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Rahab: a Hero/Ine?

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image of Biblical Interpretation

Can Rahab be regarded as a hero/ine? I ask this question, aware that the context of my reading is that of twentieth-century Aotearoa New Zealand, and that different communities read textual dynamics in different ways, and that texts allow this. But if there is an interpretive open-endedness, so that in narrative terms one may ask whether Rahab is saviour, or traitor, or victim, the story as it is told appears to have been shaped for Israelite listeners, with Israel's interests encoded. For whose voice do we hear in Rahab's long speech to the spies? A Canaanite Rahab? Or a Rahab who is an Israelite construct? The text has led the reader to accept its assumptions that foreign/outsider women are sexually available and can be bought, just as their land lies there for the taking. The reader is provided with Rahab as the model in reading the situation as an Israelite, for she herself has read and entered Israel's ideological world. The making of Rahab the hero/ine is part of the "semiotic economy" of Israel. But if Rahab is a hero/ine, not only is there a danger here for ancient Canaanites, but other dominant cultures may identify with the voice of the text which justifies taking others' land, and those who have already lost to Christian invaders may be led to read against their history and identity. Such issues force me to face the costliness of such co-opting. If Rahab is a hero/ine, then let the reader read again.


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