Charles N. Pope is the author of "Living in Truth: Archaeology & the Patriarchs", more information at www.DomainOfMan.com
The Color Scarlet
From its infancy the Christian Church has taught that Joshua son of Nun in the Old Testament was a “type” or “figure” of Jesus. Joshua not only lent his name to Jesus, but also provided a general plan for saving and settling a nation under God. Considering the importance of Joshua as a role model for Christ, it is only fair then to ask: Was there a prominent woman in the time of Joshua, and does she have a counterpart in the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels?
In the Book of Joshua (Chapter 2) the hero Joshua sends two spies across the Jordan and specifically to visit Jericho. Upon entering the city, they immediately seek out a woman named Rahab, who is repeatedly and in no uncertain terms referred to as a harlot. The apparent distraction of the men would seem to imperil their mission, but is instead turned to the benefit of Israel. This woman Rahab proves to be a valuable informant, and she also helps the men escape after their cover is blown. In return for these services, Rahab and her family are later spared when Joshua takes the city and puts every other living thing to the sword.
That is the last we hear of Rahab in the Old Testament, so it is quite unexpected to not only find her mentioned in the very first book and first chapter of the New Testament (Matthew 1), but also identified there as an ancestor of King David. We might now ask: Why would the motherhood of Rahab and her contribution to the “scarlet thread” of Messianic kingship only be made explicit in the Gospels? This deliberate and seemingly unnecessary mention of Rahab in the New Testament compels us to take a fresh look at the highly detailed story of Rahab in the Old Testament. As a result, we shall learn that Old Testament precedent relating to the “saving” of Rahab by Joshua was faithfully reenacted in the New Testament figure of Mary Magdalene. That is, in order for everything written about Jesus in the Old Testament to be “fulfilled” he had to, among a great many other things, be intimately affiliated with a woman intentionally defamed as a harlot.
There are a number of obvious indications in the Book of Joshua that the description of Rahab as a harlot is only a ruse. To begin with, the name Rahab was a carefully selected epithet, and like that of Joshua (“God saves”) was symbolic of a designated role, as are the names of so many other Biblical characters. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the name Rahab (“pride, belligerence, enlargement”) is used to represent Egypt, the traditional domain of the Sun-god Ra. It is also applied to the unbounded watery depths (Heb. tehom) of creation that were divided by YHWH in order to form dry land. Similarly, in the Babylonian Creation Epic the oceans are personified by the “resplendent” goddess Tiamat, who is further described as “risen up” and “haughty.” Tiamat had formerly given birth to the gods, but after being stirred to rage by her consort Kingu (associated with the Moon) she determined to kill her divine children.
In response, the god Marduk (associated variously with the Sun, Mars, Jupiter or a rogue gravitational body) engaged Tiamat (Tehom/Rahab) in battle and split her into two parts. Her surging waters were in this way transformed from an unpredictable menace into calm seas under a kind sky. Moreover, the instigator Kingu was defeated by Marduk and his blood used to fashion mankind. By association, Rahab of Jericho is revealed not only as a great queen but also one who represented a deadly threat to Joshua and the Israelites. Further, she is specifically associated with the royal court of Egypt from which Joshua, Moses, and the Israelites had earlier fled.
Our Lady of Jericho does not live and work along a cramped alleyway, but in a lofty tower built over the city wall. Rahab therefore occupies a critical element in the city’s defenses. Such a tower would be a privileged place suitable as the living quarters of a queen, and not a common whore. What’s more, even though Rahab harbors suspected spies, the king of Jericho refrains from accusing her of treason, and her residence is not subjected to a search. Rather, Rahab speaks directly to the king and with complete impunity. The king even takes direction from her, or should we say misdirection. At her urging, a posse is sent by the king of Jericho to chase after the spies, but these spies are still with Rahab and hidden on the roof of her penthouse suite. After night falls, they escape, Rapunzel style, out a window of the tower and using a rope provided by Rahab. She even instructs the men on how to evade detection in the countryside so that they can safely return to Joshua with the information she has given them.
