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Bible Q

Was Rahab a prostitute or an innkeeper?

The full question:

Rahab is recorded as a harlot which seems unlikely. (1) She lived with her family. (2) She lived within the city. (3) Harlots lived outside the city (4) She did not wear a veil. (5) She was an innkeeper. (6) She did greet strangers. What is the Hebrew word for innkeeper versus the Hebrew word for prostitute?

Rahab is described in Joshua 2:1

And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.” And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there.

The Hebrew word translated prostitute is zōnāh which is correctly translated prostitute or harlot in almost all modern English translations. It is the word used for a common prostitute, as distinct from a sacred prostitute (qedēšā) in the local pagan fertility cult.

She is also described as a prostitute in Joshua 6:25; James 2:25 and Hebrews 11:31. In the New Testament passages, the Greek word is porne which is also correctly translated prostitute or harlot in almost all modern English translations. It cannot mean inn-keeper. Furthermore, in the LXX (the Greek translation) of Joshua, zōnāh is translated porne.

The Greek word for inn-keeper is pandocheus which is obviously nothing like porne. The Hebrew word for inn-keeper is baal malon, which is nothing like zōnāh.

You claim that prostitutes lived outside the city. Do you have any evidence for this claim? It seems highly unlikely — prostitutes tend to live near their customers.

You claim that prostitutes wore veils and Rahab did not. I don’t know of any evidence for either assumption.

The idea that Rahab was an innkeeper was suggested by Josephus (Ant.Jews.5.1.2) who described her house as an inn. An Aramaic translation of the Old Testament known as the Targum Jonathan also describes Rahab as an innkeeper. It is has been suggested that prostitution was so common among female innkeepers that “innkeeper” had become a euphemism for “prostitute” by the time of Josephus. In other words, nobody was fooled by his comment that the spies stayed in her “inn”.

It is unfortunate that the NIV marginal note on Joshua 2:1 says “or possibly an innkeeper” because it muddies the water.  The only sense in which Rahab could be described as an innkeeper is that her inn was a brothel.


One Reply to “Was Rahab a prostitute or an innkeeper?”

  1. This appears circuitous. Have you really done anything more than use a lexicon to find what the words mean in that particular lexicon and confirm that the language of the biblical text has that same word form and so the Bible means what it says? I.e. there exists an inner consistency within the Bible? Identifying Rahab as a prostitute across the testaments, across the Hebrew/Greek translations. My point is that the issue finds resolution in the antecedents of words used and documents containing those words which substantiate that translation. Finally, ‘it has been suggested’ really is out of place. Documentation or suggestions?