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Joshua includes a dramatic story of spies, a prostitute, and subterfuge:

Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim, saying, “Go, reconnoiter the region of Jericho.” So they set out, and they came to the house of a harlot named Rahab and lodged there. The king of Jericho was told, “Some men have come here tonight, Israelites, to spy out the country.” The king of Jericho thereupon sent orders to Rahab: “Produce the men who came to you and entered your house, for they have come to spy out the whole country.” The woman, however, had taken the two men and hidden them. “It is true,” she said, “the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from. And at dark, when the gate was about to be closed, the men left; and I don’t know where the men went. Quick, go after them, for you can overtake them.”— Now she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under some stalks of flax which she had lying on the roof.—So the men pursued them in the direction of the Jordan down to the fords; and no sooner had the pursuers gone out than the gate was shut behind them.—Joshua 2:1-7 (NJPS)

It seems that cult prostitution was common enough in that region that Moses should prohibit it:

No Israelite woman shall be a cult prostitute, nor shall any Israelite man be a cult prostitute. You shall not bring the fee of a whore or the pay of a dog into the house of the Lord your God in fulfillment of any vow, for both are abhorrent to the Lord your God.—Deuteronomy 23:18-19 (NJPS)

Was Rahab a "cult prostitute"?

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I've researching Hebrews 11 for a lesson I'm scheduled to teach this Sunday, in case you were wondering. ;-) –  Jon Ericson Aug 30 '12 at 17:32
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Moses didn't prohibit being a prostitute - God did –  warren Aug 31 '12 at 13:40
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1 Answer

Probably not.

The word used for Rahab in Joshua 2 is zanah <02181>. According to Wikipedia:

The Hebrew Bible uses two different words for prostitute, zonah (זנה)‎ and kedeshah (קדשה)‎. The word zonah simply meant an ordinary prostitute or loose woman. But the word kedeshah literally means "consecrated (feminine form)", from the Semitic root q-d-sh (קדש)‎ meaning "holy" or "set apart".

To verify, Deuteronomy 23:18 (or 23:17 in many English translations) uses the word q@deshah <06948>:

female temple prostitute, harlot

And the next verse, aimed against using money received in exchange for sex for religious obligations, uses the word zanah. So it seems that Rahab's prostitution was merely a way of earning a living rather than having some sort of religious significance.

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