En route to Jericho from his encampment at Shittim (meaning, “Acacia,” from its scourging thorns), Joshua (ala Biblical YHWH and Marduk-Ra) divides the floodwaters of the Jordan and the Israelites cross over on dry land. For seven days the army of Joshua marches around Jericho, and on the seventh day marches around it seven times. This would have offered the time and diversion needed by Rahab (and those at her own command) to undermine the city’s defenses. Upon completing the seventh and final lap on the seventh and final day, Joshua signals for a long blast of trumpets. At that same moment it follows that Rahab orchestrated a cacophony of tumbling stones. The wall of Jericho “fell flat,” that is, collapsed under its own weight due to sapping or internal pressure. Jericho was not conquered so much by King Joshua from without, but by Queen Rahab within.
As a sign of her diplomatic immunity, Rahab hung a “scarlet thread” outside a window – perhaps the same window from which she had earlier flung a cord for use by the spies. Scarlet was the color of royalty and is another obvious clue to the high status of Rahab as queen. Therefore, if Queen Rahab plied any trade it was the manufacture of cordage and textiles, for upon the roof of her tower there were large quantities of valuable processed flax. Flax was used not only to make the rope that saved the men of Joshua, but also the red linen fabric that protected her from harm when Joshua stormed the city. When the bloody conflict was finished, the power of Jericho (a place name derived from the Hebrew word for “the Moon”) over Rahab was broken, and any former hostility toward Joshua subsided. Her former patron the king of Jericho was also “sacrificed” in the creation of Israel, and as Kingu had been in the creation of mankind.
The Wedding in Canaan
Much is made of Moses placing the “mantle” (of kingship) on Joshua son of Nun. Strangely though, the succession of Joshua is afterwards not even mentioned. Instead we get the impression that with the death of Joshua there was no recognized king in Israel until Saul and then David. In the interim, the Israelites “did what was right in their own eyes” and were governed more or less by “judges.” In the Old Testament, the predecessors of King David are named as Jesse, Obed, Boaz, Salmon and Nahshon. It is only in the Book of Matthew that the “harlot” Rahab of Jericho is identified as the mother of Boaz. Armed with this new intelligence about Rahab, we might boldly advance that the mantle or birthright passed from Joshua son of Nun to Salmon son of Nahshon. However, the Hebrew name Salmon (also written Sala) literally means “mantle” and the root sal connotes “salvation.” Therefore, it can be trumpeted long and loud that Salmon son of Nahshon was more commonly referred to as Joshua son of Nun. The name Nun is also written as Non and was consequently a short form of Nahshon.
If Joshua and Salmon were two epithets of the same person, then it follows that Rahab became the wife of Joshua and Joshua the father of Boaz. Indeed, we are told in the Book of Joshua (6:25) that Rahab “dwelled in Israel” after the conquest of Joshua. The Hebrew word translated as “dwell” (yashab) can also be translated as “marry.” However, if the hero Joshua had been the direct ancestor of King David, then why would this not have been fully recorded and celebrated? First of all, the former marriage(s) of Rahab made her nuptials with Joshua something less than right in the eyes of Israelites. Perhaps more disturbing, the future heir Boaz may not have been a true offspring of Joshua, but a child born to Rahab by a former husband, that is, a son of a rival or foreign king who was only adopted by Joshua! Thirdly, Rahab herself may have been considered a non-Israelite, and a hated Egyptian queen at that.
The Hebrew word for harlot, zonah (zaw-naw’), makes a ready play with the Hebrew word for queen, that is, sarah (saw-raw’). Both before and after her name was changed from Sarai (“domineering”) to Sarah, the sister-wife of Patriarch Abram also found herself in a compromising position and her reputation in considerable danger. While trying to become pregnant, she was first taken into the harem of a pharaoh of Egypt and then a king of the Philistines in Canaan. As a result, Sarah like Rahab was subjected to a stereotype and prominent double standard of her time. Women of common birth were considered to be the property of their husbands and could be punished by death for adultery. On the other hand, royal women (such Sarah and Rahab) emulated the great goddesses in their sexual freedom and virtual equality with gods.
Like Isis in Egypt, Inanna and Ishtar of Mesopotamia, and Asherah in Canaan, women of high birth were actually encouraged to seek out and have children by multiple partners - with or without the covering of marriage. In the Egypt of Rahab, a leading queen was designated as the “God’s Wife.” She could have numerous children (“holy births”) by various kings (“gods”) and still be considered a virgin. Outside the context of the royal court however, these ladies would have been thought of as no better than whores, and the Biblical authors often found it a convenient artifice to model them as such.
