It sounds like a classic melodrama: A harlot endangers her life to protect two desperate spies, and, when the city falls, she ends up marrying the conquering leader.
The harlot’s name was Rachav (Rahab), and she plied her trade in her home that was built into the walls of Jericho. When Caleb and Pinchas, two Israelite spies, needed to flee the city, they went to Rachav. She hid them on her roof, burying them beneath some flax, and then misdirected the searchers. Afterward, Rachav let down a rope on the far side of the wall enabling the spies to escape. Before they left, however, Rachav told them that she was aware that God had given the land to the Israelites. She had heard of the splitting of the sea and of the battles of the Israelites in the Wilderness. Rachav acknowledged that the citizens of Jericho were terrified of the impending attack, and, therefore, requested that they swear to return kindness for kindness and spare her family (Joshua 2:9-13).
The promise made by the spies was kept. Rachav and her family were given free passage after the terrible battle and brought to the Israelite camp. According to tradition, Rachav converted, stating at that time: “Let me be forgiven in the merit of the rope, the window and the flax [with which she saved the spies]” (Zevachim 116b).
Once Rachav was Jewish, tradition has it that “Joshua married her” (Megillah 14b).
Although the Talmud (Megillah 15a) lists her as one of the four exceedingly beautiful women in the world (along with Sarah, Abigail and Esther), Rachav is also recognized for her spiritual greatness. In fact, in a rare note of matrilineal power, the Talmud states: “Eight prophets…were descended from Rachav the harlot: Neriah, Baruch, Seraiah, Mahseiah, Jeremiah, Hilkiah, Hanamel, and Shalum…and Hulda the prophetess” (Megillah 14b).
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