Friday, June 19, 2009

Radak is right; Rachav was a harlot

In the last post, I discussed the Targum to sefer Yehoshua which translates Rachav's profession of Zonah as pundekita. Literally this means innkeeper, and Rashi runs with this, giving an etymology whereby zonah can mean this. But Radak there, and in several other places, explains that this is a mistake. When Targum uses the word pundekita, it is merely a euphemism for harlot. And he makes reference to the fact that it uses pundekita in several other places as translation for zonah. Ralbag, in contrast, tends to take those instances of pundekita in Targum, interpret them as female innkeeper, and adopt that as his own explanation. In the last post, I examined four instances of zonah which the Targum translated as pundekita, but I overlooked one, in Shofetim 11:1. And naturally enough, it is this one which can help us make a decision.

Radak is right; Rachav was a harlot, even according to the Targum. The pasuk in question introduced Yiftach:
א וְיִפְתָּח הַגִּלְעָדִי, הָיָה גִּבּוֹר חַיִל, וְהוּא, בֶּן-אִשָּׁה זוֹנָה; וַיּוֹלֶד גִּלְעָד, אֶת-יִפְתָּח.1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.
ב וַתֵּלֶד אֵשֶׁת-גִּלְעָד לוֹ, בָּנִים; וַיִּגְדְּלוּ בְנֵי-הָאִשָּׁה וַיְגָרְשׁוּ אֶת-יִפְתָּח, וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ לֹא-תִנְחַל בְּבֵית-אָבִינוּ--כִּי בֶּן-אִשָּׁה אַחֶרֶת, אָתָּה.2 And Gilead's wife bore him sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove out Jephthah, and said unto him: 'Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of another woman.'
Does it make sense to say that he was the son of a female innkeeper? Not really, and that does not really seem to accurately convey his status.

Looking in a Tanach with Targum, Radak, and Ralbag, we see how this is translated. There is a translation, and an addendum to the translation, also in Aramaic:
"And Yiftach the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of a pundekita woman; and Gilead begot Yiftach."
Addendum: This law/custom was in Israel in former times, in order not to pass an inheritance {achsanta with a chet, which means inheritance, rather than achsania with a khaf, which means inn or innkeeper} from one tribe to another tribe, and because of this, a man was not allowed to marry a woman who was not from his tribe. And when there was a woman who desired/loved a man {from another tribe}, she went out from her father's house without an inheritance, and people would call her "pundekita," for she desired/loved a man who was not of her tribe, and so it was to the mother of Yiftach."
The intent of this Targumic addendum seems to be that pundekita is a derogatory name. And that derogatory name is presumably harlot, because of her presumption in loving a man outside of her tribe. It does not make sense to call her a female innkeeper. Now, I do not know the source of this Targumic addendum, but it is written in Aramaic. Radak would seem not to have seen the addendum. Despite this, it was not only Radak who understands this here.

Turning for a moment to Radak, he explains the son of a harlot to mean the son of a concubine. She is not mufkeret umezumenet liznut, but she lacks a ketubah, and so is like a zonah. Then he notes the Targum of pundekita (presumably without the addendum) and compares it to Rachav the zonah. And he explains that a zonah is like an inn {?}, for she is mafkir herself. And then he interprets the local Targum further. But we already know of Radak's position.

What is interesting here is Ralbag's position. This time, he does not endorse the Targum's explanation of innkeeper. Rather, he says that
"she was of another tribe {this explanation may come out of pesukim}, and since she did not marry someone from her own tribe, they called her a zonah, harlot, since she turned from what she was supposed to marry, from one of her family, so that the inheritance should not shift from one tribe to another."
Interestingly enough, this explanation given by Ralbag matches nicely with the addendum to the Targum. Even so, Ralbag is not explaining the Targum this way, for he does not mention the Targum here, and in other places, including later in a few perakim (perek 16), he does cite pundekita and explains it as a innkeeperess.

Even so, in my mind, this makes me favor Radak's explanation of the Targum even more than I did in the past. (On the other hand, Targum without the addendum could still be trying to improve Yiftach's lineage somewhat, just as Radak and Ralbag do. In which case it could indeed intend innkeeperess.)


The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Or could it be that in those cultures the prostitutes were also innkeepers?
It might work - bed and breakfast, as it were.

Hebrew Student said...

This is a very well-researched post - thanks. In Hebrew it is *possible* to derive the word zonah to be some sort of inn-keeper, by assuming it is related to mazon (meaning food), in which case zonah could be one who provides food. But clearly the Hebrew word zonah is not used like this, but always means prostitute. Your observation that the Targumim generally translate zonah as pundakait is very interesting.

Larry Rabinovich said...

As I recall Davidson's celebrated "Courtesans & Fishcakes" observes that courtesans in Ancient Greece were located at a "red light" district near the city walls, just as Rahav was


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