Ancestry and prostitution

I was asked an interesting question: How did Jewish people feel about having Rahab (the foreign prostitute) in their family tree?

My suspicion is that the question itself presupposes bourgeois attitudes. Members of the underclasses surely have a better understanding of the economic and social pressures that cause women to become prostitutes. One should not despise an ugly bastard, rather his even uglier1 father…

One clue to this may be Jesus’ genealogy in Mat 1, where Rahab is the second woman named, and Tamar (another foreigner) who we are told in the biblical narrative (Gen 38) was forced into (temporary and selective) prostitution by the wrong done by Judah. Matthew seems to have expected no prudish revulsion from his readers!

Then there’s Rashi (one of the best-known and best of the traditional Jewish Bible readers) who commenting on Rahab’s profession in Josh 2:1 follows an even older Aramaic paraphrase of Joshua and translates Rabab’s profession: “Innkeeper: זונה. Targum Jon. renders: Innkeeper, one who sells various foodstuffs (מזונות).” Which might suggest the medieval scholar felt some embarrassment at the thought of Rahab the prostitute. Except a few verses later he comments: “as the Rabbis said: There was neither prince or ruler who had no relations with Rahab the harlot. She was ten years old when the Israelites departed from Egypt, and she practiced harlotry for forty years.

Rashi recognises her as a harlot, but seems also to recognise the power relationship operating “There was not a prince or ruler who had not had relations with Rahab the harlot.” And so does not seem embarrassed by her past. Perhaps the fact that Christians today are embarrassed is a sign of the “gentrification” of the church?2

recognising either (or perhaps both of) people change, and/or women don’t choose to be prostitutes… either way she would be an ancestor to be proud of!

  1. Since surely if the man was not an ugly person he would stay around to care for his child. []
  2. Which reminds me of a Facebook status update I read earlier: “If you want to catch fish don’t throw your net into the bath tub!” to which I replied “I will make you fishers of cute little yellow ducks ;) []