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Rahab from a Cuban Perspective

Resolviendo is a Cuban perspective of survival that offers a lens through which one can read the biblical story of Rahab, also a story of survival.

Rahab helps Joshua’s two spies escape (Joshua 2). Illustration from a 15th-century French manuscript of Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities. Bibliothèque nationale de France

My native Cuba is one of those contemporary societies that oppresses its people by restricting basic human rights. For over sixty years the Cuban empire has effectively controlled its people’s lives. Cubans are forced to obey the demands of the regime or leave. For those who stay, survival is a daily struggle. Faced with the collapse of the economy when the Soviets left Cuba after the fall of socialism in the early 1990s, ordinary Cubans faced desperate choices merely to survive.

This Cuban context informs my reading of the Rahab story in Josh 2:1-23. In the text we meet Rahab: a foreign and low-status so-called prostitute who changes the course of her life when she converts to Yahweh, the God of Moses. In return for her faithful act of saving the spies sent by Joshua to search the land of Canaan, Rahab, along with her family, is saved when her city of Jericho is destroyed. When read from a Cuban perspective of survival and making-do, the story of Rahab illustrates my biblical perspective of resolviendo.

What is resolviendo?

Resolviendo is a word I coined to describe how it is that powerless Cubans have found agency to confront the struggles of daily life. On its face, resolviendo might seem to present an ethical dilemma since it requires Cubans to do whatever is needed to survive including bartering goods, selling, lying, and even stealing from the government. It is an uncommon and atypical ethics of survival that shakes the foundations of traditional ethical understandings and values. It is a contextual/situational ethics where the highest value becomes the daily fight to preserve life at any cost. In short, resolviendo requires using whatever means one has at one’s disposal to survive.

How does resolviendo inform the Rahab story?

Being a woman, a foreigner, and a so-called prostitute puts Rahab in an ethical predicament. She is an outsider within her own community, considered suspicious, living at the edge of the city as an independent woman with limited resources. Thus, she does what she has to in order to survive, using whatever she has at her disposal (resolviendo). Despite her apparent powerlessness, she finds her power in deceit. Rahab lies to the king’s messengers who come seeking the Hebrew spies by limiting the information she provides.

Yet Rahab places herself in a precarious position. Her very destiny depends on the spies keeping their promise to spare her and her family from the destruction about to be visited upon the city. She understands that this existential uncertainty provides the spies with power over her.

Living at the city wall, Rahab is both an outsider and insider. She knows how to protect the spies while they are inside her house by giving them sound advice about where to hide outside the city in the mountains. Rahab’s power resides in her knowledge of the particularities of life both inside and outside the city. This allows her to strategize effectively. Both she and the spies get what they need. The spies search the land and report back to Joshua, while Rahab obtains security and salvation for herself and her family. Reading Rahab’s story with the notion of resolviendo reveals how she uses all she has at her disposal in order to survive. She is a survivor determined to do whatever it takes to survive and ensure her family’s well-being.

  • Garcia-Alfonso-Cristina

    Cristina Garcia-Alfonso is a certified educator of Clinical Pastoral Education in Raleigh, NC. She received her PhD in Biblical Interpretation (Hebrew Bible) from Brite Divinity School and is the author of Resolviendo: Narratives of Survival in the Hebrew Bible and in Cuba Today (Lang, 2010), which examines biblical narratives of women in the Hebrew Bible from a Cuban perspective of survival (resolviendo).