In Bringing the Hidden to Light, I read David Marcus’ essay, “Prolepsis in the Story of Rahab and the Spies (Joshua 2)”. Prolepsis is when an author says what is about to happen before he actually narrates the events in detail. Genesis 22, for example, says at the beginning that God tested Abraham, before it tells the story of what God’s test entailed.
In Joshua 2, the chapter in which Rahab preserves the safety of the Israelite spies who have come to Jericho, there is prolepsis: we are told at the outset that Rahab will preserve the spies’ safety. Then, the story is told of Rahab doing so. According to Dr. Marcus, this “serves both to ease the reader’s fears about the spies’ safety and to emphasize the brave act of Rahab in countering the king’s demand” (161).
Sometimes, it is good, for me at least, to know that everything in a movie or story will turn out all right. Stress, tension, and uncertainty during a movie are, well, uncomfortable for me.
I wonder about the extent to which the rabbis acknowledged prolepsis. The rabbis often tried to explain away redundancy in Scripture, for they didn’t believe that God would repeat the same thing twice: if God does appear to repeat something, then he’s adding a nuance that was not in the first statement.
As far as I can remember, rabbis treat Genesis 22:1 as a prolepsis: it summarizes what is about to take place in the chapter; but there is also the Jewish tradition that Abraham underwent previous tests before God commanded him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Then there’s Genesis 18, which says that God visited Abraham, right before it narrates the three visitors coming to Abraham’s tent. This appears to be prolepsis: the three visitors coming to Abraham’s tent was God’s visit of Abraham (or at least one of the visitors was God). But, in rabbinic literature, God visiting Abraham and the three visitors are treated as two separate incidents. So there’s no acknowledgement of prolepsis in that case.