Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Rahab the harlot
Behind the Hebrew

Netanyahu, Ya’alon and Rahab the harlot

What’s the source of the phrase ‘their blood is upon their heads,’ used by the prime minister and defense minister?

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

Detail from 'The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies,' c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot
Detail from 'The Harlot of Jericho and the Two Spies,' c. 1896-1902, by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have recently used biblical phrases to describe the doomed fate of Hamas members.

“I won’t go into our list of targets,” Ya’alon said Tuesday during a visit to the Gaza Division headquarters, “but all Hamas personnel know that their blood is upon their heads; I have said that in the past and I say it again today.”

Earlier this month, Netanyahu used the same phrase with reference to the killers of Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, the three abducted Israeli teens who were later found dead in the West Bank.

“Anyone who had a hand in this despicable murder — their blood is upon their heads,” Netanyahu had said.

The phrase is first spoken in the book of Joshua, regarding the inhabitants of the home of Rahab the harlot.

Refresher: In what appears to be a comic twist in an otherwise brutal story of conquest, Joshua’s two Hebrew spies, sent undercover to the city of Jericho, promptly make the house of a prostitute — whose name translates as “wide” or “spacious” — their first stop. Moments later, their cover is burned; the king of Jericho demands of Rahab that she turn them over.

She, in awe of the prowess of the Hebrew God, refuses and hides the spies, a favor for which, the spies tell her, she shall be repaid.

When the Israelites take the city of Jericho, they say, she should take all of her family members inside her home and tie a crimson cord from the window. Whoever leaves the home, “his blood shall be on his head, and we shall be guiltless” — in other words he has sealed his own fate, much like Hamas members whom Israel has marked as targets. Whoever “shall be with thee in the house,” though, the spies make clear, “his blood shall be on our head, if any hand be upon him.”

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