I can think of a dozen reasons to blog about Rahab. First, the wondrous scarlet of Leviticus, the scarlet that cleanses the leper, reappears in Rahab’s window. But weave the scarlet back into the tapestry of Ps. 51, and look at other features of Rahab’s narrative. She is kind to the spies. She is the means of escape and preservation for her parents and siblings. She marries a Hebrew, possibly one of the spies, and becomes an ancestor of Christ. What is not to love?
And yet, I have read that Rahab’s sisters were not saved. I have read that her sisters were not saved because they bore the sin of pride. They were apparently too proud to enter her house of ill repute and be saved by the scarlet thread. Because, again apparently, sisters would take more offense than brothers at the prostitution of a sister – in the average Middle Eastern setting, that is. Here is why,
11We know that the LORD your God rules heaven and earth, and we’ve lost our courage and our will to fight. 12Please promise me in the LORD’s name that you will be as kind to my family as I have been to you. Do something to show 13that you won’t let your people kill my father and mother and my brothers and sisters and their families. Jos. 2
- 17The men said to her, ‘We will be released from this oath that you have made us swear to you 18if we invade the land and you do not tie this crimson cord in the window through which you let us down, and you do not gather into your house your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family. Jos. 2.
- 23So the young men who had been spies went in and brought Rahab out, along with her father, her mother, her brothers, and all who belonged to her—they brought all her kindred out—and set them outside the camp of Israel. Jos. 6.
So does “brothers” also mean “siblings” or do the sisters not rate being mentioned? Or are Rahab’s sisters, in fact, not saved because of their pride.
I would suggest, that for Hebrew, the male terms for “sons,” “brothers,” and “fathers” refer, in the plural, to both male and female equally, and that is the usual way to do it. I don’t think we can do that in English.
However, for Greek, I would argue a stronger case, that the plural of the male form, is probably the literal equivalent of a gender neutral form in English, either “brothers and sisters” or “siblings”. Here’s why.
First, the lexicon. The Liddell, Scott, Jones lexicon of ancient Greek provides several examples for αδελφοι, the first two are for brother and sister pairs.
1. The first reference to αδελφοι are Electra and Orestes, a sister and brother pair. Orestes is a Greek Hamlet character, but is much supported by his strong sister Electra, who has no parallel that I can think of in Shakespearean literature. In any case, these are a real sister and brother and are called αδελφοι.
2. The second reference is to the θεοι αδελφοι. These were the Pharoahs of Egypt, called the “Sibling Gods.” They were brother – sister married couples who ruled Egypt for several hundred years. In imitation of Osiris and Isis, a married brother-sister pair among the gods, the Pharoahs of Egypt married a sibling. The famous Cleopatra, coming to the throne at 17, married her younger brother, Ptolemy, and later took Julius Caesar as a lover. She and her brother were αδελφοι.
3. This third example is from the Rahab narrative translated into Greek in the LXX. Here is how the translator, presumably someone who spoke Greek well enough, treated the problem.
- τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου καὶ τὴν μητέρα μου καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου καὶ πάντα τὸν οἶκόν μου
my father and mother and my brothers and sisters and their families Jos. 2:13
τὸν δὲ πατέρα σου καὶ τὴν μητέρα σου καὶ τοὺς ἀδελφούς σου καὶ πάντα τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός σου
your father and mother, your brothers, and all your family Joshua 2:18
I have argued for a long time that the literal equivalent of adelphoi is not “brothers” but “brothers and sisters” and that to translate adelphoi consistently as “brothers” as if it were some sort of formal equivalent renders the texts of classical Greek incomprehensible. However, some have suggested that my understanding of ancient Greek is motivated by feminist presuppositions, and others have simply asked me to surrender all desire for truth and hold my peace.
It happens that this week more than one request was made for the real story on gender language in the Bible. This seems like a good place to start. I argue that an essentially literal Bible must translate adelphoi as “brothers and sisters” until the Countess of Pembroke and her brother Philip go down in history as a pair of “brothers.”