) is not the proof of absence (i.e., that this is actually a different Rahab).” So once again, the claim that this Rahab is “clearly distinguished from ANY identification or association in any way with the harlot of Jericho” is an unproved assumption. Notice the wording of that quote: “clearly”, “ANY”, “in any way”; this is all rhetorical flourish. One’s argument does not become valid by capitalizing words.

(1.) and (2.) are more complicated, especially since we don’t really know Greek and this fellow at least seems to claim he does. (2.) actually doesn’t add anything to his argument since of course a name that is spelled differently is going to be pronounced differently: if you add Chi (χ) to a Greek word, you introduce a “K sound”, and thus Ῥαχάβ is pronounced differently than Ῥαάβ. As to (1.), I touched on it in the introduction, but I’ll go into more depth here since it really is the crux of the matter.

The big issue here is that we have textual variance between manuscript editions: The TR uses Ῥαχάβ in Matthew 1:5 (see this link), while more recent versions of the GNT (NASB95 is based on one of the Nestle-Aland editions, if I am not mistaken) use Ῥαάβ in Matthew 1:5 (see this link). In the newer critical editions, there actually is no difference between Matthew 1:5, James 2:25, and Hebrews 11:31 – they all use Ῥαάβ (and you can verify what I’m saying: NASB concordance for Ῥαάβ). So this “problem” only exists if you believe the TR is the correct tradition, which, guess what, is another unproven assumption in this fellow’s argument. Now certainly, there are those who make that argument, but it must be backed up with evidence and textual analysis (sometimes called textual criticism). In short, without being fully convinced that the TR has the right reading here (in fact, I am almost certainly convinced that it is the edition that errs, as it does in other places), I would give this reason approximately zero weight when making a decision about the validity of the positions.

So at this point, the only things out of (a.), (b.), (c.), (1.), (2.), (3.), and (4.) that still hold water are (b.) and (c.), but just because Rahab was identified in these ways in other parts of the Bible does not mean that she must always be identified in this same way (and to believe such would be another assumption that is effectively without a shred of evidence). Thus, this particular argument falls flat, and we conclude that there was one and only one Rahab, that she became the wife of Salmon, and that she, though formerly a prostitute, was in the lineage of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, as made clear in Matthew 1:5.

Part II: Comments on Other Arguments

Hopefully the above convinced you that the main argument of the link I supplied was incorrect, but I didn’t address everything in that piece since it would take a while and I’m sure you have other things to do than read lengthy analyses of false theological positions. But I think several other false arguments merit comment, so I’ll include another section as well. I’ll try to keep it brief.

“There could never be a harlot in the line of Jesus Christ! How heretical!”

I must confess that this one always baffles me. Tamar is in the lineage of Christ, and she seduced and had sex with her father in law (i.e., Judah) after he failed to supply a third husband for her. Bathsheba is in the lineage of Christ, and she committed adultery with King David [Post hoc note: it’s worth mentioning that this is really probably more David’s fault than hers – since he was the king, she may not have had much choice. We don’t really know what Bathsheba thought about the whole thing]. Ruth is in the lineage of Christ, and she was a Moabitess. So the fact that Rahab, a prostitute who likely converted to monotheistic Judaism after her inheritance in Canaan with the Israelites (cf. Joshua 6:25), is in the lineage of Christ, does not surprise me at all, nor it should it surprise anyone. In fact, one might go so far as to say that the onus is on those who want to make Rahab the wife of Salmon out to be some sort of unrealistic virginal figure to give examples of females listed in the line of Christ that didn’t receive grace in bounds. Actually, in Matthew 1, the only other women explicitly mentioned are the three above, so to claim that Rahab “has to be” someone other than a prostitute is to create a glaring double standard.

“It’s not the same Rahab because the chronology does not work”

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“[L]et us assume for a moment that Salmon did marry Rahab the harlot within a year or so of the fall of Jericho, and that Boaz was born a year or so after that. If such were the case, then Boaz would have been about 115 years old when he married Ruth! On the other hand, if we assume that Rahab was about 30 years of age when Jericho fell, and that Salmon did not marry her till 30 years or more later, then not only would Rahab have been at least 60 years of age and no longer able to bear children, but Boaz, even if born 30 years after the fall of Jericho, would still have been 85 years of age when he married Ruth… Thus all the evidence confirms the fact that Salmon did not marry Rahab the Canaanite harlot.”

This is an argument that deals with the chronology of Israel before the Davidic Kingdom. While scholars still debate some, the time spans are greater than normal life spans by our standards, but of course that means very little. Here is what a friend and mentor of mine has to say about the matter (please see this email posting, question/response #8):

