Mothers of Jesus: Rahab, the Prostitute
Updated: Dec 4, 2022
Advent begins today. In western Christian churches the candle of Hope is lit, and everyone is singing, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." I am not there.
I love Advent. I love, in the busyness of this season, to take some time to be in worship, to sing the old familiar carols. and to prepare my heart for the coming of the Christ child. But I am not at church.
I'm sorry I haven't written in so long. We have been mourning Molly, our dog, who died unexpectedly of cancer at the end of June. I thought I had years with her. We've been celebrating the birth of our granddaughter, Isabel. We've been playing trucks and trains with Parker - we even took a ride on the Strasburg Railroad, which was a throwback to when Jeff and Julia were small. We've been caring for alpacas, and we've been working on improving our herd. To that end, we have made a couple of trips to New York. We spent a week with everyone at the beach. And I have been grieving my relationship to the church.
There, I said it. I've always been busy, and since I started this blog, I have always found time to write. These last few months, though, I've felt like I had nothing worthwhile to say.
I think it is because I have been putting a lot of energy into figuring out what I believe, what is important, where God is calling me, and what God wants me to say. I think that it is A-OK with God that I am not in church today. Where is it written that worship has to be in front of a pastor/priest, a choir, and banners appropriate to the season? Where is it written that I can't worship in my own way, in my own home? OK, we are told to be in community. Am I not in community with you? I have friends and people with whom I can discuss my faith. And "church" wasn't invented until long after Jesus ascended into heaven.
And by the way, the Christmas tree that is in most churches this week? It is a pagan symbol. Not that I am not going to have one in my house because I love Christmas trees, and presents, and the creative ways people do Elf on the Shelf (not that I care to do it myself!), and cookies, and Santa. This year I really hope Mariah Carey gets all she wants for Christmas.
One of the reasons that I am so disillusioned with "church" is that I am beginning to recognize that what we consider sacred is really man-made. And when I say man-made, I mean man-made.
The Nativity story as we know it is in Luke, but the book of Luke wasn't written until well after Jesus was no longer around. Luke was a Gentile physician and believed to be a companion of Paul. The Gospel of Luke was written by a Gentile for the Gentiles. His goal was to demonstrate to the Romans that Christianity was a natural evolution and fulfillment of Judaism (Spong, p. 177). Did the nativity story happen the way that Luke wrote it? Probably not, but that doesn't mean that I won't read the birth story on Christmas Eve, and that I don't believe that SOMETHING special happened.
Constantine (c 228-337) was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. He convened the Council of Nicea (which wrote the Nicene Creed). One of the main accomplishments of this council was to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus. As we recite in the Nicene Creed,
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father...
We say we believe in the divinity of Jesus, but apparently the early Christians weren't sure about that.
In AD 380, three Roman emperors issued the Edict of Thessalonica, which made Christianity the official religion of Rome. "Heretics," which I presume included anyone who wrestled with belief and came to a different conclusion than the Nicenes, could be put to death. So the Pope became synonymous with "Rome."
Augustine (354-430) was responsible for the concept of "original sin" and is partially responsible for the Christian Just War Theory. Augustine was the one who imagined the church as the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2).
This is just a gross encapsulation of early church history, but it can be said that much of what I was taught as truth, the word of God, and sacred, may not have been much more than a power-play by powerful men. Of course, the opposite may also be true - these may have been righteous men who were truly struggling to come to the right answer to their questions - the Bible is full of such people, and the world is full of them today (I am one). But today I have doubt - not in God, or Jesus, but in the teachings of the church.
As I said to a church leader recently, it is OK to not believe but you can't, as a church leader, say it isn't true and not replace it with something else. What is that something else? I'm still not sure, but I know that our Holy Scriptures - the Bible - haven't survived for millennia just because they are good stories (because, frankly, some aren't!). I would like to be in a church where this history is taught and the question of what is true and what isn't is discussed and debated. SOMETHING is true, and GOD is clearly at work in the world, and I am tired of simple answers. And by the way, I don't expect all church leaders to have all the answers, but it would be good if they had the questions.
So today I want to move away from the patriarchy. I want to talk about the Mothers of Jesus.
Some of what I have to say I have said before. There are so many "badass" women in the Bible -many of them unnamed. But in the genealogy of Jesus, commonly referred to as "the begats" in Matthew, chapter 1, there are 4 women who are singled out: Rahab the prostitute, Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba), and Mary, the wife of Joseph and mother of Jesus.
Let's take some time, this Advent, to explore them. Why are they listed by name -except Bathsheba? Who were they?
Let's start with Rahab.
Rahab's story is in the book of Joshua. Moses has died and Joshua has taken over as the leader of the Israelites, who are moving into the Promised Land and removing all who already live there. Rahab was a prostitute who lived in Jericho, and when Joshua sent two spies into Jericho, they went into the house of Rahab.