The epithet Magdalene has the Hebrew meaning of “tower.” By virtue of this glaring allusion to Old Testament precedent, the marriage of Jesus and Mary Magdalene is not only to be suspected but also completely expected. As Jesus is patterned after Joshua, so Mary Magdalene is typecast as the incarnation of Rahab. Consistent with this, Mary Magdalene (“Mary of the Tower”) must be rescued by Jesus even as Rahab was by Joshua. Joshua marches around the city of Jericho seven times. Similarly, Mary Magdalene is delivered from the influence of seven “evil spirits.” That is, before becoming the disciple, patroness, and especially bride of Christ, she would first have to be divorced from a number of encumbrances, not the least of which was a “bad marriage.” Joshua kills the king of Jericho and liberates Rahab. Therefore by association, Jesus must kill, at least figuratively, those who wanted to confine Mary Magdalene in a tower, that is, to negate her power by engaging her in compromise with the present overlords of the land.
Ironically, the much-criticized union with Mary Magdalene actually served to make the Messianic claim of Jesus more legitimate from a Scriptural perspective. Tradition held that kingly Joshua was married to a harlot, or at least to a woman who had assumed the literary guise of one. And this is the context in which we must consider the depiction of Mary Magdalene. As with her Old Testament archetype Rahab, Mary Magdalene in reality would have been of the highest social standing, a veritable “queen” and “goddess” within Jewish society of the time. And like Rahab, the true status of Mary Magdalene is downplayed in Scripture but not fully suppressed. Her wealth and influence were not only helpful to Jesus, but actually a necessary part of her prophetic profile that needed to be documented. Moreover, her class distinction in turn unveils that of Jesus himself.
Rehab is the second of four women listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (not including his mother), but is the most important as far as the Gospel presentation is concerned. She is the only woman associated with Joshua son of Nun, the namesake of Jesus, and a type of “secret wife.” For effect, Rahab is also placed in the company of three other women who were renowned for assertiveness, Ruth, Tamar, and Bathsheba. They were chosen because of all Old Testament women they along with Rahab most nearly captured the heart and mission of Mary Magdalene. To varying degrees, all four “played the harlot” in order to improve their marital satisfaction and the welfare of their children. For taking courtly initiative each risked the painful stigma of adultery. Ultimately all were rewarded with greater status in their lifetime and recognized by posterity as integral to the Messianic line.
The motherhood of Rehab is only made explicit in the Gospels for the purpose of explaining to those who had “ears to hear” why believers were not to proclaim from every housetop the good news of Jesus’ marriage along with his saving message. There were very practical reasons for hiding the family life of Jesus under a bushel, and it also honored precedent. The marriage of Joshua and Rahab is disguised in the Old Testament. Moreover, after Joshua and Rahab there is a perceived latency or incubation period of the “judges” before the advent of a renewed native kingship in Israel under King David. Again, this provided a blueprint for Jesus and his inner circle to follow. In the short term, the Messianic successors of Jesus would need to guard their plan and cultivate belief in Jesus among the masses. However, within a few generations a Davidic figure would be expected to emerge from this Messianic line, and in the manner of both David and Joshua, he and his army of zealous followers would “take up the sword” and “take the kingdom by force.”
Considerable understatement and indirection is used in the Book of Joshua account of Rahab. Yet, her royalty (and therefore also that of Joshua) can be easily recognized by the pseudonyms and symbols masterfully woven as Biblical textile. This narrative style inspired the later Gospel accounts in which an imperiled royal line is again not only revealed in Jesus but also re-concealed to those who were not fully initiated into the “mysteries” of the new religion. Christianity was from its conception thrust into the world as a two-edged sword.
The fact that Mary Magdalene is strongly typecast in the Gospels as Rahab is certain proof that privileged leaders of the early Christian Church fully acknowledged her role as mother of a new ruling house. To wit, the basis for that role is easily established from canonized Scripture alone. If Jesus were intended to be a Messiah to end all Messiahs, then there would have been no point in even mentioning Rahab, or Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba for that matter, in the genealogy of Christ. However, they are, and with the realization that Jesus had a regal wife comes the knowledge that he also had an underlying political agenda. Therefore, Rahab of the Old Testament represents the cherished New Testament “Bride of Christ” in more than one sense. She prefigures the body of believers who were to be “saved” and “sanctified” by Jesus, but more tangibly foreshadows Mary Magdalene as the liberated woman of Christ and a willing accomplice in dynastic intrigue.