Thursday, September 28, 2017

Joshua: Chapter 2

What keeps watch at the doorway, between? 
Are you penetrable,  knowable? 
Shut the door,  yet open the window
Give me a sign.

[For full chapter, click here
This chapter continues the focus on theme of transition, which here is given a tangible embodiment.
 We begin with the transition between Moses to Joshua. Joshua acts as Moses,  sending out spies. Yet this time, in a successful reiteration, Joshua sends only  two--a recreation of the successful spies, Caleb and himself. The other ten spies are forgotten.
We move on to the transition between the Encampment and the Land.  The spies are to scout out "Jericho, and the land", looking both at the countryside and the city. They stop at the liminal space between the two--the house of Rahab, who lives within the city wall itself, straddling the separation. Rahab becomes the key to the spies success in Jericho, straddling metaphorically between Israel and the inhabitants of the land. It is she who gives the spies their information. And saving  their lives, she demands to be saved in turn. Her literal liminality indeed becomes the key to salvation: she saves the spies by lowering them by rope out her window, and is saved in turn by hanging a "red thread" in her window. This thread, tikvat (lit. 'extension' 'hope') hut ha-shani, signals a way forward, and opening for hope.
Rahab not only lives in a liminal space--she herself is a liminal space, an entrance waiting to be penetrated. The language of the chapter is unremittingly sexual.  Rahab is described as a zonah (which means both innkeeper and whore). The spies "come to her" (repeatedly) and "lie there" in her home; she is told the spies have come to "plow" the land; and she repeatedly speaks of "knowing" (the carnal daat) and "not-knowing."  Indeed, there are many echoes of the Sodom story, with its threat of sexual violence. Rahab's advice to the spies to flee "to the mountain" echoes the angels' advice to Lot to "flee to the mountain" (hahara nasu).
Yet it is Rahab and her family who actually play the part of Lot, saved from the destroyed city. In  saving the spies--"sending them forth", as Joshua had "sent" them --Rahab metaphorically opens herself and the city up as conquest. In exchange, she is granted a protection that echoes Israel's protection in Egypt during the plague  of the firstborn. By marking the limen, she is set aside].

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