Bible Review 17:4, August 2001

Reversal of Fortune

Rahab & Achan: the Israelite & the Canaanite

By Frank Anthony Spina

Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute, plays an essential part in Israel’s successful conquest of Jericho. The Israelite Achan, a member of the prestigious tribe of Judah, is to blame for Israel’s subsequent failure to capture Ai.

Why is a Canaanite prostitute portrayed so positively while a prominent Israelite is depicted so negatively? Perhaps because a Canaanite doesn’t always act the way a Canaanite is expected to—and an Israelite doesn’t always behave the way an Israelite is expected to.

The stories of Rahab and Achan bracket the Book of Joshua’s account of the capture of Jericho, the first city to fall to the Israelites after they cross over the Jordan into Canaan. Rahab and Achan are not simply colorful bookends to the dramatic account of Jericho and its tumbling wall, however. Rather, their contrasting tales provide the framework for understanding the religious meaning of the conquest.

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