Harlot  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In modern, popular usage of the word, a harlot is a prostitute. In modern usage, the word refers particularly to female prostitutes. In the original meaning of the word, a harlot was a woman who engaged in sacred prostitution.

Etymology

Biblical references

Though the word harlot today is used synonymously with prostitute, that is not the original meaning of the word.

The word in fact appears in the Hebrew Bible in several places and refers to a woman who engages in sacred prostitution. Sacred prostitution was a part of a pagan fertility ritual in ancient times. The motivation for the sexual activity was primarily religious in nature.

Unfortunately, in modern English translations the major distinction between a harlot and a prostitute is lost and Christian translations of the Old Testament use the word prostitute were harlot should be used, which changes the significance of the description.

In Genesis 38:24 (according to the Jewish Publication Society translation of the Hebrew) it is said (in part) (note the emphasis below are mine):

... 'Tamar thy daughter-in-law hath played the harlot; and moreover, behold, she is with child by harlotry.'

but in the New International Version of the Old Testament the passage is rendered:

... "Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant."

But a true meaning of the word harlot can be understood from verse 21, which reads:

Then he asked the men of her place, saying: 'Where is the harlot, that was at Enaim by the wayside?' And they said: 'There hath been no harlot here.'

and translated in the New International Version as:

He asked the men who lived there, "Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?" "There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here," they said.

In order words, a harlot in the Bible refers to a shrine prostitute.

More recent usage

The biblical meaning of the word harlot was lost and the word resurfaced again around the beginning of the 13th century in a work written in English. At that time, the word harlot was used to refer to a man and meant "a man of no fixed occupation, vagabond, beggar," and soon afterwards used to mean "male lecher."

In the 14th century, it began to be used to refer to women. How this meaning developed from the male sense is not clear. For a time, the word could also refer to a juggler or jester of either sex, but by the close of the 17th century the word referred exclusive to women.

Notes and references

"The Crucible" by Arthur Miller

See also

The Whore of Babylon



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Harlot" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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