Scala/Art Resource, NY

A modest Rahab assists the two Israelite spies as they clamber down her scarlet rope. According to Joshua 2, after confessing her faith in the Israelite God Yahweh, Rahab instructs the spies to escape into the night and hide out in the hills above Jericho. Thus she saves them from the Canaanite king’s men, who search for the spies along the route back to the Israelite camp.

Rahab’s acceptance of Yahweh has led to a sanitized portrayal of her character in later traditions. Rahab is dressed as a medieval nun rather than a Canaanite prostitute in this mid-15th-century illumination by Belbello da Pavia from the Codex Landau-Finaly (now in Florence’s Biblioteca Nazionale). In Jewish lore, Rahab came to be identified as an innkeeper rather than a prostitute. In the Gospel of Matthew (1:5), a woman named Rahab is even listed as an ancestress of Jesus. The New Testament Letter to the Hebrews notes that Rahab was saved “by faith” (11:31); the Letter of James adds that she was justified not only by her faith but by her deeds (James 2:25).