Is there a justification for the spies’ visit to a harlot’s home in Jericho, as mentioned in Joshua 2:1 and 6117? Is the definition of “harlot” more expansive than only its negative connotation?
The Hebrew word for harlot (zanah) is translated as “innkeeper” in the ancient Jewish Targum, and at that time, as can be seen from the Jewish authority referenced above, the two terms were seen to be very openly synonymous. This has no bearing on our understanding of Rahab’s personality, which was afterwards brought to Christ as evidenced by Hebrews 11:31 and James 2:25. The Greek word for harlot (“porn”) in these New Testament texts is simply open to the common interpretation. The following quote from Dr. Cyrus Adler, president of the editorial board of the new Jewish translation of the Old Bible (1917) and professor at the Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognitive Study, is instructive:
“As an innkeeper, zonah is translated as pundekitha in the Targum; Jonathan to Josh. 2:1; David Kimhi, in his commentary on this text, and Jastrow, in his lexicon, share this opinion. Evidently, in early times, the two professions were regarded as interchangeable. In any case, the Targum’s ancient source for this rendering of “innkeeper” is present.”
Harlot Meaning In The Bible
The word harlot is used in the Bible to describe an adulteress. In fact, the Bible contains more than a dozen references to harlots and prostitution.
The first time the word harlot appears in the Bible is in Genesis 38:15-18. It describes Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar who was guilty of adultery by sleeping with her father-in-law Er and becoming pregnant with twins. The second time it appears is in Hosea 2:5 where God describes Israel as a harlot because she has strayed from him and turned to worship other gods.
The third time the word harlot appears is in Proverbs 7:10-13 where a young woman tries to seduce an older man by dressing up as an adulteress and going out looking for men on the street corner (or “cornerstones” as it says). She invites him into her house where he finds out that there are other men there too waiting for her. They strip off all their clothes and make love together until he falls asleep from exhaustion; then they steal all his money while he sleeps and leave him alone with nothing but shame.
In the Bible, a harlot is a woman who has been sexually immoral. A harlot can be married or unmarried, but she is known for her promiscuity and unchastity. A harlot does not care about men’s feelings as long as she gets what she wants—usually money or food. She will use any means necessary to get what she wants, and she will do it with anyone willing to give it to her.
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What Does Harlot In The Bible Mean
Meaning: “prostitute,” “harlot” —a woman or girl who sells her body for sexual uses / one who yields herself to defilement for the sake of gain / In the New Testament, any woman indulging in unlawful sexual intercourse, whether for gain or for lust
In the New Testament, this word occurs in various contexts.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written,
“The two will become one flesh.” —1 Corinthians 6:15-16 ESV
Christ said to the chief priests and the elders of the people at the Temple,
“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.” —Matthew 21:31-32 ESV
“…when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!…” —Luke 15:30 ESV
“By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient…” —James 2:25
The word pornai is used symbolically in Revelation 17:1, 5, 15-16; 19:2—the Great Whore or Great Harlot.
- Hebrew: זָנָה —transliteration: zanah or zonah
Meaning: to commit fornication; to be a prostitute
This is the word used in Genesis 34:31…
“…they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?” —ESV
“When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.” —Genesis 38:15 ESV
In the time of Solomon, harlots appeared openly in the streets, and he solemnly warns against association with them.
“For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.
And behold, the woman meets him,
dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward;
her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the market,
and at every corner she lies in wait.
She seizes him and kisses him,
and with bold face she says to him,
‘I had to offer sacrifices,
and today I have paid my vows;
so now I have come out to meet you,
to seek you eagerly, and I have found you.
I have spread my couch with coverings,
colored linens from Egyptian linen;
I have perfumed my bed with myrrh,
aloes, and cinnamon.
Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
let us delight ourselves with love.
For my husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey;
he took a bag of money with him;
at full moon he will come home.’
With much seductive speech she persuades him;
with her smooth talk she compels him.
All at once he follows her,
as an ox goes to the slaughter,
or as a stag is caught fast
till an arrow pierces its liver;
as a bird rushes into a snare;
he does not know that it will cost him his life.” —Proverbs 7:6-23 ESV
Also see: Proverbs 9:14; Jeremiah 3:2; Ezek. 16:24-25, 31)
- Hebrew: קְדֵשָׁה —transliteration: kedeshah or qedeshah
This word refers to a woman consecrated or devoted to prostitution in connection with the abominable worship of Asherah or Astarte, the Syrian Venus.
“And he asked the men of the place, ‘Where is the cult prostitute who was at Enaim at the roadside?’ And they said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’ So he returned to Judah and said, “I have not found her. Also, the men of the place said, ‘No cult prostitute has been here.’” —Genesis 38:21-22 ESV
This word is also used in Deuteronomy 23:17; Hos. 4:14. Thus Tamar sat by the wayside as a consecrated kedeshah.
It has been attempted to show that Rahab, usually called a “harlot” (Joshua 2:1; 6:17; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25), was only an innkeeper. This interpretation, however, cannot be maintained.
To commit fornication is metaphorically used for to practice idolatry (Jeremiah 3:1; Ezek. 16:15; Hosea throughout); hence Jerusalem is spoken of as a harlot (Isaiah 1:21).
- Strange woman
Hebrew: נָכְרִי —transliteration: nokri or nokriyah
Meaning: foreign; alien
“strange woman” (1 Kings 11:1; Proverbs 5:20; 7:5; 23:27)
Those so designated were Canaanites and other Gentiles (Joshua 23:13). To the same class belonged the “foolish,” i.e., the sinful, “woman.”
Jephthah’s mother is called a “strange woman” (Judges 11:2). This, however, merely denotes that she was of foreign extraction.