Pause here for a moment. Rahab was a prostitute - a woman who sold her body for sex. She was a "fallen" woman - a woman who was doing what she had to do to survive. The same thing women have been doing for generations, because men have given them very few options. It isn't lost on me that the men went into Rahab's house. Was hers the only one who had rooms to let? Maybe. Or were they there to use her for business? We don't know. But prostitution wouldn't be a thing if there weren't men to partake, to pay, and to sell the women. Prostitution isn't just a woman thing.
Or was Rahab a "fallen" woman? It is important to note here that prostitution may have been viewed very differently in ancient times. Prostitutes were often men, and there were temples devoted to prostitution, which, I think, is why God forbade it for the daughters of Israelite priests: When the daughter of a priest profanes herself through prostitution, she profanes her father; she shall be burned to death. (Leviticus 21:9).
Reading Rahab's story in this light, she may have been a well-respected, devout woman of her time. Still, she recognized the God of the Israelites as the true God, which would have surely upset her father and brothers. Sisters and sisters-in-law, too, I imagine. Perhaps SHE was the heretic of her time.
Anyhoo, the king of Jericho gets wind of the two men and knows that Joshua sent them to search out the land. Rahab hides them on her roof and sends the pursuers on a goose chase out of the city gate. Once things are quiet, she tells the men, “I know that the Lord has given you the land and that dread of you has fallen on us and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you. 10 For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea[b] before you when you came out of Egypt and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. 11 As soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no courage left in any of us because of you. The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below." (Joshua 2:9-11; bold print mine).
How did Rahab know that the Israelites weren't just really great warriors? How did she know that the Lord had given the land to the Israelites, and that the Lord is God in heaven and earth? I'm guessing she was an intelligent woman who listened to her clients. She was willing to ask the questions, wonder, listen, and ultimately reject the beliefs in the gods of Jericho.
Long story short, because Rahab acknowledges God, the spies agree to spare her, her parents, her brothers and sisters and the rest of her family (children?) if she will save the spies (she lowers them through a window in the city wall), gather her family into her house, and tie a scarlet ribbon on the window sash.
In Joshua, chapter 6, Joshua overtakes the city of Jericho and spares Rahab and all her family. They are brought out of the city. and somewhere along the way Rahab encounters Salmon and bears his son, Boaz. Did they marry? The scriptures don't say. Boaz goes on to marry Ruth, who I will write about next.
My point is that we read the Bible from our own perspective and the world view of today. Prostitutes are seen by those of wealth and security as fallen women, but we forget that prostitutes can't make a living if there aren't men to buy what they are offering. We forget that not everyone has the nice, easy lives that many of us have. And we judge.
We think we know the characters of the story of Jesus, but how many of us skip over "the begats" because it is a little boring, and we either think we already know the story or there isn't much information on them? I looked up Salmon, the father of Boaz, and there isn't really anything about him, except that he is the father of Boaz.
So Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords (I have Handel's Messiah playing), Son of God, begotten, not made, is descended from, mm-hmm, less than stellar people. Whether Rahab was a prostitute as we understand prostitutes today, or a devotee in the temple of a god who was worshipped using sexual promiscuity, Rahab would not have been the kind of woman who would today be heading up the worship committee, directing the choir, or teaching Sunday School. Certainly, she wouldn't have been the pastor.
Jesus is descended from people who are much more colorful and real than we often appreciate. To me, this makes Jesus more human and interesting.
The people of Jesus' lineage were people of faith, but not in the way we understand faith today. They followed the calling of God, whether they recognized God's voice or not, and remained faithful. Can we say the same?
In order to do that, we need to stop assuming we know the story. I can't tell you how much I learned today, and how many misconceptions I realize I had. I don't believe that the Bible happened much the way it is written. Much of the early books were handed down orally, so there were bound to be misquotes, exaggerations, and errors in the timeline. That doesn't mean we we shouldn't read it, study it, and revere it.
As time elapsed and things began to be written down, we can have more confidence in the historical accuracy. That doesn't mean that writers didn't take license with the stories to make them fit the narrative they wanted to share. It certainly doesn't mean that what something meant thousands of years ago means the same thing today.
We can glean, however, that early Biblical writers believed that women had a place in the genealogy of the man who came to be known as the Son of God. That sinners could be redeemed. That God uses everyone - whether fallen or exalted in a temple of another god - in God's story. That NONE of us knows all the answers, and that NONE of us, no matter what we have done or might do, can be separated from the love of God.
Rahab the prostitute. Savior of Joshua's spies. Enabler of Joshua's conquest of Jericho. Integral to the story of Israel. Not the kind of upstanding individual we think God will bless. Mother (well, great-great-great+grandmother) of Jesus.
Ancient Jericho. Image. f09bf2fd7c56c522aef44ffe3237340b.jpg (1024×658) (pinimg.com). Accessed November 27, 2022).
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Spong, John Shelby. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. Morristown, NJ: HarperOne. 1991.
The Nicene Creed. The United Methodist Hymnal. Nashville: United Methodist Publishing House. 1996.
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