Quote from Ichthys

“The chronology here has bothered some in the past, and some have tried to solve the “problem” of too much time between Salmon and David by suggesting that some names have been left out of the list and only the famous included. That, I think, is a questionable approach. Extremely long life-spans among Old Testament believers are certainly not unprecedented, even after the flood. Jacob lived to be over 130 years old (Gen.47:9), and given that Benjamin still seems to be a fairly young lad during the episode of Joseph’s time in Egypt, it seems that he must have been at least a hundred when Benjamin was born. We should therefore understand that the generation which entered into the land of promise and those immediately thereafter must likewise have been blessed with exceptional length of days and continued fecundity into old age (at least among the godly believers) which would be remarkable by today’s standards. After all, even before he entered into the land, Caleb could say in truth “So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then” (Josh.14:10-11 NIV). And Caleb was still active in the period of conquering the land for many years to come thereafter (cf. Judg.1:12-15). So the fact that between Salmon (who I would argue must have been one of the two spies whom Rahab protected) to Solomon’s reign we have well over four hundred years but only four additional males in the line (i.e., Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David) only seems problematic for those who wish to overlook these other biblical facts. David, for example, was the youngest of eight brothers (1Sam.16:10), so we are safe to conclude that Jesse sired him in his old age. And of course Boaz was also an older man when he married Ruth (cf. Ruth 2:1; 3:10). As I say, while this sequence would be remarkable in our day and age, it would have been much less so at the time – and what genealogy, after all, is more remarkable in every way than that of our Lord?”

“Neither Josephus nor Joshua mention a marriage between the prostitute Rahab and Salmon”

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Joshua 6:25 states that Rahab was given land in the midst of Israel in return for risking her own life by hiding the two spies that were sent to Jericho. Josephus in his “Antiquities of the Jews”, Book 5 chapter 1, sections 2 and 7, records the same story but neither he nor Joshua make any reference to a marriage taking place between Rahab and Salmon. That deafening silence is itself the strongest proof that no such marriage did take place…

First off, Josephus is hardly a paragon of historical accuracy (ask any Classicist worth his salt). People always like to pull in Josephus as “proof” for something or other (most commonly, actually, to combat the ridiculous notion that Jesus Christ was not a historical person), but in fact it does not really matter what Josephus says or does not say because Josephus was not writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit (i.e., his writings aren’t in the Bible, so we can’t rely on them unconditionally). Like all historians, he is only as good as his sources, and he happens to be a bit more biased than most.

Disregarding the above, this is another classic example of the statement “the absence of proof is not the proof of absence.” Silence on an issue does not mean that you get to make the Bible mean whatever you want it to mean. For example, the Bible does not explicitly condemn abortion, yet most Christians have no problems identifying it as sinful even so.

Hopefully all this has answered your question. Do feel free to email back if you have more questions!

In Christ,

Steven

Steven asking Dr. Luginbill of Ichthys.com for clarification on the text of Sinaiticus

Hi Bob,

With respect to the actual email, I guess there actually is one thing I want to know myself. From some comparison of interlinears, it appears that the Textus Receptus has Ῥαχάβ in Matthew 1:5 instead of Ῥαάβ like NASB95’s textual base (Nestle-Aland 27th ed., I believe). I guess I just assumed this is what Sinaiticus must read since it seemed to make sense that the name would be the same in James 2:25, Hebrews 11:31, and Matthew 1:5, but when I checked the first chapter of Matthew, Sinaiticus reads (from the website):

ϲαλμων δε εγεν
νηϲεν τον βοεϲ
εκ τηϲ ραχαβ βοεϲ
δε εγεννηϲεν τον
ϊωβηδ εκ τηϲ ρουθ:
ϊωβηδ δε εγεννη
ϲεν τον ϊεϲϲαι·

For Matthew 1:5, This seems to match the TR, and goes against my whole argument. (I checked and it’s Ῥαάβ at the the other two occurrences in Sinaiticus). Is this right or wrong? How should I explain the occurrence of the χ in Rahab’s name to my friend if it is actually the correct reading?

In Christ,

Steven

Dr. Luginbill of Ichthys.com

Hi Steven,

On the text and the appearance of the names, it’s not at all unusual for there to be multiple spellings in Greek of less than common Hebrew names. Matthew, James and Hebrews were all written by different authors, so we have to allow for various transliterations – there was no absolute system. “Megiddo”, for example, is rendered dozens of different ways in the LXX. And even in the gospels we find different place names spelled in a variety of ways (sometimes causing confusion, as in is it Gadarenes or Gerasenes or Gergesenes?). The name in question involves the transliteration of the Hebrew cheth; since the Greeks don’t really have this sound, leaving it out is at least as common as trying to reduplicate it with the letter chi. In short, for anyone who has observed from much reading of the Greek and Hebrew the flexible way in which names of all kinds are rendered into the former from the latter, the difference here is not necessarily significant. That was what I took to be the gist of your argument, namely, that because different renderings are commonplace, we can’t necessarily make any hay off the difference here so as to posit two Rahabs from this variation alone. After all, there are a number of spelling variations between the genealogies in Matthew chapter one and Luke chapter three (it would be interesting to see how Luke would have spelled “Rahab”). Were I to venture a reason for the discrepancy here it would be to suggest that Matthew is trying to more closely duplicate the sound of the Hebrew original (which appears to happen at other places in his genealogy too, e.g., Boes vs. Boos and Salmon vs. Sala), while James and Paul have opted to go with the more traditional spelling of the name occurring in the LXX.

To the point of your request, I wouldn’t necessarily include the above paragraph in an apologetic text if the recipient were open to the idea of the truth. When it comes to the issue of communication, simplification is usually a superior strategy to overly detailed argumentation.

Keep up the good work, my friend!

In Jesus Christ our dear Lord and Savior,

Bob L.