Hero’s Theme

I have just guest posted over on the Theopolis Institute, where I make a case for a figural reading of the story of Rahab.

Rahab represents something even greater in the book of Revelation. In Revelation we see a woman arrayed in scarlet, described as the Mother of Harlots. Once again, the colour of scarlet has various resonances. It represents sin, the spilt blood of the martyred saints, and the harlotries of the city. There are also priestly undertones. This is the priestly city, which is why she is to be burned with fire for her harlotry (Revelation 17:16; 18:8; cf. Leviticus 21:9).

People are called out of the city of the harlot (18:4-5), but these people become the spotless bride. Note that this occurs through garments being ‘washed white’ in the blood of the bridegroom (7:14). Blood is the cleansing agent through which the harlot becomes a spotless virgin. Like Jericho, the great and wicked city of Revelation is defeated by the blowing of seven trumpets (8:1—11:19; cf. Joshua 6:16-21) and is then burned with fire (like the city in Revelation, Jericho also has associations with Babylon, Joshua 7:21).

As in the book of Joshua, where the harlot becomes one of the saints—note that the individual Rahab recapitulates the story of the Passover of the whole nation of Israel—the saints in Revelation are former members of the harlot. Rahab marries the heir of Judah’s line, Salmon; the bride in Revelation marries the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Controversies, Guest Post, Hermeneutics, Joshua, NT, NT Theology, OT, OT Theology, Revelation, Scripture, The Church, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hero’s Theme

  1. cal says:

    This was absolutely fantastic. Thanks for this post. I guess my own question/concern is the curiosity of how this particular figural typological allegory (to use a clunky set of qualifiers) appeared through historical theology of biblical exegesis. Obviously, Origen and the wide-school of his students (even after his official condemnation) represents the detached allegory. Of course, I suppose one could say Origen set up some ground-work merely to be better worked upon, and his students merely took the wrongs turns with it. But do you know of any particular exegetes post-Origen downwards through the Patristics, late Patristics, through Western and Eastern theologies as they parted, and into the Reformation? This is for my own personal enlightenment, not a challenge.

    Also, side-note, any possibility I could email you? I can leave my email in a comment if you don’t want to publish yours.


    • There are definitely hints here and there, as various commentators connect Rahab with the Passover, for instance. However, I really don’t know of any who flesh out the relations well. A number of ancient commentators (like Cyril of Jerusalem) got most of the typological relations with Christ’s ministry pretty much spot on, but, again, they seldom explored the diachronic unfolding of the themes.

      I’ve compared this elsewhere to two forms of relation with a territory. The Old Testament can be compared to a long itinerary that must be followed through dense woods or rocky valleys, with a beautiful terrain, but with short range of vision. This itinerary leads us to the great mountain of the New Testament, where we find a path that steadily leads us up to a great and dizzying height, from which we can see the entirety of the path that we just walked, albeit now from a completely different perspective, laid out before us like a cloth.

      Viewed from the peak, things take on a new aspect and we are awestruck as we see the territory before us, as if for the first time. We relate the points that we see directly to our current vantage point with the immediacy of the gaze. However, in so doing, we can forget that there is a material connection between the points that we are looking at and our own vantage point in the path that we have followed. One cannot move from one to the other apart from that path, even though, once one has attained to the heights, we are enabled to see the path in a different manner.

      We need to hold together the temporal movement of the itinerary, with its patience and suspension of knowledge, with the immediacy of the dazzling vision of the mountain top. Some are so concerned to follow the path immediately before them that they pay little attention to the fact that the path exists to lead them to a point where the entire landscape is disclosed. Others are so caught up with the view from the top that they have a limited sense of the exact course of the path that leads to it and enables us to enjoy it. They miss something important too, as the wonder is found in no small measure in the delayed process of disclosure.

      The ancients can be great at emphasizing the importance of looking up and out from the top of the mountain of the New Testament. More modern commentators are often far more concerned with the path immediately before them, and can often fail to follow it to its destination, let alone take in the view that opens up there. Ideally, we need to bring together the best of both.

      I’ll send you an email now.

      • and to take the path — mountaintop metaphor one step further..

        The New Testament brings us to the mountain top…. and it show us that there is another mountain or mountain range ahead: the New Heavens and New Earth. We peer in that direction and we can’t quite tell how many mountains and valleys might be between us and that destination, and we can’t tell what we will be able to see from there when we get there, but we are promised it is going to be far better than we could even imagine.

        And when we are looking towards the New Heavens and New Earth, our existential experience has some similarity to what the OT believer’s experience was like when they were looking towards the coming Messiah.

  2. Good article, Alastair. I’ve understood the story of Rahab that way for a long time.

    A messianic believer by the name of Jacob Prasch taught me to understand the mishnah of Scripture in a very similar way to what you are describing. I’m not using the word ‘mishnah’ to refer simply, or primarily, the Hebrew Mishnah texts; I’m using it to refer to the hermeneutic approach of mishnah which involves reading in text many ways and at many levels at one and the same time.

    E.g a straightforward narrative in Scripture can and must be read at one level as a straightforward narrative but — where it invites us to — it can simultaneously be read as bespeaking typology, with one prophesy or one type having multiple fulfillments in scripture, and each fulfillment telling us something about what the final fulfillment will be like, if we have ears to hear.

    I’ll have to read Leithard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.