Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Joshua 2 describes Rahab's concealment of the Hebrew spies. Vv. 18

Unless, when we enter the land, you have tied this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down, and unless you have brought your father and mother, your brothers and all your family into your house.

and 21

“Agreed,” she replied. “Let it be as you say.” So she sent them away, and they departed. And she tied the scarlet cord in the window.

(emphasis mine)

both clearly define the color as scarlet. I was wondering what the significance of the emphasis on the color is, and what the significance of that color would be. I am not looking for an answer that relies on foreshadowing or anticipating a Christian theology. I am looking for historical-cultural analysis or even historical analysis.

share|improve this question
add comment

4 Answers 4

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Rahab's house was part of the wall, at least high enough to require a rope to let the spies down to the ground:

15Then she let them down by a rope through the window, for her house was built into the city wall, so that she lived in the wall.

The spies particularly ask that the cord be tied in the window they escaped through, in other words visible from the outside:

18Behold, when we come into the land, you shall tie this scarlet cord in the window through which you let us down...

Given the height of the window, and the implication that the cord needed to be visible to Israelites from outside the wall, it seems the most natural reason for choosing scarlet is that it would be easily visible.[1]

Later, in chapter 6, the same spies are sent to rescue Rahab and those in her house (which evidently did not 'fall flat' with other parts of the wall):

22But to the two men who had spied out the land, Joshua said, “Go into the prostitute's house and bring out from there the woman and all who belong to her, as you swore to her.” 23So the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab and her father and mother and brothers and all who belonged to her. And they brought all her relatives and put them outside the camp of Israel.

I speculate that Rahab and those with her were 'brought out' through the window: we already know they had the means of escaping by that route, only needing safe passage past the Israelites outside Jericho. This route would surely be safer than braving the destruction going on inside the city. This seems to makes sense of both the location and the 'high visibility' of the scarlet cord.


[1] Google seems to indicate that stone in the Middle East is predominantly light greyish yellow

share|improve this answer
1  
I realise this is not a 'historical-cultural analysis or even historical analysis.' but I hope that you might find it constructive nonetheless! –  Jack Douglas Feb 23 '13 at 23:31
1  
I agree on the contrast. Re your footnote, the stone I've seen in Israel, both the 2000-year-old stone and the newer construction, is as you say. (The older stone is sometimes a little darker, but I assume that's due to dirt. But either way, we're not talking the darker gray stone of European castles et al.) –  Gone Quiet Feb 25 '13 at 15:01
add comment

Well, the simplest answer is that the cord that happened to be sitting around her living space was, indeed, red. This is not a wealthy person who has a closet full of cords in different colors lying about.

The ancient world did not have aniline dyes; they could not produce a complete rainbow of possible colors. There was blue from shellfish -- very special and expensive. There was red. It came from a bug. There was also yellow. Why was this cord not yellow? Well, perhaps Rahab liked red. Women of her profession legendarily wear it, though I can't cite a source for that in the appropriate time period.

(Contra another answer here, (1) the blood on the doorpost of Passover was over 40 years prior, and the guys involved here weren't born when it happened, and (2) blood on a doorpost doesn't stay red for more than a moment, it more or less instantly turns brown.)

share|improve this answer
add comment

In ancient mythology we see a natural meaning of the color red that would surprise nobody. Historically red often represented violence from blood, or life in blood (i.e. punishment for sin in the life of another). For example, Sekhmet was a warrior goddess in ancient Egypt:

She was envisioned as a fierce lioness, and in art, was depicted as such, or as a woman with the head of a lioness, who was dressed in red, the colour of blood. (Wiki article).

As sacrifices were used to appease the wrath of gods among pagans as well as within Israel, the violence was averted by shedding of blood. For example with regards to the 'red heifer':

The early Jewish conception was that the sacrifice of the red heifer was an expiatory rite to atone for the sin of the golden calf. The color of the heifer, as well as the scarlet thrown upon the fire, represents sin (comp. "your sins be as scarlet"; Isa. i. 18). (Jewish Encyclopedia)

This historical sense of red, with reference to religion is not enough. We need to look at the more recent history surrounding the event. Naturally the spies would have it fresh in their meaningful history that 'destroying angel' (Exodus 12:9) that just recently killed those not protected by the blood on the door posts of their homes. Therefore when a red rope was to be in the window of her home, protecting them from the destroying army of Israel, the imagery must be correlated, if any respect to history is to be had. Although blood does not stay red, is very besides the point. We all think 'red' when we think 'blood'. There can be no doubt about this relationship in the recent history.

On a practical note the red rope would be something easily visible to ensure soldiers did not kill those inside and it. Possibly it was previously used for prostitution for the same purpose. That Rahab's house or brothel (whatever it was) was connected to the wall surrounding the city, making it easy to let down the spies over the wall, may have also been convenient for 'extra cautious' men using her services. However, the practical aspect of the red color does not intrude upon the meaning in the religious wider context.

There is strong evidence that red therefore represented the same protection of violence by blood, as just experienced by Israel by at the passover. This means the salvation of Rahab was salvation from God. The fact that whoever went outside the door of Rahab's home, that 'his blood should be upon his own head' further enforces the 'red' meaning.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The salvation of Rahab takes place in a way parallel to the original Passover. While I would not argue on the basis of Passover being "recent," 40 years is not significant, given the fact that biblical typology pops up again and again hundreds of years apart. The important thing is what the parallels are.

Factors in the story of Rahab:

1) hang a scarlet thread through the window, which so far as the spies were concerned functioned as an exit door 2) gather all her household into her home 3) those not gathered would be subject to death

Factors in the story of Passover:

1) blood on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the door (Ex 12:7) 2) all the household to remain in the house (Ex 12:22) 3) those outside the households sprinkled with blood were subject to death (Ex 12:29ff)

The fact that blood changes colour when applied to wood has no real significance here; everyone knows what the colour of blood is, and there were many other rites both prior to Moses and in levitical law where blood was applied.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 Very interesting answer. And of course it's true. I just never saw it before. Thanks. –  Matthew Miller Jun 1 '13 at 19:20
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.